SEC Bubble Action: Arkansas Takes Big Hit; Missouri Stays AlivePosted by Greg Mitchell on March 13th, 2014
Oh momentum, you are a fickle thing. It was only a week ago that Arkansas was pounding Ole Miss and seemed like an NCAA tournament lock. But after the Hogs’ loss to South Carolina in their SEC tournament opener on Thursday, the only thing they’ve locked up is a bid to the NIT. A lot needed to go wrong to undo Arkansas’ six-game winning streak down the stretch that included a statement win at Kentucky. Unfortunately for Mike Anderson, that’s exactly what has happened. The loss last weekend to RPI #116 Alabama was bad, removing any margin for error this week. But following that up with a loss to RPI #146 South Carolina probably won’t be forgiven by the committee. The offense never got going in Tuscaloosa (0.842 points per possession), and while the Hogs played a tad better against the Gamecocks (0.995 points per possession), they squandered several late chances to reclaim the lead. Close misses by Bobby Portis and Rashad Madden in the final minute were reminiscent of the end of Arkansas’ loss at Missouri in mid-February.
Had either shot gone in, the Hogs would have faced a quarterfinal with a likely NCAA bid on the line. Instead, they’ll need to sweat it out until Sunday evening. “I’m hoping for the NCAAs,” Coty Clark told the Associated Press afterward. “But right now, I don’t know.” The late season fall is disappointing for Anderson and the SEC, since Arkansas looked like a team that could help redeem the beleaguered conference in postseason play. Clarke had begun to emerge as a dependable, versatile match-up problem of a forward, and Portis had shown that he could carry a team with his 35-point performance against the Tide in early February. Arkansas also has a bevy of guards that get consistent playing time, and they all chipped in offensively in the stream-rolling of the Rebels. Depth like that would be hard to contend with in a one-and–done tournament setting. That six-game winning streak now looks like nothing but a missed opportunity.
The other SEC bubble team taking the Georgia Dome floor on Thursday was Missouri, which just scratched by Texas A&M for the second time in a little over a week. Frank Haith said after the game that he was encouraged his offense got back on track against a solid defensive team like the Aggies. Jabari Brown got revved up (26 points, 14-of-18 FT), but the Tigers still only shot 42.3 percent as a team and their late game miscues were troubling. However, credit needs to go where it’s is due, and the Tigers played the bulk of the second overtime without Brown and Jordan Clarkson (who had both fouled out) and nevertheless got the win.
The win doesn’t do anything directly for Missouri’s slim NCAA Tournament chances, but it does set up the best opportunity a team on life support can have — a date with the team that look like it will be the top overall seed. Can the unthinkable actually happen for Frank Haith? The Tigers hung with Florida in Gainesville for 32 minutes earlier this year, and afternoon games aren’t the easiest to get up for. But Florida has done nothing other than take care of business this season, and to pull the upset Missouri probably needs to get red hot from three. That’s a problem, since over the past month they’ve shot 31 percent or more from three as a team in only two of nine games. But the Tigers do have an opportunity to give the committee something to think about. All it will take is a shocker to the college basketball world.