Three Overlooked SEC Non-Conference Games that Will Make a Difference on Selection SundayPosted by DPerry on October 17th, 2012
When the SEC revealed last year that Missouri and Texas A&M would be joining the conference, the news was analyzed primarily from a football angle. This isn’t unfair, of course, as the league’s resume in the sport is impeccable, claiming the last six national titles. However, over the past few years, the Tigers and Aggies have experienced more success specifically on the hardwood than on the gridiron, and for a league that has carved out an identity as top-heavy, the arrival of two steady programs is welcome news.
One of the easiest ways to assess overall league quality is through total NCAA Tournament bids. The SEC has averaged four bids over the last four years, including an embarrassing three in 2009, when every other major conference earned at least six. That number will have to improve immediately for expansion to be considered a success for SEC basketball.
As usual, conference play will feature close games and strong home court advantages, making it difficult for all but the elite to differentiate themselves from the competition. That’s why performance outside the conference is so important, especially for bubble teams. Here’s a look at some overlooked match-ups in which second-tier SEC teams need to perform well to enhance their resume on Selection Sunday:
- South Dakota State @ Alabama (November 9) – SEC fans will be counting on the Crimson Tide to lock down an at-large bid, but don’t be surprised if they stumble out of the gates. The visiting Jackrabbits almost pulled off an upset against Baylor in last year’s Tourney, and the team returns almost entirely intact. Star guard Nate Wolters can score (21.2 PPG), rebound (5.1 RPG), and pass (5.9 APG), and his all-around game is complemented by some quality jump shooters. Alabama returns talent in the backcourt, and 5-star recruit Devonta Pollard should be able to ease the loss of departed big men JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell, but as Anthony Grant works on implementing a new frontcourt rotation, South Dakota State isn’t the ideal opponent to open the season against.
- Georgia @ South Florida (November 30) – They were willing to test themselves against quality opponents last season, but an early four-game losing streak doomed the Bulldogs to a disappointing season. This season, Mark Fox will have to find a way to pull an upset or two if Georgia has any hope of receiving an NCAA bid. A late November trip to Tampa presents a prime opportunity. South Florida is coming off of its best season in school history and expectations are high. Georgia has the athletes to compete and will hope to take advantage of a team that may be guilty of looking forward to a more challenging game at Oklahoma State.
- Oklahoma @ Arkansas (December 4) – It’s nice to see the Razorbacks schedule quality opposition in Mike Anderson’s second season. Fans are looking forward to match-ups with Syracuse, Michigan, and either Wisconsin or Creighton, but avoiding complacency against Oklahoma in Bud Walton Arena is imperative. The Sooners haven’t had much success since the Blake Griffin era, but coach Lon Kruger returns all five starters from a team that beat Arkansas last season. With dates against the Orange and Wolverines flanking the Oklahoma game, Anderson needs to make sure his young core can maintain their focus against an inferior squad.
Success in these games alone won’t guarantees bids, but if the Crimson Tide, Bulldogs, and Razorbacks can take care of business in these matchups, don’t be surprised if they’re joining the SEC’s elite in the Big Dance.