LITTLE ROCK — The No. 8 Arkansas Razorbacks are not only returning to the NCAA tournament for the first time in three seasons, they’re going in style after the NCAAT selection committee on Sunday awarded them with one of the four 3-seeds in the 68-team field as the Hogs will take on 14th-seeded Colgate in their first game on Friday.
The Razorbacks (22-6, NCAA NET No. 14 entering Sunday, and winners of 12 of their last 14 games) have the program’s best NCAAT seeding in the last 26 years (the 1994-95 national runner-up Hogs were a 2-seed entering the NCAAT). It’s only the 7th time the program has been a 3-seed or better enetering the NCAAT since the selection committee began its national seeding process during year five of the Eddie Sutton era at Arkansas (’78-79).
Colgate (14-1, 11-1 for first place in the Patriot League, NCAA NET No. 9 entering Sunday) won both its conference regular-season and tournament titles. The Raiders have won 13 consecutive games since losing to Army, 75-73, on Jan. 3.
The Hogs have only been an NCAAT No. 3 seed once before — Nolan Richardson’s ’91-92 team that won the SEC regular-season title in the program’s first season playing in the league. That team finished 1-1 in the NCAAT Midwest Regional with a first-round win over Murray State followed by a second-round loss to Memphis at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wis.
Richardson and Sutton — both Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame coaches — did not achieve NCAAT top-3 seed or better status until each was in his 5th season at Arkansas, although in Sutton’s case that was in part due to the aforementioned timeline when the NCAAT selection committee began seeding teams. The current Head Hog, Eric Musselman, has managed to get there in his second season at Arkansas. Musselman has an overall NCAAT record of 2-3 as a head coach with all of those results coming during the 3 consecutive NCAATs his Nevada teams reached (’16-17, ’17-18, and ’18-19) in his 4 seasons in Reno. Musselman’s ’17-18 Wolf Pack made it to the NCAAT Sweet 16 before losing.
Despite a 78-71 loss against LSU on Saturday in the SEC tournament semifinals, Arkansas enters the postseason with a strong resume: Including the aforementioned No. 14 ranking in NCAA NET and the 12 wins in their last 14 games, the Hogs were 5-6 against the NET Top 50, 6-5 in Quad-1 games, 6-1 in Q2 games, 10-0 on Q3/4 games, 6-5 in away games, and they sport the 14th-best defense in the nation according to KenPom.com’s adjusted defensive ratings.
The lofty NCAAT seeding is in line with a regular season that saw the Razorbacks win 12 consecutive games against SEC competition for only the second time, matching Richardson’s ’93-94 team that went on to win the national championship. This is also the first Arkansas team to climb into the Top 10 of the Associated Press poll rankings at any point during a season since Richardson’s ’94-95 national runner-up team went into the NCAAT ranked No. 6.
Arkansas will be playing in the program’s 33rd NCAAT as the Hogs own an all-time 42-32 record in the Big Dance with 11 Sweet 16s, 10 Elite Eights, 6 Final Fours, 2 national title-game appearances, and 1 national championship. Since the turn of the century, Arkansas has made only 7 NCAATs resulting in a 3-7 record while failing to reach the second weekend of the tournament each time. The last time the Hogs made an NCAAT second-weekend run was 25 years ago when Richardson’s ’95-96 team reached the Sweet 16 before losing. The last Arkansas team to make the NCAAT 68-team field was in ’17-18, and those 7th-seeded Hogs lost their first game against 10th-seeded Butler.