The SEC is known for being the best Football Conference in all the land, and that continues to be the case this year (thanks SEC West!). That does not mean that we should just ignore what's going on with the bouncy squeaky orange ball side of things.
Since the conference expanded to 14 three years ago the SEC has sent a total of 6 teams to the NCAA Tournament, and a major reason cited for this paltry number has been the strength of schedule and the lack of quality non conference opponents. We all know that losing in November and December can't doom your schedule (in most cases) but a couple wins over a major conference team can set you apart when it comes time to see who gets in the NCAAs and who goes to the NIT, CBI, or other post season tournament.
With that in mind, and two years of beating this horse, have the teams of the SEC taken the notice to heart and scheduled accordingly? After reviewing all 14 teams non conference schedules I can say, mostly yes! Some teams still have a fluffier schedule than I'm sure Mike Slive would like, but that doesn't mean there isn't a great game on their schedule that you should watch.
With all that being said, here are the Top 14 Non Conference Games for each SEC team. Top games were based on opponent, location and most importantly, watchability. To the list (in alphabetical order)!
Alabama vs UCLA (receiving votes), December 28, 2014
This feels like a make or break year for Anthony Grant at Alabama, and with that in mind the Crimson Tide have a non conference schedule that is challenging and exciting. I chose UCLA because it's a home game and will give the students (even on break) a chance to see a quality opponent from a power conference come into their building and provides Grant a chance to get a signature win and to assess what kind of year this will be.
Other games in consideration: vs Iowa State, at Wichita State.
Arkansas at Iowa State #14, December 4, 2014
Mike Anderson has got the Razorbacks going in the right direction and for the past three years, the Hogs have been slowly but surely following the Anderson formula for success. Typically in year three is when Anderson's team make the leap, but for the Hogs, it appears it will be in year 4. The road has never been kind to Mike Anderson's team, and if this team is to get serious tournament consideration they're going to have to win on the road, and taking a game in Ames would be a huge step in that direction. Get past the 'Clones and the conference and nation at large will stand up and take notice, lose this game and it will start to feel like same old Mike Anderson teams not winning on the road.
Other game in consideration: vs Dayton
Auburn at Colorado (receiving votes), November 17, 2014
Bruce Pearl was hired at Auburn and he's already paying dividends, recruiting has been stellar and there is genuine interest in the program at the corner of College and Magnolia. While the non conference schedule isn't stellar, they do travel to a Power 5 conference team who made the NCAA tournament last year, so that should a challenge. Can Pearl turn things around in year one, this game should go a long way in telling us.
Other game in consideration: vs Xavier
Florida versus Connecticut #15, January 3, 2015
Florida has a tremendously difficult non conference schedule peppered with fun games to choose from, but when you've got the defending National Champions coming into your building right before the conference schedule opens up, well that's must see TV. Simply this game will tell us where Florida stands against the big boys of the basketball world, get a win here and watch the expectations soar.
Other games in consideration: vs Georgetown, at kansas
Georgia vs Gonzaga #13, November 26, 2014
Georgia was a wonderful surprise once the SEC season started last year, kicking off their schedule by knocking off Mizzou in Columbia, MO. Looking at their record one would think they would have had a chance to sneak into the dance, unfortunately, their non conference schedule did them in. That's what makes this game against Gonzaga in the pre season NIT so important, win this game and the others you should and you've got a serious chance at dancing in March, lose and it won't matter what happens in the winter.
Other games in consideration: vs Colorado, at Kansas State
Kentucky at Louisville #9, December 27, 2014
Honestly, if I was just ranking the 14 best non conference games in the SEC, Big Blue probably would have half of the list. The Wildcats are challenging themselves the entire month of November and December. This team was a few shots away from a National Championship last year, and have potentially gotten better. This game has it all, watchability, a non conference game against a rival from a separate conference (huh, didn't think we could do that) and two coaches who can coach and have a great rivalry. If Kentucky gets a win here, there's a good chance everyone else in the conference is just playing for 2nd through 14.
Other games in consideration: vs. kansas, vs Providence, vs Texas, vs UNC, vs UCLA
LSU at West Virginia (NR), December 2, 2014
For the past few years LSU has been the sexy pick to be the SEC representative to join Florida and Kentucky as the standard bearer for the SEC come March, and for the past few years, things just haven't clicked. Traveling to a power 5 foe with a great coach and a hostile environment should tell us a lot about what kind of team Johnny Jones has. Are they the team that beat Kentucky last year or the one that lost to Rhode Island?
