Arkansas fans would love a return to the post-season this year.
It's been 16 years since we last played in the NIT.
It's been 5 years since that ugly NCAA tournament 2nd round exit against UNC
Since that time Arkansas fans have seen the football team win the 2010 Liberty Bowl, go to the 2011 Sugar Bowl, and win the 2012 Cotton Bowl. They've also seen the baseball team go 19-12 in post season play and finish 3rd in the 2009 College World Series and 3rd in the 2012 College World Series.
Meanwhile basketball has been kind of an afterthought. Last season we saw the team charge into conference play at 15-5 following wins over Auburn and #19 Michigan it seemed like Anderson was going to do the impossible and take this his first Razorback team to the post season. But that team stalled and went 3-8 to end the regular season and exited on Thursday in the SEC tournament.
This season, The Hogs are currently sitting at 16-9, ranked 6th in the SEC in a down year, and is ranked 89th in RPI. What are the possible outcomes for the rest of the season? The rule in the past for the SEC has been 20 wins, and you're in, but with Kentucky dropping out of the top 25, and Ole Miss out of the top 50 in RPI, it seems unlikely that 20 wins gets you a bid.
NCAA - The SEC Tournament Way (The Easy Way)
The easiest way to get a bid is to win your conference tournament. That's how a 19-15 Arkansas Razorbacks team got in as an 11 seed in 2000. Is it possible? Yeah. It becomes a lot more likely if you have a top four seed though. Since the league expanded to 12 teams in 1992, the automatic bid has been earned by a 1-4 seed 18 times and only 3 times by a team that played all four days. This is the first season where it is possible to play for 5 days, but let's hope we avoid a collapse that puts us playing a game on Wednesday.
Currently Arkansas sits in 6th place with the same record as Missouri. Holding serve at home (3 games against UGA, LSU, A&M) and winning in Columbia should get the Hogs past Missouri as the Tigers host Florida and go to Kentucky of which they are bound to lose at least one game. A 2nd loss to the hogs and the same SEC record, the tie-breaker goes to the hogs with a 2-0 advantage over the Tigers for a top 4 seed. If Arkansas wins a road game against Florida or LSU, but loses in Columbia, it gets more complicated. A win over Florida (almost guaranteed #1 seed) gives the hogs a strong tiebreaker. If the win-loss record between two tied teams is the same, then the tie breaker goes to the record vs. the #1 seed etc. If the road win is against LSU, then Mizzou should have the advantage with a win over Bama.
Kentucky has a one game lead on the Hogs and a favorable schedule to close the season, but losing Nerlens Noel proved to be very costly as they lost by 30 points in their first game without him. If Kentucky loses to Arkansas and Florida and can't win all four of their games against Vanderbilt, Mizzou, Mississippi St., and UGA, then the Hogs will have the advantage over the Wildcats and a top seed in the SEC tournament.
Alabama must lose 2 more games than Arkansas for the Hogs to surpass them after Bama won the only contest between the teams this season.
So, it seems very likely that if the Hogs can hold serve at home and win in Columbia they will have a top 4 seed. What happens there remains to be seen, but the key is really getting that top 4 seed to start. A win against Florida would really help those causes and winning all 6 games is optimal. All of this still requires the Hogs to win 7 of their next 9 games which is a tall order anyway, especially when 4 of those wins are outside of Bud Walton Arena.
NCAA - The Other Way
Without the automatic bid, Arkansas must prove it can win on the road. From 2000 to 2010, 11 teams made the NCAA tournament with 2 or fewer road wins (Arkansas in 2007 is one of them). Mike Anderson's 2011 team made the tournament off of just 2 road wins. It's been done before, but most of those teams also had good neutral court records, of which this Razorback team does not.
I believe a Razorback team that wins the last 8 games of the regular season and wins at least one SEC tournament game will go dancing. A loss to Florida, or LSU, or Mizzou, might cause them to have to win 2 or more SEC tournament games, just to prove to the Selection Committee that they can win outside of Bud Walton. This Arkansas team could win 6 more games (3 @ home, 1 on the road, 2 in Nashville) and be 22-12, and I think they still miss the tournament.
I think 2-8 on the road and 2-2 in true neutral court games won't do it. Maybe if the SEC was stronger. Win 5 of the regular season games, go 3-0 on the road to close out the season, and win one game in the SEC tournament, gives the hogs 1 more win over teams in the top 50 RPI, another couple of wins over teams in the top 100 RPI, and a 22-12 record that the selection committee might actually be interested in.
NIT - The only way
32 teams get selected. Last year 18-14 LSU, 18-14 Tennessee, 20-13 Ole Miss, and 21-11 Miss St. were all selected with at-large bids (automatics are only given to regular season conference champions that don't make the NCAA tournament). Three of the teams had winning or even conference records(all teams had 7 or more conference wins), 10 or more home wins, and 3 or more road wins. Mostly they just had seasons that didn't blow up at the end. Tennessee blew up at the beginning of the season and that's why they weren't in the NCAA tournament.
Basically the key is, Arkansas can't do what it did last year. If Arkansas wins 3 of the next 7 games (7th is SEC tournament first round) they should be in the NIT.
Arkansas will definitely do more than enough to be offered a bid into the NIT tournament. With wins against Kentucky and Georgia and losses on the road @Florida and @LSU, the Hogs will put themselves into position to beat Mizzou and Texas A&M to break into the top 4 of the SEC tournament. When the Hogs put on one of their best performances of the season to beat Mizzou and coast through an ugly win against Texas A&M on Senior Night (with no Seniors) they will play their first game of the SEC tournament on Friday where they will lose their first game and begrudgingly accept an NIT bid hosting a first round game.
Let's hope it's better than that, but that seems to be what we can expect for the script this season.