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2013-14 SEC Preview: Can anyone catch Kentucky?

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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. To see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Kentucky is the most talented team in the SEC. Stipulated for the foreseeable future, counselor. It’s appropriate that a blue-blood program from the heart of horse country is stocked with powerful blue chip athletes who have obvious physical advantages. They can, should and probably will win the SEC. But there’s always a chance that Seabiscuit will emerge from the pack and energize the race. The Wildcats will get everyone’s best effort in every game, and the league is studded with contenders and wily veterans who can make things interesting. Kentucky’s stumble into and immediately out of the NIT last season has put the gleam of hope in the eye of every challenger the league has to offer.

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. Kentucky will put an NBA-caliber team on the floor every night: We can pick Kentucky No. 1 in the nation every year, that’s no joke. Some of us resisted that notion this season, because we’ve seen that work spectacularly (2012’s national title) and fail miserably (2013’s NIT washout). Michael Jordan said it best: “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” We can see the talent, so if the other two sides of the triangle fall into place, well, quite frankly, nobody else has a chance.

2. Jeronne Maymon is back in Knoxville: I used the thoroughbred as a metaphor for Kentucky’s makeup, but Tennessee’s strength is different. Former Vols coach Bruce Pearl called Maymon a “junkyard dog” when he landed the Marquette transfer, and the burly forward pairs well with current coach Cuonzo Martin’s gritty style of play. Maymon redshirted last year with a persistent knee injury, but he’s back this season and ready to pair with Jarnell Stokes to form our No. 6 frontcourt in the nation.

3. The Marshall Henderson Show gets a tenative renewal: Marshall Henderson is a shooter. He can shoot you into a huge win with his gutsy deep stroke, or he can shoot himself in the foot with his own middle finger. Henderson will be sitting out three games this season, including his team’s first two SEC contests, and his notoriety is now a double-edged sword. Everyone knows Ole Miss has a star, including the refs and the NCAA’s shell-shocked PR department.

source: AP
AP photo

4. Haithers gonna Haith: When Frank Haith nabbed the Missouri job in 2011, two questions dogged his heels. First, was he better than his 56% winning percentage at Miami would seem to indicate? So far, the answer is yes to that one, as Haith has won 53 games in two seasons in Columbia. Second, would infractions from his time with the Hurricanes dog him in his new gig? That question was answered recently, when the NCAA suspended Haith for his first five games of this season. With another quality team in place, led by transfer Jordan Clarkson and junior Jabari Brown, Haith should be ready to put it all behind him and win 20-plus games again.

5. LSU is back: Standing 6-foot-9 and weighing in at 260 lbs., Johnny O’Bryant III may not be the second coming of Shaq, but he’s bringing back some of the excitement of the Dale Brown era in Baton Rouge. Second year Tigers coach Johnny Jones has three more of his top scorers returning to back up O’Bryant, and his recruiting touch has the Tigers sitting pretty for the future as well.

PRESEASON SEC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Julius Randle (Kentucky)

Well, duh. This guy could likely start in the NBA right now. He’s the combination of size, strength and speed that comes along extremely rarely, even in DI basketball. If his basketball IQ is on track, he will find plenty of room underneath alongside his massively talented teammates. He’s the very definition of “one to watch”.

THE REST OF THE SEC FIRST TEAM:

  • G Jordan McRae (Tennessee): When the media voted for preseason POY, Randle got the lion’s share of the votes, but McRae grabbed five votes to come in second on the ballot. The lanky 6-foot-6 wing had some monster games last season, scoring 34 on LSU and 35 at Georgia. With a solid team around him, he could steal some more of the spotlight.
  • F Johnny O’Bryant III (LSU): It’s been a while since Tiger fans had a big man to write home about. O’Bryant is on the cusp of a breakout season, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see him average a double-double for the season and get LSU back to the NCAA tournament, where they last ventured in 2009.
  • G Trevor Releford (Alabama): Releford jacked up his scoring (14.9 ppg) and defense (2.1 spg) last season,  and he’s always been a pretty good distributor. He’s on the Cousy Award watch list this season, and he’ll be driving the bus in Tuscaloosa.
  • F Jarnell Stokes (Tennessee): Stokes averaged nearly a double-double last season while holding down the post. Imagine what he’ll do with Maymon healthy and ready to step in next to him?

