FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas got an important 4-1 win against LSU in the SEC Tournament last night.
The victory pushed the Razorbacks to 2-0 to start the SEC Tournament for the first time since 2007. It moved Arkansas into the SEC Tournament semifinals, where it will play the LSU/Alabama winner in a single-elimination game on Saturday at noon. More important: Beating LSU has Arkansas back in the thick of the NCAA Regional hosting mix.
Arkansas entered the SEC Tournament on the outside when it came to the 16 NCAA Regional hosts, who will be announced Sunday night. The Razorbacks finished third in the SEC, but had a less-than-impressive RPI (No. 48 according to the NCAA’s official RPI). Other SEC programs like Mississippi State (which appears to have locked up a hosting spot by advancing to the semifinals) and South Carolina (which went 0-2 in the SEC Tournament) were more likely regional hosts.
The Razorbacks have climbed to No. 34 this week, according to RPI projections by WarrenNolan.com.
Aaron Fitt of Baseball America reminds us UCLA hosted with a No. 34 RPI in 2011. It came at the expense of Arkansas (No. 14 RPI), which was shipped out to play in an NCAA Regional at Arizona State. Fitt has Arkansas hosting a regional as of now:
"The Razorbacks’ third-place finish in the SEC, their sweep of South Carolina in Columbia, and their better showing in the conference tournament is enough for us to move them ahead of the Gamecocks in the pecking order. Arkansas has advanced to the SEC tournament semifinals, and they can continue to strengthen their case with another win or two this weekend."
Not everyone agrees Arkansas has a regional hosting spot yet. Kendall Rogers of PerfectGame.org listed his 16 regional hosts after last night's action and still has Mississippi State, South Carolina, North Carolina State, Clemson, Indiana, Louisville, UCLA and Kansas State among the non-national seed hosts. But he hasn't forgotten about the Razorbacks, listing them among the teams that helped their case last night:
"The Hogs refuse to give up hope for an NCAA Regional host for good reason. Arkansas captured an impressive 4-1 win over LSU at the SEC tourney with junior right-handed pitcher Ryne Stanek striking out four and allowing just a run on six hits in eight innings of work. From a postseason standpoint, Arkansas' RPI climbed from No. 45 to No. 34 following the victory. Furthermore, the Hogs have a very respectable 17-15 mark vs. RPI Top 50 clubs."
What Arkansas does the rest of the way will impact its fate on regional selection Sunday. The good news: The Razorbacks will either play LSU (No. 6 RPI) or Alabama (No. 25 RPI) in the semifinals. So there's a chance to move into the SEC Tournament final by grabbing another quality win against a top 50 team.
Facing — and beating — LSU again would provide the biggest boost, obviously.
One that may have Arkansas playing at Baum Stadium next week.
— Robbie Neiswanger • Arkansas News Bureau