RTC Preseason SEC Awards & Preview Coverage RecapPosted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on November 8th, 2013
At long last the 2013-14 college basketball season is upon us. Below is a recap of all the preseason coverage we’ve had over the past few weeks here on the SEC microsite. We’re looking forward to an exciting five months, and as one final preview morsel, here are the RTC SEC microsite’s preseason awards.
RTC Preseason SEC Player of the Year
Julius Randle, Kentucky
RTC Preseason All-SEC First and Second Teams
- First Team: Marshall Henderson (Miss), Jabari Brown (Mizz), James Young (UK), Jarnell Stokes (UT), Julius Randle (UK)
- Second Team: Andrew Harrison (UK), Jordan McRae (UT), Dorian Finney-Smith (UF), Johnny O’Bryant (LSU), Willie Cauley-Stein (UK)
- First Team: Marshall Henderson (Miss), Trevor Releford (Bama), Jordan McRae (UT), Johnny O’Bryant (LSU), Julius Randle (UK)
- Second Team: Scottie Wilbekin (UF), Andrew Harrison (UK), Jabari Brown (Mizz), Patric Young (UF), Jarnell Stokes (UT)
- First Team: Andrew Harrison (UK), Aaron Harrison (UK), James Young (UK), Julius Randle (UK), Willie Cauley-Stein (UK)
- Second Team: Trevor Releford (Bama), Marshall Henderson (Miss), Jordan McRae (UT), Patric Young (UF), Jarnell Stokes (UT)
- First Team: Guards: Marshall Henderson (Miss), Trevor Releford (Bama), Jordan McRae (UT), Jarnell Stokes (UT), Julius Randle (UK)
- Second Team: Charles Mann (UGA), Andrew Harrison (UK), James Young (UK), Patric Young (UF), Johnny O’Bryant (LSU)
Preview Coverage Recap
Some of these names are understandable. Williams and Payne are undersized players (in terms of weight) who are forced to guard bigger post players and therefore need to make constant contact. Increased frontcourt depth at Georgia and Auburn will help them remain on the court. Sword is an interesting player — he showed big scoring potential last year as a freshman, but also led the SEC in turnovers (127) and fouled way too much. Both of these issues should get better with experience, but Rick Ray needs him to adjust quickly because Sword’s offensive upside can’t be sitting next to him on the bench. Caruso and Summers are offensive catalysts for their respective teams, and their foul trouble-induced absences from games could be costly. Poythress can’t afford any forced time off-the-court given how deep Kentucky is. Big men in general will likely find it difficult to guard players primarily with their feet and avoid foul trouble. This is especially the case when guarding players who excel at using power post moves, like Jarnell Stokes or Julius Randle. One might think that the more athletic a big man is, the better at avoiding fouls he will be. The new rule could also especially frustrate guards whose calling card is pressure on-ball defense, such as Anthony Hickey and Scottie Wilbekin.
Helpful Games: Georgia Tech (Barclays Classic), Oregon, Middle Tennessee State, @Kansas State, @Western Kentucky, Dayton
Outlook: At first glance the lineup looks vanilla, but Andy Kennedy took the selection committee’s message about tougher non-conference scheduling to heart. This is a much more respectable slate than the Rebels faced a year ago. Although only one team (Oregon) is ranked, there are plenty of games that will help the Rebels’ overall profile. Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky were NCAA teams a year ago, and while Dayton was down it is still a historically strong A-10 program. The Kansas State game will be a good road test as Bramlage Coliseum is a difficult environment, and the Rebels will also have another power conference game against Penn State or St. John’s in the Barclays Classic. This schedule won’t do wonders for Ole Miss, but it certainly won’t hold the team back.
