This is hard for me to type, but after projecting what will happen with the Razorbacks' schedule this season, Arkansas fans may have to be okay with the NIT this year. I’m not saying to be okay with a first round upset to Robert Morris, but a nice trip to New York for the NIT is okay. Hear me out.
Arkansas’ best non-conference game this year (outside of Maui) is SMU. Matter of fact, the only non-conference teams that are projected to make the tournament this year are SMU, Syracuse and possibly California - and Arkansas may not even get to play Syracuse if they don’t get past California in the first round at Maui. This team could end up like the 09-10 and 10-11 Virginia Tech teams that won 25 and 22 games respectively, in a tougher conference, and were left out of the tournament.
I automatically give Arkansas nine non-conference wins, with toss up games against SMU and the Maui games. Maui should be considered a success if Arkansas goes 2-1 by beating California, losing to Syracuse, and defeating the loser of Gonzaga/Baylor second round match up. Worse case is they end up in the last place game with Chaminade and destroy their SOS.
In SEC play, I'm picking five likely losses in the road games at Tenn, LSU, Mizzou, Kentucky, and Bama. I have eight automatic wins and that’s being more than generous. That includes road wins at UGA and State. Those are games Arkansas has to win if they even want to be in the NCAA discussion.
There are five toss up games. They are home games with Florida, Kentucky and LSU. The only reason these are toss up games is because of Arkansas’ record at BWA last year. Toss up games on the road are are Vandy and A&M.
To add all that up, Arkansas is 17-5 (8-5) in games that I think we know the outcome. If they lose to SMU early, that could set the tone for the season and we may not even be talking NIT, so let’s say they win.
I honestly don’t think Maui is going to go as well for the Hogs as it did in ’05. They lose to California and then play Minnesota. Golden Gopher fans will be shocked if their team goes .500 this year, so hopefully Arkansas can pull that one out. Arkansas will then play the Dayton Flyers who were 17-14 (7-9 A-10) and one would think Arkansas should win that game. Arkansas could walk out of Maui 2-1, but what did they really win? Who did they really beat? Once again, Arkansas’ best non-conference win could be SMU. The NCAA selection committee that Jeff Long isn’t the chairman of will HATE that.
Arkansas is now 20-6 as we move on to the toss up games in the SEC. Best case scenario we beat LSU at home and beat either Kentucky or Florida. We go 1-1 in road toss ups Vandy and A&M. Arkansas is now 23-8 (11-7). Will wins against SMU, Mizzou (home), FLA or Kentucky (home), LSU (home) carry Arkansas to the NCAA tournament? Arkansas would then hope they play two more quality teams in the SEC tournament and defeat them as well.
Anything is possible with Hawgball. A .500 team won four games in four days to make the tournament in 2000. Because of the schedule, don’t be surprised if you see Arkansas’ name on the "first four out" list and Bud Walton is hosting NIT games come March.