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14 for 14: The Best of the SEC Nonconference Season

College basketball officially kicks off its schedule this Friday and all 14 SEC teams are in action. What games on each of their schedules is the most intriguing and which will tell us the most about each team?

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Last year at this time, I put together a similar post because let's be honest, there's a lot of what I like to call "dross" on a typical high major college basketball team's program, and the SEC is no different!

For the past few years the rallying cry from the head of the conference has been that the SEC has got to start scheduling up in the nonconference to help set up each team to potentially have an opportunity to play in March in a meaningful fashion. In previous years, the nonconference slate was...lacking lets just say. SEC schools are hiring experienced and exciting coaches to run their programs, and are recruiting at an incredible level, so scheduling is the last step before the actual winning of games.

Have the coaches taken this marching orders to heart? After reviewing the entire slate I can say that for the most part, the answer is yes, but for some of you, well you're not going to be doing yourselves any favors. Luckily for many of the teams the SEC takes on the Big 12 in a cross conference challenge that not everyone was invited to. Much like SEC football the games take place mid SEC conference season so to do these games, and I'm ok with it!
That all being said, here are (in my opinion) the top 14 non conference games for each SEC team that you should tune into,

Alabama vs Oregon (receiving votes - technically 26th), December 21, 2015

It's BIG MONDAY in Alabama! Welcome to year one in the Avery Johnson era Tide fans! This game gives the Tide a test against a strong power 5 team at home. This game should elucidate how good or how bad (more likely bad) this year's team will be and is an opportunity for the fans to come out to support the team. Now, this being Alabama, I wouldn't expect much in terms of a crowd, it is still football season, but we will be well past the SEC Championship game that the Tide may have participated in, and before any Bowl Game they would be playing in. 
Other games in consideration: versus Xavier, at Dayton.

Arkansas at Dayton (receiving votes), December 30, 2015

Mike Anderson has got some work cut out for him this year. He lost both his best players from last year's successful season and the rest of the players all seem to have gotten themselves involved in some off court shenanigans. I'm going to be honest with you, the schedule that CMA put together is not exactly the toughest or that interesting. But like all Arkansas teams, the biggest issue facing them is...the Road. Last year, the Hogs did pretty well, but again, that was a different team. Dayton is continuing it's upward trend under Archie Miller so this game should give the Hogs a test as to how much work they've got ahead of them this season. And if the game goes poorly, New Year's Eve is only a day away and Hogs can drink their pain away..
Other game in consideration: at Wake Forest, versus Mercer

Auburn vs Xavier (receiving votes), December 19, 2015

It's year two in the Bruce Pearl experience! In Pearl's first season Auburn experienced some success and perhaps more importantly, re-engaged the fans, which should be a concern for all teams in the SEC not named Kentucky. Year two for Pearl and the Tigers won't be an easy one and the improvement the team makes may not be as visible as some would want, but with continued recruiting success, Auburn is on their way. This game against Xavier gives Pearl a chance to measure his team against a strong opponent and a way to see how interested the fanbase truly is...or is not.
Other game in consideration: versus Colorado, versus Mercer

Florida at #13 Michigan State, December 12, 2015

Some have said that Florida is doomed and will founder now that Billy Donovan has left, but that's honestly stupid. Mike White was brought in to replace Donovan and is one of the better up and coming younger coaches in the game. He retained Donovan's entire recruiting class and returns a team full of strong players who for whatever reason just couldn't put it all together last year. If you want to test a team, I can't think of a better test than heading to Izzo's house (you know he's friends with Steve Mariucci?!) and going up against the Spartans. If the Gators can keep in this game, and lose a close one, expectations for this team will have to be re-calibrated for many in the media and around SB Nation.
Other games in consideration: versus Oklahoma State, versus Florida State

Georgia at #22 Baylor, January 30, 2016

I'm going to level with you, outside of this Baylor game, everything on the schedule is pretty much garbage. Sure there are some high major teams that will look initially appealing but those teams are expected to be somewhat terrible. So thank god for the Big 12/SEC challenge, 'cause otherwise I'd be filling this space with gifs.  But that's not the case, Georgia looks to build on a successful 2014-2015 campaign and if they want to be dancing in March again, it would be for the best for them to win this game to not give the selection committee pause. Lose this game and have a so-so SEC and Georgia could be looking a lot like Texas A&M did last year...beware Bulldogs.
Other games in consideration: versus Murray State, versus Georgia Tech, at Seton Hall

#2 Kentucky at #4 Kansas, January 30, 2016

I toyed with choosing Kentucky's game with Duke as the best game, and it very well could be, but with the game taking place on November 17th at a neutral site, it just didn't fit. That being said, be sure to watch the hell out of that game, even if it's EARLY in the season and a team relying on freshmen a game in November may not tell us much. Now, the game against Kansas in January should give us all the information we need about this year's Wildcats. By this point Big Blue should be in their groove, their rotations figured out and getting ready to peak. Kansas as always will have a strong team and this could be a potential NCAA tournament final preview. As basketball fans, this game will be a great one to watch, as Mizzou fans, well I don't need to tell you why you want to watch this game. The KU tears could be flowing my friends and we want to be there to see them!
Other games in consideration: versus #5 Duke, at UCLA

#21 LSU versus #8 Oklahoma, January 30, 2016

Remember what I said about Georgia? Well it applies here too. LSU will not be challenging itself in the non con, and I would normally assume that the headcoach made these choices purposefully, but I don't think Johnny Jones does anything on purpose, it's all one big happy accident. That being said if LSU is the team many people think they are, this should be just the test and resume defining win that can push LSU from top 10 seed in the NCAAs to top 4. January 30th is going to be a helluva day/night in the SEC, so clear your calendar now and perhaps hope for a nice snow storm to keep you indoors, it is an El Nino year after all.
Other game in consideration:  versus Marquette, versus Wake Forest

