Friday, May 20, 2011

The Big East - SEC Challenge -- 2011-12

The Big East - SEC Challenge Lives!
Rather than scrap this made-for-TV inter-conference series, the creators decided to revamp it, and despite the sheer size of the field (12 games over three days), it looks like a change for the better. The twelve games will be played into the first weekend (Thursday, Friday & Saturday) in December. Six games will be hosted by SEC schools and six by Big East schools. In most cases it appears that the sites will be campus locations (noted below).

Big EastSECLoc.When
CincinnatiGeorgiaAthens, GAFri. 12/2
ConnecticutArkansasConn.Sat. 12/3
DePaulMississippiChicagoThu. 12/1
GeorgetownAlabamaAlabamaThu. 12/1
LouisvilleVanderbiltLouisvilleFri. 12/2
PittsburghTennesseeKnoxville, TNSat. 12/3
ProvidenceSouth CarolinaSCThu. 12/1
RutgersLSURAC NJSat. 12/3
Seton HallAuburnthe RockFri. 12/2
St. John'sKentuckyLexington, KYThu. 12/1
SyracuseFloridaDome, NYFri. 12/2
West VirginiaMississippi St.Starkville, MSSat. 12/3

Notes & Observations
1. The conference press release from Thursday contains a thumbnail of each matchup. 12 of the Big East's 16 teams will play their counterpart over three days, with four games scheduled for each day.
2. Villanova, Marquette, Notre Dame and South Florida will not participate in the 2012 series. I assume these four will participate in the 2013 renewal.
3. Each night has a number of interesting matchups. St. John's at Kentucky and Georgetown at Alabama lead off the series on Thursday night. Both Coach Lavin and Coach Calipari will have relatively young squads from very storied programs, while Coach Thompson and Coach Grant will bring together two squads who will be in the hunt for the NCAAs.
4. Friday -- Louisville-Vanderbilt and Syracuse-Florida will be the featured games to open the weekend. Both will be hosted at Big East sites. Coach Mick Cronin's Bearcats will travel to Georgia (Athens?) to face Coach Mark Fox's Bulldogs. The Bearcats will feature big man Yancy Gates along with guard/wings JaQuon Parker, Sean Kilpatrick and pg Cashmire Wright. Georgia loses one starter, Jeremy Price, but returns a deep squad that features 5-11 guard Dustin Ware.
5. Saturday -- While the finale will offer three Big East heavy weights -- Connecticut, Pittsburgh and West Virginia -- only a few members of the Huskies' National Championship squad will take the court against a Razorback squad that will be breaking in a new coach (Mike Anderson from Missouri). Indeed, if Coach Jim Calhoun decides to retire this summer (rumored for the past week), both teams will sport new staffs in addition to different squads. Pittsburgh will travel to Knoxville, Tennessee to take on the Volunteers who themselves will have Cuonzo Martin instead of Bruce Pearl, stalking the sidelines. The perennial Big East powerhouse will have Coach Jamie Dixon and the nucleus of the squad that won the regular season conference title in 2011. While Mississippi State has a boatload of talent and a home court advantage, the Bulldogs gave Coach Rick Stansbury everything he could handle, and then some. Should Coach Huggins wander into the wrong locker room on Saturday, he might mistake the Bulldogs for one of his old Bearcat squads.

The new format, three nights, four games per night, provides a short enough timeframe while simultaneously committing the entire SEC in the Challenge. Given the duration and exposure, conference observers should have a better opportunity to gauge the relative strengths of the two conferences.

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