John Adams: Scheduling just part of problem for SEC basketball

John Adams
Tennessee team members pose with SEC Commissioner Mike Slive holding their regular season champions trophy before the start of their NCAA college basketball game against Florida in the Southeastern Conference tournament, Friday, March 8, 2013, in Duluth, Ga. AP Photo/John Amis)

Photo by John Amis/Associated Press

Tennessee team members pose with SEC Commissioner Mike Slive holding their regular season champions trophy before the start of their NCAA college basketball game against Florida in the Southeastern Conference tournament, Friday, March 8, 2013, in Duluth, Ga. AP Photo/John Amis)

DESTIN, Fla. — Mike Slive sent a familiar message to basketball coaches at the SEC spring meetings this week.

The commissioner called for a scheduling upgrade. Again.

To make his point more emphatically, he said the conference office wants to see non-conference schedules in advance.

You can’t blame him. When the league’s No. 2 team in the regular-season can’t qualify for the NCAA tournament, there’s an obvious problem.

But the problem goes beyond scheduling. As Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart pointed out, it’s not enough to schedule games against formidable opponents.

“You can’t have six games against top-50 RPI teams and lose them all,” he said. “You have to win some of them.

“It’s still about winning.”

And that underscores the SEC’s postseason issues.

While scheduling is a factor, so is the talent level. Better recruiting would do more for the conference than tougher scheduling.

Kentucky has recruited better than anyone on coach John Calipari’s watch. Florida has long been prominent in recruiting under Billy Donovan. But they’re exceptions in the SEC.

Tennessee strengthened its schedule and recruiting under former coach Bruce Pearl.

It also has been above the SEC norm in two seasons under Cuonzo Martin. However, surpassing the SEC norm for scheduling is hardly cause for celebration.

Tennessee played Oklahoma State, Georgetown and Virginia away from home last season. It played home games against Memphis and Wichita State, which made the Final Four.

Hart said that schedule was “OK.”

The next one should be comparable. There will be road games at Wichita State and Xavier, and a home game against Virginia in 2013-14.

“We’re in pursuit of one more really attractive game,” Hart said. “We swung and missed at one blockbuster game. We just couldn’t make it happen.”

He would prefer to play another more appealing opponent at Thompson-Boling Arena but wouldn’t be opposed to playing such a game at a neutral site.

Martin says he also wants a challenging schedule but points out, “You’ve got to have the personnel to schedule at a high level.”

That shouldn’t be a problem for the Vols. Jarnell Stokes and Jordan McRae, their two best players last season, return. So does Jeronne Maymon, who missed this past season with an injury.

Moreover, Martin just bolstered his roster with the addition of Memphis transfer Antonio Barton, who’s expected to start at

point guard.

There’s enough talent and experience that Tennessee shouldn’t have to agonize over its fate on Selection Sunday.

But you can’t say that for the entire conference, which is why Slive felt obligated to become more involved with the scheduling.

“I applaud Mike for taking a leadership role,” Hart said. “We’ve got to look at scheduling.

“All the league’s non-conference scheduling will now go through the conference office.”

And Hart wouldn’t mind if Slive took it a step further and vetoed a school’s non-conference schedule.

“If the league’s going to get better, I wouldn’t be opposed to it,” he said.

Maybe if Slive had exercised veto power over schedules last season, he might have saved South Carolina the embarrassment of losing to Elon.

But there’s nothing he can do for recruiting.

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns

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Comments » 7

CoverOrange writes:

Playing better schedules will help with the recruiting as well. That's the only reason we play Memphis.

cheetah-vol writes:

I'm glad the strength of non-conference games are being looked at more closely. It's taken a while, but it has stopped a lot of teams from loading up on cupcakes to pad their W-L records when it came time for the NCAA Selection Committee to choose the field for the Big Dance.

I realize it can be tough to get perennial good teams scheduled, and sometimes playing in-state teams can be fun and will create good exposure and an upset or two for smaller programs. However, The VOLS really do need to get out of the gate better against these stronger teams and smaller programs, or we'll be back on that familiar bubble again or the NIT.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

Hard to comment since I don't think the 2013-14 schedule is finalized. The Vols always play plenty of good OOC games.Every Holiday tourney is full of good teams and we usually play in the Big East challenge. Bruce always had us facing at least 4 or 5 top# 15 teams..The rest of the SEC are the ones that need to step up..Ole Miss; MSU and USC's OOC games were an absolute joke!! Only KY; UT and the Gators go after the big boys

VolzsFan writes:

This is a national perception issue. The SEC has had more NBA picks then any other conference for over two years. They have won as many or more National Titles then any league in history. They have more than the ACC in the past 25 years. Their NCAA tournament record over the past ten years is very good and better than most conferences. Those are facts. The perception keeps some schools out that should be getting in. The conference does a poor marketing job. This is the sport that carries most athletic departments financially out side the Southeast. They make 7 times what the BCS makes. It is time for the conference to step up it's marketing.

Noogaorange writes:

in response to VolzsFan:

This is a national perception issue. The SEC has had more NBA picks then any other conference for over two years. They have won as many or more National Titles then any league in history. They have more than the ACC in the past 25 years. Their NCAA tournament record over the past ten years is very good and better than most conferences. Those are facts. The perception keeps some schools out that should be getting in. The conference does a poor marketing job. This is the sport that carries most athletic departments financially out side the Southeast. They make 7 times what the BCS makes. It is time for the conference to step up it's marketing.

Great Post .....right on the money!
GBO VFL17

mborokyvol writes:

My advice to John Adams would be to take the pen he uses to write his drivel and for he, himself, to jab it in both of his eyes so he couldn't possibly have to read his own nonsense! I say this with the best of intentions!

johnlg00 writes:

in response to VolzsFan:

This is a national perception issue. The SEC has had more NBA picks then any other conference for over two years. They have won as many or more National Titles then any league in history. They have more than the ACC in the past 25 years. Their NCAA tournament record over the past ten years is very good and better than most conferences. Those are facts. The perception keeps some schools out that should be getting in. The conference does a poor marketing job. This is the sport that carries most athletic departments financially out side the Southeast. They make 7 times what the BCS makes. It is time for the conference to step up it's marketing.

I agree. The vast majority of NCAA members have every reason to resent SEC football dominance, aside from the extra money they get as a result of overall rises in rights fees, so they feel threatened at any possibility of similar SEC dominance in basketball, that is, an image dominance to equal their athletic performance.

Now, I do believe that the SEC as a whole has not always played to that level the last few years, success at the top notwithstanding. The OOC scheduling for much of the conference is a proper issue for the SEC as a whole. It is, as the column stated, necessary for the SEC to WIN their games against whatever biggies they might be able to schedule. You can't BE the best until you BEAT the best.

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