2013-14 SEC Preview: Can anyone catch Kentucky?


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.


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
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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.


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”.


  • 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?


  • 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.

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.


  • 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


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.

No. 1 goes down! No. 9 Florida State topples Xavier

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No. 9-seed Florida State erased a 12-point deficit in the final 10 minutes and a seven-point deficit in the final five minutes as they toppled No. 1-seed Xavier, 75-70, to advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament. The Seminoles closed the game on an 18-4 run.

Braian Angola led the way for the Seminoles, scoring 16 points and leading five players in double-figures.

This is the first time since 2004 that two No. 1 seeds have been knocked out of the NCAA tournament in the first weekend.

No. 9 Kansas State wins ugly game over upset-minded No. 16 UMBC

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Kansas State held off another feisty performance from No. 16 seed UMBC as the No. 9 seed Wildcats won an ugly 50-43 game on Sunday night in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

America was rooting for the Retrievers, the first No. 16 seed to ever beat a No. 1 seed in the men’s NCAA tournament, after UMBC shocked America with a blowout win over Virginia on Friday night. Kansas State also gave UMBC ample opportunities to secure another upset — turning the ball over 18 times and shooting 1-for-12 from three-point range.

But after putting up 74 points against the nation’s best defense two nights ago, the Retrievers couldn’t get a shot to go in the second round.  Defense is ultimately what is taking Bruce Weber’s team to the second weekend.  UMBC shot 28 percent (14-for-47) from the field and 27 percent (6-for-22) from three-point range as they struggled to generate offense against a strong Kansas State defense.

The Wildcats (24-11) were also ugly on offense as they only shot 40 percent (18-for-44) from the field and had only two double-figure scorers — led by Barry Brown’s 18 points. Kansas State couldn’t buy a bucket from the perimeter. They had a ton of unforced errors.

It wasn’t pretty, but the only thing that matters is that Kansas State advanced to the Sweet 16 in the South Regional despite not playing particularly well. Leading by only three points with under two minutes left, the Wildcats are lucky that the Retrievers didn’t get hot from the perimeter to steal another win.

Kansas State moves on to play No. 5 seed Kentucky in Atlanta in the Sweet 16 on Thursday. The matchup of Wildcats will almost assuredly have a heavy Kentucky lean in the crowd, with many in Big Blue Nation already referring to the host city as Catlanta.

But the South Regional is wide open since all four top seeds have already been eliminated. A young Kentucky team has also been inconsistent at times during the season. It would be silly to count out Kansas State since this team has defended at a pretty high level during this tournament.

Kansas State might have earned the victory and advanced, but America fell in love with UMBC over the last few days. The magical run of the Retrievers was the reason everybody tuned in to see this game.

The program became a national story after the team’s shocking blowout win on Friday night. The Retrievers won over America with a fun underdog team and an aggressive social media presence.  It might not sink in how monumental UMBC’s win over Virginia was until we look back at it many years later.

Since taking the nation by storm as a No. 15 seed advancing to the Sweet 16 in 2013, Florida Gulf Coast has become a respected mid-major program that regularly competes for conference titles and NCAA tournament appearances. The program’s recruiting reach has also increased as the Eagles are bringing in better talent.

The school’s surprise run also had huge financial implications for the school and athletics department. According to a report from the Baltimore Sun, annual donations at FGCU went from an average of $15 million per year to $27 million per year after the Sweet 16 run. Applications for out-of-state students increased by 80 percent. The school was also able to sell gear while making a push for more season ticket holders and consistent revenue.

Regardless of Sunday’s outcome, UMBC is now a nationally-known program thanks to one special win. UMBC’s weekend perfectly encapsulates why the NCAA tournament is such a big deal for the one-bid leagues who usually get slaughtered by the bluebloods in the opening round.

The Retrievers might not have picked up a catchy original nickname like “Dunk City.” But the letters “U-M-B-C” will likely forever be synonymous with massive upsets and unlikely underdog stories. We could very well see books and documentaries get produced off of this run.

It’ll be fascinating to track the school, and the men’s basketball program, over the next several seasons to see how all of this will benefit the school. Capitalizing on this hot stretch is going to be a key for UMBC’s sustained growth.

