LITTLE ROCK — Caught up in Arkansas’ five-week long journey to relevance, I overlooked other in-state teams in position to make the NCAA Tournament. Catching up, I like the chances of the two women’s teams pursuing the Sun Belt Conference bid.
Until last Saturday’s loss to Alabama, the Razorbacks were the Arkansas team most likely to be in the NCAA. Now, the Arkansas State University women are No. 1 on my list.
According to personal calculations, all the Razorbacks had to do to receive an at-large bid was win at Tuscaloosa and record one victory at the SEC Tournament. Now, the thinking is they must win twice in Atlanta. More on them later.
Under 15-year coach Brian Boyer, the ASU women won the Sun Belt Conference title with a 14-4 record.
As the No. 1 seed, ASU opened the conference tournament on Wednesday, beating Louisiana-Monroe for the third time, 78-69. Sun Belt Player of the Year Aundrea Gamble scored 15 and Jaleon O’Bannon contributed 21 off the bench.
ASU will play Texas State on Friday. During the season, ASU beat Texas State by 16 on the road and by 19 at home.
The guess is that ASU will face Western Kentucky or Arkansas-Little Rock in the finals on Saturday and I like the way the Red Wolves have responded to being in first place in the conference since the second week of the season.
The one reservation is that ASU might be a little uptight, trying to get to the NCAA Tournament for the first time under Boyer. Head to head with UALR in the finals, Joe Foley’s bunch could have the edge. Starting in 2010, UALR made three straight NCAA appearances under Foley.
My line: ASU women, 3-1; UALR women 4-1.
Although capable, the women at Central Arkansas are more of a longshot than the Arkansas teams in the Sun Belt.
A week ago Saturday, the Sugar Bears were a home victory away from clinching at least a share of the Southland Conference championship. Instead, they lost to Lamar, prompting coach Sandra Rushing to say, “We just went from possibly first to sixth.”
A slight exaggeration, but UCA did lose twice on the road last week to finish third in the conference.
My line: UCA women 10-1.
On the men’s side, I don’t like the chances of ASU or UALR.
As the No 4 seed, ASU gets a first–round bye and then plays the winner of UALR-Troy. ASU and UALR are on the same side of the bracket as Georgia State, 17-1 in the league. UALR lost twice to the Panthers by a total of 37. ASU fell by one in regulation and by three in overtime.
My line: ASU men 15-1. UALR men 20-1.
Until the loss to Alabama, I had Arkansas 2-1 to make the NCAA Tournament. My computations were based on the Razorbacks getting the No. 4 seed and playing No. 5 seed Georgia only 24 hours after the Bulldogs had played a game. Instead, Georgia won at LSU to get the No. 3 seed and Tennessee wound up as No. 4.
The Razorbacks are expected to win Thursday, but must score off their defense to defeat Tennessee. According to Bovada.lv, the Vols are a surprising low 4-1 third choice to capture the SEC Tournament. Arkansas is 16-1, same as Georgia.
Simply getting to the NCAA Tournament, my line on Arkansas is 6-1.
The UCA men did not make the Southland Tournament and the UAPB men’s team is one of four in the SWAC that are ineligible to participate in the NCAA Tournament because of APR penalties. The UA women lost in the first round of the SEC Tournament last week and coach Tom Collen was dismissed a short time later. Only 2-16 in the SWAC, the UAPB women would have been 200-1, but they lost in the first round of the tournament on Tuesday.
Harry King is a sports columnist. His email is HLeonK42@gmail.com.