FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas basketball has won 6 SEC road games in a season once since last playing for the national championship in 1995. That can become two on Saturday night.
The Razorbacks head to Auburn for the penultimate road game of the regular season. Sitting in third place in the SEC, Arkansas (21-7, 10-5) can match the best road season in 21 years and, for all intents and purposes, seal an NCAA Tournament bid with a win against the Tigers.
That’s a far cry from two weeks ago, when Arkansas appeared near its bubble bursting. Losses to Missouri and Vanderbilt stained what had been a solid, if unspectacular, season. Panic was at a high.
Then came a win over lowly LSU, an upset against South Carolina and an impressive victory over Ole Miss. And with those, a 180-degree turn.
A loss to Auburn (17-11, 6-9), however, might leave some nervousness. Arkansas’ seeding in various bracket predictions varies between a No. 9 and a No. 10. Not exactly easily in, but in a comfortable position, one in which the Razorbacks doing what they should — beating teams they’re better than — would see them in.
Matters are helped by Arkansas playing its best basketball of the season. The South Carolina win was impressive because it was complete and came on the road. The win Wednesday against Ole Miss was even better. Arkansas dominated from start to finish. Most recently, Mike Anderson’s team handled Texas A&M at Bud Walton Arena.
Auburn is a different version of the Aggies. Honestly, Arkansas is better built to handle Auburn (more on that below). But a conference game on the road isn’t easy, no matter that Arkansas has 5 such victories thus far.
A sixth would put them on the 2014-15 level. Not coincidentally, that was the last time the Razorbacks made the Dance.
Could it be?
What time is tip-off?
7:30 p.m. CT
What TV channel is showing the game?
Who is calling the Auburn game?
Richard Cross has the play-by-play, and Jarvis Hayes is the analyst.
Looking at Auburn
In the sense Arkansas is better suited to handle Auburn than Texas A&M, it mostly means the Tigers aren’t the same interior force as the Aggies.
Auburn’s best players are, for the most part, guards. Mustapha Heron is the best overall. He’s a 6-foot-5 freshman swingman who averages 15 points and 5.7 rebounds a game. He’s joined on the outside by fellow freshman Daniel Harper, the team’s point guard who also scores in double figures.
Those two tend to push things offensively. Auburn is the third-highest scoring team in the SEC, just behind Arkansas, at more than 80 points per game. The catch is, the Tigers are the worst defending team in the league, too, giving up 79.
Auburn also is the worst rebounding team in the league, getting beat by an average of 3 per game. That’s the total opposite of Texas A&M, which is the second-best rebounding team in the SEC.
Austin Wiley, another freshman, provides some difficulty on the inside, but he arrived at Christmas break and is averaging fewer than 3 rebounds and 7.5 points in his last four games.