Tuesday is Full of Opportunity for SEC TeamsPosted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on November 12th, 2013
Mike Slive made crystal clear this offseason that SEC schools must schedule better non-conference opponents. One school’s weak slate not only hurts its own RPI, but also drives down the league’s RPI and overall profile. “One of the things that was eye-opening to coaches was how much every team’s schedule impacts the other teams,” said Florida coach Billy Donovan. To guard against scheduling anvils going forward, Slive hired a scheduling consultant and each school must now get their final basketball schedules approved by the league. These won’t have much effect this season given how far in advance games with bigger conference schools have to be set. But the SEC has a huge opportunity this evening to put a smile on Slive’s face and grab some early season respect for the league. There are five “statement” games on tonight’s schedule:
#2 Michigan State vs. #1 Kentucky
The season isn’t yet a week old and the first edition of the Game of the Year has arrived. John Calipari made waves last week by saying that it’s “not fair” his young team has to play an experienced team like Michigan State this early. Despite the ridiculousness of that tongue-in-cheek comment, the Wildcats will get about as stiff a test as there is at the United Center tonight. The Spartans have quick and strong perimeter athletes that Kentucky will have difficulty matching up with. On the flip side, Michigan State will have difficulty matching up the Wildcats’ interior size. If Kentucky were to lose this game, especially in close fashion, no one should bat an eye. But a win, though hardly surprising, would truly establish Kentucky as the team to beat this season (if they aren’t already).
#10 Florida at #20 Wisconsin
The Gators struggled to pull away and bury North Florida on Friday afternoon. Casey Prather and Michael Frazier scored career highs to overcome an off night from Patric Young and the absences of Scottie Wilbekin, Dorian Finney-Smith and Damontre Harris. Neither of these three will be back against perpetually good Wisconsin tonight in Madison. By no means should Florida be looked down upon if the Gators lose this game, but Billy Donovan’s team can make a giant statement with a win under current circumstances. It’ll be interesting to watch Young’s response to a rough first game and how Kasey Hill handles a difficult environment and an opponent intent on making him play much slower than he wants.
Tennessee at Xavier
Xavier dipped last season, but the Volunteers can still make a statement with a win against the Musketeers in Cincinnati. Antonio Barton’s experience will be important for Tennessee in a difficult environment, and it’ll be interesting to see how freshmen Robert Hubbs and Darius Thompson respond in their first college games. Jeronne Maymon will also have a tough assignment in Western Michigan transfer Matt Stainbrook, in his first action since 2011-12. Stainbrook looked sharp against Gardner-Webb with 13 points and 12 rebounds.
LSU at Massachusetts
Like Cuonzo Martin, Johnny Jones has a tough draw on the road against a solid team to open the season. The Minutemen come into tonight’s game with confidence after beaten trendy ACC pick Boston College on Saturday. LSU will count on contributions from freshmen like Jarell Martin and Tim Quarterman, but they don’t have to rely on those two exclusively. Having experienced leaders like Anthony Hickey and Johnny O’Bryant could be pivotal in a difficult opening game like this. Another corollary to the Tennessee-Xavier game is that LSU must deal with a low post player coming off a dominant performance, and in this case it’s UMass forward Cady Lalanne, who scored 27 points and grabbed 12 rebounds against Boston College.
South Carolina at #25 Baylor
Nine out of 10 times the Gamecocks most likely do not win this game, and maybe even 10 out of 10 times. Baylor is a talented team coming off an impressive season opening win against Colorado. Furthermore, junior college transfer Kenny Chery flashed the potential to become a solid distributor to get the ball to scorers Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin. The short of it is that Frank Martin’s young team has a steep hill to climb. But Waco is rarely a daunting place to play, and the atmosphere should be tepid with a weekday afternoon tip. Martin also knows how to handle Scott Drew after his several years in the Big 12.