Generally, you want to have the chance of hosting a regional all but locked up going into the conference tournament. You at least would like to avoid going into the tournament needing an impressive showing, and one of your conference mates bombing out, to get the right to play at home in the NCAA playoff's opening round.
Arkansas chose the hard way. Going into this week, they were not the favorites to host a regional, with South Carolina among the favorites. But things have changed, helped along by the Gamecocks going two and out at Hoover, something that still might not have capsized their chances.
Vandy beats South Carolina 4-3 in 10 innings. Gamecocks probably still going to host—but keep an eye on Arkansas...— Aaron Fitt (@aaronfitt) May 23, 2013
And then Arkansas went and won again Thursday night, a 4-1 come-from-behind victory against LSU that included two squeezes that are sure to reinforce bad coaching habits around the league. All of which adds to the scrambled picture heading into the final three days of the SEC tournament.
South Carolina's case largely revolves around their far superior RPI, or at least what was their far superior RPI before going to Hoover. In the official numbers, the Gamecocks went into the tournament at No. 11 while the Razorbacks languished at No. 48. Taking into account yesterday's games but not today's, Boyd's World's pseudo-RPIs had the Gamecocks falling to 12th while the Hogs climbed all the way to ... 45th. That's a huge difference, and you have to have a compelling case to make it up.
Arkansas fans would argue that they now have a compelling case. They swept South Carolina on the road during the regular season back in March and have so far charged through Hoover without a scratch. That includes a win over LSU, which is almost certain to be a national seed and which could draw Arkansas ever closer to the Gamecocks in the RPI.
In case you're wondering, South Carolina already has a ready counter about the slump in Hoover.
Of course, there's a lot of baseball left to be played. If Arkansas is going to win the SEC tournament as a whole, it will have to go through Vanderbilt or someone who beat Vanderbilt to do it -- and whatever happens to South Carolina in that case, Arkansas will be one of the hosts then. And there are other tournaments being played that could see other potential regional hosts knocked in or out of contention based on their own showings. There is, I suppose, an outside chance that both Arkansas and South Carolina could host -- though that would give five SEC teams hosting rights, which might be a bit more than the league has really earned right now.
But Arkansas has made things very interesting with its showing in Hoover, at the very least. And with another win or two in Hoover, they won't have to worry about RPis or the Gamecocks or anything else -- they'll just have to worry about when they need to show up at Baum Stadium for the first game of the Fayetteville Regional.