2013-14 SEC Basketball Preview

2013-14 SEC Basketball Preview
November 11, 2013, 1:00 pm
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Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Kentucky Wildcats
  2. Florida Gators
  3. Tennessee Volunteers
  4. LSU Tigers
  5. Alabama Crimson Tide
  6. Ole Miss Rebels
  7. Missouri Tigers
  8. Arkansas Razorbacks
  9. Texas A&M Aggies
  10. Georgia Bulldogs
  11. Vanderbilt Commodores
  12. South Carolina Gamecocks
  13. Mississippi State Bulldogs
  14. Auburn Tigers

Our Preseason All-SEC Team

  • G: Andrew Harrison, Kentucky
  • G: Jordan McRae, Tennessee
  • G: Marshall Henderson, Ole Miss
  • F: Julius Randle, Kentucky
  • F: Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky

Top Player

Julius Randle, Kentucky: Randle isn’t just a fabulous incoming freshman; he’s a member of one of the greatest recruiting classes ever assembled. Where Randle will shine is his ability to change the game on the glass, on offense and in transition. He’s a potential triple-double machine that will hold court underneath the basket, but can step back and play from 15-18 feet as well.

Top Newcomer(s)

Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Kentucky: Even though it would have been easy to include Julius Randle under this heading too, Kentucky’s Harrison twins are going to get the tag-team nod. Andrew is probably going to make more of a difference because he’ll have the ball in his hands more often as Kentucky’s point guard, but Aaron will get his touches too. Both were five-star recruits and the top pick at their respective positions coming out of high school and both will wreak havoc on the SEC.

Top Coach

Cuonzo Martin, Tennessee: Kentucky coach John Calipari is going to get a lot of attention with his incoming freshman class, and there’s no better recruiter around. Billy Donovan will also be at the helm of a top Florida Gators team that should go places. But Martin is in a position to pull the Volunteers into the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2011 and everyone associated with Tennessee’s program says Martin is “the guy” and “really gets” everything that should be happening around a top-notch college hoops program.

The Teams

Kentucky Wildcats

Thumbs Up: Two of Kentucky’s veterans—Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein—are likely first-round selections in 2014 and are joined by some of the best freshman talent ever assembled, including six McDonald’s All Americans.

Thumbs Down: With this much young talent there’s always the possibility that chemistry will be an issue. If these guys can’t gel, or worse yet they get envious of playing time, the Wildcats might underachieve.

Where are they headed? The Finals. This team could win it all.

Florida Gators

Thumbs Up: Senior center Patric Young decided to come back for his final season and will lead a team of wily veterans that welcomes a group of transfers that could make a difference not only to the Gators but across the SEC as well.

Thumbs Down: Not only did Florida lose its top three scorers from last season, but the injury bug and suspensions have weakened this team throughout the offseason and preseason workouts.

Where are they headed? Sweet 16. Billy Donovan’s run of three straight Elite Eights is in jeopardy.

Tennessee Volunteers

Thumbs Up: Senior guard Jordan McRae will return for his senior season and be joined by senior forward Jeronne Maymon and junior forward Jarnell Stokes, who averaged a double-double in SEC play last season.

Thumbs Down: Tennessee’s scoring average of 66.3 points per game last season was 208th in the country and point guard Trae Golden left the team. The Volunteers won’t live up to expectations if they can’t find a way to pour more points in the basket.

Where are they headed? Second round of the NCAA tournament. If things are going well in March, the Volunteers could make a Sweet 16 run, but that’s likely the plateau.

LSU Tigers

Thumbs Up: LSU boasts four potential starters—forward Johnny O’Bryant and guards Shavon Coleman, Andre Stringer and Anthony Hickey—that averaged double-digit scoring last season. Add to that mix a five-star recruit in Jarrell Martin that can score, rebound, block shots and dish the rock and this team could be really good.

Thumbs Down: LSU’s defense was nothing remarkable last season, in fact the numbers tell a worse story. The Tigers ranked 230th in scoring defense and 135th in opponents’ field goal percentage. Someone has to step up when the other team has possession.

Where are they headed? First round of the NCAA tournament.

Alabama Crimson Tide

Thumbs Up: Senior point guard Trevor Releford was named by the media as a First-team All-Sec member and has diligently worked in the offseason to improve his game to lead this Alabama team. Junior center Carl Engstrom is expected to be a force down low after missing most of last season with a left knee injury.

Thumbs Down: Alabama’s 23 wins last year weren’t enough to secure an NCAA tournament bid and many point toward a 1-5 record in December as the culprit. An offseason focus for this team was winning games early on the schedule, but after a narrow 65-64 overtime escape in an exhibition game against West Georgia, you must wonder if Alabama is completely focused.

