Cuonzo Martin

2013-2014 Season Preview: No. 23 Tennessee Volunteers

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. The rest of our Top 25 Countdown can be found here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 20-15, 11-7 SEC (t-5th); Lost in the First Round of the NIT

Head Coach: Cuonzo Martin (3rd season at Tennessee: 39-28 overall, 21-13 SEC)

Key Losses: Trae Golden, Kenny Hall, Skylar McBee

Newcomers: Antonio Barton, Robert Hubbs III, AJ Davis, Darius Thompson, Rawane N’Diaye

Projected Lineup

G: Antonio Barton, Sr.
G: Robert Hubbs, Fr.
F: Jordan McRae, Sr.
F: Jeronne Maymon, Sr.
C: Jarnell Stokes, Jr.
Bench: Josh Richardson, Jr.; Derek Reese, So.; Armani Moore, So.; Darius Thompson, Fr.; Rawane N’Diaye, Jr.

They’ll be good because …: The most surprising news of the offseason down in Knoxville came a few weeks after the season ended, when the Vols announced that Trae Golden would be transferring out of the program. Golden was lined up to be arguably the most important piece for Tennessee, as he was the one point guard on the roster with any experience. With a talented and burly front line (Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon) being complimented by scorers at both wing spots (Jordan McRae and Robert Hubbs), all the Vols needed was a guy to get people the ball, but Golden was gone.

Enter Antonio Barton. The Baltimore native and former Memphis Tiger made the decision to transfer to Tennessee after it became official that he would be graduating from Memphis in three years. Barton became a forgotten man for Josh Pastner by the summer time, as he had been recruited over and forgotten about heading into his senior season. While transferring meant jumping in bed with a rival, it also means that Barton, who had an excellent freshman season, will be filling a vital role for a top 25 team that needs him to play 30 minutes a night.

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But they might disappoint because …: Tennessee is talented, but this group has as many question marks as any team in our top 25. Four come to mind immediately:

  • Jeronne Maymon missed all of last season with reoccurring knee problems. Those aren’t the kind of things that just go away. Cuonzo Martin needs Maymon to be healthy because …
  • … there is no depth on this roster. The drop off from the starting five to the rest of the team is drastic. Martin needs to find a way to develop a bench, both in the front court and the back court.
  • As good as Barton was as a freshman, he’s never had to be a primary point guard. At Memphis, he played off the ball more. Is he a creator? Is he a facilitator? One of the issues that Golden had last season was that he was too ball-dominant. This team is too talented for that to happen.
  • Tennessee needs to be able to shoot the ball from the perimeter to give their bruisers inside space to operate. Robert Hubbs III and Jordan McRae are talented scorers, but can they shoot it well enough to be a consistent threat from the arc?

Outlook: There is a pretty clear cut top three in the SEC, and Tennessee can count themselves in that group. But the Vols are also a ways behind both Kentucky and Florida, and much of that is a result of the question marks listed above. There is no question that there is talent on this roster, enough of it to make another trip to the NIT a massive disappointment. Jordan McRae is good enough to win SEC Player of the Year. Stokes and Maymon make up one of the ten best front courts in the country. The Vols are athletic, they are physical and they are going to grind their opponents down every game.

But just because Martin has pieces at his disposal doesn’t necessarily mean that those pieces fit together perfectly. Tennessee won’t play pretty basketball, but if they are getting wins, does it matter?

Villanova beats Duke, Kansas, Indiana for Jermaine Samuels

Atlanta, GA - MAY 27: Nike EYBL. Session 4. Jermaine Samuels, Jr. #23 of Expressions Elite dunks. (Photo by Jon Lopez)
Jon Lopez/Nike
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Villanova landed a commitment from top 50 prospect Jermaine Samuels on Saturday.

Samuels is a tough and athletic 6-foot-5 wing that will remind many Wildcat fans of Josh Hart. He’s got the same kind of versatility and nose for the ball that will let him guard perimeter players as well as work in as a small-ball four. Players like this are a specialty of Jay Wright.

Samuels picked up an offer from Duke recently and also had Indiana, Kansas and Georgetown in his top five. Beating out blue-bloods for a prospect like this is quite the statement for Villanova, one that should tell you the reigning national champs are here to stay as a national power.

