Can the Arkansas Razorbacks (16-10, 4-9 SEC) still nudge their way into the NCAA Tournament?
It’s possible, but highly improbable.
That’s just the harsh truth. The Hogs have lost their last five games, six of their last seven games, and eight of their last 10 if you go back to the 73-66 loss to league-leading Kentucky (21-5, 11-2) in Walton Arena on Jan. 18.
In light of those numbers, it’s a wonder there is even a glimmer of hope for a return to the NCAA Tournament left even among even the most ardent of fans.
Next up for the Razorbacks
Opponent: vs. Missouri
When: 12 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22
Where: Bud Walton Arena, Fayetteville
TV: SEC Network
Current Record: 16-10 (SEC 4-9)
Feb. 26 – Tennessee
Feb. 29 – at Georgia
March 4 – LSU
March 7 – at Texas A&M
At this point, most fan bases would be hoping just to win a home game, much less grasping for the slightest string of chance that the Razorbacks will hear the NCAA Selection Committee shout Woo Pig Sooie on Selection Sunday.
But Hog fans are are resilient and optimistic to their core.
When you come from a state that’s usually ranked 48th or 49th in just about everything and you’ve adopted the unofficial motto “thank God for Mississippi,” you’ve got a right to be stubborn.
You get used to getting back up after you’ve been knocked down, and still trudging forward after being treated like a stepchild.
And you know what, I think that’s why so many Hog fans are still following Eric Musselman’s under-sized Razorbacks so ardently.
The Hogs may not have won a basketball game since beating Alabama, 82-78, on Feb. 1st, but they have not given in, let down or sluffed off despite being knocked down time and time again by deeper and more-talented teams.
These Hogs don’t quit, no matter the odds, and they keep coming back, despite the circumstances.
Most teams fall apart when they get down by 19 points in the first half to Florida in the O’Connell Center, but not these Razorbacks.
No, they weren’t able to get over the hump and pull out a victory over Florida, but there was no quit in the Hogs.
That’s why I still enjoy watching them play. The Hogs have kept it interesting in almost every game they’ve played this year, except for the blowout loss at Tennessee, 82-61, on Feb. 11.
So back to that nagging NCAA Tournament question.
The Hogs would have to get on a serious roll to make the NCAA Tournament. Any less than winning four of their last five regular-season games and winning three games in the SEC Tournament, and the Razorbacks are on the outs.
Even with all that, the Razorbacks would be incredibly fortunate to make it into the NCAA Tournament field.
If fact, the Razorbacks could win all five of their final regular-season games and make it to the finals of the SEC Tournament and still not get a NCAA bid the way things seem to be falling into place this season.
Currently, the Razorbacks have a NCAA Net rating of 48, which is behind No. 22 Kentucky, No. 28 Auburn, No. 30 LSU, No. 35 Florida, and No. 44 Alabama. It’s two spots ahead of No. 50 Mississippi State, which holds two victories over the Hogs.
The NCAA Net rankings aren’t the end-all and be-all to receiving an NCAA bid, but it is a measuring stick that the selection committee will use in comparing teams.
Honestly, anyone who thinks Kentucky and Auburn are the 22nd and 28th best teams in the nation are sadly mistaken. Both have great shots making the Sweet 16 regardless of where either are seeded, and don’t be surprised if Kentucky’s not in the Final Four.
That said, the SEC is expected to get four bids to the NCAA Tournament with the possibility of five, if another team were to distinguish itself down the stretch.
If Alabama, Mississippi State or Arkansas were to somehow win the SEC Tournament, it probably would not knock Florida or LSU out of the NCAA bracket, but I don’t like the chances of any of those three pulling off a championship run in Lexington, anyway. Kentucky looks stronger and stronger next to the rest of the pack in the SEC.
The real question is if the Crimson Tide, Mississippi State, or Arkansas played their way into the SEC title game, would that be enough to get them in the Big Dance?
A lot of that depends on how well each team plays in their final five games, and how many upsets there are in the mid-major tournament. Every upset in a mid-major tournament is the possibility of a Power 5 squad losing an at-large bid to the tournament.
There is a variable in Arkansas’ NCAA equation that could help the Hogs in the eyes of the selection committee if the Razorbacks are able to win themselves back on the bubble. It is the injury to Isaiah Joe.
Arkansas’ recent losing streak coincided with Joe’s knee injury. Should Arkansas get on a winning streak when Joe returns, the NCAA Committee members could give the Razorbacks some slack if it comes down to an either/or choice between Arkansas and another team. But, the Razorbacks would have to get on a serious roll to be in a position for that to happen.
Again, it’s possible, but not likely.
However, it all starts on Saturday against Missouri in a sold-out Bud Walton Arena at noon for an SEC Network-televised game.
If the Hogs can knock off the Tigers, Arkansas’ Big Dance dream remains alive for another few days, as improbable as it may be.