By Logan Wilson
FAYETTEVILLE — After one of the most disappointing seasons for Southeastern Conference basketball teams, league commissioner Mike Slive decided to hire a scheduling consultant for the conference.
The SEC had just four teams make the NCAA Tournament and only one team, Florida, made it past the round of 32. Meanwhile seven conferences had more teams in the tournament than the SEC.
Kentucky was perhaps the most disappointing team during the 2012-2013 season. As defending national champions, the Wildcats failed to make the NCAA Tournament and lost to Robert Morris in the first round of the NIT. Kentucky coach John Calipari said he believes Slive had the best intentions for the league in mind when he decided to hire Greg Shaheen as the SEC scheduling consultant.
“I think what the league wants to do is be a resource to help guys that are struggling with their scheduling, to be a sounding board more than, ‘No, you shouldn’t schedule that team,’” Calipari said. “I think what the league wants to do is, if you are confused, is this a good game or not, call us. Call us, and we’ll tell you. If you are in a jam and you have to schedule X, Y, Z, explain it to us. Why are you scheduling this team and not that team? Why would you not go for a two-for-one versus what you’re doing? Maybe you should play a Division II school versus playing that team?
“And I think it’s good in that they’re being a resource for us. I doubt seriously that this league, knowing the commish like I do, would ever step up and say, ‘Nope, you’re not scheduling those teams. I just don’t see him being that way. But he’s saying to us, ‘Use us. We have some expertise now. Ask us. We have guys that understand the RPI, and we’ll help you walk through this.’ I think it’s more that than anything else.”
In May, Shaheen said SEC schools had submitted their nonconference schedules for the upcoming season and he had already begun looking at tweaking some of them. Arkansas coach Mike Anderson, like Calipari, said it was probably a good thing for teams to have some assistance with scheduling.
“I think it’s probably one of those checks and balances,” Anderson said. “I think with what took place, I guess the last couple of years, with not getting as many teams in the NCAA Tournament that should be for the SEC and the type of league it is, I’m sure that it’s a concern for the commissioner and for our coaches as well.
“So I think with having the conference wanting to have a chance to see what we’re doing in terms of our schedule is a good thing. Making sure that everybody is scheduling as good a schedule as you can, and therefore the nonconference does not hurt. With that being said, we’re real close to getting it done. I think here, hopefully, in the next week or two, we’ll have a chance to solidify our non-con schedule.”
Although Arkansas’ nonconference schedule is not yet finalized, it will definitely include a trip to the Maui Invitational during Thanksgiving weekend. Other participants in the field include Baylor, California, Dayton, Gonzaga, Minnesota, Syracuse and host school Chaminade.
Last season, the Razorbacks struggled in a five-game stretch of nonconference play that included a trip to Las Vegas with games against Arizona State and Wisconsin, a pair of home games against Syracuse and Oklahoma and a road game against Michigan. Anderson said a factor other than the toughness of the schedule is what played into the team’s fate at the end of last season and could do the same again this year.
“You look at our schedule last year, the years I’ve been here, we play people,” Anderson said. “I think it was just unfortunate last year we didn’t beat some of those people. We had a five-game stretch that was probably as good as anybody in the country.
“That said, that alone is a tremendous nonconference schedule. Had we won some of those games, I think our postseason would be a lot different. And this year is not going to be any different. We’re playing the Maui Tournament. Gonzaga’s in it, Baylor, Syracuse. Again, we will be playing people. The key now is hopefully we can beat some people.”