2013-14 SEC Preview: Can anyone catch Kentucky?

2 Comments

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.

Angel Delgado’s return to Seton Hall makes Pirates Big East contender

Mike Stobe/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Seton Hall got huge news on Monday when Angel Delgado announced that he would be returning to school for his senior season.

“I am coming back to school for my senior year,” Delgado said in a statement on Monday. “It’s very important to my family and me that I finish what I started. This was a difficult decision that took time and patience. Coming back feels just right.”

Delgado, a 6-foot-10 forward from the Dominican Republic, averaged 15.1 points and 13.2 boards last season for the Pirates. He was one of the best big men in the country over the last six weeks of the season.

And his return should bring about one of the best years that Seton Hall basketball has had in a long time.

The Pirates are loaded with talent, tough and, most importantly, old players, from Delgado to Khadeen Carrington to Ishmael Sanogo to Desi Rodriguez. They are going to be a nightmare to run offense against, and they may just be the best team in the Big East not named Villanova. Delgado should end up being a preseason all-american.

Seton Hall is currently ranked No. 17 in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

Texas to return Andrew Jones for sophomore season

Chris Covatta/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Texas got another boost on Monday as former five-star recruit Andrew Jones announced that he will be returning to school for his sophomore season.

“I’ve matured and learned a lot through this process,” Jones said in a statement released on twitter. “I enjoyed the experience and opportunity that I had to be able to participate in the combine and team workouts.

“Time to go work out with my teammates. Hungry and Humble.”

This comes on the heels of Texas landing a commitment from a top five prospect in Mo Bamba. With all those pieces in the fold, including a recruiting class that features four more top 100 prospects, the Longhorns look like they are on track to be a borderline preseason top 25 team and heading back to the NCAA tournament.

This could end up being a narrative-changing year for Texas.

West Virginia returns potential Big 12 Player of the Year in Jevon Carter

Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
Leave a comment

West Virginia got some great news on Monday as Jevon Carter announced that he will be returning to the Mountaineers for his senior year.

“I’m excited about coming back to West Virginia and playing with my teammates for my senior season,” he said. “The entire NBA process was a great experience for me and to gain valuable feedback that I can use to prepare for the future.”

This is massive for the Mountaineers. Not only is Carter the team’s leading scorer at 13.5 points, but he is a three-time all-Big 12 Defensive Team member and led West Virginia in minutes played last season. He’ll be a favorite to win Big 12 Player of the Year, with Devonte’ Graham of Kansas.

Arizona adds five-star Emmanuel Akot to Class of 2017

Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Emmanuel Akot, a five-star wing that has been committed to Arizona for months, announced on Monday that he will be reclassifying to the Class of 2017 and enrolling at Arizona this offseason.

“My family and I have decided to join the 2017 class and become a member of the Arizona Basketball family,” Akot said.

Akot was considered a top 15 prospect in the Class of 2018, a class that many believe to be significantly weaker than the Class of 2017. At 6-foot-7, he’s a versatile defender with quite a bit of potential that can step out and knock down threes, but he’s also far from a finish product and will likely need time to acclimate to the college level.

That said, he should be able to fill a role on the wing nicely, providing a nice bit of defensive reliance alongside more offensive-minded weapons like Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins.

Akot joins a five-man recruiting class headlined by top four prospect Deandre Ayton and four-star recruits Brandon Randolph and Ira Lee.

The eight most important NBA Draft Early Entry decisions remaining

(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

The deadline to withdraw from the NBA Draft is on Wednesday, May 24th, meaning that the players that have not signed with an agent have roughly 48 hours left to determine their basketball future.

Here are the ten most important decisions left to be made:

1. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue

  • Projected: Late first round or early second round
  • If he stays in: It will be a massive blow for Purdue, although one that the program should not be surprised about. Swanigan had an argument to be the National Player of the Year last season with the year that he had, and frankly, I’m not sure what else there is for him to prove at the college level. We know what he is offensively, and I don’t think that his flaws as a player are necessarily fixable. How much can he improve his body? How much different can he be as a defender? At this point he is what he is as a player.
  • If he returns: The Boilermakers will be returning a guy that will be a lock to be the Preseason National Player of the Year. Without him, Purdue still has a shot to be a top 25 team and a threat to finish near the top of the Big Ten. With him? Matt Painter will have a chance to repeat as the Big Ten regular season champ, even with Michigan State looking like the best team in college basketball.
  • CBT says: He should, and probably will, remain in the draft.

2. Tony Bradley, North Carolina

  • Projected: Early second-round
  • If he stays in: It would be a significant loss for the Tar Heels, but not a fatal one with Joel Berry set to return as a potential National Player of the Year candidate along with Theo Pinson, Luke Maye and Kenny Williams also in the starting lineup. What’s missing would be that experienced presence in the middle.
  • If he returns: North Carolina would be without a doubt one of the top national title contenders. With Bradley in the lineup, the Tar Heels simply won’t have a huge weakness in the lineup that teams can immediately exploit. It won’t make them the clear-cut title frontrunner, but it’ll put them in the top tier.
  • CBT says: With a first-round selection no guarantee, Bradley has a lot to gain returning to one of college basketball’s best teams.

