College basketball will come to its conclusion tonight when Kentucky faces Uconn in the national title game. Following that game, it will be a long seven months before the greatness of college basketball returns. Sadly, Bama fans started looking forward to next season weeks ago after Alabama lost to LSU in the SEC tournament. Next season looms large for Bama basketball as Anthony Grant and his staff will be under the microscope from start to finish following a 13-19 season and the traumatic effect on a percentage of the fanbase following the hire of Bruce Pearl at Auburn. Despite the support from Bill Battle for Anthony Grant this offseason, you get the feeling it's do-or-die next season for this coaching staff.
Despite the pressure, I'm looking forward to next season. While the loss of a player like Trevor Releford will certainly sting, I think this Alabama team has a chance to be much more balanced next season assuming attrition, injuries, etc, remain at a minimum. There will be a nice mix of returning players, impact newcomers and a freshman class with a lot of promise. Add it all together and I'm hoping we will all be on the same team as fans next season come March.
While the schedule won't be officially released until well into the summer, we are able to begin piecing it together based on comments made by Anthony Grant at his recent press conference as well as the scheduling format used by the conference to project the league schedule. Here's what we know so far:
Based on comments from Grant, Alabama will have several return games in the 14-15 season. Among these will be return trips to Wichita State and Xavier as well as home games against South Florida and UCLA. In addition to these return games, Alabama will also participate in the 2014 CBE Classic in Kansas City along with Iowa State, Maryland and Arizona State. Iowa State and Arizona State were NCAA tournament teams this season while Maryland will return almost everyone from a 17-win team.
That is already a challenging schedule, but we could see another "name team" or two added to the schedule. Despite the hot seat, Grant seems determined to challenge his team next season. Looking at the current set-up, I imagine Grant would like to add one more marquee home game to the schedule. I'd be interested if anyone knows, but does Cincinnati still owe a return game from when Alabama went up there in 2012?That would certainly be another nice home game to have on the schedule.
Another possibility is inclusion into next season's Big 12/SEC Challenge.The event was a bit of a mess this season with dates cobbled together from existing scheduled games. Next season should be much more organized and the games should fall closer together. However, because the SEC has four more teams than the Big 12 right now, four SEC schools are not able to play in the event. It's no guarantee that Alabama will be selected for the event, and if they are, they're probably looking at a road game after hosting Texas Tech this season.
The SEC schedule usually doesn't see the light of day until the tail end of the summer. However, based on the format used by the conference the last two seasons, I think we can accurately project what Bama's league slate will look like next season. Keep in mind this is merely a projection.
Auburn is the permanent rival so we know there will be a home-and-home between the two schools. With the Bruce Pearl hiring, the basketball rivalry is going to get a lot more interesting.
In addition to the permanent rival, there are four rotating home-and-home opponents each season. Based on Bama's schedule the last two seasons, it looks like next seasons' rotating home-and-home opponents will be Vanderbilt, Kentucky, South Carolina and Texas A&M.
And finally, you have the eight single game conference opponents. The home opponents should be Missouri (played H&H this season, Bama played in Columbia in the 2012-13 season), Georgia (played in Athens last season), Florida (played in Gainesville in 12-13), and Ole Miss (played in Oxford in 12-13) . Using the same guidelines, the road opponents should be Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi State and LSU.
If you guys hear anything regarding the schedule, please leave it in the comments section.