Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports
This is an excerpt of a column that was published on Sporting Life Arkansas. You can read it in full here.
Who's ready for some SEC basketball? After a few big games at the end of November/early December, the Razorbacks spent the last few weeks playing some tune-up games to get ready for the start of SEC play this week. Fortunately for Arkansas, the Hogs didn't lose any of those tune-up games like some of the other SEC schools did (hint: the SEC lost non-conference teams from a whopping 17 different conferences!). In fact, the Razorbacks blew most of them out.
Here is an excerpt from a column I wrote for Sporting Life Arkansas that reviews what we've learned about the Razorbacks and the SEC during non-conference play as well as what to watch for over the next two months as the Hogs embark on their quest for the NCAA Tournament. You can read the entire column here.
There isn’t a magic number of games the Hogs would have to win to make the tournament, but we do know Arkansas will have to win some games on the road. Arkansas at least won in North Little Rock this season, something they’ve had a lot of trouble doing in recent years, but it’s still not a true road victory. Arkansas blew its chance of scoring some early out-of-state victories by dropping both games in Las Vegas to Arizona State and Wisconsin.
That’s what makes the opening game against the Aggies so important. It’s a chance for Arkansas to quickly snag a road victory that eluded and haunted the team last season. A&M is 10-3 and currently has a decent RPI rating, but they haven’t played particularly well lately. In their last five games, they lost to Oklahoma (which was Arkansas’ best non-conference victory), but lost a home game to Southern and won tight games against Army and Houston Baptist, two teams that are a combined 8-16. It would be a quality win for Arkansas and set the Hogs up nicely to begin SEC play 3-0 with Vanderbilt and Auburn coming to Bud Walton in the next week.
Unfortunately for Arkansas, teams like Vanderbilt and Auburn didn’t help the Razorbacks nor the rest of the SEC in non-conference play. It’s like they went full Griswold during the holiday season. Vanderbilt lost to something called Marist on a neutral court. Auburn lost home games to Winthrop, DePaul, and Rhode Island. Mississippi State lost to Alabama A&M (the same Alabama A&M Arkansas beat by 27) and Troy at The Hump. Georgia lost at home to Youngstown State and Iona. Alabama lost at home to Mercer and Tulane. The SEC safely remains a football conference.
As a result of all those big fails, Arkansas must have a successful conference run to get in the tournament. The Hogs did luck out by getting a favorable SEC schedule that allows them both opportunities to make big impressions and chances to pad their win total. Arkansas gets both Florida and Missouri twice and a home game against Kentucky. Those will be the games to potentially boost Arkansas’ strength of schedule and elevate their RPI rankings, not to mention three big chances to get a signature win or two at Bud Walton. The Hogs also get Vanderbilt and Auburn twice, both of which should be prime chances to pick up some road victories.