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Breaking down the SEC’s 2016-17 basketball schedule

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Who’s got a tough road? Who got it easy?

NCAA Basketball: SEC Tournament-Florida vs Texas A&M Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Southeastern Conference announced the men’s basketball conference schedule for the 2016-17 season on Tuesday, ensuring that no one would talk about it buried underneath all the stories about Week 1. Conference play begins with five games on December 29 -- the first time since 1991 that the SEC has opened conference play prior to the New Year.

Well, almost no one.

The SEC’s 18-game schedule ensures that not everybody gets to play everybody else twice. And the unbalanced schedules mean that the final standings can come down to who you played twice and who you only had to play once. Last year, per Ken Pomeroy, the difference between the most difficult conference schedule (LSU, .7527 average Pythagorean rating adjusting for the location of the game) and the least difficult (South Carolina, .6977) was roughly the difference between playing the #61 team in KenPom (ironically, South Carolina) and the #85 team (Mississippi State) on an average night.

(It also might have made a difference between the NCAA Tournament and the NIT for the Gamecocks. Remember, their strength of schedule and lack of quality wins were issues for the selection committee.)

So let’s break down the conference schedules. To get a basic idea of the strength of each team’s schedule, I’ve taken each opponent’s conference record from 2015-16. Opponents on the schedule twice are counted double; for teams on the schedule once, road opponents have three wins added to their total while home opponents have two wins subtracted.

Alabama

Home-and-home: Mississippi State, LSU, Auburn, Georgia, Missouri

One game, home: Vanderbilt, Florida, Kentucky, Ole Miss

One game, away: Arkansas, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Tennessee

Adjusted conference record: 154-170 (.475)

Arkansas

Home-and-home: Florida, Missouri, Texas A&M, LSU, Vanderbilt

One game, home: Mississippi State, Alabama, Ole Miss, Georgia

One game, away: Tennessee, Kentucky, South Carolina, Auburn

Adjusted conference record: 164-160 (.506)

Auburn

Home-and-home: Georgia, Ole Miss, Missouri, LSU, Alabama

One game, home: Tennessee, Mississippi State, Florida, Arkansas

One game, away: Vanderbilt, Kentucky, South Carolina, Texas A&M

Adjusted conference record: 163-161 (.503)

Florida

Home-and-home: Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Kentucky

One game, home: Ole Miss, Tennessee, Missouri, Texas A&M

One game, away: Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Mississippi State

Adjusted conference record: 171-153 (.528)

Georgia

Home-and-home: Auburn, South Carolina, Florida, Alabama, Kentucky

One game, home: Missouri, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, LSU

One game, away: Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Tennessee, Arkansas

Adjusted conference record: 162-162 (.500)

Kentucky

Home-and-home: Texas A&M, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida

One game, home: Arkansas, Auburn, South Carolina, LSU

One game, away: Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Alabama, Missouri

Adjusted conference record: 162-162 (.500)

LSU

Home-and-home: Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Alabama, Auburn, Arkansas

One game, home: Vanderbilt, Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee

One game, away: Missouri, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Georgia

Adjusted conference record: 157-167 (.485)

Mississippi State

Home-and-home: Alabama, LSU, Tennessee, Ole Miss, South Carolina

One game, home: Texas A&M, Kentucky, Missouri, Florida

One game, away: Arkansas, Auburn, Georgia, Vanderbilt

Adjusted conference record: 165-159 (.509)

Missouri

Home-and-home: Auburn, Arkansas, Alabama, Ole Miss, Texas A&M

One game, home: LSU, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Kentucky

One game, road: Georgia, Mississippi State, Florida, Tennessee

Adjusted conference record: 168-156 (.519)

Ole Miss

Home-and-home: Auburn, South Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri, Mississippi State

One game, home: Kentucky, Georgia, Texas A&M, LSU

One game, away: Florida, Vanderbilt, Arkansas, Alabama

Adjusted conference record: 148-176 (.457)

South Carolina

Home-and-home: Georgia, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Florida, Mississippi State

One game, home: Texas A&M, Auburn, Alabama, Arkansas

One game, away: Kentucky, Missouri, LSU, Vanderbilt

Adjusted conference record: 157-167 (.485)

Tennessee

Home-and-home: South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Kentucky

One game, home: Arkansas, Georgia, Missouri, Alabama

One game, away: Texas A&M, Florida, Auburn, LSU

Adjusted conference record: 172-152 (.531)

Texas A&M

Home-and-home: Kentucky, LSU, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Missouri

One game, home: Tennessee, Georgia, Auburn, Alabama

One game, away: South Carolina, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Florida

Adjusted conference record: 161-163 (.497)

Vanderbilt

Home-and-home: Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida, Arkansas, Texas A&M

One game, home: Auburn, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Mississippi State

One game, away: LSU, Alabama, Georgia, Missouri

Adjusted conference record: 165-159 (.509)

So, how does everybody stack up?

  1. Tennessee (.531)
  2. Florida (.528)
  3. Missouri (.519)
  4. Mississippi State (.509)
  5. Vanderbilt (.509)
  6. Arkansas (.506)
  7. Auburn (.503)
  8. Georgia (.500)
  9. Kentucky (.500)
  10. Texas A&M (.497)
  11. LSU (.485)
  12. South Carolina (.485)
  13. Alabama (.475)
  14. Ole Miss (.457)

Now, clearly, nobody plays themselves — which is at least part of the reason why both Tennessee and Missouri are near the top. That said, Florida was a .500 team in conference play last year; the Gators’ schedule can reasonably be called difficult. Vanderbilt is the only team to draw both Kentucky and Texas A&M — last year’s co-champs — twice each, though the Commodores’ schedule looks manageable otherwise.

And at the opposite end, Ole Miss’s conference schedule is a clear outlier. The Rebels play a total of eight games against the bottom four teams in the conference from last season. Alabama draws home-and-homes against three of the four, and the Tide wind up with a soft schedule as well.

At the end of the day, schedule strength isn’t going to make a huge difference; perhaps a game difference in the conference standings. Of course, one game could well be the difference in the conference title race. And Andy Kennedy may wind up cursing the SEC schedule makers if his team is on the bubble.