ATLANTA - With its NCAA Tournament hopes likely dashed after a Thursday 71-69 loss to South Carolina at the SEC Tournament, Arkansas' basketball team returned home to Fayetteville on Friday to await word of its next game.
That is likely to be as a high seed and host in the 77th annual NIT, which is a 32-team event scheduled to begin Tuesday night on college campuses.
ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi had the Razorbacks (21-11) as one of his first four teams out of the NCAA field on Friday night.
"I don't think there is any question that they would be in our tournanent," NIT selection chairman C.M. Newton said on Wednesday's Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly. "But I think Arkansas is a good enough team to be in the other (NCAA) Tournament.
"...To me the committee puts too much emphasis on the RPI and not enough on the eye test," Newton added. "(Arkansas head coach) Mike (Anderson) is a hell of a coach and I would not want to play them now."
The NIT selection committee will announce its brackets Sunday night after the field for the Big Dance is announced at 5:30 p.m. CST.
"Something major would have to happen with some teams," Arkansas senior guard Madracus Wade acknowledged of getting into the NCAA Tournament. "Teams would have to lose. Right now I don't know, but I'm probably leaning a little towards the NIT unless something dramatic or major happened."
Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson is just hoping the entire body of work will be looked at more than his team's last two losses.
"Well, we're in the hunt for something," Razorback head coach Mike Anderson said after Thursday's loss. "Postseason play, that's what we aimed for this season."
Arkansas – which had won six games in a row before losing to Alabama and South Carolina - could have certainly assured itself a berth in the NCAA Tournament with a win or wins at the SEC Tournament.
"This one here, this year, I thought we were especially primed for it," Anderson said. "I also cautioned that first game, because you don't know how your kids are going to come out and play. True to what I said, we saw (Thursday). We saw a team that came out and I thought we had the jitters early on."
The Razorbacks, who have not played in the NCAA Tournament since 2008, last played in the NIT in 1997 and advanced to the Final Four in New York City before losing to Michigan in the semfinals and UConn in the third-place game.
The NIT's opening round games are played on March 18-19, the second round games on March 20-24 and the quarterfinal round games March 25-26.
The Final Four of the NIT will be played at Madison Square Garden in New York City with semifinals on Tuesday, April 1 and the championship game set for Thursday, April 3.
"Our hope is still alive (for the NCAA)," Arkansas sophomore Michael Qualls said. "If not, we have just got to do what we've got to do and learn from it."
Senior guard Kikko Haydar echoed that sentiment, but also seemed to accept an NIT fate.
I'm just hopeful," Arkansas guard Kikko Haydar said. "I hope the committee gives us a chance. But I don't know."
The NIT by-laws state that any regular-season champion of an NCAA Division I conference (as determined by the conference's tie-break protocol) not otherwise selected to the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship will secure an automatic qualification into the NIT.
The NIT thus will include teams such as conference champs Belmont (24-9, 14-2 OVC) and Davidson (20-12, 15-1 Southern) and likely runner-up Florida Gulf Coast (22-12, 14-4 A-Sun).
There's also likely to be several other SEC teams such as Missouri, Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Georgia – if the latter two fail to earn their way into the NCAA Tournament by winning the SEC Tournament.
"I don't know how many automatic qualifiers we will have in our tournament" Newton said. "We could have as many as 13 teams that win their conference tournaments, but are passed over by the NCAA...We have eight old coaches – as a I call them – that will make a good decisions for those at-large teams."
Bobby Portis battles inside during the loss to South Carolina on Thursday.
Arkansas Awaits Postseason Fate
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