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SEC Basketball: Top 5 Toughest Nonconference Schedules

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SEC Basketball: Top 5 Toughest Nonconference Schedules

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Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

Last season in the SEC, three teams missed out on the NCAA tournament because they didn’t have enough marquee wins. The Alabama Crimson Tide, Kentucky Wildcats and Tennessee Volunteers all felt ignored by the selection committee at the end of the season and got stuck in the NIT. If the Ole Miss Rebels hadn’t won the SEC tournament, they likely wouldn’t have gone to the big dance, either.

This season, SEC teams are all hoping to correct that mistake. One look at the strength of schedules for the teams in the SEC shows that there are teams on both ends of the spectrum. A lot of teams have really tough schedules, but there are also teams, like the Texas A&M Aggies, whose schedule is a joke.

Strength of schedule is extremely important in determining whether a team goes to the NCAA tournament or not. A team could go undefeated all season long and only lose to three or four top teams and miss the tournament. Nonconference wins are essential to an NCAA tournament appearance.

Tough, nonconference wins will be the main difference in which teams from the SEC make it to March Madness. There are so many teams with the experience and/or talent level to make it to the NCAA tournament in the SEC, that the conference will be wide open and the wins won’t look as good once it’s time for the selection committee to make their final decisions.

Fortunately, there are a lot of teams in the SEC that have strong enough schedules to lose a few games and still make the big dance. Here are the top five most difficult nonconference schedules in the SEC:

Taylor Sturm is an SEC Basketball Writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @TSturmRS or add him to your network on Google.

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No. 5 South Carolina Gamecocks

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Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

The Gamecocks haven’t done too well under Frank Martin, but if their incoming freshmen can provide a boost, they shouldn’t be one of the worst teams in the SEC this year. However, their nonconference schedule is tough, as they take on Oklahoma State and Baylor.

In their opening tournament, the Diamond Head Classic, they have the opportunity to face Iowa State and Boise State, and face St. Mary’s in the opening round. A lot of confidence could be gained from a few wins.

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No. 4 Alabama Crimson Tide

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Joshua Lindsey-USA TODAY Sports

Alabama has the opportunity to play Arizona, Duke and Rutgers in their opening-season tournament, the NIT Tip-Off. After the NIT Tip-Off, the Crimson Tide take on a rejuvenated UCLA team, an extremely underrated Xavier Musketeers squad, a Wichita State team fresh out of the Final Four and an improving Oklahoma Sooners squad.

Alabama could be one of the teams that show out early in the 2013-14 season that has everyone talking, if they can pull off a few wins over expected NCAA tournament-bound teams.

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No. 3 Tennessee Volunteers

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Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

The Tennessee Volunteers missed out on the NCAA tournament last year due to some nonconference losses. This season the Vols have an opportunity to prove themselves against Wichita State, Xavier, Virginia, North Carolina State and Tennessee State.

In their opening tournament, the Volunteers face an extremely talented field with possible matchups against Villanova, Xavier (again), Iowa, UTEP, USC, Wake Forest and possibly Andrew Wiggins and the Kansas Jayhawks in the final.

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No. 2 Florida Gators

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Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Gators run a gauntlet of tough teams in their nonconference schedule. They face UConn, Wisconsin, Memphis and Florida State – not to mention they face Kansas and Andrew Wiggins in early December. Florida could be the No. 1 team in the nation at the start of SEC play with a little luck.

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No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats

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Joshua Lindsey-USA TODAY Sports

The Kentucky Wildcats are definitely in the argument for the hardest nonconference schedule in the country. Their incoming recruiting class will get a trial by fire as they face Michigan State, Baylor, North Carolina, Boise State, Robert Morris and reigning national champions Louisville. We’ll find out a lot about what this Kentucky team is made of early on.