SPOILER ALERT: Alabama isn't in it.
More on that in a second. First and foremost, it looks like the third time is the charm for this event as the match-ups, for the most part, make sense, and all of the games will be played on the same day (January 30th). In the past, this event was spread out all over days and, sometimes, weeks. Nice to have it on one day, which should be great exposure for the SEC as it seeks to improve the national perception of its basketball.
Regarding the exclusion of Alabama. This is pure speculation, but I have a feeling that Alabama opted out of the event this year. It's hard to believe with Avery Johnson's ESPN connections that Alabama wasn't considered for a game. Based on this news and some comments that Johnson recently made regarding scheduling, I'm beginning to think that the non-conference schedule next season, with the exception of the games in the Orlando Classic, is going to be of a lighter fare.
When asked about the schedule recently, Johnson said, "I don't know if we're ready to play the teams that are ranked first,
second and third in the preseason whenever that comes out. But we have
to have a competitive schedule but at the same time we have some
buy-game situations that we're going to play some teams that we should
have a lot of success against."
That doesn't sound like a guy eager to schedule heavyweights in his first season. And, you know what, I'm okay with that. Though the roster is far from complete, pending some recruiting moves, next year's team is going to be very young. As of right now, Retin Obasohan will be the only senior on the roster, and the next oldest group of guys (Shannon Hale, Jimmie Taylor and Mike Kessens) have flashed potential, but have yet to show they can be consistent performers. That leaves a group of freshmen and sophomores that will be counted on to step up and produce right away. That's not a team screaming out for a top 50 schedule strength, particularly when you consider that the SEC should continue its steady improvement next season.
If the schedule is light on brand name teams, will students and fans still show up to support this new coaching staff and team? I have a feeling that we're going to see a new seating arrangement next season, which is fantastic.......if the people show up.
That's a discussion for later. For now, enjoy this list of games not involving Bama Hoops. Please post your predictions in the comments section. Can the SEC beat the Big 12 in the Challenge?
Kentucky at Kansas Iowa State at Texas A&M
Vanderbilt at Texas Oklahoma at LSU
Georgia at Baylor West Virginia at Florida
Tennessee at TCU Oklahoma State at Auburn
Ole Miss at Kansas State Texas Tech at Arkansas
Call me crazy, but I think the SEC has a very good chance to break even, if not win this challenge. The two key games, in my opinion, are Iowa State at A&M and Oklahoma at LSU. Iowa State and Oklahoma will be top 25 teams. LSU and A&M will have rosters capable of being top 25 teams, but the verdict is still out on their respective coaching staffs. If both of those teams are legit, they should be capable of winning two huge games for the conference on their home floor. Lose one or both, and it could flip the advantage to the Big 12.