3. Mo Wagner and D.J. Wilson, Michigan

  • Projected: Wilson is a potential first round pick, but Wagner may end up going undrafted
  • If they stay in: The biggest loss for Michigan is going to be point guard Derrick Walton, who was on another level at the end of last season. John Beilein’s teams are at their very best when they have a great ball-screen point guard, and their season is going to depend, in the end, on how Ohio transfer Jaaron Simmons adjusts to a higher level. But Beilein also runs an offense based on spacing the floor, and there’s no better way to space the floor than having a pair of big men that can step out on the perimeter and make threes.
  • If they return: Suddenly, Michigan goes from being a team that could end up making the NCAA tournament to one that has a ceiling of being a top 15 team. Wilson probably has the most to gain by coming back for another year. He’s dealt with injuries throughout his career, and his defensively versatility and perimeter skill make him him a more likely first round pick if he can prove he’s more than just a one year wonder. Wagner may actually have a higher ceiling, but he needs to get tougher and show he can defend and rebound.
  • CBT says: The safe bet is that Michigan loses Wilson and gets Wagner back, but I wouldn’t be shocked if both returned to school.

4. Justin Jackson, Maryland

  • Projected: Mid-second round with first round potential
  • If he stays in: It’s a massive blow for a Maryland team that will be looking to replace Melo Trimble, the man who is as responsible for turning around the Terp program as Mark Turgeon is. But Jackson has some NBA potential. He’s 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, he can defend multiple positions and he shot 44 percent from three. He’s built in the combo-forward mold that NBA teams love these days. There’s a real chance he leaves as a one-and-done player, and while the Terps have some other young, talented pieces, this loss could cost them the NCAA tournament.
  • If he returns: Maryland should once again be a fringe top 25 team. Jackson has the chance to develop into an all-Big Ten kind of player next season as he takes on a bigger role of the offense. The freshmen trio of Jackson, Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter should have Maryland fans excited.
  • CBT says: All it takes is for one team to fall in love with Jackson’s potential to get him picked in the back end of the first round. How he performs at the combine may determine that.

5. Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky

  • Projected: Late first round, early second round
  • If he stays in: Kentucky has a ridiculous amount of talent joining the program next season, enough that John Calipari will likely have the pieces to make another push for an SEC title and a trip to the Final Four without him. At this point, he is really the only five-star off-guard on the roster, and losing him means the Wildcats may take a hit on the defensive end, but that would also allow some better shooters to get on the floor, so it may end up being a wash.
  • If he returns: Kentucky suddenly looks like a team that is going to be as good as anyone on the defensive end. Between Diallo, Jarred Vanderbilt, Kevin Knox, Nick Richards and, potentially, Mo Bamba, there is as much length and athleticism on that roster as Coach Cal has ever had. Where their points come from will be the question, and this may be what gets Diallo to stay in the draft. He may be the most explosive athlete in the draft, but he’s also very raw. He’s not a shooter and he doesn’t have a great feel for the game. There’s a line of thinking that, if he returns to a team that doesn’t have myriad options offensively, he could end up being exposed on that end of the floor.
  • CBT says: I think it would be in Diallo’s best interest to return — remember, he redshirted the second semester of last season after enrolling in January — but I would not be shocked to see him remain in the draft.

6. Thomas Welsh, UCLA

  • Projected: Undrafted
  • If he stays in: The Bruins will still have quite a bit of talent and will be a preseason top-25 team, but losing a player like Welsh would seriously lower their ceiling. Take a big step back is certainly something Steve Alford will look to avoid after a breakthrough season last year that started with him under some pressure.
  • If he returns: The Bruins won’t be the toast of the Pac-12, that distinction will stay with Arizona, but UCLA asserts itself as a top-15(ish) team that has enough firepower, especially with a major 7-foot contributor, to at least push the Wildcats in the league.
  • CBT says: Welsh has a lot of tools, but probably even more questions that make his stock pretty low right now.

7. Trevon Bluiett, Xavier

  • Projected: Second round to undrafted
  • If he stays in: The Musketeers are suddenly one of the younger teams in the Big East with a roster that has just three players — J.P. Macura, Sean O’Mara and Kaiser Gates — that have spent more than one year on the Xavier campus. I still think Xavier would be able to get back into the NCAA tournament, as they will have some young talent on the roster and Chris Mack at the helm, but their upside will be significantly diminished.
  • If he returns: Xavier will have a preseason all-american on their roster, a potential Big East Player of the Year and a guy that could end up averaging 20 points as a senior. He, along with J.P. Macura, will anchor a Musketeer roster that, beyond them, will be very young but promisingly talented. They’re probably a tournament team either way, but with Bluiett in the fold, they might have a chance to get back to the Elite 8 again.
  • CBT says: Return to school

8. Deng Adel, Louisville

  • Projected: Second round to undrafted
  • If he stays in: Louisville will have lost their two most dangerous perimeter scoring options — Donovan Mitchell looks like he is going to sneak into the back-end of the lottery — from a team that really struggled to score from the perimeter. That would be a crushing blow for a Cardinal team that was the Preseason No. 1 team in the NBC Sports Top 25 when it looked like both would be returning to school.
  • If he returns: Louisville has their go-to scorer on the wing and Adel will have a chance to prove that he can play that role full-time. He really came on down the stretch of the 2016-17 season, and with an offense more or less built around him as the leading man, he’ll have every opportunity to prove himself an NBA-caliber wing scorer.
  • CBT says: He returns to school.