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • G Marshall Henderson (Ole Miss)
  • F Patric Young (Florida)
  • G Andrew Harrison (Kentucky)
  • G Scottie Wilbekin (Florida)
  • C Willie Cauley-Stein (Kentucky)

BREAKOUT STAR: Jordan Clarkson (Missouri)

Clarkson wasn’t exactly hidden under a bushel at Tulsa, where he averaged 14.2 points per game over two seasons, but he’ll definitely be on the biggest stage now that he’s eligible to finish out his career at Mizzou. He stands 6-foot-5 and definitely has a scorer’s mentality, but Clarkson revealed that he’s been working out at point and off-guard this summer, so his versatility and nose for the ball will have him in the mix from day one in Columbia.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Tony Barbee (Auburn)

Auburn hasn’t been to the Big Dance in a decade, and make no mistake, they hired Calipari disciple Barbee away from a successful stint at UTEP to rectify that situation. Instead they’ve had a rash of transfers and three losing seasons in a row. Last season was the worst, as the Tigers limped to a 9-23 overall record. Nothing short of a 20-win season and a postseason appearance can save Barbee’s job.

source:
AP photo

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : Has anyone seen my Marshall Henderson-to-English dictionary lying around?

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT: Finding out what this year’s iteration of the Big Blue NBA Express can do.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • November 12: Kentucky vs. Michigan State (in Chicago)
  • December 10: Kansas at Florida
  • December 14: Kentucky at North Carolina
  • December 14: Tennessee at Wichita State
  • December 28: Louisville at Kentucky

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Kentucky: I’m running out of new ways to say it: these guys are the ish. Their bench could beat 95% of DI teams.
2. Florida: Billy Donovan has another well-built roster in Gainesville, with size and toughness up front.
3. Tennessee: With experience, a towering frontcourt and a gritty defense, Cuonzo Martin has the Vols loaded for bear.
4. LSU: We’ll hear a lot about Johnny O’Bryant, but he’s not going to have to get it done by himself. Anthony Hickey (11.8 ppg, 3.8 apg) will have plenty of options to score or dish to an open teammate on this roster.
5. Missouri: Plenty of question marks with Flip and Laurence Bowers gone, but Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson should pick up the slack.
6. Alabama: Led by Trevor Releford, the Tide can roll this season, but can they make the tourney?
7. Mississippi: Could go higher or lower based on what side of the bed Marshall Henderson wakes up on any given day.
8. Arkansas: With Mike Anderson at the helm, running a legacy version of 40 minutes of hell, this team could easily make a leap this season.
9. Vanderbilt: Kevin Stallings just doesn’t have the talent of years past.
10. Texas A&M: Does Johnny Football have a decent handle? I’m sure the Aggies would give him a try.
11. Georgia: They love Mark Fox in Athens, but he’s going to need to ramp up the recruiting to do business in the SEC consistently.
12. South Carolina: Frank Martin will have success wherever he goes, but this roster just isn’t there yet.
13. Auburn: See above, re: hot seat.
14. Mississippi State: Rick Ray has some talent on the roster, with Jalen Steele, Trivante Bloodman and Craig Sword sounding like characters in a game of Dungeons and Dragons. Give him another couple of years before you judge what this program can do.

POSTERIZED: Charlotte’s Najee Garvin nearly jumpers over defender

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This is what you don’t try to take charges.

Providence beats No. 21 Rhode Island 63-60

RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 19:  Head coach Ed Cooley of the Providence Friars  reacts in the first half against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at PNC Arena on March 19, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley knew the Rams were in for a tough one against Providence, which had won the matchup of cross-state rivals six straight times.

He didn’t see this coming, though.

Kyron Cartwright, who had made four 3-pointers all season, hit four of five from beyond the arc in the first half. The Providence point guard finished with 19 points and eight assists to lead the Friars to a 63-60 victory over No. 21 Rhode Island on Saturday.

“That’s sports, and that’s the type of thing that makes coaches go gray and lose their hair,” Hurley said after his team lost for the third time in four games. “Four 3-pointers in seven games and he made four today – all in the first half.”

Rodney Bullock scored 17 points for the Friars (6-2). Cartwright had 15 in the first half and Jalen Lindsey scored nine of his 13 points in the second, five during a 7-0 run that erased a seven-point deficit.

“My teammates were telling me, `You need to take those shots to open up the defense,”‘ Cartwright said. “(And) we don’t shoot the ball to not make it.”

