FAYETTEVILLE — Dave Van Horn doesn’t know if his team is going to be among the 16 selected to host an NCAA Regional later this month.
Arkansas’ coach is confident the Razorbacks are back in the conversation because of their recent performance, though. Specifically, going 5-1 over a two-week stretch has reopened the possibility with two weeks remaining in the regular season.
“I hadn't really thought about it until you asked me and somebody else mentioned it to me (Monday),” Van Horn said after Monday’s Swatter’s Club meeting. “My goal, obviously, two weeks ago was just to get into a regional. Now we've won four out of five conference games. We seem to be playing pretty good.”
So Arkansas (32-16, 15-8 in Southeastern Conference) moves into its final two conference series hoping to strengthen its resume even more. The Razorbacks will play their final home series against Tennessee (18-26, 6-16) beginning Friday night, then wrap up with the regular season with a road trip to Auburn (27-19, 9-15).
Arkansas enters the stretch four victories shy of equaling its best SEC win total under Van Horn. Five wins can push them to the 20-win mark in conference play for just the second time since the Razorbacks entered the SEC in 1992. It would help Arkansas make a strong case as the NCAA ponders its 16 sites as well.
“If we win three or four (more) games, we're right up there with 18, 19 SEC wins,” Van Horn said. “That's pretty good. At the beginning of the year, I thought 20-10 would win the league. I had no idea that the two teams would just run away with it like they have. You've got to take your hat off to them. They've been incredible.”
Van Horn was referring to Vanderbilt (41-6, 21-2) and LSU (43-6, 19-5), which are virtual locks as regional hosts because of their dominance. They’re also in line to wrap up two of the NCAA’s eight national seeds as well barring late collapses.
It leaves Arkansas, South Carolina (33-14, 13-10), Mississippi State (36-13, 13-11) and Ole Miss (33-16, 12-12) among the SEC teams vying for a chance to host an NCAA regional. The Hogs swept South Carolina and beat Mississippi State in head-to-head series and have the best conference record among all four at this point.
Arkansas does trail the other three significantly in the NCAA’s RPI. The Razorbacks made a big jump from No. 53 to No. 39 after going 3-1 last week. But Mississippi State is No. 10, South Carolina is No. 11 and Ole Miss is No. 20.
Arkansas has boosted its RPI with a 9-2 record in SEC road games, but the low rating is likely because of 10 games against teams rated 241st or worse this season.
“If you go off of the RPI, we're not in real good shape,” Van Horn said. “If you go off of finishing in the standings, if we were to win a couple more series, and we could throw out there, ‘Hey, we won ‘X’ amount of series.’ If we just win one of them we can say, ‘We won 7 out of 10 and we finished in third or fourth place.’
“I guess it's just up to somebody, or some committee, giving us a regional on how we did in league play.”
Hosting a regional hasn’t always been Arkansas’ ticket to Omaha.
Arkansas has not hosted since 2010, when it topped a four-team field that included Washington State, Kansas State and Grambling State. The Razorbacks advanced to play Arizona State in the Tempe Super Regional and went 0-2.
Two of its three trips to the College World Series under Van Horn —2012 and 2009 — came because of road success in the NCAA Tournament. The Razorbacks traveled to win regionals and super regionals both seasons.
So Van Horn is confident going on the road won’t be detrimental to his veteran team, but said hosting remains Arkansas’ goal. The final six regular season games – along with the 2013 SEC Tournament – will determine if it becomes a reality.
“Obviously we would like to host a regional,” Van Horn said. “We want to host a regional. I don't know if we are going to host a regional.
“All we want to do is beat Tennessee on Friday and just go from there.”