On The Outside Looking In

Jerry Palm and Joe Lunardi - two prominent "Bracketologists" - talk about just how much work the Razorbacks (16-10, 5-7) have to do to first get back on the bubble and then actually into the NCAA Tournament.

They don't miss often. So when they see eye-to-eye, like they did Monday, their premise usually proves to be factual.

Jerry Palm founded and runs CollegeRPI.com, a Web site with estimates for the RPI (ratings percentage index) and NCAA Tournament projections. Joe Lunardi provides content for ESPN.com's Bracketology page.

Lunardi has predicted all but one of the NCAA Tournament teams correctly in his last six final projections. Palm's record is nearly as flawless.

Those facts provide ample evidence to back up the shared opinions of the two prominent "Bracketologists" regarding Arkansas' NCAA Tournament chances.

Simply put, they shared, the Hogs must win the rest of their regular-season games to feel completely assured of a berth.

Anything less than that? Then, the three words "on the bubble" start finding their way into conversations in Fayetteville.

"Getting to 9-7 (in the Southeastern Conference), on a five-game winning streak, would do it for sure," Lunardi said. "The goal really would have to be 8-8. They have some decent wins, although two of their three biggest wins are over an Alabama team that nobody knows what to make of."

The Razorbacks could, both concurred, withstand one slip-up.

The defeat can't come Wednesday night at Auburn, though.

Arkansas already faces an uphill climb. In Lunardi's recent projection, the Hogs didn't even rank among those teams labeled "The Last Four Out" or "The Next Last Four Out."

Lunardi said Monday he had Arkansas placed at No. 84 on his "Bracketology" list. Only 65 teams qualify for the NCAA Tournament.

Arkansas coach Stan Heath spoke Monday like he knew exactly what Lunardi and Palm believe.

"It's going to take playing our way in and winning on the road," Heath said.

Lunardi bluntly said Arkansas' road record must improve. It's a road mark that could keep the NCAA Tournament committee from tabbing the Hogs, Lunardi said.

"When you look at the last month and a half, other than (its) win at Alabama, what has Arkansas really done to get into the picture?" Lunardi asked.

"Not much," he said, answering himself. "I worry about 4-7 (in the last 11 games). I worry about 1-6 (on the road). It would be better to lose one at home and win both on the road, actually."

The perception that Arkansas can't win on the road can be altered with a victory Wednesday night.

Plus, if the Razorbacks string together two home wins (Tennessee, Mississippi State) after one at Auburn, they will earn some wiggle room.

A loss at Vanderbilt would then put Arkansas at 8-8 in the SEC.

Under that scenario, the prognosticators both believe the Hogs, at 19-11, would control their own destiny but have work left in the SEC Tournament.

"Arkansas at 8-8, with a first-round exit, would probably have to get ready for the NIT," Palm said. "A first-round win there all but does it, though."

They agree on that point because Arkansas possesses two of the SEC's signature non-conference victories. In November, the Razorbacks defeated Southern Illinois (RPI: 6) and West Virginia (RPI: 49) in the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla.

Those two games contribute to Arkansas' strength of schedule rank (11), which keeps the Razorbacks at a respectable level in Palm's RPI estimate (43).

The parity in the SEC this season neither hurts nor helps Arkansas, both said.

As many as nine teams are still alive for NCAA Tournament invites.

In the Western Division alone, Alabama, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Arkansas can all win their way into the tournament field.

Of those four schools, Lunardi said Arkansas' resume would stand out the most at 8-8.

"Arkansas has an advantage over the Mississippi schools with a win next week over Mississippi State because of the non-conference stuff," Lunardi said. "Arkansas also has an advantage over Alabama because of the season sweep."

Then again, this all becomes mostly moot with a defeat Wednesday night in Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum.

Lunardi, like Palm, expressed doubt. Hard not to when looking at 1-7 on other teams' home courts.

"Call me after the Auburn game," Lunardi said. "Then, we'll have an idea if they really have a shot at this."



WEDNESDAY'S TICKET

ARKANSAS AT AUBURN

WHEN: 7 p.m. TV: None

WHERE: Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum, Auburn, Ala.

RECORDS: Arkansas, 16-10, 5-7 Southeastern Conference; Auburn, 14-13, 4-8

RADIO: KXIO-FM 106.9; KEZA-FM 107.9; KKEG-FM 92.1; KFPW-AM 1230; KQBK-FM 104.7; KHGG-AM 1580; KHGG-FM 103.1; KDYN-AM 1540; KDYN-FM 96.7; KTTG-FM 96.3

COACHES: Arkansas, Stan Heath (77-67, 5th season; 107-73 overall, 6 seasons); Auburn, Jeff Lebo, (40-46, third season; 155-109 overall, 9 seasons)

SERIES: Arkansas leads 20-12 (Auburn 9-6 in Auburn)

LAST MEETING: Arkansas won 65-57 on Feb. 7 in Fayetteville



Out of Bracketology

ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi updates a mock NCAA Tournament field twice per week throughout the college basketball season.

Arkansas has spent a majority of the season in Lunardi's field. Currently, the Hogs are out.

Bracketology

Date Arkansas Projected Seed

Nov. 28 8

Dec. 10 9

Dec. 30 11

Jan. 8 9

Jan. 18 --

Jan. 22 11

Jan. 30 10

Feb. 8 11

Feb. 20 --


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