Hassan Martin had 14 points and 17 rebounds for Rhode Island (5-3), which lost at unranked Valparaiso and Providence a week after falling to No. 1 Duke. E.C. Matthews scored nine points and went 1 for 8 from 3-point range, airballing a 3 with 2 seconds left with a chance for the Rams to tie it.

“Games like this might help us down the stretch,” Martin said. `’So you just tell everybody to keep their head up.”

The Rams led 47-40 with 12:15 left when Cartwright’s arm appeared to catch Christion Thompson in the left eye. Thompson went to the court, flailing his arms in the air looking for a call, but the teams played on until Lindsey hit a 3-pointer to make it a four-point game at 11:00.

Lindsey’s free throws brought the Friars within two points, and Ryan Fazekas scored on a fast-break goaltending call to tie it. From there, there were three more ties and kept the game within one possession until Lindsey hit a fallaway jumper with 43 seconds left to give Providence a 59-55 lead.

“We beat a tournament team today,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said.

POLL IMPLICATONS

It will be difficult for Rhode Island to stay in The Associated Press Top 25 after its stumbles.

Hurley said he isn’t concerned.

The goal at the beginning of the season was to win the Atlantic 10 and play in the NCAA Tournament.

That’s all still in play.

“We expect to have a long and great season. Nothing’s changed for us,” he said. “We lost two tough road games in a long season.”

BULLOCK’S BOUNCE-BACK

Bullock scored a career-high 36 points against New Hampshire on Wednesday, but he missed all three shots from the field in the first half and had only three points on six free throws at the break.

Cooley told him not to worry about the shooting and to try to make something happen with rebounding or defense.

“Somebody coming of a great scoring game like he did there’s going to be a lot of attention on him,” Cooley said. “I thought he showed some definite grit in the second half.”

TIP-INS

Rhode Island: Martin hit all three of his 3-point attempts in the first half. … Martin surpassed the 1,000-point milestone against Valparaiso on Tuesday. … The Rams have lost nine straight to Big East teams.

Providence: The Friars lead the all-time series 73-56, including a buzzer-beating victory last year in Kingston. … They are 1-1 against ranked teams this season, having lost to then-No. 7 Virginia on Nov. 26.

UP NEXT

Rhode Island: Hosts Old Dominion on Tuesday.

Providence: Hosts Brown on Tuesday.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25.

Chris Holtman not pleased with No. 18 Butler after easy win

LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 25:  Kelan Martin #30 of the Butler Bulldogs drives against Kadeem Allen #5 and Chance Comanche #21 of the Arizona Wildcats during the championship game of the 2016 Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena on November 25, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Butler won 69-65.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Butler coach Chris Holtman looked troubled as he addressed the media on Saturday.

Kelan Martin finished with 30 points and six rebounds, and Tyler Wideman added 10 points and 10 rebounds, and the 18th-ranked Bulldogs defeated Central Arkansas 82-58.

Still, despite the 24-point blowout win, Holtman’s disappointment in himself and his players was written all over his face, clearly weighing heavily on his mind.

Holtman, who is in his third season as Butler’s coach, noted that Central Arkansas bothered the Bulldogs (8-0) in a lot of ways. Holtman did not bring any Butler players with him to the podium after the game.

“Give Central Arkansas credit. I think they did a lot of things that bothered us. I don’t think we played very well in stretches, I don’t think we prepared very well. That concerned me the last couple of days. I don’t think we practiced well. Ultimately that’s on me. That’s my fault. You can come up with a couple of different explanations for (our performance), I just don’t ever want to see it again,” Holtman said.

The Bulldogs looked impressive in the box score on Saturday. Butler scored 24 points off 16 Central Arkansas turnovers. The Bulldogs scored nearly half their points down low, finishing with 32 in the paint. Butler capitalized on 10 offensive rebounds by finishing the game with 16 second-chance points. One of the few compliments Holtman did give to his team was its ability to share the basketball and create opportunities. Butler’s offense relied on good ball movement as 22 of its 31 field goals came by way of an assist.

Butler played a good first half and went into halftime up by 12 points. The Bulldogs had their fair share of hiccups in the first half, turning the ball over a couple times and missing a few free throws. But the source of Holtman’s frustration with his squad’s performance came in the second half, when it looked as if the Bears were going to give the Bulldogs a fight halfway through the final 20 minutes. Butler was forced to call a timeout with about 12 minutes remaining in the game due to Central Arkansas (1-7) cutting the deficit to just eight points.

