The Arkansas men's basketball team is enjoying its best nine-game start in the SEC since 1998.
There is no doubt the Razorbacks are a much improved team from a year ago, as they've shown toughness on the road and at home in compiling a five-game win streak against SEC West opponents. As a result, they find themselves atop the SEC West division.
But the next major test to see just how much John Pelphrey’s squad has improved will be the SEC East teams that show up on the schedule at the end of the year.
If Arkansas can remain atop the West and compete in its games against Tennessee and Vanderbilt, the Razorbacks have a chance to do some damage in the SEC tournament and possibly even make the big dance.
If, on the other hand, Arkansas is unable to keep those games close, its prospects for postseason play will dim.
The talent gap between the SEC East and West has grown considerably, however, and the proof is staggering:
Head to Head
Top 25 Teams
Joe Lunardi’s NCAA Projections
The most eye-popping statistic is that, in head-to-head matchups, the SEC East has won 17 games compared to the West’s four. The eastern division has undoubtedly benefited from Kentucky’s resurgence as a national powerhouse, and Kentucky’s only loss so far has come against a fellow SEC East team—South Carolina.
Arkansas has faced three eastern division teams so far this year: Kentucky, Florida, and Georgia. The Kentucky game was a blowout to forget. At home against the Gators, however, Arkansas played them close, losing by a score of 71-66. Although it is a solid team that may go dancing this March, Florida is only the fourth-best team in the East. Arkansas had a close shave against Georgia (winning 72-68), which currently finds itself as a bottom-feeder in its division.
If Arkansas can compete against Vanderbilt and Tennessee and perhaps win one of those games, it will be able to ease the pain of the historic Kentucky loss and perhaps shake off the “thinnest kid in fat camp” theory about the value of being on top of a weak division.