Arkansas and Auburn likely have already earned at-large berths in the NCAA Tournament as they enter Thursday night’s matchup in the Southeastern Conference tourney in Nashville, Tenn., but building momentum will be a priority.
Seeded No. 10 in the 14-team SEC field, the Razorbacks (19-12, 8-10 SEC) enter the postseason riding a three-game losing streak. Auburn (20-11, 10-8) avoided a similar fate, ending a two-game skid with a 79-70 win over Tennessee in their regular-season finale.
Coach Bruce Pearl acknowledged that beating the then-12th ranked Volunteers was an “important win” but wasn’t sure how that will impact his Tigers.
“A good offensive performance doesn’t necessarily translate to the next game because everybody is so different,” he said after the Tigers shot 49.1 percent from the field and 8 of 22 from 3-point range, and committed just six turnovers.
Late-season woes have instilled a sense of urgency for the Razorbacks, who are 2-5 since winning the first matchup with Kentucky, 88-73, in Lexington on Feb. 7. They lost the rematch, 88-79, to the Wildcats in Fayetteville last weekend.
“You look at our record over the last seven games, and we’ve got to play better basketball, that’s for sure,” Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said.
Musselman is still confident his team will get a spot in the 68-team NCAA field, citing early nonconference wins over opponents like current Top 25 teams Creighton and San Diego State. Arkansas compiled an 11-1 record over the first two months of the season.
“We feel like through the regular-season basketball we’ve proven that we’re an NCAA Tournament team,” he said.
The Tigers and Hogs have met only once this season, with Auburn posting a 72-59 win at home. The Razorbacks were without injured freshman guard Nick Smith Jr. in that game, however. Smith has averaged 21.8 points a game over his last four outings.
Auburn expects to have backup center Dylan Cardwell back after missing the finale against Tennessee with an ankle injury. Cardwell often gets key minutes with leading scorer Johni Broome (14.0 ppg, 8.4 rpg) often contending with foul issues.
–Field Level Media