Following the timeout, Butler willed a 17-2 run to stretch the lead to 74-51. Butler opened up its run in the midst of a scoring drought for Central Arkansas. The Bears didn’t make a field goal for nearly 7 minutes, shooting 1 of 9. Central Arkansas’ only two points during that time came by way of free throws.

The Bulldogs’ largest lead of the game was a product of their second-half-scoring run, pulling ahead by 25 points.

“We are at our best when we understand our margin for error is very, very small and we have an understanding there’s an expectation and a standard of how we want to play. I think we did that at times today, but not nearly as much as we need to. We’re going to have to play better – much better – than what we did,” Holtman said.

Jordan Howard led Central Arkansas with 20 points and Derreck Brooks finished with 15.

The road game was a measuring stick for Central Arkansas. The Bears used Saturday’s game against a quality opponent as a foundation to work from for the rest of the season.

“We’re trying to measure ourselves against really good teams and get better,” Central Arkansas coach Russ Pennell said. “When we play teams like Butler, and we’re going to be playing Michigan soon, it’s a chance to measure ourselves and our (players).”

BIG PICTURE

With a big win over No. 8 Arizona, the undefeated Bulldogs are generating a buzz. Butler will face five more opponents, including Cincinnati and No. 13 Indiana, before it opens conference play at St. John’s on Dec. 29.

POLL IMPLICATIONS: The Bulldogs’ next big test against a ranked opponent will come on Dec. 17 when they face No. 13 Indiana in the Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis

UP NEXT:

Central Arkansas visits Arkansas-Little Rock on Saturday

Butler visits Indiana State on Wednesday

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25.

No. 8 Gonzaga outlasts depleted No. 16 Arizona

ORLANDO, FL - NOVEMBER 27:  Przemek Karnowski #24 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs attempts a shot during the game against the Iowa State Cyclones at HP Field House on November 27, 2016 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
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No. 8 Gonzaga jumped out to a 23-9 lead and held on as No. 16 Arizona rallied down the stretch, beating the Wildcats 69-62 in Los Angeles on Sunday night.

The Bulldogs got 18 points and a pair of blocks from 7-foot-1 center Przemek Karnowski’s whose impact on this game cannot be measured by the box score. Karnowski is an unbelievable passer out of the post, but he’s also a terrific scorer that almost has to be double-teamed. And when that double-team comes, the ball is out of his hands and into the hands of an open teammate.

The big man is also a force on the defensive end of the floor, where his size allows him to take up space in the lane and his length causes all kinds of problems for players trying to finish in the paint.

That’s worth noting because he isn’t anywhere near to being the most-heralded player on that roster. That title probably goes to Nigel Williams-Goss, who was all-Pac 12 at Washington. Or Jordan Mathews, who averaged 13 points the last two seasons at Cal. Johnathan Williams III was a top 50 prospect. Zach Collins was a McDonald’s All-American. Josh Perkins was recruited by Kentucky.

Point being, this is a very good Gonzaga team, one with talent and depth.

And Karnowski is as important as anyone on the roster.

It’s also worth noting here that Arizona put up an impressive fight for a team playing with seven guys right now. Parker Jackson-Cartwright sprained his ankle Wednesday night. Allonzo Trier still isn’t playing. And the Wildcats fought back from 14 points down in the first eight minutes to make this a game down the stretch.

Arizona has a lot of issues right now.

But there’s still talent on this roster and this is still a team of kids that are going to battle every time they take the floor.

SATURDAY’S SNACKS: Big road wins for UCLA, West Virginia

MADISON, WI - DECEMBER 03:  Nigel Hayes #10 of the Wisconsin Badgers is defended by Kristian Doolittle #11 of the Oklahoma Sooners during the first half of a game at the Kohl Center on December 3, 2016 in Madison, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 11 UCLA 97, No. 1 Kentucky 92

This one was a ton of fun to watch as UCLA shook off a sluggish start to run past Kentucky at Rupp Arena. CBT’s Rob Dauster has the story on this one and why it was important for both teams.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

No. 25 West Virginia 66, No. 6 Virginia 57: Bob Huggins’ group has a potential signature victory as West Virginia won a big one on the road. I have more about why this one is particularly important for West Virginia here.

