Kevin McPherson: Did Loss to Missouri End Hogs’ Hopes for NCAA Bid?



Through 22 games, the Arkansas Razorbacks had done enough positive work to project as a 9-seed by many NCAA tournament “Bracketologists” who look almost daily at the 68-team field as a snapshot if the season were to end that day.

The Hogs’ 23rd game provided a seismic shift in those projections: An 83-78 loss to an awful Missouri team in Columbia, MO, on Saturday was the worst possible way for Arkansas to begin the second half of SEC play, and it knocked the Razorbacks (17-6, 6-4 SEC, RPI No. 36) to a “First Four Out” projection in several Bracketology updates on Sunday.

Effectively, that means going from being a projected 9-seed / “solidly in” to slipping beyond a 10-, 11-, or even a 12-seed. One loss typically doesn’t have such a dramatic effect, but POP! That’s the sound of the bubble bursting for Arkansas if the season had ended with that uninspired, anemic effort in Columbia.  The only good news is that the season didn’t end Saturday. Still eight SEC games to play before the SEC tournament in March, so Arkansas has a chance to climb back into the NCAAT at-large picture.

It’s a steep climb now, though, mainly because the last eight games provide only two chances for a “quality win”, and both those games are on the road against ranked teams — South Carolina and Florida. To make matters worse, six of the final eight regular-season games offer little RPI-improvement value with a win, but they offer plenty of RPI-slippage with a loss.

Another way to look at this mess is the Hogs have put themselves in position of needing to win 6 of their last 8 games, with one of those wins against a ranked team on the road, to have a realistic shot at an at-large bid. Problem is, in their 4 games against teams ranked in the RPI Top 30, the Hogs have lost by a combined total of 77 points. So, no wins against the RPI Top 30, and only one win against the RPI Top 50 — Tennessee (13-10 and RPI No. 35). That won’t cut it, especially when you factor in they now have a “bad loss” against a team ranked outside the RPI Top 250.

See, this is what happens when you lose to the worst team from a high-major conference — Missouri came in 5-15, 0-9 SEC, and with an RPI of 268th.

“(Missouri) made plays they needed to make, and we didn’t.” Mike Anderson said in his post-game press conference. “Disappointed, but not discouraged … it was a one-point game, we had an opportunity to tie it up, and we never could get that lead.

“And for some reason, it seemed like (Missouri) found some extra energy, going and getting all those loose balls going down the stretch …”

For Arkansas, it was the second loss against an RPI-100-plus team in league play (Mississippi State being the first in early January) this season, and in both instances it seemed like the Hogs were sluggish, maybe even unprepared, out of the gates. A team like Arkansas is not talented enough to go into any game like that and expect to win, and certainly Saturday’s result is proof of that.

Mike Anderson might agree based on his final words at his post-game presser: “I just didn’t do a good job getting our guys ready, so I’ll take the blame on that one.”

From this vantage point, the 2016-17 version of the Hogs does not look like an NCAAT team. The talent is in place, but the inconsistency from game to game continues to be a thorn in the team’s postseason plans, and that is not a good look in the final one-third of the regular season. Again, Arkansas likely needs a 6-2 finish heading into the SECT to feel optimistic about its NCAAT at-large chances, but looking ahead at the schedule one could argue that a 2-6 finish is as likely as 6-2.

The inconsistency continues to show up defensively more than anywhere else, but unforced turnovers on offense and individual-player breakdowns at both ends have all conspired to make Arkansas “look” like a mediocre team far too often.

Against Missouri, all you have to know is that against the worst field-goal shooting team in the SEC, the Hogs’ defense yielded 50.9% from the field in a game where things came too easy for a team that had lost 13 consecutive games. And though the Hogs won the battle of the boards (33-26), they lost the turnovers convincingly, 17-10. Most of the Hogs’ turnovers were unforced, meaning they simply lacked focus and were careless with the basketball.

It must be extra frustrating for Razorback fans after Wednesday’s 87-68 home win over then-RPI-Top-70 Alabama, a game in which Arkansas had it’s best concerted effort for 40 minutes at both ends of the court.

At this point, every game is now the most important game of the season and should be considered a MUST win. It starts Tuesday night (7:30 p.m. CT on SEC Network) when the Hogs host Vanderbilt at Bud Walton Arena, marking exactly two weeks from the night the Hogs erased a late 15-point deficit for an improbable, 71-70 road victory against the ‘Dores in Nashville.

If it was Halloween, this team would be in Jekyl and Hyde costumes handing out a trick with every treat. It’s not Halloween, but Valentine’s Day is not too far off. Might be heart-check time in Hogland.

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Kevin McPherson is a former sportswriter and editor at both the Arkansas Gazette and Arkansas Democrat, as well as a former contributor to newspapers in Northwest Arkansas — covering Arkansas Razorbacks basketball, high school football and basketball, and basketball recruiting. He’s entering his 13th year as a mortgage banker with Bank of England, but he still covers Razorback basketball and recruiting as well as high school sports. You can join him live every Monday and Thursday at 1:30 CST on The Hog Call, KREB 1190 The Fan in Northwest Arkansas by clicking here: You can also follow him live on Twitter @ARHoopScoop.

did missouri end hogs' hopes for ncaa bid


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