SEC/Big East slate whets the appetite

The SEC/Big East Challenge may not quite have the longstanding cachet of its ACC/Big Ten brethren, nor should it. The ACC/Big Ten Challenge is 13 going on 14, and as the years piled up and the Atlantic Coasters just kept winning -- the ACC won the first 10 challenges, which seems almost impossible, before the Big Ten rebounded with three straight wins -- the dominance created a weird sort of intrigue all its own.

The SEC/Big East Challenge is just five years old, and probably less well-known than its counterpart, but it's getting there -- and the 2012 matchups should only help.

Said matchups were released by the fine folks over at ESPN programming today, and they are as follows:

Thursday, Nov. 29

Marquette at Florida

Seton Hall at LSU

Kentucky at Notre Dame

South Carolina at St. John’s

Friday, Nov. 30

Syracuse at Arkansas

DePaul at Auburn

Tennessee at Georgetown

Georgia at South Florida

Saturday, Dec. 1

Alabama at Cincinnati

Rutgers at Mississippi

Mississippi State at Providence

Villanova at Vanderbilt

My first reaction, about which I was prepared to work myself up into a good Friday morning blog later: Why isn't Kentucky playing Syracuse?! The answer is actually pretty obvious. Because the challenge rotates home and away games for each team, and both are slated for away games, that wouldn't work. But the result is pretty exciting, too. Notre Dame's fans will no doubt pack the Joyce Center to root lustily against UK, and the stylistic clash between Mike Brey's Irish and John Calipari's Wildcats could be fascinating. Meanwhile, Syracuse will visit Bud Walton Center, where the 40 Minutes of Hell-wielding Arkansas Razorbacks and their revived fan base could provide the best atmosphere of the event. Both games should be thoroughly entertaining.

There are other enticing fixtures in the mix, too. Marquette at Florida is a rematch of the two programs' Sweet 16 battle in Phoenix this March, and should feature a ton of guard-heavy, floor-spreading, fast-break offense. Villanova at Vanderbilt is kind of interesting, Alabama-Cincinnati is a recent bubble watcher's pick to click, and you can bet Cuonzo Martin's Tennessee team will bring a fight to (what should be) an exciting young Georgetown team.

My favorite game? Mississippi State at Providence. As my editor Brett said when we first saw these games, that might be the most random game of all time. It feels ... incongruous.

Which is kind of why the Big East/SEC Challenge is cool: It combines two conferences that have very little in common, athletically and culturally, and throws them in a big cauldron of hoops competition. Mississippi State at Providence? South Carolina at St. John's? Seton Hall at LSU? Quality aside, where else are you going to get regular-season matchups like that?