Pairings Announced For 2011 BIG EAST/SEC Challenge

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Matchups for the first BIG EAST/SEC Challenge - an early season three-day men's basketball event matching 12 teams from each of the premier conferences against each other Dec. 1-3 - have been determined. ESPN will provide exclusive coverage of all 12 games across ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU.

 The inaugural Challenge involves nine teams ranked in the early preseason top 25 by ESPN.com senior college basketball writer Andy Katz: No. 2 Kentucky, No. 4 Syracuse, No. 6 Connecticut, No. 7 Vanderbilt, No. 9 Louisville, No. 12 Florida, No. 14 Alabama, No. 17 Pittsburgh and No. 19 Cincinnati. Overall, the field of 24 consists of 13 teams from the 2011 NCAA Tournament (eight from the BIG EAST and five from the SEC).

2011 BIG EAST/SEC Challenge schedule (times and networks are to be determined): 

Date

Game

Thu, Dec 1

St. John's at No. 2 Kentucky

 

Georgetown at No. 14 Alabama

 

Providence at South Carolina

 

Mississippi at DePaul

Fri, Dec 2

No. 7 Vanderbilt at No. 9 Louisville

 

No. 12 Florida at No. 4 Syracuse

 

No. 19 Cincinnati at Georgia

 

Auburn at Seton Hall

Sat, Dec 3

Arkansas at No. 6 Connecticut

 

No. 17 Pittsburgh at Tennessee

 

West Virginia at Mississippi State

 

LSU at Rutgers

 

All 12 games will be played at home sites with each conference hosting six games a year. SEC teams will alternate home and away games. Twelve of the 16 BIG EAST teams (17 teams in the second year) will participate each year. The event title will alternate to the SEC/BIG EAST Challenge in 2012 and be played Thursday, Nov. 29 through Saturday, Dec. 1. Highlights:

 

·         A Fifth and a First: No. 12 Florida will play its fifth game in the Carrier Dome, but the first against No. 4 Syracuse in the Orange's home building (Florida has won its previous four games in the building, all in the NCAA Tournament). Syracuse leads the all-time series over Florida 3-1.

·         Defending National Champion Goes for Three: Defending National Champion No. 6 Connecticut will host Arkansas, a program the Huskies have defeated in its only two previous matchups, both on neutral courts.

·         Close but Not Often: The showdown between No. 7 Vanderbilt and No. 9 Louisville will mark the first meeting between the programs -- which are only 174 miles apart -- since 1994.

·         Sweet Sixteen: St. John's and No. 2 Kentucky will meet for a 16th time, but the first since 2001 (a 62-61 St. John's win). Kentucky holds the all-time lead 10-5. Kentucky and St. John's are first and third, respectively, in ESPN.com's ranking of the 2011 recruiting classes.

·         First meeting: Three of the matchups will be the first-ever meeting between the programs: No. 19 Cincinnati at Georgia, LSU at Rutgers and Auburn at Seton Hall.

·         A Rematch: No. 17 Pittsburgh will travel to Tennessee in a rematch of last year's BIG EAST/SEC Invitational game at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, won by Tennessee 83-76.

·         2007 Redux: Four of the games will mark the first meeting between the programs since 2007, two from the SEC/BIG EAST Invitational: Georgetown at Alabama, won by Georgetown 70-60, and Providence at South Carolina, won by South Carolina 68-67. West Virginia at Mississippi State is a rematch of their only previous meeting, a 63-62 West Virginia victory in the NIT semifinals. Mississippi and DePaul will square off for a third time ever and the first time since a 69-63 Mississippi win in Puerto Rico.

 The new Challenge marks an expansion and modification of the SEC/BIG EAST Invitational that featured four matchups between the two conferences from two neutral sites from 2007-10. Over the four years of the SEC/BIG EAST Invitational, the conferences - which each won eight games over the four years - split the series in 2008 and 2009 and each won one (SEC in 2010 and BIG EAST in 2007).

 Since 1999, the SEC (five) and the BIG EAST (eight) have combined for 13 Final Four appearances and six national titles: Connecticut (1999, 2004 and 2011), Florida (2006 and 2007) and Syracuse (2003).

 Quotes from participating head coaches about their matchup include:

 Jim Calhoun (Connecticut):

"We are excited to be a part of what should be a great event. It is a competition that will be beneficial for the BIG EAST and for UConn and we think our game with Arkansas will be highly competitive and exciting for college basketball fans."

John Calipari (Kentucky):

"I'm excited about playing in the Big East/SEC Challenge. The exposure of SEC basketball prior to conference play is important to our league and the opportunity to face St. John's in Rupp Arena with their great tradition is unique. They have been recharged by a terrific coach in Steve Lavin and we look forward to the challenge."

 Steve Lavin (St. John's):

"It is a unique opportunity for St. John's to have a non-conference schedule that includes matchups against three of the most-storied programs in the history of college basketball in Kentucky, UCLA and Duke. Facing UK at Rupp Arena in front of a raucous crowd will be a valuable experience in preparation for BIG EAST Conference play. Coupled with our conference slate, this diverse and rigorous schedule will present an outstanding challenge for the youngest team in the country."

 Kevin Stallings (Vanderbilt):

"We are excited about our match-up at Louisville in the Big East/SEC Challenge. Louisville has an outstanding program and it will be a great opportunity to play in a big-time road environment. We are continuing to build a quality non-conference schedule and this game certainly helps our effort."