The SEC is far from the best basketball conference in the country, but recently the conference is trying to up its game and raise its reputation by going out and scheduling better teams from better conferences. While the non-conference schedule is usually where teams schedule the smaller schools to get much needed practice and opportunity for improvement heading into the conference slate, there are always a few games to really look forward to.
For me, being a huge fan of college basketball as a whole, and not just the SEC, I really enjoy non-conference games because I can see how the SEC really does stack up against tough competition from the rest of the country. In order to share my excitement for basketball season, here are 14 games, one for each team in the SEC, that I am looking forward to in the non-conference portion of the college basketball season.
Georgia @ Clemson - Nov. 11th
While almost every other team in the SEC is playing a mid or low-major team to tune up for the start of college basketball, Georgia is starting their season off with a bang. While Clemson is predicted to finish in the middle of the pack or towards the bottom of the ACC, they’re still a competitive team from a really good conference this year. If Georgia is truly going to be on the of the better teams in the SEC this season they’ll need to prove it on the road against the Tigers. If you’re not attending a game for your team on the opening night of college basketball, I highly suggest you tune in for this one, especially if you’re a fan of SEC hoops.
Alabama vs Dayton - Nov. 15th
After taking quite the beating last season up in Ohio, Alabama gets the opportunity to host the Flyers on their home court. Dayton is still the A-10 power that they have been for the past few years but Alabama returns a solid group with newcomers that could make a difference. A 12:15pm tip-off on a Tuesday certainly isn’t ideal in Tuscaloosa, but if Coleman Coliseum can make a difference, Alabama could have a good shot in this one. Regardless of the outcome, it should be a good game and is a perfectly good excuse to watch college basketball in the middle of a weekday.
Mississippi State vs Villanova - Nov. 20th
While this game isn’t guaranteed, both the Bulldogs and the Wildcats have the opportunity to meet in the championship game of the Charleston Classic. If the two can make it to the championship game, this will certainly be a treat for SEC basketball fans. Villanova comes in as the defending national champion in college basketball and returns a group of players that could certainly defend their title. Mississippi State will be loaded with tons of young talent and this could be their first opportunity to make some noise on the national stage. This is one of the few tough games on Mississippi State’s non-conference schedule, so you bet Ben Howland and crew will have it circled already and fans should as well.
LSU vs Wichita State - Nov. 23rd
The LSU Tigers and the Wichita State Shockers open up play in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the beginning of November. Both teams lost their star players from last season and both teams will be looking to prove that they’re still worth mentioning in college basketball this season. Johnny Jones has a lot of work to do without Ben Simmons and the talented supporting cast of last season, but Greg Marshall will have to start over as well after losing Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker to the NBA. Thanksgiving week is always a highlight for college basketball, and this will be just one of the many great games for the SEC.
South Carolina vs Syracuse - Nov. 26th
South Carolina played a mediocre non-conference schedule last season and it ended up hurting them on Selection Sunday. This season, Frank Martin and the Gamecocks made sure their schedule wouldn’t hold them back and the first test for South Carolina will be traveling to New York to face off against Syracuse. Jim Boeheim and Syracuse will likely be a top team again this season, but this is South Carolina’s shot to prove to everyone that they still deserve to be considered as a top team in the SEC and potentially a tournament team this season.
Missouri vs Western Kentucky - Dec. 3rd
It was hard to pick a non-conference game for Missouri where it wouldn’t make the SEC look terrible, but the game against Western Kentucky could possibly avoid that. Western Kentucky under Rick Stansbury has started to recruit alongside the best programs in the country, but that talent won’t be playing for the Hilltoppers this year. Missouri needs to take advantage of this game to earn some respect both in the SEC and on a national level. Can Kim Anderson put a winning Missouri team on the floor against the former SEC head coach?
Vanderbilt @ Middle Tennessee State - Dec. 8th
Last season Auburn went to face Middle Tennessee State in Nashville and walked away with an overtime loss. Middle Tennessee State would go on to shock Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament to almost everyone’s surprise. That being said, this will be no easy game for Vanderbilt, especially since the game will be played in Murfreesboro. The Blue Raiders will look to defend their home court but Vanderbilt and its talented starting five need to get a pivotal in-state victory before conference play begins.
