Handicapping Next Season’s SEC/Big East Challenge MatchupsPosted by EJacoby on June 4th, 2012
The Big East sent more teams (nine) to last year’s NCAA Tournament than any other conference, while the SEC compiled the best winning percentage (.769) during the Big Dance. The two leagues are squaring off next season in the second annual SEC/Big East Challenge, whose matchups were announced on Friday. With plenty to offer in the form of juggernaut teams and program traditions, the idea of this event should provide great intrigue to the non-conference season, something the Big Ten and ACC have done in their cross-conference challenge for the past 14 years. Next year’s slate doesn’t look nearly as enticing as some were hoping for — UConn, Louisville, and Missouri aren’t participating, while Syracuse is in but wants out – and our SEC microsite broke down the lack of headline games on the schedule. Nonetheless, we can’t overlook this event that allows for top conference teams to play true road games against other power leagues. Last season, Georgetown played at Alabama in one of the most entertaining games of the entire non-conference slate, and that game didn’t garner much publicity at all. The Big East came away victorious, 8-4, in last year’s event. Here’s what the 2012 SEC/Big East Challenge presents us.
Youth vs. Experience, Kentucky at Notre Dame (Nov. 29) – Notre Dame returns all five starters from last season; Kentucky returns none. But both teams have high hopes next year, as the Fighting Irish bring back the entire core from a team that went 13-5 in the Big East while the National Champion Wildcats showcase the nation’s number two recruiting class of SEC-ready stars. Both programs have decorated pasts with loyal fanbases; each team is ranked in the RTC preseason Top 25. What’s not to love about this matchup? A Kentucky-Syracuse game would have garnered more hype, but this matchup could produce a better game. Who wins out, the young guns or the vets? We should get a great read on the new crop of UK freshmen in this their first real road test.
Seeking Sweet Revenge, Marquette at Florida (Nov. 29) - These two teams squared off in last year’s Sweet Sixteen, when the Gators ended the Golden Eagles’ season and Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom’s careers. Buzz Williams’ boys are looking for revenge in Gainesville, though both teams will look a lot different from last season. Florida loses its own pair of stars (Erving Walker, Bradley Beal) but Kenny Boynton and Patric Young are back to form one of the nation’s most threatening inside-out duos. Each team must call on a host of young players that showed promise last year but have to step into more prominent roles in 2012-’13. There’s plenty of intrigue in this one, though Florida is the strong favorite at home.
The Question Mark, Syracuse at Arkansas (Nov. 30) - This game has great potential, but it’s unclear if it’s even going to happen. Syracuse, set to leave the Big East after next season, has no interest in playing this game and its athletic director has requested removal from the event. Hopefully the matchup remains as planned, because the Orange are a preseason Top 10 team and league contenders that would get a real test in Arkansas. Mike Anderson gets a second full year to implement his system with a developing young roster that includes arguably the best player on the floor in rising sophomore B.J. Young. Will we get to see this matchup? If so, will Syracuse come prepared to play? Can the Razorbacks pull the upset and ignite their season? It’s all a big mystery at this point, which makes this a story to follow.
The Sleeper Special, Tennessee at Georgetown (Nov. 30) - The Volunteers and Hoyas aren’t preseason Top 25 teams, don’t bring in loaded recruiting classes, and won’t necessarily challenge for league titles. Yet a lot of developing talent is on display in this one for two teams that have NCAA Tournament hopes. Cuonzo Martin’s squad finished 8-2 last year and brings back the main culprits of the improving roster. John Thompson, III, looks to replace the departed Henry Sims, Jason Clark, and Hollis Thompson with a new slew of unselfish athletes to thrive in the Princeton-style offense. Both teams overachieved last year and are looking to do the same in 2012-13.
The Coming Out Party, Mississippi State at Providence (Dec. 1) - With all due respect to new head coach Rick Ray and his team, this game is not about Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are rebuilding from scratch next season and may struggle, especially on the road. But Providence, on the other hand, has something you’ll want to tune in for: one of the deepest and most talented backcourts in the country. Returning are a trio of upperclassmen that all averaged 13.2 PPG or more last year, including one of the Big East’s top point guards, Vincent Council. And incoming are a pair of five-star, All-American guards in Ricardo Ledo and Kris Dunn. In their first game on national television, the Friars get to unleash these explosive guards for fans everywhere to see and remember.
Grading the Projects, Villanova at Vanderbilt (Dec. 1) - The ‘Cats and the ‘Dores have been mainstays in the Top 25 for the past several seasons, and this matchup would have been a prime time ESPN matchup just a couple of years ago. But Villanova and Vanderbilt are both set to undergo major rebuilding projects next season, with neither team expected to contend in 2012-13. We don’t really know what to expect from either squad. Tune in and be the judge; which program has more promise for next season?
The Other Games -
- Seton Hall at LSU (Nov. 29)
- South Carolina at St. John’s (Nov. 29)
- DePaul at Auburn (Nov. 30)
- Georgia at South Florida (Nov. 30)
- Alabama at Cincinnati (Dec. 1)
- Rutgers at Mississippi (Dec. 1)
Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.