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New rivalries await Missouri men's basketball in SEC

Thursday, February 9, 2012 | 9:39 p.m. CST; updated 5:53 p.m. CST, Saturday, February 11, 2012

An earlier version of this story indicated the SEC will be divided into divisions for men's basketball competition. Although the 2012-13 season has not been scheduled yet, this is not likely to be the case.

COLUMBIA — After the Missouri men's basketball team's come-from-behind victory against Kansas on Saturday, Kansas coach Bill Self made it clear that it might be a while before the Tigers and Jayhawks meet in Columbia.

One of the longest rivalries in college sports has its next game Feb. 25 in Lawrence, Kan., but the future of the series remains unclear after that.

"It's not going to happen in the immediate future," Self said. "They chose to be somewhere else. That's fine, it's their prerogative. If it's better for them, so be it. But when you choose to be somewhere else, you leave a situation behind, it's not the same as it was when you were in it."

Self said he has the "main call" as to whether Kansas will opt to play Missouri in the future, though people like Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little, Athletic Director Sheahon Zenger and the school's board of trustees also have a big say in the matter.

Jim Marchiony, an assistant athletic director at Kansas, said there is no timetable for restoring the rivalry, only that there will be a discussion with coaches to determine "what is in the best interest of Kansas."

That leaves Missouri without its biggest rivalry when it heads to the Southeastern Conference next season. While that is a sour note for many Missouri faithfuls, it also opens up opportunities for the Tigers to start new rivalries in its new conference next season.

Arkansas

Arkansas and Missouri are likely to play each other at least once every season in SEC play.

Many of the best rivalries in college sports are based on the close proximity of schools. The University of Arkansas — located in the northwest part of the state in Fayetteville — is about 300 miles from Columbia, making it the closest SEC school to Missouri.

Arkansas is also the home of Mike Anderson, who left his post as Missouri's coach at the end of last season to return to Arkansas, where he was an assistant coach for 17 years.

Although many of Anderson's recruits on Missouri's team will have graduated by next season, emotions will still run high in both college towns, said Bob Holt, a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette who has been covering Razorbacks sports since 1981.

Laurence Bowers, who tore his ACL at the beginning of his senior season, will be one of the few players Anderson recruited left on the Missouri roster.

"I think next year in the SEC, since there is no known rivalry, we'll just treat every game like a rivalry," Bowers said. "(But the biggest will be) Arkansas without a doubt, probably because of coach Anderson."

Arkansas and Missouri first played basketball against each other in 1950 and have played off and on since. Arkansas won the last game between the two teams in the 2007-2008 season and holds a 19-18 series lead.

Kentucky

Kentucky is currently ranked No. 1 in the AP Top 25 and ESPN/USA Today Coaches polls and has been one of the most dominant programs in college basketball, boasting seven national championships.

That is perhaps why Kentucky doesn't have a long-standing rivalry with any SEC team. According to the Lexington Herald-Leader's Jerry Tipton, who has covered Kentucky basketball since 1981, rivalries shift with how good an opponent is in any particular year and how much of a threat a team poses to the Wildcats' dominance.

"With Missouri, it’s just a case of if they quickly establish themselves as a threat to Kentucky and their preeminence in the league, they would become rivals," Tipton said. "Missouri is going to be a new toy to play with."

But playing Missouri means Kentucky might have to discard some of its old toys.

Kentucky has three nonconference rivals in Indiana, Louisville and North Carolina. With the new 14-team SEC, Kentucky will have to eliminate one of those three games. The most likely tradeoff will be Missouri for North Carolina, Tipton said. Eliminating Indiana is out of the question because the two teams have played on and off since 1924, and what Tipton called the "blood hatred" between Kentucky and Louisville is too important for the in-state rivals.

Missouri junior guard Michael Dixon said he is most looking forward to playing Kentucky and establishing the Tigers as a legitimate threat to the Wildcats' grip on SEC basketball.

"Kansas was perennially known as the best team in this league, and they were our rival," Dixon said. "So we might as well just make Kentucky be our rival and play against the best and try to beat the best every time."

Texas A&M

Missouri and Texas A&M share a past in the Big 12. Both schools are set to join the SEC where they will be cross-division rivals in football. The familiarity of the two programs make it easy to see rivalry potential.

Missouri coach Frank Haith was an assistant coach at Texas A&M from 1992-95 and was the associate head coach there in 1996-97. He said Texas A&M is also another obvious choice for a rivalry in the SEC.

Richard Croome, who currently works for The Eagle in College Station, Texas, has covered Texas A&M athletics for the past seven years. Croome said Texas A&M's biggest rival in the SEC will probably be LSU because of how close the two schools are.


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