Matt Jones is the online sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Northwest Arkansas Newspapers.
Hogs' run might reduce regional travel
Arkansas outfielder Andrew Benintendi records a single in the fifth inning of a SEC Tournament game against Ole Miss on Wednesday, May 21, 2014 at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium in Hoover, Ala.
FAYETTEVILLE Firmly in the NCAA regionals now, the question beckons where Arkansas will play next weekend.
The Razorbacks have gone from bubble team to a potential 2-seed in next week's opening round in a matter of days. Arkansas has 37 wins, which equals its total heading into the regionals round a year ago when it was a 2-seed at Kansas State, and its current RPI is essentially the same as it was this time last year.
Arkansas has at least two more games remaining at the SEC Tournament this week. The Razorbacks play LSU today and will play in an elimination game either Friday or Saturday depending on the outcome against the Tigers. If Arkansas finds a way to win the tournament championship, it would enter the NCAA postseason with 40 wins.
Regardless of this week's outcome, the Razorbacks have probably made a good impression on the selection committee. Arkansas' late season surge and its large fan base for baseball makes it more likely the Razorbacks will stay close to home in the first weekend.
Likely regional sites closest to Fayetteville in the first weekend include Oklahoma State, TCU, Louisiana-Lafayette and at either Rice or Houston. Other somewhat nearby regionals could be played at Indiana or Louisville.
The most ideal regional for the Razorbacks would be Oklahoma State, located in Stillwater about three hours west of Fayetteville. Arkansas and Oklahoma State are no stranger to playing in the regional round, with the Cowboys winning back-to-back regionals at Baum Stadium in 2006 and 2007.
All that is known at this point is Arkansas won't be sent to a regional held at another Southeastern Conference school. The NCAA limits same-conference matchups to the super regional round or the College World Series.
TCU, Rice and Houston are all former conference opponents for Arkansas and and the Razorbacks would draw well, too, at those sites. Arkansas began its run to the College World Series two years ago with a regional at Rice.
Predicting which teams will play in which regionals is often difficult. Arkansas was sent to Arizona State in 2011 and to Stanford in 2008.
But those teams just squeaked into the tournament, unlike this one which solidified its spot with good play against some good competition in the last few weeks. If history is any indication, the Razorbacks and their fans will be rewarded for the strong close with a regional site closer to home.
The NCAA will announce its regional host sites Sunday before unveiling the 64-team regional field Monday.