An Arkansas team playing without coach Eric Musselman pulled off an upset Saturday as the Razorbacks knocked off No. 12 LSU 65-58 on the road. Arkansas trailed 56-48 with under seven minutes remaining before the Razorbacks used a 17-2 run to close the game and secure an improbable victory.
The Razorbacks (12-6, 2-3 SEC) were coming off an 87-43 beatdown of Missouri on Wednesday but had dropped five of their previous six games before then. With Musselman out vs. the Tigers following a Thursday shoulder surgery, assistant coach Keith Smart filled in for Arkansas. The longtime former NBA assistant coach and head coach gave his boss plenty to bee excited about back in Arkansas.
It is by no means a catastrophic defeat for a Tigers squad that has exceeded modest expectations this season. But it is a reality check. After getting a recent bump up to projected No. 1 seed status in the NCAA Tournament by CBS Sports Bracketology Expert Jerry Palm, the Tigers (15-2, 3-2) will drop to a No. 2 seed in Palm's bracket projection after the defeat with Gonzaga moving back to a No. 1 seed if defeats Santa Clara on Saturday. According to Palm:
"LSU's time on the top line of the bracket will be short-lived. A home loss to Arkansas, which is not in the bracket and barely in the top 90 of the NET, means the Tigers will vacate their spot. Gonzaga, the top No. 2 seed in Friday's bracket, will move back to its familiar place as a No. 1 seed."
It was a much-needed win for the Razorbacks, who had slipped to No. 85 in the NET rankings entering Saturday's action. The Razorbacks rose to No. 10 in the AP Top 25 earlier this season amid a 9-0 start, but it was largely because of an easy schedule. Their flaws were exposed in a 22-point loss to Oklahoma on Dec. 11 and in an embarrassing 89-81 loss to Hofstra on Dec. 18.
From there, the Razorbacks started SEC play 0-3 before finally getting back on track with the big win over Missouri. Now, it appears the program's transfer-heavy roster is gelling. The loss counts as a Quad 3 defeat against LSU for the moment. But Arkansas will likely reach the top 75 of the NET soon, which will make it a Quad 2 defeat.
JD Notae led the Razorbacks with 19 points, but it was defense that set the tone for Arkansas, which held LSU to just 8 of 25 shooting from the floor in the second half. The Tigers (15-2, 3-2) made just one of their final shots. For an LSU team whose only other loss this season came against surging No. 4 Auburn, the outcome was a surprise.