Eddie Sutton was the Arkansas coach and the four corners offense was in vogue the last time a 10-point Razorback lead felt so safe with 15-plus minutes to play.
Shot clock? Three-point shot? Both rendered inconsequential Saturday when Georgia’s J.J. Frazier went to the bench with four fouls.
At Arkansas 56, Georgia 46, complete confidence in a Razorback victory inspired the use of Google to identify sites of so-called second-round games in the NCAA Tournament. No longer is Arkansas’ status in a state of flux; no longer are the Razorbacks mentioned in the same conversation with the dreaded, “on the bubble.”
After completing a 6-1 finish to the regular season with the 85-67 victory over the Bulldogs, Arkansas is secure, joining SEC brethren Kentucky, Florida, and South Carolina in the only meaningful men’s tournament. Vanderbilt is now the SEC team sweating an NCAA bid although a couple of ESPN’s analysts contend the Commodores played their way in Saturday by beating Florida for the second time this year. They might re-think their conclusion if Vanderbilt loses to Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament on Thursday.
From now until Sunday, the only questions about Arkansas’ second NCAA trip in three years involve the basics —when, where, who, and what seed. On the first two points, the options:
—March 16, Buffalo, Milwaukee, Orlando, Salt Lake City
—March 17, Greenville, S.C., Indianapolis, Tulsa, Sacramento.
Arkansas’ opponent is to be determined; nine is best guess on the Razorbacks’ seed. Details will be available during the 90 minutes that CBS consumes to unveil the 68-team bracket.
After confirming the availability of ESPN2 in the hotel first thing Saturday morning, a big production number by the granddaughter’s dance team took precedent over watching Arkansas’ regular season finale from start to finish. Catching up, the Razorbacks led 38-37 at the half.
Dusty Hannahs’ unrecorded assists early in the second half and Arkansas shooting 60.6 percent from the field during the final 20 minutes resulted in the comfortable margin.
Left to right in the box score, from 24 minutes played to 15 points scored, Hannahs’ numbers do not include the aforementioned contributions. Consistently identified first as a 3-point shooter, Hannahs is more. Even Saturday, SEC announcers criticized Frazier for allowing Hannahs to shoot a 3 instead of forcing the senior to put the ball on the floor.
Early in the second half, Hannahs did just that.
Frazier’s third foul occurred when Hannahs drove the lane; moments later, the Georgia senior tried to get in front of Hannahs on his move down the right side and recorded foul No. 4.
For a solid month, Frazier has been a consistent scorer. Since Yante Maten was sidelined with a knee injury, Frazier has carried the Bulldogs. Frazier scored 24 in Fayetteville, but during the time he was on bench with four fouls, Arkansas increased its advantage.
In Nashville on Friday night, third-seeded Arkansas should be fresh and stress-free when it plays Missouri, Auburn, or Ole Miss.
Citing teams that were excluded from the NCAA Tournament despite an occasional “quality win” is not a sufficient argument for expanding the field from 68 to 96.
Sometimes, inferior teams win — that’s the nature of basketball. Other than Gonzaga, some projected No. 1 seeds have lost at least three times and North Carolina has five losses.
On Sunday, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi identified Rhode Island, Kansas State, Illinois, and Iowa as his “first four out” and Georgia Tech, Houston, California, and Clemson as the “next four out.”
Rhode Island is third in the Atlantic 10 and Houston is third in the American Athletic Conference. K-State, Illinois, Georgia Tech, California, and Clemson are below .500 in Power Five conferences and have a total of 52 league losses. Iowa (18-13) is in a four-way tie for fifth in the Big Ten at 10-8.
If those teams are Nos. 69-76, imagine the records of the other 20 that would qualify under tournament expansion.
Harry King is sports columnist for GateHouse Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org