The SEC released the conference schedule earlier tonight. Alabama will open conference play in Oxford at Ole Miss. I believe the game will be played in the Rebels new basketball arena, The Pavilion at Ole Miss. It may be the first game played in the new arena (previous projections had the arena opening late 2015). At the new place or at the Tad Pad, it doesn't matter, Alabama has always struggled to win out there.
Here's the conference schedule:
Thursday, January 7 - at Ole Miss - 8:00 PM CT
Saturday, January 9 - Kentucky - 5:00 PM CT
Wednesday, January 13 - South Carolina - 8:00 PM CT
Saturday, January 16 - at Vanderbilt - 5:00 PM CT
Tuesday, January 19 - at Auburn - 8:00 PM CT
Saturday, January 23 - LSU - 1:00 PM CT
Tuesday, January 26 - Tennessee - 8:00 PM CT
Saturday, January 30 - at South Carolina - 8:00 PM CT
Tuesday, February 2 - at Mississippi State - 8:00 PM CT
Saturday, February 6 - Missouri - 2:00 PM CT
Wednesday, February 10 - Texas A&M - 6:00 PM CT
Saturday, February 13 - at Florida - 4:30 PM CT
Wednesday, February 17 - at LSU - 8:00 PM CT
Saturday, February 20 - Mississippi State - 1:30 PM CT
Tuesday, February 23 - at Kentucky - 6:00 PM CT
Saturday, February 27 - Auburn - 4:00 PM CT
Wednesday, March 2 - Arkansas - 8:00 PM CT
Saturday, March 5 - at Georgia - 1 or 3:00 PM CT
A couple of things stand out. First and foremost, Alabama will play a home-and-home with Kentucky for the second straight season. Second thing, 8 of the 18 games will be played at the dreaded 8:00 PM time slot. Maybe not a big deal for the weekend games, but it's hard to draw a great crowd with an 8 PM tip during the week. And if this first season is a bit of a struggle, as some of us believe, how invested will the fanbase remain?
You look at those first six games and it's easy to believe that Avery's first conference season could get off to a rocky start. Ole Miss, Kentucky, Vandy, and LSU may all be top 5 teams in the league. Auburn is expected to be improved in Pearl's second season, while South Carolina is expected by some to be vastly improved in Frank Martin's fourth season. In fact, the SEC as a whole is expected to be much improved this season. I don't put a great deal of stock in summer bracketology, but it's interesting to note that many mock brackets have as many as seven teams projected in the field for the upcoming season. The depth of talent and coaching has improved in the conference, and people are beginning to notice. There aren't going to be many, if any, gimmes on the schedule.
What do you think? I'm going to stick with my projection of 6-7 wins in conference play. I hope I'm wrong.