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14 for 14: The Best of the SEC Nonconference Schedule

The best teams the SEC basketball teams take on in 2016 - 2017

NCAA Basketball: SEC Tournament-Kentucky vs Texas A&M Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

This past weekend, all 14 SEC teams opened their season with non conference teams of varying levels of ability, with results that you would expect from a conference of different strengths and weaknesses.

Luckily, none of those games were must watch outside of that fact that its college basketball and you should always watch college basketball, even when it’s ugly.

Now for the past few seasons the SEC has underperformed and failed to net more than a few teams into the NCAA tournament, and of the Power 5 conferences a case could be made that the SEC is the worst. It’s probably also worse than some non Power 5 conferences. One of the main contributors to this lack of SEC presence in the tourney has been scheduling in the nonconference. It’s hard enough to get signature wins when the conference is in a bit of downward trend, but even harder when your team (or your opponents) barely make an effort in the nonconference season to help their numbers, and thus yours later.

The perfect example of this is South Carolina. The Gamecocks had a nice 2015-2016 season, however they weren’t invited to the NCAA tournament because their nonconference schedule was a train wreck with not one challenging opponent among them. So, the memo went back out and SEC teams were told to schedule tougher opponents…did they listen? Well I can tell you some did, and others well, let’s just say it’s going to take a near perfect SEC conference season to get the selection committee’s attention if they want to sniff meaningful March basketball.

Let’s check out the top games (in my opinion) for each team in the SEC and why you should be watching.

Alabama vs Dayton, Tuesday, November 15 at 1:15 PM on ESPN2
Looking at Alabama’s schedule this is not the highest ranked team on the docket but it should be a good test of the progress Avery Johnson’s team has made over the summer. Last year Bama was an up and down team with some nice wins in conference and they’ve only gotten better. A home game against a perennial NCAA team to start the season should be telling.
Others in Consideration: at #21 Texas, December 2, at #5 Oregon, December 11

Arkansas vs #21 Texas, Saturday, December 17 at 2:30 PM on ESPNU
Mike Anderson has never been accused of putting together a challenging schedule in his career and this year is no different. Looking at the Hogs schedule, the pickings are slim, and were it not for the SEC-Big 12 challenge there wouldn’t be pickings, just a picking. That said, Mike Anderson’s team should be very good this season and a date with the 21st ranked Longhorns that play a similar style of basketball should be a treat for fans to watch. It’s only a shame that this game is being played at a neutral site venue instead of in Bud Walton.
Other in Consideration: at Oklahoma State, January 28

Auburn vs Oklahoma, Wednesday, December 21 at 8:30 PM on CBS Sports Network
When I first looked at the schedule, I had the game against UConn locked into this spot, then UConn went and lost to Wagner this past Friday and well, that blew that plan right up. So we turn to the Sooners. Auburn isn’t exactly challenging themselves in the nonconference season this year with multiple dates with Big 12 teams, none of who (outside of the Sooners) are all that exciting. However, a game with a Buddy Hield less Oklahoma is a good measuring stick to see what Bruce Pearl has for his team in year 3 of his tenure. Has his highly rated recruiting classes started to get it and is Auburn prepped to move into the top half of the SEC or do we have more of the same, a disappointing team with little identity?
Others in Consideration: vs Texas Tech, November 22 at #18 Connecticut, December 23

Florida vs #1 Duke, Tuesday, December 6 at 9:00 PM on ESPN
Anytime you take on the #1 team in the country that’s going to do it for best game. Florida is a year older and poised to make a move back towards the top of the SEC in Mike White’s second season leading the Gator program. Duke has become a one and done factory like Kentucky and boast a bevy of freshman already receiving All American consideration and returning potential player of the year candidate Grayson Allen. An upset here and Florida’s on its way ahead of schedule and a real contender for the SEC crown that currently resides in Lexington.
Others in Consideration: vs Seton Hall, November 24, at Florida State, December 11, at Oklahoma, January 28

Georgia vs Marquette, Sunday, December 4 at 2:00 PM on ESPU
The Bulldogs started their season off with a loss on Friday at Clemson, and Clemson is a good team that beat a lot of good teams at home last season so nothing to get too upset about. However for Georgia to get back into the tournament, having potentially the best player in the SEC on their squad, they’re going to have to get signature wins where they can and one chance just evaporated. Luckily they have a date with Marquette who have moved things along quickly in Wojo’s third year on the job. Lose this game and the chance for redemption won’t come along again until January.
Others in Consideration: vs Texas, January 28

Kentucky vs Kansas, Saturday, January 28 at 6:00 PM on ESPN
Looking at the Wildcats schedule and there are a plethora of games that could fir in this spot. They take on five top 25 teams in the nonconference season, it’s incredible and really you should watch all of them. But I’ve selected Kansas as they’re a preseason favorite to win the whole thing in March. Both teams are stacked with potential NBA first round picks and are the bluest of blue bloods. Really writing anymore seems silly at this point.
Others in Consideration: vs Michigan State, November 15, vs UCAL, December 3, vs North Carolina, December 17, and at Louisville, December 21

LSU vs Wichita State, Wednesday, November 23 at 12:00 PM on ESPN2
Consider this game your appetizer before Thanksgiving, and give thanks for such a fun game to watch. Wichita State is transitioning from the VanFleet/Baker era, but they’ve still got Greg Marshall on the bench and two strong recruiting classes in the fold. LSU, last season, was to put it bluntly a complete failure. How the team with the best player in the country on its bench doesn’t sneak into the NCAAs is a major indictment of what Johnny Jones is doing as head coach. Maybe the players didn’t get along, or didn’t like the attention, or it was injuries. Either way, this is LSU’s opportunity to get off on the good foot and well, show that Johnny Jones isn’t as lost as he seems.
Others in Consideration: vs Houston, November 29, at Wake Forest, December 22 and at Texas Tech, January 28