That still doesn’t answer the most important question, which boils down to Tennessee’s potential to make waves outside of the SEC, as a “national player.” I like the Volunteers, and happen to believe this can be something of a breakthrough season for Martin, the year he finally convinces Tennessee fans that they can feel confident in the direction of the program under his watch – that even though Pearl’s show cause penalty expires after this season, there’s no reason to clamor for the former coach’s return. Tennessee has made strides under Martin over the past three years, and it should easily secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament, but it’s hard for me to think the Volunteers, given the load of national contenders spread out in other conferences (and the dominant top duo entrenched at the top of the SEC), will be considered anything close to a Final Four threat come March. Will there be progress? Yes. Is Tennessee the clear-cut No. 3 in a top-heavy league? Sure. But national contention is a huge leap Martin’s team isn’t quite ready for. This will be a good team, not a great one.
Billy Gillispie and Mark Turgeon revived the Texas A&M program, leading it to six straight NCAA Tournament appearances from 2006-11. If the Aggies go a third consecutive year without a postseason appearance, it warrants wondering whether the program’s recent success left for the east with Turgeon. It’s therefore not surprising that Hyman is applying pressure this quickly on Kennedy. From a league-wide view, SEC officials have been concerned with improving the overall basketball profile, and Texas A&M returning to the upward trajectory it had been enjoying would be a big step in that direction. While the Aggies advanced as far as the Sweet Sixteen only once in 2007, the SEC has recently had few programs with the year-in/year-out consistency of six straight NCAA appearances.
The Expectation: Upper tier SEC + solid NCAA Tournament
Why They’ll Exceed It: The good vibes began well before this fall. Johnny Jones picked up an excellent recruiting class and Johnny O’Bryant III did not enter a weak NBA Draft. O’Bryant shows he’s one of the top athletes in the conference and becomes a ferocious rebounder. Shavon Coleman blossoms into a versatile defensive stopper. Freshman Jarell Martin flashes his pro potential from the start. Anthony Hickey and Andre Stringer are an undersized backcourt, but make up for this with experience and pressure defense. Hickey emerges as the best on-ball defender in the conference. Big freshman point guard Tim Quarterman provides a change of pace. Jones has an athletic team that becomes one of the most disruptive defensive units in the country. The second weekend of the Tournament arrives and the Tigers are still alive and well.
SEC Breakout Players
We are looking for players who were largely role players last year but could become major contributors this season. We are specifically examining players with fewer than 60 percent of minutes played last season. And the nominees are…
- Michael Carrera, South Carolina – Carrera was just a freshman last season, but his advanced statistical profile was solid. He had a good offensive rating (102.8) despite being a high volume shooter (25.4% shots and 27.0% poss.). The really impressive part, though? He placed in the top 25 in the nation in both offensive (16.0%) and defensive (25.0%) rebounding percentages. At just 6’5”, Carrera finds a way to come up with the ball. Look for the Gamecock sophomore to become a centerpiece of Frank Martin’s second year in Columbia.
- Michael Frazier, Florida – A lot of points walked out the door in Gainesville, but Frazier remains. He saw limited action (43.7% minutes) and a limited role on offense (15.8% shots), but he had an offensive rating of 121.2 with incredible three point shooting (46.8%). Can he remain this efficient with an expanded role? His 63.3 percent effective field goal percentage gives us hope that he can.
- Jabari Brown, Missouri – Brown had a 113.4 offensive rating, a 51.6% effective field goal rate, and was part of a very crowded backcourt last season with the Tigers. The crowd has thinned quite a bit, so look for Brown to take a big step forward this year.
The Expectation: Top two SEC + Elite Eight
Why They’ll Exceed It: The Gators’ frontcourt is one of the best defensive units in the country, making it difficult on opponents who focus on scoring around the rim (like Kentucky). Patric Young caps off an excellent career and a healthy Will Yeguete joins him in frustrating opposing bigs. Dorian Finney-Smith and Damontre Harris maintain this defensive presence when called upon. Scottie Wilbekin becomes eligible early and finds a chemistry with Kasey Hill in a creative, dual point guard offense. Casey Prather and Chester Frazier make the jump from productive role players to mainline contributors. Billy Donovan has the personnel to ride his pressure defense into the Final Four.
