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story.lead_photo.caption Arkansas seniors celebrate late in the second half in a win over No. 14 Auburn on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018 at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. - Photo by J.T. Wampler

The win over Auburn on Tuesday night by the Arkansas Razorbacks was huge, and now the most important game of the season is Saturday when they travel to Missouri.

A University of Arkansas, Fayetteville win against the Tigers guarantees the Hogs at least a tie for third place and no worse than the No. 4 seed in next week's SEC Tournament in St. Louis.

The No. 4 seed, like Nos. 1-3, gets a double bye and doesn't play until Friday. Win that game and they most likely would face the No. 1 seed, but both would be playing just their second game in two days.

On Feb. 3, the Hogs were coming off a 94-86 loss at LSU. They were 4-6 in SEC play and a few of the fans were getting restless.

Now the Razorbacks have won six of their past seven -- that's called peaking at the right time -- and are playing for a great spot in the SEC Tournament.

The 91-82 win over the Tigers moved the Hogs up three spots in the RPI to No. 27, the fourth best ranking in the SEC behind No. 7 Auburn, No. 8 Tennessee and No. 16 Kentucky. Arkansas and Alabama are the only teams to beat both Auburn and Tennessee this season.

The RPI is just part of the formula the NCAA Tournament selection committee uses, but it is the one made most public because the NCAA posts updated rankings every day.

Being No. 27 and from the SEC basically guarantees the Hogs are in the Big Dance this month, although that ticks off schools from midlevel conferences. In 2006, Missouri State had an RPI of 21 and didn't make the tournament, which is the best RPI to not make March Madness. The Bears were tied for second in the Missouri Valley Conference behind Wichita State but lost their first game in the conference tournament.

A few teams with RPIs higher than 60 have made the NCAA field, but they were from one of the big six conferences.

The team to watch this season is Middle Tennessee State, the giant killer of the past two NCAA Tournaments. Kermit Davis has led the Blue Raiders to a 23-5 overall record and 15-1 in Conference USA. Their RPI is 26, and they are 3-3 in quadrant 1 games (home games vs. teams ranked in the top 30 of the RPI; neutral site games vs. teams ranked in the top 50 of the RPI; and road games vs. teams ranked in the top 75 of the RPI).

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Right behind the Blue Raiders is Western Kentucky, and yes both are former members of the Sun Belt, at 22-7 and 14-2, but only the winner of their conference tournament likely will get an NCAA bid.

So the RPI counts, but it is just part of the formula, especially for seeding purposes, which is why the Hogs need to go to Missouri and get a victory. The Tigers had lost three in a row before snapping that streak with a 74-66 win at Vanderbilt on Tuesday.

The Razorbacks finally moved ahead of Texas A&M in the RPI, which is tied for ninth in the SEC. The Aggies beat Providence, West Virginia and Southern Cal early in the season, but they have had issues with suspensions and injuries since starting SEC play.

The Aggies had lost three in row until they ran into Vanderbilt on Saturday. Vandy seems to cure losing streaks in the SEC this season.

Texas A&M may become the team with the best RPI from a big six conference to not dance in March. The current leader is Cincinnati, which was No. 40 in the RPI.

So Arkansas is fourth best in SEC RPI and playing for a tie for third, and that's pretty good for a team most had written off four weeks ago when it suffered its second loss of the season to LSU.

Sports on 03/01/2018

Print Headline: Auburn victory puts UA in great position

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