For Buzz Williams and his Texas A&M Aggies, it’s likely a good thing that Saturday night’s game against the No. 24 Razorbacks has been canceled.
After getting rocked by fierce winter weather, they were headed into the eye of another type of storm had the Hogs touched down in College Station.
Eric Musselman’s Arkansas basketball team, after all, is cardinal red hot, having reeled off seven straight SEC wins and turned many heads after the last two wins against Missouri (on the road) and Florida (at home).
This streak has pushed the Arkansas basketball program closer to the kind of national limelight it enjoyed in the glory years of the 1990s. Some national pundits are starting to gush about the Hogs again.
CBS’ Garry Parrish, who is based in Memphis and well remembers those glory years, ranked Arkansas at No. 19 in his most recent poll.
“Arkansas is 7-1 in its past eight games and rising in the rankings the way it used to back in the early 1990s, when the Razorbacks made the Sweet 16 six times in a seven-year span from 1990 to 1996,” he wrote.
“They advanced to four Elite Eights in that stretch, made the Final Four three times, the title game twice and won the national championship in 1994. It was some kind of run under Hall-of-Fame coach Nolan Richardson.”
“But, as I’ve previously noted 57,000 times, the Razorbacks haven’t been back to the Sweet 16 since 1996. Incredibly, 99 different schools have made the Sweet 16 since the last time Arkansas made the Sweet 16.”
The number crunchers, too, are increasingly high on these Hogs.
Take WarrenNolan.com, a sports analytics site which shows different rankings for college basketball teams. When it comes to its ELO ratings, the eggheads have Arkansas basketball at No. 21 in the nation, behind only Tennessee and Alabama.
Things really get interesting when you hop over to its projected final regular season records for SEC teams. Here, Arkansas is predicted to win out. That would include a huge victory at home vs No. 8 Alabama.
These are the predicted future records for all SEC teams:
Musselman knows these are pretty heady days.
He knows his guys see all the praise online. But, he said on Thursday, “we’re practicing, man, and we’re not patting anyone on the back, and we’re not saying we’ve done [a lot]. No one’s taken a bow down there, I can tell you that. We’re putting on our hard hats and we’re going to work.”
Still, a Lack of Respect for Arkansas Basketball
Given how well Arkansas has played recently, you would think that the kind of enthusiasm Parrish and advanced analytics gurus have for the program would be more universally shared.
On Thursday, for instance, USA Today released its latest projection of the NCAA Tournament. Its resident bracketologist Shelby Mast put the Hogs as an 8th seed. This would mean having to beat the man-eating Gorgon named Gonzaga in the second round to get to the Sweet 16, a task which really would be the most Arkansas thing ever:
While getting “only” an eighth seed would be a disappointment given Arkansas’ current momentum, it would have been welcomed with open arms by many fans just a month ago.
No, where Mast spits on Arkansas basketball here is when he puts the two teams it most recently beat — Mizzou and Florida — above the Hogs. It’s ridiculous Missouri should get a No. 5 seed and Florida a No. 7 seed (see the full bracket here) when Arkansas has proven it’s a better team than both of them in the last week.
Mizzou apologists could counter that the Tigers were missing star center Jeremiah Tillman when the Hogs won in Columbia, but an easy counter argument is that Arkansas was missing star forward Justin Smith when the two teams met the first time.
Smith has been a revelation since he returned from injury in late January.
While this USA today slight is head shake worthy, it doesn’t rattle the Richter Scale like SportsBetting.com’s latest SEC odds.
Below, you will see that Arkansas doesn’t even crack the SEC’s Top 5 when it comes to 2021 SEC Tournament Championship odds.
SEC Basketball Championship Odds
Mississippi State 60/1
South Carolina 125/1
Texas A&M 300/1
Ok, I can see why Tennessee and Alabama would be in the top two. I can see why Tenneseee would even get No. 1 based on the SEC Tournament being played in Nashville. What I can’t see as easily is why LSU, Missouri and Florida get put ahead of Arkansas on these odds.
Lenny Estrin, who is the head trader at SportsBetting.com, gave his reasoning via e-mail:
“The Razorbacks are running hot right now, and you have to love a shirtless Musselman chest bumpin’ his kids the other day. But at the end of the day, we’re booking odds based on current form, precedent and perception.”
“While Arkansas is playing some of the SEC’s best ball right now, the betting public perceives the teams ahead of them on the odds board as perennial powerhouses. Whether that is true or not, we have to protect ourselves against the anticipated action.”
Man, that one hurts.
The Arkansas basketball program has six Final Four appearances, two national title game appearances and one national title.
Alabama, Tennessee and Missouri have a combined total of 0 Final Four appearances.
In this context, who, exactly, should be considered more of a “perennial powerhouse”?
LSU basketball, meanwhile, has four Final Four appearances but has never gotten farther than that.
Perhaps Vegas sees the Hogs only winning one SEC title in its history and puts a lot on that. Whatever it is, this should only further fuel the red-hot Hogs to do even more damage in the coming weeks.