Mississippi State versus Miami (receiving votes), November 19, 2015

Well looks what's happening down in Starkville?! People are excited and new coach Ben Howland has got the Clangas on the upturn. They've got Malik Newman, the #1 recruit coming onto campus and a slew of other kids following Newman. Things are looking up! But what should we expect from Howland's first team? Well it is early, but taking on a team not far out of the top 25 with football season going on should at least give everyone an idea of where the fan base head is currently sitting. Honestly, there's not much else on the schedule so lose this game and State will have to make some serious hay during the conference season to end up dancing like some expect them to.
Other games in consideration: at Florida State

Mizzou vs Wofford, November 13, 2015

Looking at Mizzou's schedule even I find it a little odd that I'm taking the very first game of the season as the most important of the nonconference season, but there you are. Sure there are bigger name opponents on the schedule and yes we've got games against teams receiving votes in the polls, BUT how this team has progressed from last year will be evident in game one. Wofford is coming off a very strong season that saw them minutes away from an upset of Arkansas in the first round of the NCAA tournament. And in they come to Mizzou Arena. Are the fans engaged? Have the Tigers taken the steps needed to get to double digit victories this season? It is early, but I don't see a bigger game that will tell us more about where this team stands for 2015-2016. Win this game and the season opens up in a way that didn't occur last year, lost it close, no harm no foul, get smoked and well Kim Anderson year two could be much like year one.
Other games in consideration: versus CBE Classic Games, at Xavier, versus NC State, versus Illinois

Ole Miss versus Memphis, December 18, 2015

Well the Rebels won't be giving themselves any trouble in the nonconference season. It's mostly just a bunch of eh, and the fact that last year's NCAA tournament darling Georgia State (minus Ron Hunter Jr) is even in consideration for this post. Perhaps, since the nonconference will take place at the Tad Pad, perhaps Andy Kennedy can whip and nene at halfitme every game to keep his fans entertained, because it won't be the quality of opponent. Have a bad nonconference season and things will be looking bleak for the Rebels, even with Stefan Moody.
Other games in consideration: versus Georgia State, at Kansas State

South Carolina vs Depaul, November 20, 2015

It's a big year for Frank Martin in Columbia east. Martin is in year four and if the Gamecocks don't move forward and show some progress this season that could be east for our favorite mad man. South Carolina, like Mizzou was also not chosen for the Big 12/SEC challenge so even a marginally interesting game against one of our old pals can save this nonconference season. It's all very blah to be honest with you. That being said, get through the nonconference season without any losses or just a one, and things could be looking up. Honestly, I've got nothing, it's all so ugly!
Other games in consideration: versus Memphis

Tennessee at #24 Butler, December 12, 2015

Rick Barnes dusts off one orange blazer for a more garrish orange blazer. Luckily orange goes with everything! The Volunteers are on a new coach for the third year in a row and it looks like this year could be a little difficult for the Vols. However, they are scheduling in a manner that will at least challenge this young team that may or may not be able to actually score. Looking at the schedule, the game against Gonzaga seems like the natural choice but this Volunteer team does not look equipped to handle the Zags and any showing that's within double digits should be considered a victory. No, the game at Butler in December will tell us more about what kind of team Tennessee has in Barnes first year. Go up to Hinkle field house and have a good showing and things could be looking up, get blown out and well it could be a long season for ol Rickey.
Other games in consideration: versus George Washington, versus #9 Gonzaga

Texas A&M vs #7 Iowa State, January 30, 2016

Finally, someone got the memo! The Aggies have gone out and put themselves together a lovely non conference schedule. They've got their rivalry back with Texas, they head on the road to take on Bobby Hurley's first Arizona State squad and then close things out with former Southwestern Conference and Big 12 foe, Baylor. But the creme de la creme on this schedule is the Aggies date with a top ten Iowa State squad in their first year without the Mayor. Last season the Aggies looked good, but didn't really beat anybody on their schedule, sure they got by the teams they should have and won the necessary road games, but just didn't do anything to impress the selection committee. Oh, and getting bounced by Auburn in the second round of the SEC tournament in Nashville certainly didn't do them any favors. All that being said, if the Aggies want to dance this year, the game at Iowa State is a damn good measuring stick. Like the other Big 12/SEC challenge games, this one occurs late in January and both teams should be who they are. Take care of this game, and the likelihood that you're sweating on March 13th lessens a great deal, lose this game and well things start looking a lot like last year, and if there's anything we've learned, you don't want to have to count on the SEC schedule doing you any favors.
Other games in consideration: versus Texas, at Arizona State, versus Baylor

#18 Vanderbilt vs #23 Purdue, December 22, 2015

Welcome to the terror dome Boilermakers! Sure Vandy has gotten a little less scary, but it's still a terrible arena to play in and Vandy is looking tough!  Last year, Vandy ended the season on a tear and made it to the quarterfinals of the NIT before bowing out to other nerd school, Stanford. So, everyone is looking to Vandy to take the next step and with future NBA pro Damian Jones on the roster that shouldn't be too big a hurdle to cross. This end of the calendar year contest with top 25 Purdue should give us a good idea if Vandy is taking that next step. Win this game and the Big Dance seems like a real possibility, lose and perhaps we've all counted our chickens before they've hatched. Lose this and maybe "Memorial Magic" was just a seating arrangement.
Other games in consideration: at Baylor, versus Dayton, at Texas

There you have it, the best of the best on this year's SEC Non Conference basketball schedule.  Lots of good games on the schedule to set your time around to get a real idea of what kind of season the conference will have. What do you think? Any games you want to see more than others?