Mizzou hoops slate features these five intriguing story lines

ST. LOUIS — The Southeastern Conference announced its 2013 basketball schedule Tuesday, perhaps in an attempt to squeeze a dose of hoops into the news before the football-crazed league kicks off. For some SEC schools, basketball matters.

Mizzou is one such institution. So before football is upon us, let’s take a look at the most intriguing games on Mizzou’s hoops schedule now that the 2013-14 slate has taken shape.

1) UCLA at Mizzou, Dec. 7, Columbia

The Bruins make the trip Columbia after crushing the Tigers’ hearts in a 97-94 overtime loss in California last year. Missouri will have refreshed most of its roster since, but the Bruins will return three starters from an NCAA Tournament team. They will also be playing under former New Mexico coach Steve Alford, who left the Lobos with about as much class as Mike Anderson left Mizzou. (Alford agreed to a multi-year extension in New Mexico before bolting less than a week later.)

2) Illinois vs. Mizzou, Dec. 21, St. Louis

With Kansas out of the rivalry equation for what seems like forever, the Braggin’ Rights game is the most storied hoops rivalry this team has. And Mizzou has had the upper hand for a while. The series has been played annually since 1983, and the Tigers have now matched their longest win streak since four consecutive W’s from 1991-94. All signs point to Illini coach John Groce being the real deal. Can he snap the streak in Year 2?

3) Kentucky at Mizzou, Feb. 1, Columbia

Get your popcorn ready. That down year Kentucky had last season — A John Calipari team lost in the first round of the NIT! — will likely be the motivating factor for a Wildcats team loaded with more young talent than any other school in the country. Buy tickets to this one and you are sure to see some future NBA players, such as sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein and sophomore forward Alex Poythress. Oh, and Calipari landed six of the nation’s top 11 players in the class of 2013. The one-and-done Wildcats should be worth the price of admission.

4) Mizzou at Ole Miss, Feb. 8, Oxford, Miss.

Marshall, will you be joining us? Of course Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson hasn’t gone away. Despite being suspended indefinitely for his off-the-court issues, Henderson is in the process of working his way back into the favor of the team and school. And personally, I hope the kid gets on track and plays. The MVP of the SEC Tournament is the only kind of player who can cast a special spell over Tiger fans — he ticks them off as much as a Jayhawk would.

5) Arkansas at Mizzou, Feb. 13, Columbia

Welcome back, Mike! You know how I said Illinois-Mizzou is the best rivalry now that the Border War is dead? It is. But Mizzou-Arkansas has some serious potential. Not only do these schools go head-to-head for recruits in most every sport, the man in the nice suit on the sideline for the Razorbacks used to be Mizzou’s own. Remember, Tigers coach Frank Haith nearly went after Anderson last year in Columbia when Anderson said something Haith didn’t approve of. There’s no reason sparks shouldn’t continue to fly every time CMA arrives in CoMo.

Follow Ben Frederickson on Twitter (@Ben_Fred), or contact him at frederickson.ben@gmail.com.