Any goodwill the SEC built up with Arkansas fans earlier this month when it announced the stopgap 2024 football matchups went out the window with Monday morning’s 2023-24 men’s basketball opponent reveal.
While it’s easy to get excited about another year of home-and-home meetings with Kentucky, the conference office is also sending the Razorbacks to Tuscaloosa. Again.
It will be the third time in head coach Eric Musselman’s tenure that Arkansas’ lone regular-season matchup with Alabama has been on the road. In the other two years, they were home-and-home opponents.
After this coming season, five of Musselman’s first seven games against the Crimson Tide will have been played at Coleman Coliseum — compared to only two at Bud Walton Arena. That fact isn’t lost on the fifth-year Arkansas basketball coach, who mentioned it during his press conference with local reporters Monday afternoon.
“It’s different than the NBA and G League where it’s pretty balanced,” Musselman said. “I think I’ve been to Alabama every year that I’ve been here and I think they’ve only been here twice. So I know it’s not a balanced schedule. I think another first for me is getting these schedules that are kind of random the way they happen.”
Alabama Basketball the New Florida Football?
Such an uneven split between home and road games in the series is reminiscent of what the SEC has done to the Razorbacks when it comes to Florida in football.
When the Razorbacks head to Gainesville, Fla., on Nov. 4 this season, it will be their fourth trip to The Swamp since 2009. The Gators, on the other hand, have played in Fayetteville just once over that span.
That can at least be explained as a scheduling anomaly created by outside factors like conference realignment and a global pandemic. The former led to a stopgap schedule in 2013 and the latter led to two extra opponents being added to each team’s original slate in 2020 — and both just so happened to feature Arkansas going to Florida.
The 2009 and 2023 games are essentially return trips in a home-and-home, for games played in Fayetteville in 2008 and 2016.
Arkansas might have been sent to Florida again in 2024, but the SEC set forth guidelines that’d prevent road games against the same opponent in back-to-back years. It also managed to be one of only two schools that avoided both of the conference’s powerhouse programs, Alabama and Georgia.
No Excuse for Arkansas vs Alabama
The SEC has no such excuse for sending Arkansas to Alabama so much in men’s basketball.
The scheduling format has remained the same since Musselman took the job, with three permanent (LSU, Missouri and Texas A&M) and two rotating (Georgia and Kentucky this year) home-and-home opponents and eight single matchups split between home and road.
It’ll be tweaked when Oklahoma and Texas join the league, but that isn’t happening until the 2024-25 athletic year.
Instead, it’s apparently just a coincidence that Arkansas will be traveling to Tuscaloosa — home of the SEC regular-season champions two of the last three years — for a fifth straight year, robbing Arkansas basketball fans of a chance to see one of the conference’s best budding rivalries in arguably the conference’s best atmosphere.
Kentucky is obviously the more traditional rival in basketball, with legendary clashes throughout the 1990s, but Musselman and Alabama basketball coach Nate Oats have made Arkansas vs Alabama a new-age rivalry.
Since coming into the league together, Musselman has had by far the most postseason success in the SEC, as no team has made it further in the NCAA Tournament than the Razorbacks the last three years, while Oats has turned the Crimson Tide into a regular-season juggernaut with some postseason success.
The two have squared off on the recruiting trail, as well. Musselman won the race for five-star recruit Nick Smith Jr. last cycle, but Oats came out on top in the battle for North Dakota State transfer Grant Nelson earlier this month.
Other Arkansas Basketball Schedule Tidbits
- This is the second straight year, but just the third time ever, that Arkansas and Kentucky will play twice during the regular season. Last season, the two teams split the series, with each winning on the road. In 2013-14, the Razorbacks won both matchups in overtime – including the famous Michael Qualls dunk in the game at Bud Walton Arena.
- Since joining the league in 2012-13, Missouri has been one of Arkansas’ permanent home-and-home opponents. Including their matchup in the 2021 SEC Tournament, the Razorbacks hold a 14-9 edge in the series since they became conference foes.
- When Oklahoma and Texas join the SEC next season, the league is sticking to an 18-game conference slate, but each team will have just two permanent home-and-home foes and one rotation home-and-home opponent, with the other 12 games split up to six home and six road games for single matchups.
Arkansas Basketball 2023-24 SEC Opponents
|Home and Away
|Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Missouri, Texas A&M
|Auburn, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
|Alabama, Florida, Ole Miss, Mississippi State
Arkansas vs Alabama Series History
Since taking over at their respective schools in 2019-20, Nate Oats holds a 4-2 advantage over Eric Musselman. Here’s a breakdown of those matchups:
- Feb. 1, 2020 – W, 82-78 – Tuscaloosa
- Jan. 16, 2021 – L, 90-59 – Tuscaloosa
- Feb. 24, 2021 – W, 81-66 – Fayetteville
- Feb. 12, 2022 – L, 68-67 – Tuscaloosa
- Jan. 11, 2023 – L, 84-69 – Fayetteville
- Feb. 25, 2023 – L, 86-83 – Tuscaloosa
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