LITTLE ROCK — Reading between the lines of the carefully phrased release from the Southeastern Conference, revelations about the conference baseball tournament can be found.
When the tournament format was revamped in December and the field increased from 10 teams to 12, the fourth paragraph of the announcement noted that "A team from the SEC Tournament has advanced to five consecutive National Championship Series in Omaha …"
The release does not trumpet the SEC Tournament champion or the SEC Tournament runner-up, only a "team FROM the SEC Tournament."
In other words, one of the eight or 10 teams in Hoover, Ala., did real good in Nebraska. Take a closer look at results from Hoover vs. results from Omaha and it is clear that the SEC Tournament is meaningless when it comes to projecting success in the NCAA Tournament.
2008: Georgia lost in the NCAA finals. The No. 1 seed in the SEC Tournament, the Bulldogs were 0-2. No. 2 seed LSU won in Hoover and made it to Omaha.
2010: South Carolina won the NCAA title. The No. 3 seed in the SEC Tournament, the Gamecocks were 0-2. No. 8 seed LSU won in Hoover and lost in the Regional.
2011: South Carolina won the NCAA title. The No. 1 seed in the SEC Tournament, the Gamecocks were 1-2. No. 4 seed Vanderbilt won in Hoover and made it to Omaha.
2012: South Carolina lost in the NCAA finals. The No. 2 seed in the SEC Tournament, the Gamecocks were 1-2. No. 7 seed Mississippi State won in Hoover and lost in the Regional.
The exception occurred in 2009 when LSU, the No. 1 seed in the SEC, succeeded in Hoover and in Omaha.
Arkansas is a prime example of the disconnect between the SEC Tournament and the CWS.
In 2009, as a No. 7 seed, Arkansas was 2-2 in Hoover. Exiting the tournament after losing by 10 runs, the Razorbacks were 3-0 in Norman, Okla., in the Regional, 2-0 in Tallahassee, Fla., in the Super Regional and 2-2 in Omaha.
Last year, the week prior to the SEC Tournament, a column quoted a regular at Arkansas baseball as saying in jest that the Razorbacks should lose the first two games in Hoover so they could rest their overworked bullpen in preparation for the NCAA Tournament. Arkansas gave up six unearned runs in the ninth in a 9-1 loss to Mississippi State in the opener, failed to score against Ole Miss, and headed back to Fayetteville. Believers in momentum might have noted that the Razorbacks were bereft of that commodity when they left Hoover. My take is that they were well rested for the NCAA.
Arkansas was 3-0 in the Regional at Houston, 2-1 in the Super Regional at Waco, and 2-2 in Omaha.
Next week, Arkansas will be one of the four teams with a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament which means the Razorbacks will play at least twice. Four of the teams will be eliminated on Tuesday, the first day of the tournament.
As a competitor, Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn wants to win an SEC Tournament, but, as a man with an eye on a bigger prize, he’s not going to use up his pitching staff in Hoover. Instead, expect him to use a mid-week starter when Arkansas begins play on Wednesday and he might throw another second-line pitcher on Thursday.
In that case, Van Horn could use Barrett Astin, Ryne Stanek, and Randall Fant in their normal rotation, beginning on Friday, instead of using them on short rest following the Auburn series. If the Razorbacks win their first two games, such a plan would give Arkansas an excellent chance to win in Hoover. If they are 1-1 or 0-2, Astin, Stanek, and Fant are still lined up for the next weekend’s Regional and that is the real goal.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.