UA still hopeful of NCAA invite

By: Bob Holt
Published: Sunday, March 16, 2014
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson directs his players from the bench during the second half of play against Southern Methodist Monday, Nov. 18, 2013, in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson directs his players from the bench during the second half of play against Southern Methodist Monday, Nov. 18, 2013, in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

ATLANTA - The Arkansas Razorbacks are hoping to hear their name called when the NCAA Tournament selection committee’s 68-team field is announced today, but they understand it may be a long shot - like Ky Madden’s 40-foot heave that bounced off the back of the rim as the buzzer sounded on their 71-69 loss to South Carolina on Thursday in the SEC Tournament.

“You never know what the committee will do,” Arkansas senior guard Fred Gulley said. “Sometimes people think they’re in and they’re not, and sometimes they think they’re not and they are. So we’ll just watch it with high hopes and see what happens.”

The Razorbacks (21-11) appeared to be playing their way into their first NCAA Tournament bid since 2008 when they won six consecutive SEC games, including their first victory at Kentucky in 20years and a 110-80 pounding of Ole Miss in which they led by 46 points.

Then Arkansas closed the regular-season with an 83-58 loss at Alabama, which finished 13-19, and opened the SEC Tournament by losing to South Carolina, which finished 14-20.

CBSsports.com and ESPN.com list the Razorbacks among the first four teams out of the NCAA Tournament, although CBS commentator Seth Davis said in a radio interview they might sneak in.

The Razorbacks are 8-8 against teams in the top 100 in the NCAA’s Ratings Percentage Index, a formula used to rank teams based on their record and strength of schedule.They swept two games from Kentucky, beat Minnesota in Hawaii and beat SMU at home. Both of their victories over Kentucky were in overtime, they lost to No. 1 Florida in overtime at home, lost at Georgia in overtime and were swept in two games by Missouri.

“I feel like we had some real big wins,” Arkansas sophomore forward Michael Qualls said. “We also had some real big losses. Hopefully, they’ll look at our wins and know that we’ve got a legit chance to do something special.”

If the Razorbacks don’t get an NCAA Tournament, a likely consolation prize is an NIT bid.

“The NIT? It’s cool,” said Madden, a junior guard. “It’s just basketball. I really do love this game. So any game I can play in, I want to play.”

An NIT bid would represent progress for the Razorbacks considering their season has ended with an opening loss in the SEC Tournament the previous five years.

“We’d go in there trying to win it,” Arkansas senior guard Kikko Haydar said of playing in the NIT. “This group of seniors has never been past this point, period. We’ll be happy with whatever happens, but obviously we want to be in the big one.”

Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said after last season that he expected the Razorbacks to be in the NIT with a19-13 record that included victories over Florida, Kentucky, Missouri and Oklahoma, but the Razorbacks didn’t make the 32-team field.

NIT selection committee chairman C.M. Newton, the former Kentucky athletic director and Alabama and Vanderbilt coach, said last year that Arkansas’ 1-12 record away from home kept it from being invited.

Arkansas is 4-9 away from home this season, boosting its NIT resume.

The NIT field is divided into four groups with teams being seeded one through eight. The higher seed plays at home through the first three rounds with the four group winners advancing to New York to play in the semifinals and championship game.

An Arkansas spokesman confirmed the UA has submitted the appropriate paperwork to the NIT to host games.

Two websites that track the NIT bracket - the NIT Project and Big Apple Buckets - list Arkansas among the top four seeds in a group. The NIT Project has Arkansas as a No. 2 seed behind California in one group and Big Apple Buckets lists Arkansas as a No. 4 seed in a group behind North Carolina State, Missouri and Georgetown.

Nine conference championship teams that didn’t win their tournaments already are automatic NIT qualifiers: Belmont, Boston University, Davidson, Florida Gulf Coast, High Point, Iona, Robert Morris, Vermont and Wisconsin-Green Bay.

“Like all teams, we want to play in the NCAA [Tournament],” Anderson said. “I think these guys have improved through the year and did well in our conference.

“Hopefully, it is the NCAA … but we’ll be ready to play in another tournament.”

The NIT seems a more likely spot for the Razorbacks than the NCAA Tournament considering what happened in the past two games.

“Whatever is next, we’ll take it,” Madden said. “Whatever it is - if it’s the NCAA or the NIT - we’ve got to come out and win.

“We need to win the whole thing, whatever it is.”

ARKANSAS (21-11, 10-8 SEC)

DATE OPPONENT TIME/RESULT

Nov. 8 SIU-Edwardsville W, 99-65

Nov. 15 La.-Lafayette W, 76-63

Nov. 18 SMU W, 89-78

Nov. 25 California# L, 85-77

Nov. 26 Minnesota# W, 87-73

Nov. 27 Gonzaga# L, 91-81

Dec. 3 SE Louisiana W, 111-65

Dec. 7 Clemson W, 74-68

Dec. 12 Savannah St. W, 72-43

Dec. 19 Tennessee-Martin W, 102-56

Dec. 21 South Alabama% W, 72-60

Dec. 28 High Point W, 89-48

Jan. 4 Texas-San Antonio W, 104-71

Jan. 8 at Texas A&M* L, 69-53

Jan. 11 Florida* L, 84-82 (OT)

Jan. 14 Kentucky* W, 87-85 (OT)

Jan. 18 at Georgia* L, 66-61 (OT)

Jan. 22 at Tennessee* L, 81-74

Jan. 25 Auburn* W, 86-67

Jan. 28 Missouri* L, 75-71

Feb. 1 at LSU* L, 88-74

Feb. 5 Alabama* W, 65-58

Feb. 8 at Vanderbilt* W, 77-75

Feb. 13 at Missouri* L, 86-85

Feb. 15 LSU W, 81-70

Feb. 19 South Carolina* W, 71-64

Feb. 22 at Mississippi St.* W, 73-69

Feb. 27 at Kentucky* W, 71-67 (OT)

Mar. 1 Georgia* W, 87-75

Mar. 5 Mississippi* W, 110-80

Mar. 8 at Alabama* L, 83-58

Mar. 13 South Carolina^ L, 71-69

#Maui Invitational

%Verizon Arena, North Little Rock

*SEC game

^SEC Tournament, Atlanta

Sports, Pages 27 on 03/16/2014

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