Where are they headed? First round of the NCAA tournament.

Ole Miss Rebels

Thumbs Up: Love him or hate him, Marshall Henderson is back and that’s a good thing for Ole Miss. He’ll miss three games at the start of the season, but Henderson will be around for the majority of the schedule and the entirety of conference play. There’s no reason why he can’t lead the SEC in scoring, again.

Thumbs Down: The Ole Miss frontcourt took a hit saying goodbye to last season’s SEC-leading rebounder in Murphy Holloway and the conference’s No. 2 shot blocker in Reginald Buckner. How this team plays underneath the hoop remains a huge question mark.

Where are they headed? The conference tournament and then the NIT.

Missouri Tigers

Thumbs Up: The Tigers are going to rely heavily on three transfer students: senior Earnest Ross and juniors Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson, all guards. Brown played some last season as he became eligible for 24 games after leaving Oregon, Ross and Clarkson will be new to the team and all three could make up a huge chunk of Missouri’s scoring.

Thumbs Down: The reason why three transfers must score a ton of point is because Missouri was gutted. Four starters are gone from last year’s squad, including its point guard. The Tigers are going to put the ball in the hands of a freshman at point guard, Wes Clark.

Where are they headed? The conference tournament and then the NIT.

Arkansas Razorbacks

Thumbs Up: The Razorbacks will get to show off McDonald’s All-American power forward Bobby Portis this season. Portis should be a monster in the paint and can shoot a jumper too.

Thumbs Down: Not only must Arkansas rely on Portis, the Razorbacks will have to feature another freshman at forward in Moses Kingsley. BJ Young and Marshawn Powell, who were Arkansas’ only double-digit scorers last season, left school early, possibly too early as neither was drafted.

Where are they headed? The conference tournament and then the NIT.

Texas A&M Aggies

Thumbs Up: Texas A&M may become more of a perimeter team with a number of point guards on the team that likely will be in a heavy rotation. This could increase perimeter shooting and decrease turnovers.

Thumbs Down: Even though Billy Kennedy put together a good recruiting class, no one will be able to replace the scoring and veteran leadership lost when Elston Turner graduated.

Where are they headed? The conference tournament.

Georgia Bulldogs

Thumbs Up: Junior-college transfer Cameron Forte averaged 22 points per game last season and at 6-foot-7 will be a matchup issue. Georgia could rely heavily on his scoring prowess.

Thumbs Down: It’s going to impossible to replace last season’s SEC Player of the Year, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope who led the team in scoring, rebounds and minutes played.

Where are they headed? The conference tournament.

Vanderbilt Commodores

Thumbs Up: The Commodores are in rebuild mode and have a force-to-be-reckoned-with freshman center in Damian Jones. The 6-foot-10 top recruit will be coming off the bench to begin the season, but will be a cornerstone for this team for some time.

Thumbs Down: For various reasons this Vanderbilt team lost three likely starters over the summer and have been relegated to rebuild mode after a 2012-13 season of rebuilding. Vanderbilt typically reloads quickly and doesn’t have long stretches of rebuilding, but that won’t be the case for a while.

Where are they headed? The conference tournament.

South Carolina Gamecocks

Thumbs Up: South Carolina landed a freshman duo of forward Demetrius Henry and guard Sindarius Thornwell that could makes things better in Columbia quickly. Add another frosh, Desmond Ringer, off the bench and the future is brighter than it’s been in a while.

Thumbs Down: A solid freshman class and a terrific sophomore in Michael Carrera are good, but it still means this Gamecock team is young and rebuilding.

Where are they headed? The conference tournament.

Mississippi State Bulldogs

Thumbs Up: Rick Ray coached this club to three wins in its last five games, and that’s saying something for a Bulldog team that at one point lost 13 straight SEC games. To help build upon those late wins, Mississippi State brings back almost everyone from last year’s team and adds a decent freshman class that should produce at least one starter, redshirt guard Jacoby Davis.

Thumbs Down: There has to be some growth on this team that brings back so much of its nucleus. But remember, that team had many problems last season and experience alone won’t fix everything.

Where are they headed? The conference tournament.

Auburn Tigers

Thumbs Up: Senior guard Chris Denson and junior guard KT Harrell will help pace this Auburn team and freshman Tahj Shamsid-Deen could bring double-double skills to the floor once he’s ready to provide enough minutes.

Thumbs Down: The best piece of last year’s team, Frankie Sullivan, is gone and there isn’t enough talent to pull this Auburn team out of the conference basement.

Where are they headed? The conference tournament.