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Who should UK basketball want as its 2 permanent SEC foes?

After much hullabaloo, the Southeastern Conference did NOT announce a new scheduling format for football at the league’s annual spring meetings last week at Sandestin, Florida.

When Oklahoma and Texas enter the SEC no later than July 1, 2025, the league will have 16 members and will have to alter its scheduling in all sports.

So while the SEC punctuated last week on football (see what I did there?), it did announce new scheduling formats for men’s basketball and five other sports that will be activated once the Longhorns and Sooners arrive.

For men’s hoops, the SEC future will involve teams playing home and away every season with only two permanent rivals; also playing two contests with a rotating foe each year; and then playing the other 12 teams once each for 18 total games.

That means each current SEC team will lose one permanent rival. Under the scheduling format now in use in the 14-team Southeastern Conference, each school has three foes that it faces twice every season.

For Kentucky, that has been Florida, Tennessee and Vanderbilt.

Given what a visit from the Wildcats has traditionally meant at the gate, one surmises that every other team in the SEC would be thrilled to have Kentucky as one of its every-year home foes.

As for which two teams UK should want as its permanent rivals once the SEC expands, these are the five schools, in descending order, who merit consideration:

5. VANDERBILT

All-time record vs. Kentucky: 47-154.

pluses: Close by in Nashville, this is a road game that many Kentucky fans attend.

As Roy Skinner (14 wins over UK from 1959-76) and Kevin Stallings (12 from 2000 through 2016) proved, Vandy with the right coach can be competitive with the Cats.

minutes: Has not recently been much of a series. UK has won 13 straight over the Commodores and 16 of 17.

verdict: Vanderbilt needs to get its program going again. If it does, perhaps it will merit a place on the Kentucky schedule as a permanent home-and-away foe in the inevitable “next SEC scheduling adjustment.”

Vandy does not deserve such a slot now.

4. ARKANSAS

All-time record vs. Kentucky: 13-33.

pluses: There is rivalry history between the Hogs and the Cats going back to the early 1990s, when Arkansas during Nolan Richardson’s heyday came into the SEC and beat Kentucky in four of the first six meetings between the programs as league rivals.

Under current boss Hog Eric Musselman, the Razorbacks have won two straight over the Wildcats.

minutes: Seems likely the SEC will need Arkansas to pair as a permanent foe with other schools on the conference’s western flank.

verdict: Would be fun, but the Hogs seem an unlikely home-and-away pairing with Kentucky.

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Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman has led the Razorbacks to two wins in three meetings with Kentucky since becoming the Hogs’ head man. Matt Stamey AP

3. FLORIDA

All-time record vs. Kentucky: 41-107.

pluses: National television executives have clearly viewed the Gators program as the primary challenger to Kentucky for SEC supremacy throughout the 21st century. Florida has been slotted into the attractive TV slot as UK’s final regular-season opponent 19 times in the 23 seasons played in the 2000s.

minutes: Ace Florida coach Billy Donovan beat Kentucky 17 times (versus 29 losses). Only former LSU head man Dale Brown (18-33) has more victories over UK than Billy D. However, since Donovan exited to the NBA after the 2014-15 season, Florida is only 4-10 vs. Kentucky.

Looking forward, new Gators head man Todd Golden, the ex-San Francisco Dons coach, is a complete mystery at the Power Five level.

verdict: Without Donovan, Florida vs. Kentucky has lost steam.

2. AUBURN

All-time record vs. Kentucky: 23-96.

pluses: Bruce Pearl is making Auburn into what Florida was: The primary threat to Kentucky’s historic place atop the SEC.

Over the past four seasons, Pearl’s Tigers (96-36) have a better overall record than John Calipari’s Wildcats (90-37). Auburn has beaten Kentucky in four of the past six head-to-head meetings, including the 77-71 overtime crusher in the 2019 NCAA Tournament round of eight.

minutes: From the UK perspective, this is more a rivalry with a coach than a school. At 62, Pearl does not have unlimited tread left on his tires.

verdict: Much of the drive to substantially alter SEC football schedules is said to come from a desire to “freshen” slates. Well, adding Pearl and Auburn as a permanent rival in place of Florida would do that for the Kentucky basketball schedule.

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As long as Bruce Pearl, left, is coaching Auburn, there will be ample interest in games between the Tigers and Kentucky, coached by John Calipari, right. David Stephenson Herald-Leader file photo

1. TENNESSEE

All-time record vs. Kentucky: 77-158.

pluses: Over all basketball history, no team has beaten Kentucky as often as the Rocky Toppers. In the tradition of past Volunteers head men Ray Mears (15-15 vs. UK from 1963-77) and Don DeVoe (11-12 from 1979-89), current UT Coach Rick Barnes (10-7 since 2016) is giving Kentucky fits.

minutes: There really isn’t one.

verdict: UK and UT are border rivals with fan bases that loathe each other. That makes matchups between the Wildcats and Volunteers highly consequential.

In the coming SEC basketball scheduling realignment, both UK and UT administrators should insist that the league office make the Cats and Vols permanent rivals.

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Under Rick Barnes, Tennessee is 10-7 against Kentucky. Randy Sartin USAToday Sports

Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a Herald-Leader sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.
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