SEC Title On Mind

Arkansas (18-12) heads into the SEC Tournament with a goal of winning it all, but the so-called Bracketologists think just getting to the championship game would be enough to send the Razorbacks to the Big Dance.

FAYETTEVILLE -- All the chatter on ESPN, all the information on the Internet, has been unavoidable.

After all, Arkansas' basketball players "are all human," freshman Patrick Beverley said. They can't help but think about their potential chances for the NCAA Tournament.

But that doesn't mean the sole goal for their trip to Atlanta this week revolves around advancing to the title game of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

From what the Razorbacks have heard, from all of the so-called "Bracketology" experts, a three-game tear in Atlanta would suffice.

They want more, though.

"We know that our strength of schedule and RPI is good enough to get us in without winning it all," Arkansas point guard Gary Ervin said. "But honestly, we're not worrying right now about just getting to the NCAA Tournament. We're actually trying to win a championship. We're going out there so we can get some rings."

Hauling back some hardware to Fayetteville is the only way Arkansas can guarantee a repeat appearance in the NCAA Tournament. But now, because of back-to-back wins last week over Mississippi State and at Vanderbilt, other possibilities exist.

The Razorbacks' first consecutive victories in SEC play earned some respect from those that make a living by projecting the NCAA Tournament field.

Joe Lunardi of ESPN had Arkansas just 10 spots out of an at-large bid as of Tuesday afternoon, up nine spots from last week. Jerry Palm of CollegeRPI.com said Tuesday that three wins in the SEC Tournament would likely let Arkansas sneak into the NCAA Tournament. He said two blowout victories and a close loss in the semifinals could keep Arkansas (18-12) in the "bubble" argument.

Stewart Mandel of CNNSI.com even had Arkansas listed Tuesday as his "final team in."

Statistics hurting the Hogs include their 7-9 SEC mark, their 2-8 road record and their 5-5 performance in their last 10 games.

Most importantly, they can improve that final figure in the SEC Tournament, during a time in which the NCAA Tournament committee will be intently watching "bubble" teams such as Arkansas.

Arkansas coach Stan Heath fully grasps that, especially after listening to NCAA Tournament committee chairman Gary Walters last week on a teleconference.

"Gary Walters said conference tournaments are going to dictate a lot on who gets into the field of 65," Heath said.

That reality puts Arkansas in a position where it actually still controls its own destiny, even after all the ups and downs of this roller coaster of a season.

"This all does kind of remind me of last year," Arkansas center Steven Hill said. "We had some lows last year. We've had some even lower points this year. But we can still make it. And that's all we're thinking about."



THURSDAY'S TICKET

ARKANSAS VS. SOUTH CAROLINA

WHEN: 2:15 p.m. TV: KHOG (Cable channel 7)

WHERE: Georgia Dome, Atlanta

RECORDS: Arkansas Razorbacks, 18-12, 7-9 Southeastern Conference; South Carolina, 14-15, 4-12

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 (79-69, 5th season; 109-74 overall, 6 seasons); South Carolina, Dave Odom (114-85, 6th season; 392-259 overall, 21st seasons)

SERIES: Arkansas leads 11-7 (Each school has won once in neutral-site games)

LAST SEASON: South Carolina won 66-60 on Jan. 24 in Columbia, S.C.


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