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County could see an uptick in enrollment applications and donations to its school. All because of an orange bouncing ball.

No. 5 Clemson steamrolls No. 4 Auburn to get to Sweet 16

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Gabe DeVoe scored 22 points and Elijah Thomas added 18 and 11 boards as No. 5-seed Clemson put together the single-most dominant performance that we have seen in the NCAA Tournament to date in a 84-53 win over No. 4-seed Auburn.

Brad Brownell’s Tigers used a 29-4 run over the final 10:33 of the first half, a stretch where they held Bruce Pearl’s Tigers without a field goal, and opened the second half on an 11-3 spurt to open up a 41-point lead that, unlike Cincinnati, they were able to hold on to.

And with that, Clemson can officially put their doubters — of which I was one — to shame.

To be frank, I’m not sure that there was a single point in time throughout the course of this season where I ever believed in Clemson. I didn’t think they had a chance to get to the tournament before the season started. I thought their record was inflated by competition early in the year. I thought that they were dead in the water when Donte Grantham went down with a torn ACL. I thought they were going to lose to New Mexico State in the first round of the tournament.


They are headed for the Sweet 16, and after what they’ve done the first two weekends of the tournament, there’s no reason to think that they won’t give No. 1-seed Kansas a fight when they get there.

This group battles defensively, and they have some tough, veteran guards that don’t ever seem to be in the mood to back down from a challenge. They have the size inside to overwhelm someone that wants to go small-ball and the versatility to match up with teams that want to play big or small. They’re well-coached, they execute offensively and they have a handful of guys that can beat you.

They are a really, really good team, and I apologize to the city of Clemson, the university and the state of South Carolina got not getting here sooner.

Maybe I should have been on the bandwagon earlier, but I’m here now.

No. 7 Nevada rallies from 22 down in second half to stun No. 2 Cincinnati

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Nevada erased a 22-point second-half deficit to stun No. 2 seed Cincinnati with a 75-73 win on Sunday night in a memorable second-round NCAA tournament contest in the South Regional.

Trailing 65-43 with 11:34 left, the Wolf Pack rallied to earn the second-biggest comeback win in NCAA tournament history. Only BYU’s 25-point comeback against Iona during the 2012 First Four was a bigger comeback than Nevada’s historic win.

Jumping out to a 10-0 advantage to open the contest, it looked like Cincinnati would cruise to victory. For most of the game, the Bearcats were barely threatened. Cincinnati led by double-digits for most of the first 30 minutes of the game.

Then Nevada used a 16-0 run to claw back in the game.

With the game tied at 73-all with under a minute left, Nevada took its first, and only, lead of the game on Josh Hall’s bucket with 10 seconds left.

Junior Cody Martin paced the Wolf Pack with 25 points, seven assists and six rebounds as he was a major force behind the comeback. Hall finished with 14 points while Kendall Stephens and Jordan Caroline had 13 points each. Caleb Martin also chipped in 10 points as Nevada featured five double-figure scorers during a balanced comeback.

The Wolf Pack (29-7) now have two furious second-half comebacks in the NCAA tournament this week after Nevada rallied to beat No. 10 seed Texas in the first round. Nevada fought back from 14 down to beat the Longhorns in overtime in that one. Somehow, Nevada one-upped that impressive comeback with one of the most memorable comebacks in NCAA tournament history. With a potent offense, and weapons all over the floor, the Wolf Pack are a dangerous team heading into Atlanta. Clearly, this is a team that you can never count out. Don’t turn your back on the Wolf Pack.

Cincinnati (31-5) failed to make the Sweet Sixteen for a sixth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance as the Bearcats struggled to hit shots down the stretch. Shooting 5-for-17 from three-point range, Cincinnati couldn’t string together enough shots to keep Nevada at arm’s length once the Wolf Pack got hot. The Bearcat offense grew stagnant down the stretch. Jarron Cumberland (17 points) fouling out with four minutes left was a tremendous blow for Cincinnati. The Bearcats never recovered once one of their best shot-creators was forced to sit.

Jacob Evans led Cincinnati with 19 points while Gary Clark (11 points, 10 rebounds) and Kyle Washington (10 points, 11 rebounds) both finished with double-doubles.