No. 9 Baylor 76, No. 7 Xavier 61: The Bears added to what is the best résumé in college basketball with an impressive win over a very good Xavier team. Manu Lecomte was the star of the show, finishing with 24 points and five assists. We went in depth on this game here.

No. 5 Duke 94, Maine 55: It wasn’t the outcome as much as the fact that Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden returned to the floor.

No. 8 Gonzaga 69, No. 16 Arizona 62: The Bulldogs got 18 points from Przemek Karnowski and 16 points from Josh Perkins as they were able to get past a depleted Arizona team dealing with a myriad of injuries. Credit to Arizona, however. They were down 14 points early and managed to make this a game.

Providence 63, No. 21 Rhode Island 60: That’s back-to-back losses for the Rams, and a really nice win for a young Friars team. Kyron Cartwright led the way with 19 points and eight assists.

STARRED

Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin: After just missing a triple-double in a big win over Syracuse in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge earlier this week, Hayes dominated in a 90-70 win over Oklahoma with 28 points on 10-for-13 shooting. Hayes made both of his three-point attempts and also added six assists and two rebounds. Hayes is playing like an All-American lately.

Josh Hart, Villanova: Speaking of All-American caliber play, the senior guard put up a triple-double in the Wildcats’ 88-57 win over Saint Joseph’s as he finished with 16 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. Hart was 6-for-10 from the field and 3-for-6 from three-point territory as he had a tremendous outing.

Sebastian Saez, Ole Miss: Underrated nationally, the senior forward had his fourth double-double of the year with 20 points and 16 rebounds in a win over Memphis. Saez also added three blocks as he now has 12 or more rebounds in five games this season.

Anthony Livingston, Texas Tech: The Red Raiders needed three free throws from Livingston with under three seconds left for a one-point win over Rice as Livingston finished with 33 points and seven rebounds.

Collin Smith, George Washington: Also knocking in a huge go-ahead bucket was Smith as his three-pointer with three seconds left gave the Colonials a win over USF. Smith ended up with 22 points and eight rebounds.

STRUGGLED

E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island: Matthews finished 3-for-13 from the floor with just nine points as No. 21 Rhode Island lost their second straight game, this time falling to Providence, 63-60, on the road.

JeQuan Lewis, VCU: Lewis had 23 points and 11 assists in a come-from-behind win over Princeton during the week, but he had just three points and one assists – and turned an ankle – in a 64-46 loss to Illinois in Miami on Saturday.

San Diego State: The Aztecs took a 65-59 loss to Loyola (IL) on Saturday, a loss that puts SDSU is an all-too-familiar hole: Bad losses on their résumé that they won’t be able to make up for in league play.

TOP 25

  • No. 2 Kansas shook off a slow start to knock off Stanford in Phog Allen Fieldhouse, 89-74. Reid Travis was terrific for the Cardinal, finishing with 29 points and nine boards.
  • Marcus Foster had 27 points and Mo Watson Jr. went for 14 points and 13 assists as No. 10 Creighton beat Akron, 82-70.
  • No. 14 Louisville overcame a 40-point performance from DeWayne Russell as they knocked off a good Grand Canyon team on the road, 79-70.
  • Using a balanced scoring effort, No. 15 Purdue picked up an easy home win over Morehead State. Freshman guard Carsen Edwards knocked down four triples to finish with a team-high 16 points while Caleb Swanigan and P.J. Thompson both finished with 13 points and six assists.
  • Kelan Martin went for 30 points as No. 18 Butler knocked off Central Arkansas, 82-58.
  • Andrew White hit seven threes and finished with 26 points while Franklin Howard chipped in with 13 assists for No. 22 Syracuse as they held on to beat North Florida, 77-71, in the Carrier Dome.
  • Tyler Dorsey scored 29 points as No. 23 Oregon beat Savannah State, 128-59.

NOTABLE

  • USC remained undefeated this season with a win over BYU despite playing without Bennie Boatright.
  • Michigan State avoided a loss at home to Oral Roberts despite playing without Miles Bridges. That’s a positive, I guess.
  • Torin Dorn and Terry Henderson combined for 45 points as N.C. State held on to beat Boston U., 77-73.
  • Solid win for Wake Forest on the road at Richmond as John Collins had 16 points, 13 rebounds.
  • TCU moved to 8-0 on the season with a 23 point win over a good Arkansas State team.