SEC coaches react to Mizzou addition

If the Southeastern Conference is correct in its assessment, Texas A&M will bring Houston and the state of Texas, while Missouri will be its link to St. Louis and the Midwest.

But what will they bring on the court?

Well, both programs are expected to challenge for the Big 12 title with first-year head coaches this season, and SEC coaches are confident that both schools will be a hit when they join the league as a tandem in 2012-13, assuming the Tigers can get out of the Big 12 in time.

“We can recruit where we want, but it’s nice to have Texas and St. Louis and be able to say now that those areas you’re going to be in playing in and have press coverage,’’ Kentucky coach John Calipari told ESPN.com on Sunday night. “I just think those two schools are like us -- with solid TV following and great fan support. Texas A&M and Missouri have unbelievable followings and great academic programs. I think they’ll both come in and be NCAA tournament teams.’’

The ACC needed Pitt and Syracuse to help infuse more competition for Duke and North Carolina in men’s basketball. It also took away two of the top five programs out of the Big East.

The Big 12 still has its top program in Kansas. Texas is consistently a national threat. Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma State are all steady programs now and the expectation is that Iowa State, Oklahoma and Texas Tech will be on the rise with first- and second-year head coaches. And adding West Virginia gives the Big 12 a national program under Bob Huggins.

Nevertheless, the SEC undoubtedly grabbed two of the Big 12’s top basketball programs at the moment. Georgia coach Mark Fox said the addition of Missouri in particular is extremely good for the SEC.

“Mizzou adds more territory to our footprint, brings high quality academics and a good athletic program to our league,’’ Fox said. “As a former assistant in the Big Eight, and as a guy who grew up in that region, I think I understand pretty well that we’ve added a good one.’’

Calipari said he still wants to see the SEC add two more schools to get to 16. He said he fully expects to see other major conferences go in that direction in the near future. But in the interim, he wants the SEC to remain as one league in the standings instead of going back to two divisions, a sentiment not shared by every coach. The SEC did away with divisions in men’s basketball for this season but is still scheduling as if there were two divisions in an East-West setup.

“It’s a great addition for SEC basketball since Missouri has great basketball history, tradition and fan support,’’ Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. “It creates balance with 14 teams. But we need to revisit divisions in light of the additional teams.’’

Calipari said he would like to see the league stay at 16 league games with three teams playing each other twice. The schedule gets more complicated and a bit more random if the schedule goes to 18 games. Regardless, the SEC has all winter to come up with a plan before the spring meetings.

As for on the court, no SEC coach expects either program to wilt when they come into the SEC.

Mizzou and Texas A&M certainly aren’t Kentucky and won’t be Florida, either. But every other SEC program should expect to be challenged as both schools should be in the thick of the race. Missouri has a passionate fan base, a strong recruiting base and will provide a difficult road game for every SEC team. The same can be said for A&M.

“I think it makes things harder on all of us coaches 1-through-14,’’ Calipari said. “We’re not bringing in two bottom-feeders. We’re bringing in two NCAA teams that have tournament potential this season and will continue to have that.’’