Arkansas did it. It went into Rupp Arena and escaped with a 71-67 overtime win over Kentucky. It was a huge win for a number of reasons.
A win at Kentucky
First things first. ESPN pointed out that this was Arkansas's first win in Lexington since the Hogs' national championship season of 1994. That's a long streak to break.
A big win on the road
As recently as January, we were questioning around here as to when Mike Anderson would find a way to beat anyone other than Auburn on the road consistently. His team had just lost to Florida in overtime and downed Kentucky in overtime, both both of those were in Fayetteville. True to past form, the Razorbacks would drop their next two games to Georgia and Tennessee, both on the road.
They would lose another on the road at LSU before finally breaking through with a victory at Vanderbilt. Their ensuing two road contests featured a loss at Missouri and a win at Mississippi State. Vandy is down but not horrible, though Mississippi State is the worst team in the league this year. Neither road W was much of a resume booster, anyway.
This win at Kentucky changes everything. Arkansas had plenty of chances to lose this one, but it made all 16 of its free throws while UK missed 10 of its 22. It did what it had to do, and Anderson now has a real signature road win to hang his hat on finally.
A boost for SEC Tournament seeding
Arkansas had been caught up in this week's seven-way tie at 7-7, but this win gives the Hogs a real chance at snagging the third seed in Atlanta.
Winning out over Georgia, Ole Miss, and Alabama is a must, but with only Bama on the road, it's doable. The Razorbacks would need Georgia to lose a second time, but the Bulldogs could drop their finale in Baton Rouge. Toss in losses by Tennessee (who has Mizzou still) and LSU (Florida), and the Hogs would win the tiebreaker over UGA at 11-7 in the league.
The difference between the third and fourth seed is big. The third seed ends up Kentucky's half of the bracket (let's assume UK locks up the 2-seed by beating South Carolina and Alabama), and Arkansas has now swept UK. The fourth seed ends up in No. 1 Florida's half. While a win over the Gators would obviously be huge, and despite the close overtime loss to UF in January, Arkansas might be best off playing the team it knows it can beat a third time.
And anyway, even if Arkansas can't get the third seed, every win helps towards getting a double bye that the fourth seed offers but that the fifth seed doesn't. There is absolutely nothing to be gained by beating the winner of the 12 vs. 13 game as the 5-seed in the league tournament. The extra day of rest for doing battle with the top tier of the conference is far more valuable.
A boost in the bubble battle
The NCAA Tournament bubble is still pretty jumbled. As of Thursday morning, CBSSports.com's bracket projection had Arkansas in the field of 68 already while ESPN didn't even have it as one of the top eight teams left out.
This much we do know: having two wins over Kentucky is a big asset in Arkansas's favor. So are the team's wins over SMU, Minnesota, and, to a lesser extent, Clemson in the non-conference. Suddenly, the Razorbacks have a pretty nice suite of good wins to tout.
Perhaps even more importantly, the Hogs aren't carrying around the baggage of terrible losses like some other SEC teams are. Their only truly bad loss is to Texas A&M, but hey, Tennessee has two of those. The loss to UGA is regrettable too, but the Bulldogs will probably end up as a top-100 team. The main trouble is that Arkansas is 0-3 against UT and MU, the conference's other bubble teams. If the Selection Committee gets down to looking at head-to-head to break ties, the Hogs are in trouble there.
Ultimately, the team's standing for March Madness will, as always, end up at the mercy of the year's particular committee members. If getting big wins is more important than avoiding bad losses, then Arkansas is in great shape right now for being the third in line from the SEC. If the reverse is true, then Missouri is likely ahead of the Hogs.
There is still plenty of basketball to be played, but the big victory over Kentucky is for now a season-changing win for the Razorbacks.