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Probably the most notable NCAA Tournament snubs from last season are trying to make a statement with tougher non-conference scheduling this year, but that has backfired so far and may again Wednesday night when the 25th ranked Arkansas Razorbacks (3-0, 0-0 away) pay a visit to those SMU Mustangs (2-2, 2-0 home) at Moody Coliseum in Dallas, TX at 7:30 ET in a game televised nationally on ESPNews.
The point spread at Pinnacle Sports has Arkansas as a road underdog for this contest with the current line at +4 with odds of -110.
NCAA Snub Due to Weak Schedule
It seemed to most a foregone conclusion that SMU would break a longtime NCAA Tournament drought after going 23-8 during the regular season last year in its second season under legendary coach Larry Brown, but instead the Mustangs were snubbed with the committee citing their weak non-conference schedule. So SMU has attempted to remedy that this year with more major conference opponents, but the results have not been good so far.
Things do not figure to get any easier tonight vs. a ranked team out of the SEC in Arkansas, although this will be the Razorbacks’ first real test after being the winning NCAA Basketball picks vs. three cupcakes at home in their first three games to open the season. Still, this may not be as big a test as was expected before this season based on the Mustangs’ play so far.
Struggling vs. Better Teams
SMU may be 2-2 including a perfect 2-0 here at home, but instead of making a statement by scheduling tougher non-conference games, the Mustangs may instead be proving the committee’s point about not yet being ready for prime time. That is because there two losses have come at Gonzaga and, perhaps more damning, at Indiana vs. the same Hoosiers team that lost at home to Eastern Washington last night.
Meanwhile the two home wins have come to a Lamar club ranked 341st on the Pomeroy Ratings and to that same Eastern Washington team while failing to cover the spread in a 77-68 triumph the last time SMU played on Saturday. With no disrespect toward those underrated Eagles, they are still ranked 126th on Pomeroy even after the Indiana upset so Arkansas does represent another jump in class for the Mustangs here.
Remember too that Arkansas was one of the few major schools that SMU faced out of conference last season, and the results were not pretty as the Razorbacks prevailed 89-78 at Fayetteville in a game that was not even that close as Arkansas cruised home after opening up a 24-point lead.
Ranked 25th and Shooting Lights Out
Arkansas could have named the score in that meeting last year as it could have topped 100 points if it did not let up late, and this 25th ranked 2014-15 version might be capable of doing the same. Do not forget that this is a team that won 22 games last season including sweeping both meetings with Kentucky, which just happened to go on and become a national finalist.
But back to the here and now, the Razorbacks are averaging a whopping 93.0 points through three games while ranking 17th in the country in shooting percentage at 52.3 percent, third in three-point shooting at an insane 52.1 percent and, consequently, 22nd in effective field goal percentage at 58.8 percent.
Granted the competition has not been much but Arkansas should still be able to take advantage of an SMU team ranked 113th in field goal percentage allowed, 214th in three-point defense and 162 in effective field goal percentage against at 47.2 percent. And so not forget about an Arkansas defense that ranks 50th in defensive efficiency in the early going, and if you want to discount that due to the schedule, remember Arkansas was 53rd in that category last season.
Turnover Differential Could be Other Key
Finally, the expected turnover differential also favors Arkansas here. The Razorbacks are fifth in the country in defensive turnover percentage at 28.7 percent vs. a national average of 20.3 percent, and again if you wish to scoff at the weak schedule, consider that the Hogs and their “40 minutes of Hell” defense were eighth in that category over all of last season.
Add this all up and even though Arkansas goes on the road for the first time this young season here, it still looks like the better team making the points worth taking at SMU on ESPNews Tuesday.
NCAA Basketball Pick: Arkansas +4 (-110)