Missouri is also without an established point guard to begin the season. Frank Haith has said that Tulsa transfer Jordan Clarkson can handle the position. Haith said the same thing about Jabari Brown last season, and it was clear from the beginning that Brown was much better suited off the ball. Clarkson may very well be the same way. Haith will likely have to rely on freshmen Wes Clark and Shane Rector. Brown, Clarkson, and Earnest Ross are a talented perimeter trio, and Haith will need one of the freshmen point guards to step up to best utilize this strength.
- Alabama: Jimmie Taylor. Anthony Grant had very little to rely on up front in 2012-13, but he still guided the Crimson Tide to the NIT with an unorthodox four-guard lineup last winter. Now, raw center Moussa Gueye has transferred to Valparaiso, giving 6’10″ forward/center Taylor the chance to play a major role for Alabama from the outset. The in-state recruit is a long, lean player who has great instincts for shot-blocking and solid athleticism for a big man. He should provide a consistent presence in the paint and on the boards for a team that was hurting for rebounds in conference play.
- Arkansas: Bobby Portis. Mike Anderson’s 2013 haul was small, but potent. The Razorbacks added two big men who combined to receive nine stars between them from both ESPN and Rivals last spring. That’s a huge boost for a team whose best rebounder was 6’7″ combo forward Marshawn Powell, pulling down fewer than six rebounds per game in 2012-13. Portis, a five-star power forward, will give the Hogs some much-needed bulk up front, and 6’10″ center Moses Kingsley will provide an imposing presence next to him. Anderson was forced to play plenty of small-ball last season, but the addition of two impact players who can thrive in the paint will give Arkansas some much needed flexibility. While the team will still feel the sting of losing Powell and B.J. Young to NBA Draft declarations, the future is bright in Fayetteville.
- Vanderbilt: Damian Jones. Jones will immediately fill a role for a depleted Vanderbilt squad. The Commodores have been thin up front since Festus Ezeli and Lance Goulbourne graduated, and the highly-rated Louisianan could usurp junior Shelby Moats’ minutes in the paint. The freshman is Vanderbilt’s first four-star big man since Steve Tchiengang came to town in 2008, and he’ll have plenty of opportunities to shine for a Vandy team that lost its entire 2012 recruiting class and leading scorer Kedren Johnson in a three-month span this spring. He’ll team with still-developing center Josh Henderson up front to give the ‘Dores a potential-laden lineup around the rim. Henderson’s career has been limited by injuries so far, but his finesse game should complement Jones’ physical style of play.
- South Carolina: Sindarius Thornwell. The Gamecocks got an unexpected boost from two-star recruit Michael Carrera last season, and now they’ll look for another young player, Thornwell, to lift a USC team that struggled to score in 2012-13. His slashing style could add an extra dimension to an offense that returns only one player who averaged more than 10 points per game last season. Four-star center Demetrius Henry could eventually pair with Carrera to give USC a formidable 1-2 punch on the boards as well. The 6’9″ Henry needs to add bulk, but he’s earned a reputation as a strong rebounder and has a solid enough jumper to contribute as a true freshman for Frank Martin’s team.
Poythress had some flashes of brilliance in his freshman campaign. He scored 20 points and snared eight rebounds in his second game against Duke, en route to four straight 20-point performances to start the season. At the time, Calipari even called the 6’7″ freshman a “beast.” But then came plenty of low moments. He failed to score in double figures in nine of the Cats’ 16 SEC games. Nor did he reach double figures in any the Wildcats’ SEC Tournament loss or the Cats’ lone NIT appearance. And of course, Kentucky failed to reach its lofty preseason expectations. If the Wildcats are to reach those championship levels of success and not suffer another disappointment, they will need to see progress from Poythress. We have critiqued his offensive game and found three areas where Poythress needs to improve in order to become the leader-by-example Calipari needs on this roster.