As it enters a brutal three-game stretch to end the regular season, Arkansas basketball is comfortably inside the field of 68 and in position to potentially give its NCAA Tournament resume a significant boost.
Having already moved up three spots with their blowout win over Georgia, the Razorbacks bumped up one more to No. 15 in the NET rankings following Wednesday’s action.
That is as high as they’ve been since Jan. 7, when a loss to Auburn caused them to fall outside of the top 15. However, they’ve been in the top 30 almost the entire year, dropping down to No. 31 for just a couple of days in early December.
It’s a drastic difference from a year ago, when Arkansas bottomed out at No. 98 and had to win 10 of its next 11 games just to crack the top 30. Even with a 14-1 stretch and 13-5 SEC record, the Razorbacks were No. 20 in the NET on Selection Sunday.
The reason behind Arkansas being ranked even higher this year, despite a seemingly worse season, has been a vastly improved non-conference slate. Last year, the Razorbacks were No. 287 in non-conference strength of schedule. This year, through Wednesday’s games, they sit at No. 95 in that category. KenPom rates it even better, up from No. 245 last year to currently No. 68.
Playing in the Maui Invitational certainly helped, but Louisville — Arkansas’ first opponent in Hawaii — has been one of the biggest disappointments in college basketball this season. In fact, the Cardinals are one of just two Quadrant 4 opponents on the Razorbacks’ schedule, checking in at No. 305 with an abysmal 4-24 record.
Bradley (No. 58 NET) is tied for first place in the Missouri Valley and has a chance to win the regular-season conference title when it faces Drake on Sunday. UNC Asheville (No. 147) has already clinched the Big South title. UNC Greensboro (No. 98) is tied for second and only one game back in the SoCon.
Fordham (No. 133) is tied for third in the A-10 and enjoying its best season in more than three decades. Oral Roberts has dominated the Summit League, but South Dakota State (No. 156) is in second place. Even San Jose State (No. 107) has been competitive in a Mountain West Conference that may get four teams in the NCAA Tournament for a second straight year.
It is reminiscent of two years ago, when three of the Razorbacks’ non-conference foes — Abilene Christian, North Texas and Oral Roberts — pulled off first-round upsets in the NCAA Tournament, but even that non-conference slate was 227th in strength and included five Quad 4 games.
Arkansas Basketball Quadrant Breakdown
As things currently stand, the Razorbacks have three Quadrant 1 victories and only one Quadrant 3 loss. They’d probably like those numbers to change by the time Selection Sunday rolls around on March 12.
Here’s the full breakdown of Arkansas’ records against teams in the various quadrants:
- Q1: 3-6
- Q2: 4-2
- Q3: 10-1
- Q4: 2-0
The aforementioned brutal three-game stretch is both a blessing and a curse for Arkansas basketball. While winning any of those matchups — road games at Alabama and Tennessee, home against Kentucky — will be difficult, they’re each an opportunity to improve NCAA Tournament seeding while posing very little threat to pop its at-large bubble.
They might have to sweat it out, but the Razorbacks have a strong case to make the field even if they lose all three games. Winning one of them would guarantee at least a .500 SEC record and pretty much lock up a bid.
Alabama (No. 2) and Tennessee (No. 3) have long been known to be Quadrant 1 opportunities, but Kentucky’s three-game winning streak has vaulted it back into Q1 status for the regular-season finale at Bud Walton Arena. The Wildcats jumped six spots to No. 29 with their win over Florida and must stay in the top 30 to remain Q1.
It’s also worth noting that South Carolina’s near upset of Alabama resulted in it moving up 13 spots to No. 230 in the NET. If the Gamecocks can remain in the top 240, Arkansas’ win in Columbia, S.C., will be a Q3 win instead of Q4.
What would benefit the Razorbacks the most, though, is LSU getting hot down the stretch. Their loss in Baton Rouge is the lone eye sore on their NCAA Tournament resume. Even after knocking off Vanderbilt for their second conference win of the season, the Tigers are No. 153 in the NET.
