Forecast hazy for struggling Razorbacks

By: Harry King
Published: Thursday, January 18, 2018
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson argues a call during a game against LSU on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018, in Fayetteville.
Photo by J.T. Wampler
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson argues a call during a game against LSU on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018, in Fayetteville.

— One-third of the way through the SEC basketball schedule, Arkansas is in a numbers bind, same as the nine others with two or three league losses.

Mathematically, not all of them can better .500 and qualify for an NCAA Tournament bid.

Florida, Kentucky and Auburn are likely to finish at the top of the standings with records of 13-5 or better. Considering the number of quality teams in the league — 10 of the 14 have an RPI in the top 50 — any extended winning streak is unlikely. As a result, 10-8 should be worth one of the league’s seven or eight NCAA Tournament bids — difficult, but doable for the Razorbacks.,

The logical path for Arkansas - 2-4 in the league after the loss to KeVaughn Allen-led Florida on Wednesday - to 10-8 includes a home record of 7-2 or better. That means no worse than splitting with Kentucky and Auburn in late February.

In addition, the Razorbacks — 0-4 on the road — must figure a way to win at least two or three games away from Fayetteville and, beginning next week, they play their next three SEC games at Ole Miss, Georgia and Texas A&M.

Channel surfing Tuesday night, an ESPN announcer summed up LSU leading Georgia 53-52 in Baton Rouge and dozens of games in the weeks to come with “Just another night in the SEC.”

The rest of the way, the lead changed hands seven times and Georgia made a basket with five seconds remaining for a 61-60 victory.

Buckle up for more of the same.

Denied to coaches, the option to look ahead is available to media and none of Arkansas’ 12 remaining conference games is a certain W. Cherry-picking results, a reason each of the opponents is capable can be found:

—Ole Miss, beat Florida by six Jan. 13.

—Georgia, best defensive team in the league.

—Texas A&M, still top 35 in RPI and getting healthy.

—LSU, the Razorbacks could not defend point guard Tremont Waters when the Tigers won by 21 in Fayetteville.

—South Carolina, rallied from 14 down Tuesday night to beat Kentucky.

—Vanderbilt, defeated Alabama in early January.

—Kentucky, enough said.

—Alabama, ended Auburn’s 14-game winning streak Wednesday night.

—Auburn, beat Arkansas by 11 in early January.

—Missouri, lost by two in Fayetteville after leading late. By the way, those who complain about Arkansas losing an 18-point lead vs. the Tigers should know that it happens to the best. That same night, Golden State scored 81 in the first half, led by 27, and beat Toronto by two.

Ironically, one of the two 1-5 teams in the SEC might hold the key to Arkansas’ NCAA Tournament chances.

We’re talking about A&M, 11-1 early, including victories over then-No. 11 West Virginia by 23 and then-No. 10 Southern Cal by 16. Through the first 12 games, the Aggies’ only loss was by three to Arizona, currently No. 14 in The AP poll.

Between losing a couple of starters to injuries and some suspensions, the Aggies started 0-5 in the league, including one-point losses to LSU at home and to Kentucky on the road.

The Aggies broke through Tuesday vs. Ole Miss and much will depend on whether coach Billy Kennedy can convince them to play hard the rest of the way. Despite the SEC losing streak, A&M was still a No. 8 seed in Joe Lunardi’s NCAA bracket early this week, and Arkansas and Missouri are the only teams with two games remaining against the Aggies.

In previous years, this Arkansas team would be a solid choice to finish no worse than fourth, but the league is much deeper —a direct result of former SEC commissioner Mike Slive’s determination to improve basketball after the league landed only three NCAA bids in 2013. Among other things, he required schools to submit non-conference schedules for review by the SEC.

In 2014, Slive called upgrading SEC basketball a “long-term project.”

On-court results show the league is ahead of schedule.

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