Other game in consideration: vs Massachussetts
Mississippi State at Saint Louis University (NR), November 28, 2014
Clangaclangaclanga is looking to spend this year hopefully not in the cellar of the conference again. To do so they have an attractive schedule to get some wins while still having some challenges in Coach Rick Ray's third season. With that in mind, of the games, a road trip to SLU looks like a good test. SLU's lost some pieces from last year's tournament team but it's still a road game and a good measuring stick for any progress the Bulldogs will make this year, plus for many Mizzou fans celebrating Thanksgiving, I'm sure you'll have some friend talking about this game.
Other games in consideration: at Oregon State, vs Florida State
Mizzou at Oklahoma #19, December 5, 2014
In Kim Anderson's first year, Mizzou's non conference schedule is brutal! As a fan of watching great big name teams, Mizzou has got us covered. I know many would choose the Illinois game as the biggest this year in and all others for that matter, but I think for a true measuring stick of how we can expect this team to fare, the trip to old Big 8/12 foes Oklahoma may tell us the most about this year's Tigers. The Sooners are a team coming off an NCAA tournament appearance and should provide a good road test to see how the young Tigers handle a big time opponent on their home floor. A win can raise expectations and confidence, a close loss, the same, but a big time beating would signal potentially more work needs to be done.
Other games in consideration: vs Arizona, vs Xavier, vs Illinois, vs Oklahoma State
Ole Miss at Dayton (receiving votes), December 30, 2014
The Rebels had a decent year last year, finishing at .500 in conference, essentially winning the games they should have but not pulling off any major upsets. This will be Andy Kennedy's 9th year at the helm of the Ole Miss basketball team and it's a big one for him as the natives appear to be getting a little restless. Heading on the road to take on Elite 8 participants Dayton should be a good gauge of the team that he has to work with this year and if they're ready to head back to the tournament to make some noise or if this could spell his end.
Other games in consideration: vs Creighton, at Oregon
South Carolina vs Baylor (receiving votes), November 18, 2014
Frank "Murderball" Martin is in his third year in the other Columbia and things seem to be turning the corner for the Gamecocks. This team had a win over Kentucky last year and will be looking to build off a strong nucleus of upper classmen and a strong recruiting class. Taking on a Baylor team that went to the Sweet 16 last year should provide a good early test for Martin's team to see if last year was the beginning of something special or more of the same.
Other games in consideration: vs Oklahoma State, vs Iowa State
Tennessee at Virginia Commonwealth University #16, November 14, 2014
New head coach Donnie Tyndall comes in with a roster without last year's key contributors to the Vols Sweet 16 run and a fanbase that seems to have very very high expectations. But give credit where credit is due, Tennessee is going on the road in their first game to a very difficult place to play against a very difficult style to defend. The Vols showing in this game won't give us a great indication of the season to come but it should be a really fun game to watch and props to the Vols for jumping right into things.
Other games in consideration: vs Kansas State, at North Carolina State
Texas A&M vs Kansas State (receiving votes), December 20, 2014
In a battle against former conference mates Texas A&M will be looking to build off a solid showing last year which featured a ton of close losses in Billy Kennedy's fourth year as head coach. The team is composed of a strong group of juniors and seniors that could be ready for the next step. Taking on K-State at home should provide a nice test not only on the floor but in the stands.
Other games in consideration: at Dayton, at Baylor
Vanderbilt vs Baylor (receiving votes), December 4, 2014
Vandy has been depleted the last two years roster wise. It would be a wonder to see what Kevin Stallings could do with a roster a little deeper than 7 people, and hopefully this is the year. The Commodores get a December visit from Baylor that should interest the fans to fill that place they play in and provide a nice test to see what this team is made of, because it has been impossible to know what to say about the team the past two years. Flashes of great play destroyed by fatigue at the end.
Other games in consideration: at Georgia Tech, at Saint Louis University
There you have it, the best of the best on this year's SEC Non Conference basketball schedule. There are a lot of standout games to keep your attention until the conference season begins, and some really great basketball to be watched.
Please share any thoughts if you think I'm way off in the comments below.