Monday, August 5, 2013

Beefing Up Schedules

By Jean Neuberger

It was a packed house at the Wynfrey Hotel in Birmingham, listening to SEC Commissioner Mike Slive talk about basketball.

Sounds a bit odd, right?

Slive's "State of the Conference" message was direct and to the point. He lauded the successes of his conference. He blasted the NCAA for their faults. And, when it came to college hoops, he admitted the giant failure of a season the SEC had last year.

Slive has always been quick to change the status quo when he felt it needed a shake-up. And, in the middle of college football's biggest preseason showcase, he announced that the SEC, the kings of the gridiron, are determined to show basketball strength, as well. His plan for action? Hire Greg Shaheen to check and approve non-conference slates. While this wouldn't fly in the ACC, SEC institutions are now at the mercy of the conference to approve the out-of-conference schedules they play.

So, who should we see playing in some non-season matchups? Assuming that these will be a home-home series, here's some that could stand out as intriguing December showdowns...

Florida vs. Miami — It's only fitting. The old, established basketball kings of the Sunshine State take on the defending ACC champions. Donovan vs. Larranaga in a battle of basketball wits. Other than Florida State fans, who is not going to want to watch this?

Kentucky vs. Robert Morris — Kentucky plays enough marquee opponents that they don't need to add any more to their schedule. What they do need though is a tough mid-major that will provide an immediate test to their freshman talent. Do they form as a team and win as expected? Or do egos prevail and the team folds? This rematch is a good barometer for John Calipari and needs to happen.

Missouri vs. Kansas — One can only hope...

Missouri vs. St. Louis — More likely to happen and great for basketball if it does. The second year SEC program takes on the A-10 power. A contrast of styles between Frank Haith and Jim Crews in a Show-Me State showdown. There's lots of intrigue to be found here.

Arkansas vs. Wichita State — Hogs play a few marquee teams each year. They need a strong mid-major on their slate. If Missouri State or Tulsa ever find resurgence, they can be added onto this list. Right now, though, this would be interesting. A program with lots of tradition, trying to find their way back up to national prominence taking on a team who reached the Final Four last season and is solidifying their role as the mid-major power of the Plains. Good stuff.

Alabama vs. Notre Dame — Why not? The Tide barely missed out on the Big Dance last year, with losses to Mercer and Tulane hurting their chances. Let the two football powers duke it out on the hardwood. They play some decent hoops as well.

Texas A&M vs. Maryland — Mark Turgeon's old team takes on his current squad. Texas A&M completed their SEC transition; Maryland is ready to start theirs into the Big Ten. This could be more interesting than most people think.

South Carolina vs. Kansas State — Frank Martin's old team vs. his current team. If it's in Manhattan, the Octagon of Doom would be rocking. If it's in Columbia, it'll still be entertaining as Martin and Bruce Weber would be a pretty good battle of basketball wits.

Vanderbilt vs. Georgetown — The battle between two private schools whose teams scored under 40 points in at least one game last season. In Vandy's case, more than once. Ugly basketball, but looks good on paper.

And, if Marshall Henderson was playing, Ole Miss vs. Memphis would be a welcome restart to a regional rivalry. However, without Henderson, that's a game that loses a significant amount of its luster.

Needless to say, the opportunities are there for good, solid non-conference games. It's something the SEC should embrace; after all one loss to a really good team isn't going to cost you a berth in the NCAA Tournament. What can cost you is a season of wins against a lot of cupcakes. There has to be some backbone to a winning season. Now Greg Shaheen will ensure Slive's orders are met.

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