Doubt creeps into Arkansas’ NCAA Tournament hopes after concerning loss at Vanderbilt

On Friday’s episode of Eye on College Basketball I identified that, regardless of Arkansas’ popularity, should you actually dug into the fact of the Fifteenth-ranked Razorbacks, it was conceivable they may wind up messing round lacking the NCAA Tournament.

I put the prospect of Arkansas’ ill-desired plot twist at 15% — however that was earlier than the Hogs received stamped 97-84 at Vanderbilt on Saturday.

Now? I’d double the possibilities the Razorbacks are unnoticed of the Big Dance.

Credit to Jerry Stackhouse’s Commodores for placing up one of the crucial spectacular second halves of the season: 69.2% capturing, together with 66.7% from 3-point vary and 63 second-half factors to Arkansas’ 42 — turning an eight-point deficit halfway by way of the sport into a 13-point win. Vandy averaged a lava-hot 1.4 factors per possession, by far the perfect displaying towards Arkansas’ (beforehand stout) protection this season. Vanderbilt’s dismissal of the Hogs was so statistically spectacular, it dropped Eric Musselman’s staff from 14th to twenty second in total defensive effectivity at KenPom.com.

I nonetheless assume it is comfortably extra possible than not that Arkansas sees its identify pop up on CBS on Selection Sunday when the large bracket is revealed, however this program is in bother and must discover a option to security quickly. After an 11-1 begin, Arkansas has misplaced 4 of its final 5, and at 1-4 within the SEC, is barely forward of Mississippi within the league ledger.

Nobody thought this was attainable three weeks in the past, not to mention within the preseason.

There’s so much to be frightened about. First, as a result of the offense is hamstrung on account of accidents, Arkansas has to win with its defensive depth and aptitude. If that goes, this staff is 100% toast. I do not anticipate many extra groups dropping higher than 1.2 factors per possession on the Hogs shifting ahead, so there’s that, at least.

And what about that offense? As Musselman informed me lately, the employees constructed its O round two guys who aren’t enjoying: Nick Smith Jr. and Trevon Brazile. The latter is completed for the season with a torn ACL. The former is engaged on a knee damage, with the hope that he’ll be capable of come again by February. Skepticism abounds over whether or not the projected top-10 NBA Draft choose will play once more for the Hogs. I believe he’ll. I additionally assume he must as a way to guarantee an NCAA Tournament bid for Arkansas. Since Dec. 27, based on BartTorvik.com, Arkansas has performed just like the A hundred and twentieth-best staff within the sport.

Problem is, Arkansas cannot shoot from deep. It ranks 336th nationally in 3-point accuracy (29.1%) and does not even take that many triples — simply 27.6% of its shot makes an attempt are from past the arc. Having long-distance threats is sort of necessary for being a Final Four-caliber staff nowadays. Arkansas? No one within the rotation is capturing higher than Anthony Black’s pedestrian 32%.

Bad 3-point capturing groups traditionally nearly by no means course-correct and morph into good 3-point capturing groups greater than midway into a season. There’s a ceiling right here, regardless.

Next up for the Hogs is a tilt at 13-4 Missouri on Wednesday towards a Tigers staff that could be simply as flawed and anguished as Arkansas after shedding three of its previous 4, together with to Florida on Saturday. No. 20 (quickly unranked) Mizzou will get the advantage of waking up in his hometown earlier than going through the Razorbacks on Wednesday. Arkansas might want to show it might probably do one thing it hasn’t executed but: win on the street.

At 12-5, the Razorbacks solely have two high quality wins: San Diego State and Oklahoma on impartial courts. Road video games towards Baylor, Kentucky, No. 4 Alabama and no. 5 Tennessee nonetheless ready. Can this staff win even two of these video games with out Smith on the ground? I doubt it.

The silver lining for Arkansas followers, and so they understand it, is how Musselman’s overcame mid-season hiccups the previous two seasons and rallied these campaigns to Elite Eight runs, the college’s first for the reason that mid-90s. In 2020-21, Arkansas was a 13-5 staff at the tip of January and projected close to the bubble. It misplaced one recreation between then and the NCAA Tournament. Last season, Arkansas performed a weak nonconference schedule, received turned sideways early in league play and located itself at 10-5 and with an 0-3 SEC document in early January.

The Razorbacks gained 13 of their subsequent 14 and earned a No. 4 seed en path to a regional closing.

Musselman’s top-of-the-line coaches in school basketball — it is why his identify is being floated for the vacant Texas job, one more subplot to the unease presently with Arkansas’ state of affairs — so I will not be shocked if this staff finds a option to proper itself. But thus far, there’s not lots of proof to recommend it can.

The Razorbacks have been thought-about SEC contenders simply two weeks in the past. That hypothesis is over; Arkansas is not going to win this convention. Instead, circumstances now dictate that we wait and see on this staff. Can Arkansas repair itself and minimally do what’s been anticipated for the previous 9 months in Fayetteville? Specifically, merely: make a 3rd straight NCAA Tournament underneath the similar coach for the primary time in additional than 20 years—since Nolan Richardson.

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