SEC cuts home-and-homers in hoops

SEC cuts home-and-homers in hoops

June 26th, 2012 by David Paschall in Sportscollege

Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

It took Vanderbilt three tries to defeat Kentucky this past winter in college basketball, with the Commodores stunning the Wildcats to capture their first Southeastern Conference tournament title since 1951.

Under the new 18-game league schedule that starts this season, Vandy will get one crack at John Calipari's perennial powerhouse in most years. The addition of Missouri and Texas A&M has resulted in a format in which each team will play the other 13 teams at least once, with one permanent home-and-home series annually and the remaining four games rotating among the other 12 teams.

Kentucky's annual foe will be Florida.

"That will be one of the disappointments to the new scheduling format, but I don't think there was any way to satisfy everyone," Commodores coach Kevin Stallings said Monday. "It's just one of the byproducts of the new format. I know our fans will be disappointed in that, but that's just the nature of it, and if John's teams continue to be as good as the one was this year, then I won't miss playing him twice a year."

The SEC's 2013 league schedule will be announced in August.

Vanderbilt has played Kentucky 181 times through the years, a total topped only by Tennessee's 214 matchups against the Wildcats. Cuonzo Martin's Volunteers were the only team to play the Wildcats within five points during Kentucky's 16-0 regular-season romp through the league this past winter.

"We would love to play Kentucky twice every year and our fans would truly love it, but we have to look at the big picture and what is best for this league," Martin said. "The scheduling system we have now we think is best, and at the end of the day that's the most important thing."

Florida cannot match Tennessee and Vanderbilt in terms of a longstanding rivalry with Kentucky, but the Vols and Commodores cannot match Florida's recent success. The Gators won national championships in 2006 and '07, becoming the only SEC team other than Kentucky, which claimed its eighth NCAA title in April, with multiple crowns.

In a format that will cycle for at least the next three seasons, Tennessee-Vanderbilt, Alabama-Auburn and Georgia-South Carolina are among the annual rivalries in addition to Kentucky-Florida.

"We felt like Vanderbilt was our rival, but you want to play Kentucky twice, just like you want to play Florida and Georgia and South Carolina twice," Martin said. "We liked the East-West thing, but we wanted to do what was best for the league."

Stout newcomers

Nobody knows for certain what Missouri and Texas A&M will bring to the SEC hardwood, but Frank Martin has a good idea. The new coach at South Carolina spent the past five seasons at Kansas State.

"They will bring two tremendous basketball programs with two tremendous home-court advantages," Martin said. "Those two buildings are a whole lot of fun to be in because of the following both schools have. A&M had a hiccup last year because of injuries, but they've got a heck of a team coming back, and you're talking about a program that had been to the NCAA tournament five or six consecutive years before last year.

"Missouri was among the top five teams in the country last year and is three years removed from an Elite Eight run, and they have 16,000 every time you play there. It's two quality, high-level programs."

New look, part four

Since Kentucky expects to have six players selected in Thursday night's NBA draft, the Wildcats again will have a new look in Calipari's fourth season. Kentucky is 102-14 the past three seasons with two Final Four trips and one NCAA title.

"You won't believe this, but we're going to be really young," Calipari said. "We'll probably end up starting at least three freshmen again for the fourth straight year."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524