Florida @ Florida State - Dec. 11th
Not only are these two bitter rivals, they’re also both expected to be much improved this season with chances of placing near the top of their conferences. Florida, obviously representing the weaker conference in this sport, will have to travel on the road in order to carry the banner for the SEC. Florida State has young talent that should be able to defend their home court, but Mike White and the Florida Gators will certainly make this an interesting rivalry game in the state of Florida. In Florida or not, college basketball fans should pay attention to this Sunday game.
Ole Miss @ Virginia Tech - Dec. 11th
On the same day that Florida and Florida State play each other, two other SEC and ACC teams will face off. Ole Miss likely won’t be as talented as Florida this season in the SEC, but they are still set to take on another ACC team on the rise. Buzz Williams has Virginia Tech on the minds of many college basketball fans, but Andy Kennedy has an opportunity to show that he is a coach worth mentioning, not just in the SEC. The Rebels will need new players to step up, but this has potential to be an entertaining game in Blacksburg before the holidays.
Kentucky vs North Carolina - Dec. 17th
A true battle of two true blue bloods in college basketball. Kentucky, as always, had multiple big games to choose from for me to add to this list but I settled on the rivalry with UNC. By that point in the season, both teams should have had enough time to find their true identity and we the fans will get the opportunity to watch the true battle we deserve. Kentucky is the unanimous favorite in the SEC and North Carolina has a shot to make a run at Duke for the ACC title so this will surely be a game that provides the best that both conferences have to offer.
Arkansas vs Texas - Dec. 17th
These two teams are two of the teams I’m most looking forward to watching this season. Both have a lot of question marks but have the talent to potentially be top teams in their league. Shaka Smart has brought in enough of the top high school talent to make the Longhorns a force to be reckoned with in the Big 12 and Mike Anderson has opted to go the junior college route in order to beef up his roster at Arkansas. This being a neutral court game should give both teams an even opportunity to shine. If Arkansas plans on representing the SEC in the NCAA Tournament this season, this game will likely prove to be a pivotal point on their resume.
Texas A&M vs Arizona - Dec. 17th
In the same event that puts Arkansas and Texas on the same court, Texas A&M will get their biggest test of the non-conference schedule. Last season Texas A&M showed that they deserve to be taken seriously on the national level but this year they’ll need to show that they can remain at that level. Arizona has a few questions entering the season but hopefully they’ve figured everything out heading into this battle. Whether the Wildcats are at full power or not, Sean Miller brining his squad to play a semi-home game against one of the top SEC teams should be a great matchup that fans can look forward to. If both Arkansas and Texas A&M can get it done in the Lone Star Shootout, the SEC will have quite the bragging rights.
Tennessee vs Gonzaga - Dec. 18th
As a bit of a surprise, the Tennessee Volunteers also have a loaded non-conference schedule. There are a few games where the Volunteers likely won’t stand much of a chance, but getting almost a complete home game against Gonzaga could help Tennessee get a big win before conference play begins. Gonzaga will once again be one of the best mid-majors in college basketball this season, but it’s up to Tennessee to prove that the SEC is on its way up. With this game falling on a Sunday and being broadcast on national TV, it should be a top choice for college basketball fans.
Auburn @ UConn - Dec. 23rd
Once again Bruce Pearl has gone out and scheduled a tough non-conference schedule in an attempt to make the Auburn Tigers relevant on a national stage. With that comes a true road game against the UConn Huskies. UConn is once again a major contender in the Big East but Mustapha Heron and Auburn will be looking to spoil to party in Heron’s home state. Heron will likely be playing with a vengeance, but can Auburn find enough contribution outside of Heron to possibly pull off another upset over a Big East team after knocking off Xavier in Auburn in 2014?
While the really exciting action begins once SEC teams start facing each other, some of the best chances to watch great basketball will be during the non-conference schedule. Many SEC fans will still be focused on football, but don’t miss out on these college basketball games that should provide plenty of excitement in their own right.