BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) -The Southeastern Conference billed the SEC/Big East Invitational as a chance to shine the spotlight onto the hardcourt, something that seldom happens so early in a league where football reigns.
Instead, it could highlight a relatively slow start for the SEC.
Of the eight teams involved in the inaugural event, only No. 5 Georgetown and No. 25 Villanova - both from the Big East - are ranked. Besides those teams, only West Virginia is even getting Top 25 votes.
SEC participant LSU, at least, is preparing for a national title shot - in football.
The two-night, four-team event, scheduled for the next four seasons, opens with Georgetown (5-0) facing Alabama (4-2) Wednesday night in the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center, down the street from SEC headquarters. West Virginia (5-1) faces Auburn (4-1) to end the doubleheader.
A day later, the matchups are South Carolina-Providence and LSU-Villanova in Philadelphia. It's the latest in an increasingly crowded lineup of conference-to-conference showdowns, along with the Big Ten/ACC Challenge and the Big 12/PAC-10 Hardwood Series.
Those events produced marquee UCLA-Texas and North Carolina-Ohio State matchups, something missing from this one.
Alabama coach Mark Gottfried thinks the league already receives abundant national attention. A little more can't hurt, though.
``I think it is good for our league,'' Alabama coach Mark Gottfried said. ``The additional exposure is good. We get so much exposure anyway.
``Hopefully our league can do well in this event every year. I think that would give our league some more credibility as well.''
Both leagues have plenty already. The Big East and SEC have produced four of the last five national champions and seven of 12.
The SEC has been no slouch early this season, going 65-18 during the pre-conference schedule entering Tuesday night's game between No. 10 Tennessee and Chattanooga. However, two-time defending national champion Florida and perennial power Kentucky have had early stumbles .
In fact, the Georgetown-Alabama game emphasizes one major issue for several SEC teams: Youth. The Tide has four players who have started their first college games this season.
By contrast, Georgetown's lineup includes four players who have logged a combined 280 career starts.
The game pits the Hoyas' 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert against Alabama forward Richard Hendrix. Hibbert, a preseason AP All-America pick, is averaging 14.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.6 blocked shots.
The 6-9 Hendrix ranks third nationally in rebounding (12.8 per game) and 17th in scoring average (21.8 points), leading the SEC in both categories.
The pair both competed in the Pan American Games trials, where Gottfried was an assistant.
``I think that when you go through Richard Hendrix's career, he's not going to play against very many guys like this,'' Gottfried said. ``One, there's not very many guys like this out there. And not only his size, but Roy is such a smart player. He knows how to play. He's a good passer. He's got the whole package.''
Georgetown guard Jonathan Wallace grew up 20 minutes from Hendrix, and they were teammates on an AAU team during middle school. The Tide didn't heavily recruit the native of Harvest - about 150 miles from Tuscaloosa - because Gottfried had already landed point guard Ronald Steele, who is sitting out the season following knee surgeries.
In the other Wednesday night game, Auburn (4-1) has won four straight games since a season-opening loss at Tulane. West Virginia (5-1) is outscoring opponents by an average of 31 points, but coach Bob Huggins is hoping to get a boost in power ratings with a major conference opponent.
``What we have always tried to do is schedule some of the top teams from the top conferences or at least what are projected to be the top teams from the top conferences,'' Huggins said. ``That is what you do for your RPI and those kinds of things.''
The Mountaineers' only loss was 74-72 to Tennessee. (Chalk one up for the SEC).
``They are by far the best team we have faced and are the best defensive team we will have faced,'' Auburn coach Jeff Lebo said. ``They have the most size and athleticism.
``It's going to be a heck of a match.''
The Tigers get forward Quan Prowell back from suspension for the first time this season, giving them eight scholarship players available. Prowell averaged 12 points last season.

NCAAB Team Pages

Recent NCAAB Discussions