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Clock's ticking for Razorbacks to reserve a spot at dance

By: Wally Hall
Published: Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Arkansas forward Darious Hall takes a breath during a game against Missouri on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas forward Darious Hall takes a breath during a game against Missouri on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018, in Fayetteville.

With 14 regular-season games to go it would be easy to say there is a lot of basketball left for the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

The truth is the Razorbacks have only five games left that can help them get into March Madness -- of course they are in if they win the SEC Tournament -- but every team wants to finish the regular season not needing to win three or four games in three or four days to go dancing.

The Hogs have five opponents left with a better overall ranking than they have, and it begins tonight at Florida, who has a No. 30 ranking in the KenPom.com ratings.

Texas A&M, who the Razorbacks play twice, is ranked No. 29, Kentucky is No. 26 and Auburn -- who slammed the Hogs by earlier this season -- is No. 18.

That's a nice grouping, but it is unusual to see Kentucky in the 20s, and that could hurt the SEC in how many teams it gets into the NCAA Tournament.

Arkansas, which is ranked No. 33, has quality victories over No. 13 Oklahoma and No. 14 Tennessee.

Back up a few weeks and it appeared the Hogs had twice that many quality victories, but Minnesota is ranked No. 63 and UConn, believe it or not, is No. 128.

The Hogs have a quality loss -- and yes, there is such a thing -- to No. 9 North Carolina. Losing to Houston won't hurt much because the Cougars are No. 39 and may improve on that number as Kelvin Sampson continues to get it going.

Obviously, it hurts the Razorbacks that they lost at No. 82 Mississippi State and to No. 53 LSU in Bud Walton.

So while there is a lot of basketball to be played, the Hogs have themselves in a position to move forward but they have a couple of areas that have to improve.

In the five losses, they gave up more points off turnovers than they scored except for the loss to North Carolina, when both had 15 points off mistakes.

In the past, that has been a statistic the Hogs have dominated. In fact, it is part of their reputation and was considered a strength.

The loss to Mississippi State should be thrown out -- but it won't be -- because the Bulldogs shot 40 free throws to the the Hogs' 12. The Razorbacks had seven more field goals than the home team.

That was the best three-point shooting the Hogs have had in a loss, hitting 6 of 15 for 40 percent.

Against North Carolina in Portland, Ore., they hit 9 of 27 (33.3 percent); at Houston they were 6 of 19 (31.6 percent); at Auburn 4 of 19 (21.1 percent); and 4 of 18 (22.2 percent) against LSU.

The Tar Heels hit 50 percent of their 3s, 8 of 16; Houston 10 of 21 (47.6 percent); and Auburn 11 of 20 (55 percent).

The Razorbacks cannot afford to allow the Gators to get open looks on the perimeter tonight, and they will be looking because they don't really have an inside presence.

Florida seems to be a team that hasn't made up its mind whether it is going to reach its potential. The Gators led Duke most of the second half and by as much as 17, then gave it away 87-84. They opened conference play with four straight wins, but then lost to Ole Miss, head Coach Mike White's alma mater.

Tonight, expect North Little Rock native KeVaughn Allen to snap out of his slump. He's averaging a career low 10.3 points per game, but he'll be up for a game against the Razorbacks.

In some ways there's a lot of basketball left in this season, but the countdown to March Madness is already underway. The Razorbacks need to cut down on mental mistakes and take advantage of their inside game with Daniel Gafford and Trey Thompson.

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