FAYETTEVILLE — Once a top-10 team with legitimate Final Four aspirations, Arkansas basketball ended the regular season with a thud.
The Razorbacks will enter next week’s SEC Tournament riding a three-game losing streak after falling to No. 23 Kentucky 88-79 at Bud Walton Arena on Saturday.
It was a brutal stretch for Arkansas, as all three losses were against ranked opponents. Prior to losing to the Wildcats, it dropped back-to-back road games at No. 2 Alabama and No. 12 Tennessee.
Despite missing out on an opportunity to bolster their NCAA Tournament resume with Quadrant 1 victories and growing frustrations amongst the fanbase, the Razorbacks are still not on the bubble.
Even after the loss to Kentucky, Arkansas slipped only two spots to No. 18 in the all-important NET rankings. That is just three spots lower than where it was before the skid. It is also No. 19 on KenPom, which is significant because in the two decades Ken Pomeroy has published his efficiency ratings, no top-20 team has ever missed the NCAA Tournament.
In fact, using pre-tournament ratings, the highest-ranked teams by KenPom to miss the Big Dance were No. 22 South Carolina in 2002 and No. 22 Missouri State in 2006. The Gamecocks went 6-10 in SEC play that year, though, and the Bears played in a mid-major conference, the Missouri Valley.
This year’s Arkansas basketball team did finish with a sub-.500 conference record and in a tie for ninth in the league standings, but still seems firmly in the field of 68.
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has the Razorbacks as a 9 seed, and No. 34 overall, in his updated bracketology, while BracketMatrix — a site that combines nearly 100 projections across the internet and weighs them based on past performance — has them as an 8 seed and No. 31 overall.
Following the Kentucky loss, Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman said he believed his team had done enough to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament when asked about it directly.
“When you think about our win-loss record and you think about the metrics and you think about the non-conference and you think about the success of the teams that we did beat in non-conference play, yes, we feel confident that we’re an NCAA Tournament team,” Musselman said. “So yes, we feel like through the regular-season basketball, we’ve proven that we’re an NCAA Tournament team.”
SEC Tournament Path for Arkansas Basketball
After being picked to finish second in the SEC, Arkansas basketball will head to Nashville, Tenn., as the league’s 10 seed. It technically finished tied for ninth with an 8-10 record, but Mississippi State owns the head-to-head tiebreaker and got the 9 seed.
The Razorbacks will play 7 seed Auburn in their first game at Bridgestone Arena. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. CT Thursday and the game will be televised on the SEC Network.
With the Tigers checking in at No. 32 in the NET rankings, it will be yet another Quadrant 1 opportunity for Arkansas because opponents must be in the top 50 for neutral site games to fall into that top category.
It will also be a rematch of the Jan. 7 meeting between the two teams, which Auburn won convincingly, 72-59, on its home court.
If the Razorbacks can avenge that loss, they’d face 2 seed Texas A&M at 6 p.m. CT Friday in the quarterfinals. They split the regular-season series with the Aggies, winning in Bud Walton Arena and losing in College Station. That, too, would be a Q1 opportunity because Texas A&M has climbed all the way to No. 23 in the NET rankings.
A win in one or both of those games would be huge for Arkansas from an NCAA Tournament seeding perspective because it is currently just 3-9 in Q1 games. It is also still trying to reach the 20-win mark, a milestone Eric Musselman has hit in each of his first seven seasons as a college head coach.
2023 SEC Basketball Tournament Bracket
Here’s a look at the entire 14-team bracket for the 2023 SEC Basketball Tournament:
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