Thursday, May 28, 2015

SEC Announces "Permanent" Basketball Opponents

The SEC is currently holding its annual meetings in Destin, FL. Today the conference announced the new scheduling format for basketball. This model will begin in 2015-16 and continue indefinitely. The new model will feature three "permanent" opponents that teams will play home-and-home each season, two rotating home-and-home opponents, with the remainder of the teams playing each other once per season. The total number of conference games will remain 18. The conference also announced the full schedule will be released in August.

Alabama's three permanent opponents will be Auburn, Mississippi State and LSU. In years past, this would be a disappointment from a schedule strength standpoint. However, all three teams appear to be trending upward with the hires of Ben Howland at Mississippi State, Bruce Pearl at Auburn, and the recent resurgence of LSU under Johnny Jones. From a recruiting standpoint, the games with both Auburn and Mississippi State will be incredibly important as all three programs recruit the same region and offer many of the same recruits.

One criticism: Arkansas and Kentucky both have proud basketball traditions with the two most sympathetic basketball fanbases in the football-centric conference. Those two programs should play each other twice each season. A missed opportunity, in my opinion.

Here are the permanent opponents for the other conference teams:

Arkansas - Missouri, Texas A&M, LSU
Auburn - Alabama, Ole Miss, Georgia
Florida - Kentucky, Georgia, Vanderbilt
Georgia - South Carolina, Florida, Auburn
Kentucky - Florida, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
LSU - Texas A&M, Alabama, Arkansas
Ole Miss - Mississippi State, Auburn, Missouri
Mississippi State - Ole Miss, Alabama, South Carolina
Missouri - Arkansas, Texas A&M, Ole Miss
South Carolina - Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi State
Tennessee - Vanderbilt, Kentucky, South Carolina
Texas A&M - LSU, Arkansas, Missouri
Vanderbilt - Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Big 12/SEC Challenge Games Announced

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.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Avery Johnson Jr. Transferring to Alabama

In an unsurprising move, Avery Johnson Jr. has transferred from Texas A&M to Alabama in order to play for his father. Jr. will sit out a year per transfer rules (assuming he's not granted a waiver), and have three years of eligibility beginning in the 2016-17 season. AJ Jr. was, depending on the source, a 2-3 star recruit coming out of high school where he averaged 15 ppg, 4 apg as a senior at Plano West in Texas.

His playing time was limited for A&M this past season, appearing in 13 games and totaling 18 points (1.4 ppg). Not only was playing for his father a draw, but with the recent recruiting success that A&M has enjoyed, he wasn't going to be guaranteed many minutes in the near future. It's a good move on his part, I believe. Hopefully it's a move that benefits both father and son. If anything, I think it ensures that Coach Johnson plans to be in Tuscaloosa for the foreseeable future.

Point guard is a position that is well-covered at the moment for the team. While Retin Obasohan will be a 5th year senior in 15-16, Justin Coleman (So.) and Dazon Ingram (Fr.) will also be competing for time at the position next season and, hopefully, beyond. Assuming AJ Sr. takes an objective approach to who plays how many minutes, AJ Jr. will have to compete at a very high level over the course of the next two years to wrest minutes away from Coleman and Ingram.

And kudos to Billy Kennedy for not making a big deal out of Johnson leaving A&M to play for his father at Alabama. Kennedy could have made a stink about it with Alabama being a conference rival, but he did the right thing and didn't obstruct the process.

In other recruiting news, the Bama coaching staff continues to try and land a few more players from the 2015 class. Today (Friday), they hosted 3-star Guard/Forward, Dikembe Dixson (6'7, 190 lbs). Per his Twitter page, it appears that Dixson had a very positive visit, posting several photos, and generally speaking well of the coaches and the environment. He is also planning to visit Mississippi State this weekend, but has canceled a scheduled trip to Arkansas, meaning it will come down to Alabama or Mississippi State for his signature. Dixson has said he plans to make his decision by May 21st. While Dixson's thin frame suggests he needs to get stronger, his length, athleticism and ability to play different spots on the floor make him an important recruit for an Alabama team in dire need of bodies at the SG/SF position.

Here's a highlight video I found on Youtube. Keep in mind this footage is almost two years old.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Add Jeff Garrett To The Transfer List

It was reported yesterday that Jeff Garrett, a 6'7 206 lb forward, has elected to transfer from Alabama. Garrett, a freshman who was redshirted this past season, is the third player to transfer from the program, joining Ricky Tarrant and Devin Mitchell. His departure leaves Alabama with 10 scholarship players, including Memphis transfer, Nick King, who will have to sit out next year per the NCAA transfer rules.

Avery Johnson and his staff continue to mine what's left of the 2015 class in an effort to fill the scholarship limits, but the recent transfers will likely prevent that from happening.

One player who could benefit from the opening of another scholarship is Lawson Schaeffer, a 5'11 guard who announced his decision yesterday to enroll at Alabama as a walk-on. Schaeffer, from Cullman, had a great high school career, being chosen as the AHSAA Class 6A Player of the Year this past season. His senior numbers were 21 ppg, 7 apg. With the unexpected departure of Garrett, perhaps the staff offers the scholarship to Schaeffer, at least for one year.