If LSU could somehow climb another 18 spots to crack the top 135, that loss would move into the second quadrant and look a lot less bad than it does as a Q3. As unnatural as it may seem, it’d behoove Arkansas basketball fans to root for the Tigers in their last three games.
Another team to keep an eye on is South Dakota State. If the Jackrabbits fall out of the top 160, they’d drop to a Q4 win for Arkansas. They’re at No. 156 with two regular-season games remaining — one of which is a home game against Summit League leader Oral Roberts (No. 43) and Connor Vanover.
SEC Basketball in the NET Rankings
|22. Texas A&M||5-4||3-1||6-0||7-2|
|42. Mississippi State||3-7||3-2||4-1||8-0|
|132. Ole Miss||1-9||0-5||5-2||4-2|
|230. South Carolina||1-7||2-4||2-6||5-1|
SEC Basketball Standings
|Team||SEC Record||Remaining Games|
|1. Alabama||14-1||vs. ARK, vs. AUB, at A&M|
|2. Texas A&M||13-2||at MSU, at MISS, vs. ALA|
|3. Kentucky||10-5||vs. AUB, vs. VAN, at ARK|
|t-4. Tennessee||9-6||vs. SC, vs. ARK, at AUB|
|t-4. Auburn||9-6||at KENT, at ALA, vs TENN|
|t-6. Missouri||8-7||at UGA, at LSU, vs. MISS|
|t-6. Arkansas||8-7||at ALA, at TENN, vs. KENT|
|t-6. Vanderbilt||8-7||vs. FLA, at KENT, vs. MSU|
|9. Florida||7-8||at VAN, at UGA, vs. LSU|
|t-10. Mississippi State||6-9||vs. A&M, vs. SC, at VAN|
|t-10. Georgia||6-9||vs. MIZZ, vs. FLA, at SC|
|12. South Carolina||3-12||at TENN, at MSU, vs. UGA|
|t-13. LSU||2-13||at MISS, vs. MIZZ, at FLA|
|t-13. Ole Miss||2-13||vs. LSU, vs. A&M, at MIZZ|
One bit of good news for the Razorbacks is that they have almost clinched a top-10 finish in the conference, which would mean getting a bye in the SEC Tournament.
To avoid being one of the bottom four teams and playing on Wednesday, Arkansas needs to win just one of its last three games. Even if it loses out, it could still get a top-10 seed if Georgia loses at least once or if Mississippi State loses at least twice.
Essentially, to finish 11th, Arkansas would have to lose out, Georgia would have to win out and Mississippi State would have to go 2-1 or 3-0.
Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, they have much more work to do to clinch one of the four coveted double-byes at the SEC Tournament. Even if they with all three of their remaining games, they’d still need some help.
Two of the four spots are locked up, with Alabama and Texas A&M seemingly on a collision course for a regular-season finale in College Station that decides the conference title. The other two are still up for grabs, as the next six teams — including Arkansas — are separated by only two games.
A pair of those teams (Kentucky and Tennessee) are ahead of the Razorbacks in the standings, so they can gain a game on them, but Auburn and Vanderbilt own the tiebreaker over Arkansas and Missouri has a much easier closing stretch.
It is highly likely that the Razorbacks finish somewhere outside of the top four seeds and has to play on Thursday in Nashville. That might not be the worst thing, especially if they can get lucky and face a NET top-100 team because that’d be another Q2 opportunity before, presumably, another Q1 opportunity on Friday.
Arkansas Basketball Projections
|Saturday, Feb. 25||at Alabama||16.9%||22%|
|Tuesday, Feb. 28||at Tennessee||13.9%||28%|
|Saturday, March 4||vs. Kentucky||71.9%||69%|
|Record||Chance, per ESPN BPI||Chance, per KenPom|
More coverage of Arkansas basketball from BoAS…