The League: Coaches facing SEC gauntlet
Published: Friday, January 18, 2013 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 18, 2013 at 12:15 a.m.
Missouri coach Frank Haith understands the grind of playing 18 conference games.
Last season in the Big 12, Missouri finished 14-4 in an 18-game conference schedule that had no byes from January through March.
“It was tough on our guys, it really was,” Haith said. “And as a coach, we had to be smart about how we prepared them.”
As a result of conference expansion, the Southeastern Conference is playing an 18-game league schedule for the first time since 1991. The jump from 16 to 18 games will result in nine straight weeks of two games.
“It's going to make it more difficult on us as coaches, but I think it's also going to make it better for us as a league,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “It's just two more teams in that guillotine that we play in.”
Before the SEC's expansion from 10 to 12 teams in 1992, everyone played each of the nine remaining teams twice. But now, with 14 teams, the schedule is more muddled. Teams will play five selected teams twice and the remaining eight teams once. One team is considered a permanent rival (Florida's is Kentucky) and will play twice every season. The remaining four teams will be rotated from year to year.
“The days of having a true league champion are gone,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “I think that the only way to have a true league champion is to have a round-robin and that's impossible to do.”
Missouri and Texas A&M have added strength to a league that has otherwise struggled in the 2012-13 season. But the impact of the two teams joining the SEC won't be fully known until March, when teams get through the 14 games going into the postseason. For as much success as Missouri had in its last season in the Big 12, the Tigers were upset by Norfolk State in their opening NCAA Tournament game.
“I've just got a feeling we're going to beat each other up,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said.
Donovan said he liked having the bye during the course of the SEC schedule to physically and mentally regroup. But he also said there could be some advantages to playing twice a week for nine straight weeks.
“Sometimes what (a bye) does is break your rhythm, playing,” Donovan said. “And what happens is these guys are saying the middle of January, ‘I've got to practice for a week before we play again.' You get into that rhythm where you are playing every couple of days.”
Haith said to deal with the grind of an 18-game schedule last season, he cut down Missouri's practice time.
“We didn't go as long,” Haith said. “We went intense. We went hard. But we didn't have those lengthy practices once we got into league play.”
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.