Syracuse lands critical piece in Andrew White

LINCOLN, NE - FEBRUARY 3: Andrew White #3 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers shoots the ball over Rasheed Sulaimon #0 of the Maryland Terrapins during their game at Pinnacle Bank Arena on February 3, 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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Syracuse has found their replacement for Malachi Richardson.

On Sunday, Nebraska transfer Andrew White committed to the Orange, picking Syracuse, in the end, over VCU. White is a graduate transfer who spent last season with Nebraska, where he averaged 16.2 points while shooting 41.2 percent from three. A top 50 prospect out of Virginia back in the Class of 2012, White played a limited role for Kansas his first two seasons in college.

This is a significant pickup for the Orange, one that legitimately puts them into the conversation as a Final Four contender and a threat to finish at or near the top of the ACC. Jim Boeheim has put together a roster full of talented, long and athletic front court players, but after Richardson declared for the NBA Draft as a one-and-done freshman, he was left with just two back court players on his roster.

Earlier this offseason, Cuse landed Colorado State grad transfer John Gillon, a 6-foot-1 combo-guard, to reinforce their back court. The addition of White gives them a lights-out shooter and a big-time scorer on the wing, something that would have been a major void on their roster.

With Paschal Chukwu getting eligible at the center spot and Tyler Lydon likely landing on every breakout player list this preseason, the Orange should be a markedly better team than the one that made their way to the Final Four last season.

Arizona lands first commitment in 2017 class

Alex Barcello (Jon Lopez/Nike)
(Jon Lopez/Nike)
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Arizona landed their first commitment in the Class of 2017 on Friday night as point guard Alex Barcello pledged to Sean Miller and the Wildcats.

Barcello is a 6-foot-2 point guard from Tempe who plays his high school ball for Corona del Sol. He committed to the Wildcats on an official visit to the Tucson campus.

Barcello is a borderline top 100 prospect who sits at No. 123 in the Rivals top 150. He’s known for his ability to shoot, and he’s more of a combo-guard — i.e. shoot-first — than a point guard at times, but he’s a nice pickup and projects as a solid four-year player for the Wildcats.

Virginia, Indiana, Stanford and Butler were the other four schools on Barcello’s list.

Duke lands first commitment in 2017 class

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Alex O’Connell knew exactly where he wanted to play his college ball, which is why, just two days after picking up an offer from Coach K and the Blue Devils, he became Duke’s first recruit in the Class of 2017.

O’Connell announced the on twitter on Friday afternoon:

O’Connell is a four-star prospect from Georgia that had a terrific summer, going from being a borderline top 75 prospect to a player that caught the interest of Duke, who, along with Kentucky, sit atop the college recruiting hierarchy. He’s an explosively athletic and lanky 6-foot-6 wing with three-point range on his jumper. He needs to add some weight and some strength — he’s listed as a crisp 175 pounds — but he has the tools, and the swagger, to develop into a very effective player in the ACC.

Is he a one-and-done prospect?

Probably not. In fact, since 2010, Duke has landed just two players that were rated lower than O’Connell: Antonio Vrankovic and Jack White. If you know who both of them are, you’re probably either Jon Scheyer or lying.

But what O’Connell is is a kid who put in the work to get better this past year and who has the skill set, the physical tools and work ethic to continue to improve. He may not be on Grayson Allen’s trajectory, but O’Connell has the makings of being an impact player for the Blue Devils for three or four years.

Alex O'Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)
Alex O’Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)

Shaka Smart lands contract extension at Texas

Texas head coach Shaka Smart instructs his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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Shaka Smart has already landed himself a contract extension at Texas.

The school, according to the Austin American-Statesman, has given Shaka a one-year extension — through the 2022-23 season — and bumped his salary up to a cool $3 million, a raise of $100,000 annually.

Smart’s Longhorns went 20-13 last season and lost on a half court buzzer beater from Northern Iowa’s Paul Jespersen. It will be tough for Smart to match the success that he had last season, specifically because he lost senior point guard Isaiah Taylor to the professional ranks.

That said, the former VCU head man has been reeling in quite a bit of talent from the state of Texas — namely, Andrew Jones and Jarrett Allen — and is not all that far from turning the Longhorns back into a relevant member of the Big 12 title race.