This loss is going to sting for Cincinnati for quite some time. With only one Sweet Sixteen appearance since 2001, the Bearcats had a favorable draw in the South Regional after all of the chaos of this week. The three other top-four seeds in the regional — Virginia, Tennessee and Arizona — had already been eliminated. Loyola is obviously playing good ball, but the Bearcats would have been favored over the No. 11 seed as they attempted to make its first Elite Eight appearance since 1996.

Now, Cincinnati might have to wait a bit for another team to be this good. The AAC champions lose Clark and Washington as both are seniors who have exhausted their eligibility. The Bearcats will still be solid thanks to a promising collection of returning perimeter threats. But they won’t be the same without Clark’s two-way presence and Washington’s versatility in the frontcourt.

The American also suffered with the Cincinnati loss as all three AAC NCAA tournament teams were eliminated before the second weekend. With all three teams owning solid seeds (No. 2, No. 4 and No. 6 seeds) this was not a good showing from the AAC.

Nevada advances to face No. 11 seed Loyola in the South Regional. Thursday’s Sweet Sixteen matchup in Atlanta was completely unexpected as the South Regional has been chaotic so far. Since NCAA tournament seeding began in 1979, the top four seeds in a regional have never all been eliminated heading into the Sweet Sixteen.

Now, we’re looking at either a Mountain West program or a Missouri Valley program playing for the right to advance to the Final Four.

No. 7 Texas A&M upsets No. 2 North Carolina

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Back in January, Texas A&M was a missed Breein Tyree buzzer-beater away from starting SEC play 0-6.

Today, after mollywhopping the defending national champions and the No. 2-seed in the West Region, North Carolina, the Aggies are headed to the Sweet 16.

Texas A&M got 26 points, 22 boards and five blocks combined from Tyler Davis and Robert Williams while shooting 10-for-23 from three in a 86-65 win over the Tar Heels. A 29-8 surge at the end of the first half opened up a 42-28 halftime lead, and North Carolina never found a way to get back into the game after the Aggies landed the first punch in the second half.

We’ll get to North Carolina in a second, because there is going to be plenty to talk about with them, but the story today should be the Aggies, who will advance to take on No. 3-seed Michigan in the Sweet 16.

There is a reason that, all season long, pundits covering the SEC called this group the most talented team in the league. There is a reason that they were a top 20 team in the preseason. There’s a reason that, for all of the losses they suffered and the players that couldn’t find a way to stay healthy and out of off-the-court trouble, they were still a team that was too tantalizing to complete write-off.

And we all saw it come to fruition on Sunday night in Charlotte.

Playing what was a de-facto road game, the Aggies overpowered North Carolina in the paint while holding the Tar Heels to just 33 percent shooting from the field and a 6-for-31 performance from beyond the arc. Williams and Davis were terrific, but Texas A&M’s perimeter players — Admon Gilder, D.J. Hogg, T.J. Starks — deserve just as much credit.

Because that has been the biggest question mark with this group from before the season began.

It’s not difficult to look at this Aggie roster and realize just how good their big men are. Williams is a projected lottery pick for a reason. Davis was a preseason first-team all-SEC player for a reason. But Hogg spent his first two seasons on campus as the most inconsistent elite shooter in the sport. Gilder was good when he was healthy, but that wasn’t always the case. The point guard spot? That’s been a revolving door. It was supposed to be Jay Jay Chandler and J.J. Caldwell that played that role, but both of them have been in and out of trouble; Caldwell was dismissed from the team. Duane Wilson took the job over during the middle of the season, but he fully tore his ACL after spending two weeks playing on a partially torn ACL.

Starks inherited the role almost by necessity, and he’s been really good in flashes. When he plays like he did on Sunday — 21 points and five assists on 7-for-15 shooting — this is was A&M can be.

As far as North Carolina is concerned, this loss is disappointing and certainly one that is going to draw headlines, but the fact that this group did enough work to earn themselves a No. 2-seed in the tournament says more about Williams coaching job and the play of Luke Maye than anything else.

It’s a disappointing result, and one I certainly did not see coming, but for a program that thrives on elite bigs to do what they did while essentially playing small-ball is impressive.

Joel Berry II will certainly be missed, but at some point talent wins out in March and the Aggies, the more talented team, came to play on Sunday.