Mississippi State vs Take Your Pick on any day between now and January 3rd
Remember how at the top of this post I mentioned that some teams hadn’t taken to heart the request of the SEC Commissioner’s Office and the advice of everyone that knows college basketball (like you the reader) about how important it was to play a competitive nonconference schedule? Well apparently not only did Mississippi State not do that, they’ve doubled down on a nonconference the likes of which I have never seen. It’s a joke. There are cupcakes on top of cupcakes on top of more cupcakes. The best ranked team (per KenPom) is Oregon State at 82, it’s laughable.
Here’s their schedule just so we can all see how they will be challenging themselves through the rest of this calendar year: Norfolk State (#259), UCF (#177), Lehigh (#124), Northwestern State (#295), Oregon State (#82), Georgia State (#154), East Tennessee State (#139), Southern Miss (#274), Morehead State (#167) and UMKC (#217). Wow State, just wow…
Others in Consideration: NOPE

Mizzou vs Illinois, December 21 at 7:00 PM on ESPNU
Braggin Rights! It’s a big game every year and I’ve chosen it because this game will be a better yardstick by which Mizzou to measure its progress in Year 3 of Kim Anderson than our seemingly annual game with Xavier and a Saturday morning affair with an injured Arizona squad. Illinois is a very good team, with a good core and if everyone can manage to stay healthy (not something they’ve done for two years now), Illinois is a tournament team. The Tigers won’t have a more well attended and tournament style atmosphere than this game, plus they will be at full strength so they’ll get a better idea of who and what they are with Jordan Barnett in the lineup than without. Also, Braggin’ Rights is awesome no matter the outcome.
Others in Consideration: vs #7 Xavier, November 17, vs #10 Arizona, December 10

Ole Miss at Virginia Tech, Sunday, December 11 at 12:00 PM on ESPNU
Ole Miss will be without a flashy guard for the first time in a few years with the departure of Stefan Moody and previously everyone’s favorite troll, Marshall Henderson. But the Rebels have a decent nucleus that could prove to be a tough out once conference play starts, especially with the newish Pavillion ready for a full year of basketball fun. I’ve circled the VaTech game because it’s on the road and against a team that is poised in year three of the Buzz era to make a move towards a tournament berth. A win on the road would do wonders for the perception of Ole Miss and serve notice to the rest of the conference that Andy Kennedy is back to his old tricks.
Others in Consideration: vs Memphis, December 3, and vs Baylor, January 28

South Carolina vs Michigan, Wednesday, November 23, at 5:00 PM on ESPNU
As noted above South Carolina was harmed by their nonconference schedule last season when it came time for the selection committee to fill out the NCAA Tournament. The fact that Vandy backed its way into a play in game speaks volumes to this. So, what did the lovable and huggable Frank Martin do? He went out and got himself a schedule. No one will complain that the Cocks aren’t challenging themselves this season. They’re the anti-Mississippi State. And I’m choosing the Michigan game at home. Michigan is a good team and win over the Wolverines would be a signature win that South Carolina has lacked for the past two years. One could argue that the game against Syracuse is bigger, for rankings purposes, but I don’t think you can learn much from a neutral site game that ends up as a loss.
Others in Consideration: vs Syracuse, November 26 and vs Clemson, December 21

Tennessee vs Gonzaga, Sunday, December 18 at 4:00 PM on ESPN2
Tennessee will not be good again this year, but unlike other teams they haven’t shied away from a schedule that will challenge a young team. There is something to be said for playing good teams both at home and on the road as a learning experience. And Tennessee is going to do a good amount of learning this season. The Vols face three ranked opponents in the nonconference season, two of which are in the top 10. But I’ve selected the Gonzaga game because it’s a home game and is a better measuring stick than say a game at North Carolina. Tennessee is in a complete rebuild and should they succeed with Rick Barnes in the coming years, this game with the Zags could be a moment that the freshman and sophomores look back on.
Others in Consideration: vs #9 Wisconsin, November 21, at #6 North Carolina, December 11 and vs Kansas State, January 28

Texas A&M vs #10 Arizona, Saturday, December 17 at 12:00 PM on ESPN2
Texas A&M is in reloading/rebuilding mode after a very strong 2015-2016 that saw the Aggies win the conference. They’ve lost players to graduation, academics and a coach to a head coaching gig. But the team still has a ton of talent on it and is experienced following last year’s run. Taking on an Arizona team (mind you depleted by injury) is still a game to circle. The Wildcats just beat a more injured Michigan State team, but they’re still top 10 and this should indicate how far the Aggs will fall after last year, or if they’re more talented than many think.
Others in Consideration: vs USC, November 18, at #20 West Virginia, January 28

Vanderbilt vs Butler, Thursday, November 24 at 8:00 PM on Fox Sports 1
Vanderbilt’s got a new coach and a new team and a loss to Marquette to boot. What does it all mean for the Commodores? How easily will Vandy transition to Bryce Drew’s defensively minded style of play and will someone level that court with the floor. Butler is a strong team and a good early season test to see what kind of team Vandy has. After already taking a loss, and a big loss at that, the road could be bumpy for Drew, but a win over Butler could be a sign that the transition period could be a short one.
Others in Consideration: vs Chattanooga, December 17, at Dayton, December 21, vs #24 Iowa State, January 28

There you have it, a lot of good and entertaining basketball (minus Mississippi State) to sink your teeth into before the start of the conference season, some of it starting as early as this week.
Enjoy the noncon everyone!