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Sports Talk Podcast: August 17, 2017

Year-in, year-out, Arkansas should be an 8-win team. Agree or disagree? Plus Brittany Wagner from “Last Chance U” on why she thinks universities aren’t doing a good job of preparing athletes for life after football.

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Arkansas’ Loss to Missouri Not a Total NCAA Tournament Death Knell

Hogs’ dancing hopes far from certain, but also far from finished

By Bart Pohlman

After losing at Missouri on Saturday, Arkansas dropped to No. 36 in the NCAA’s RPI, while the Tigers rose to No. 246. Missouri has since fallen back a spot to No. 247.

Losing to a sub-200 RPI team is almost never a good thing when it comes to making the NCAA Tournament, but it isn’t always a sign of a team’s hopes of dancing disappearing faster than you can say Footloose.

In fact, in the 2016 NCAA Tournament, there were six teams that made the field as at-large bids that had losses to sub-200 RPI teams: Maryland, Dayton, VCU, Wisconsin, Temple and Syracuse (who advanced all the way to the Final Four). Arkansas compares favorably to those teams in terms of RPI ranking, but isn’t quite up to par when it comes to strength of schedule ranking and the record vs. Top 50 RPI teams. Four of those six teams played 11 games against the RPI Top 50 and won five of them. The Razorbacks have played five games against the RPI Top 50, winning just once.

The biggest thing that stands out, though, is that all six of those teams had a Top 25 RPI win on their resumes to counteract the bad loss. That’s something Arkansas currently doesn’t have.

Fortunately for the Hogs, every season is different.

ESPN’s resident bracketologist Joe Lunardi still has Arkansas in the NCAA Tournament field as of Monday—and not even as one of the “Last Four Byes” or “Last Four In.” Comparing the Razorbacks to the eight teams in those spots, in addition to the “First Four Out,” helps clear up where Arkansas stands in terms of making the Big Dance.

The first thing that jumps out when comparing Arkansas to those 12 teams is that the Hogs are the only team with a winning record against the RPI Top 100. That might be the single biggest positive the Razorbacks have going for them right now.

Arkansas compares favorably to those teams in terms of RPI, with the third-best ranking, behind only Wake Forest and Illinois State. The Hogs also have a similar road record to several of the teams on the bubble.

Not everything is good, however. Arkansas’ strength of schedule ranking of 75th would be the third-worst among this group of teams, and of that grouping, only the Hogs have Illinois State have losses to sub-200 RPI teams. Seven of the 12 teams have more wins against the RPI Top 50 than Arkansas, and 10 of the 12 have more games played against Top-50 RPI opponents.

Arkansas’ spot in the NCAA Tournament is far from certain, but it also may not be in dire straits. As long as the Razorbacks avoid any more bad losses and maintain a winning record against the RPI Top-100, they’ll be in contention for a spot in the Big Dance.