UK Men's Basketball

Some teams sacrificing more for SEC's TV deal

Kentucky will have a week to prepare for Saturday's game against Arkansas.

Because Arkansas plays on Thursday night, the Razorbacks will have about 41 hours to get ready for Kentucky, travel to Lexington and rest.

"It's unfair, isn't it?" Arkansas Coach John Pelphrey told reporters at a news conference on Monday. "But it's not going to change. It is what is it."

It is the price in fairness the Southeastern Conference was willing to pay for national exposure. The league coaches accepted games on Thursday followed by Saturday afternoon in order to accommodate the various ESPN channels.

Coincidentally, the schedule makers who slotted in the teams for the Thursday-Saturday combination of games favored Kentucky.

Only once this season does Kentucky play on a Thursday and Saturday of the same week: South Carolina at home on Feb. 25 and at Tennessee on Feb. 27. Again coincidentally, Tennessee is the closest SEC school to UK.

On the flip side, four times — a quarter of its entire SEC schedule — Kentucky faces an opponent playing on a Saturday after having had a game the previous Thursday.

UK Coach John Calipari recently downplayed any perceived advantage by suggesting that NBA teams playing, say, the fourth game on a seven-day road trip can perform surprisingly well. Auburn bolstered that argument last week when it extended Kentucky to the final 30 seconds after losing 81-55 at Tennessee less than 48 hours earlier.

But NBA teams don't lobby to play extended road trips. Nor has any SEC coach gone beyond voicing tolerance of Thursday-Saturday games.

"I think we would all be complaining if we didn't have the TV deal," Georgia Coach Mark Fox said in one of the more upbeat comments. "It's great for our league."

Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings was philosophical.

"We understood that sometimes it was going to work in our favor and sometimes it was going to work against us," he said. "I think in the name of the television package, we all agreed that we would suck it up and do it when it came our way. So that's what we have to do."

All 12 SEC teams get the exposure of playing on Thursday night. But Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and UK do it only once, thus limiting the quick turnaround for a Saturday game.

Mississippi, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida and Mississippi State play on a Thursday and Saturday in three different weeks.

Coaches, a breed always alert to possible edges and perceived slights, notice the inequity.

"If everything's the same, then it's fair," Mississippi State Coach Rick Stansbury said. "But if it's not, there's some advantage."

The coaches voiced concern about preparation time.

For Arkansas, it's a hurdle to jump over three straight weeks.

"It won't be a big deal for us as coaches to have a game plan prepared," Pelphrey said. "It will be a little bit more of a challenge for our players because of the short turnaround."

Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy said the shorter preparation time meant more of a cursory look at an opponent.

In the Saturday half of the two games, "You have to play tendencies more than specifics," he said. "That's an uneasy feeling for a coach. You can't get too deep into the scouting report. You'd say, this is the pace the opponent likes. This is their M.O. on offense. This is the defense they play. If the opponent is running 12 plays, these six we'll see the most. It's very difficult to get that across in one day."

However, Auburn Coach Jeff Lebo cautioned against the perception that more preparation time automatically translated into better execution.

"I think, as coaches, sometimes we give our kids way too much," he said. "How much they retain, I think is a question a lot of us battle with. How much to give them?"

LSU Coach Trent Johnson cited the extra rest that comes with avoiding the Thursday-Saturday games as an over-riding factor.

"No question it's rest," he said of the benefit of not playing two games in three days. "I don't care what any coach says. Even if you're on a roll and playing well."

Bruce Pearl, whose Tennessee team beat Auburn and Ole Miss within three days last week, noted the importance of rest.

"The day in between games, you've just got to make sure that you don't put too much on the kids' legs," he said. "Try to keep them fresh and furious for the Saturday game."

So far, SEC teams playing Thursday and Saturday in the same week have a 3-1 record in that weekend game. But one of those winners, Mississippi State, did not find the experience pleasant.

"After a hard-fought game on Thursday (against Arkansas), hey, we weren't ourselves on Saturday," Stansbury said. "We didn't have an emotional edge."

SCHEDULE, RESULTS

Kentucky (18-0, 3-0 SEC)

All times EST; home games in all caps

Date Opponent Result

Nov. 13 MOREHEAD STATE W, 75-59

Nov. 16 MIAMI (Ohio) W, 72-70

Nov. 19 a-SAM HOUSTON STATE W, 102-92

Nov. 21 a-RIDER W, 92-63

Nov. 24 b-Cleveland State W, 73-49

Nov. 25 b-Stanford W, 73-65 (OT)

Nov. 30 c-UNC Asheville W, 94-57

Dec. 5 NORTH CAROLINA W, 68-66

Dec. 9 d-Connecticut W, 64-61

Dec. 12 at Indiana W, 90-73

Dec. 19 AUSTIN PEAY W, 90-69

Dec. 21 DREXEL W, 88-44

Dec. 23 LONG BEACH STATE W, 86-73

Dec. 29 HARTFORD W, 104-61

Jan. 2 LOUISVILLEW, 71-62

Jan. 9 GEORGIA W, 76-68

Jan. 12 at Florida W, 89-77

Jan. 16 at Auburn W, 72-67

Date Opponent Time TV

Jan. 23 ARKANSAS 4 WKYT-27

Jan. 26 at South Carolina 9 ESPN

Jan. 30 VANDERBILT 4 ESPN

Feb. 2 MISSISSIPPI 7 ESPN

Feb. 6 at Louisiana State 4WKYT-27

Feb. 9 ALABAMA 9 ESPNU

Feb. 13 TENNESSEE 9 ESPN

Feb. 16 at Mississippi State 9 ESPN

Feb. 20 at Vanderbilt 6 ESPN

Feb. 25 SOUTH CAROLINA 9 TBA

Feb. 27 at Tennessee noonWKYT-27

Mar. 3 at Georgia 8WKYT-27

Mar. 7 FLORIDA noon CBS-27

Mar. 11-14 SEC Tournament, Nashville TBA

a-Cancun Challenge, first round; b-Cancun Challenge at Cancun, Mexico; c-at Louisville; d-SEC/Big East Invitational at New York

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