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Postseason purgatory



What else can you say and/or write about this Arkansas Razorback basketball team? Senior Night cuts both ways, boys. Enjoy your own all you must, but be mindful of those vibes the last home game gives the host, lest you be bullied by a far inferior team.

The Hogs were on cruise control at Bud Walton Arena on Wednesday night, and jammed in reverse three days later at Tuscaloosa, Ala. The end result of the week is the same postseason purgatory that this team's been drifting in and out of for weeks, but temporally things went against the Razorbacks. You simply cannot end your regular season losing by 25 points (and let's be honest, it was even uglier than that final margin suggested) to a very poor, sub-.500 team. You especially can't do that after being a darling of sorts for a few weeks, having strung together several quality wins and just finished off a fading but still-respectable Ole Miss squad by 30 (and let's be honest, it was even uglier than that final margin suggested). A 55-point swing within conference play is unheard of, and it's undeniably damning when the last loss is (a) the 10th one of the season and (b) the last thing a tournament selection committee sees before the conference championships get underway.

Arkansas was a veritable cruise missile against Ole Miss, canning all manner of shots from all over the court. Anthlon Bell, damn near rendered useless only a few games ago, pumped in a career-best 23 and grinned broadly after his sixth and seventh threes went down. The 110-point output was the highest-scoring SEC game for the Hogs ... EVER.

Arkansas was a feeble little county fair slingshot against Alabama, tossing balls everywhere but into the cylinder. Bell was scoreless. The 16 points the team managed in the first 20 minutes was a season-low for a half, and it looked even worse than it was because Bama was firing in long-range daggers and streaking through the paint with abandon.

It's hard to fathom that I even wrote the previous two paragraphs within the same column, but it's a function of Arkansas having its best and worst games of this frenzied season within 72 hours of each other. This is what we're riding in March, folks. You don't know if Thursday will be the last time we see any of these guys for six months, or if we'll be bawling tears of joy later in the month because they've gathered themselves and scrapped toward some kind of storybook finish. After they upended Kentucky at Rupp and then after they summarily pounded Georgia and Ole Miss for nearly 200 combined points, the Hogs more closely resembled a miracle in the offing rather than a collapse in progress.

Fittingly, the league tourney, long a bedeviler of this program, grants a redemption opportunity that actually must be cashed if Arkansas wants to find itself among the NCAA field of 68. And there's a couple of things that happened Saturday that may have helped make the tank job at Coleman Coliseum irrelevant, both on the same court: Tennessee thumped Mizzou, which cemented the Vols as the SEC fourth seed ahead of Arkansas regardless of how the Bama debacle played out; and by losing, Missouri dipped to a pedestrian 9-9 in the standings, negating the impact of their season sweep of the Hogs. What this does is give the Hogs a de facto catbird seat for the first two days of the SEC tourney: They get a Wednesday bye, then take on the winner of Auburn vs. South Carolina in a 2:30 p.m. (CDT) game Thursday. The draw could be worse, and what it may lead to is a genuinely decisive Friday matchup against that very Volunteers squad.

 If this matchup materializes, it's got the potential of being a true winner-take-all scenario. The Vols got roughly as hot as the Hogs did late in the year, and therefore both are pecking away at what everyone agrees is the last of the SEC's few tourney bids. Tennessee's got one of the season's most impressive wins, a 35-point drubbing of ACC champ Virginia, but also lost twice to Texas A&M. The Hogs hold the distinction of being the only SEC team other than Florida to win multiple games against a Top 25 foe this season, and they also played Florida better than anybody did the last two months, but that bruise Bama dealt isn't likely to totally fade fast. Add the rematch factor, too, because Arkansas led the Vols for long stretches of their matchup on Jan. 22 in Knoxville, only to let Tennessee end the game on a 26-11 run en route to an 81-74 win.

The Hogs can't permit a duplication of that collapse in Atlanta, regardless of what day or opponent it may be.

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