Posted: 9:30 pm Thursday, March 13th, 2014
By Mark Bradley
1. Did Arkansas just play itself out of the NCAA tournament? Probably. Losing the regular-season finale by 25 points at 12-18 Alabama was bad. Losing to 13-19 South Carolina on a neutral floor Thursday was way worse. The Razorbacks appeared Dance-bound after winning six consecutive games and stunning Kentucky in Rupp Arena, but these two losses to terrible teams surely undid all the good work. The Hogs could never make South Carolina, which had played in Wednesday’s opening round, go fast enough for their liking, and even after the Gamecocks missed five free throws in the final 53 seconds Arkansas couldn’t make the basket it needed. Freshman Bobby Portis spun free for a 2-foot hook inside the final five seconds, but he pulled the shot wide left.
2. If Arkansas is out, does that mean Missouri is back in? Maybe not. The Tigers tried very hard to blow their tournament opener against Texas A&M. They trailed by four points inside the final two minutes of regulation and wasted a four-point lead in the final 12 seconds of the first overtime. They won in the second OT mostly because the Aggies, who saw four players foul out, ran out of bodies. At 22-10 with an RPI of 52, Missouri has slightly better numbers than Arkansas (21-11, RPI of 56), but the Tigers lack the sort of catchy wins that Arkansas managed in sweeping Kentucky. And Mizzou, lest we forget, was swept by Georgia, which is currently on nobody’s bubble.
3. Does Missouri have a chance against Florida in Friday’s quarterfinals? A chance, yes. The Tigers gave the nation’s top-ranked team a go in Gainesville on Feb. 4. (One night before football’s National Signing Day, in case you were distracted.) The Gators trailed 28-25 at the half and didn’t take a lasting lead until Michael Frazier II hit a 3-pointer with nine minutes to play. Frazier would hit two more treys in the next two minutes to give Florida a six-point lead. The Gators would win 68-58 but were outscored by six points from the field. Not so from the foul line, though: Florida took 33 free throws to Mizzou’s 12.
4. If Florida is the best in the land, then why are coaches saying that Tennessee is playing better than any SEC team? Because the Volunteers, who will face South Carolina in the second afternoon quarterfinal, have begun to function at peak capacity, and the Vols’ peak is as high as the Smokey Mountains. “We’ve got a bear tomorrow,” said Perry Clark, the South Carolina assistant who was on Bobby Cremins’ Georgia Tech staff when the Jackets got really good 30 years ago. “Tennessee is playing great right now.” The Vols closed the regular season by winning by seven points at Mississippi State, by 38 against Vanderbilt, by 28 at Auburn and by 27 against Missouri. That’s an aggregate margin of 100 points over four games.