The annual pre-season poll of SEC coaches and media was released this week, and as no surprise to anyone, Kentucky was picked to win yet another SEC Championship. The Wildcats, who failed to make the NCAA Tournament last season, received 21 first place votes, while Florida picked up five, and Tennessee received one. Kentucky is tabbed as the SEC favorite for the ninth time since 1998. In addition, Wildcat freshman Julius Randle was chosen as the pre-season player of the year. That’s really hard to figure out why a freshman is the pre-season player of the year when no one has ever seen him play in a college basketball game. I know he’s good, and will likely jump right to the NBA at the end of the season, but come on guys!
Randle was chosen as a first team All-SEC selection along with Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson, Alabama guard Trevor Releford, LSU forward Johnny O’Bryant III, and Tennessee guard Jordan McCrae. Though Tennessee was picked to finish third, the Vols had three of the 13 players selected on the first two teams. Kentucky led with four, while Florida had two.
Tennessee’s two second-team selections could be a real key to the Vols’ success this season. Junior forward Jarnell Stokes and senior Jeronne Maymon provide perhaps the best front court in the SEC. Stokes had a good year in 2013, even though with the season long absence of Maymon, he was constantly double and triple-teamed underneath the basket. A healthy Maymon should open up a lot of opportunities for Stokes to dominate.
Jordan McCrae returns for his senior season as one of the best offensive players in the country. McCrae came into his own at the midway point of last year, and developed into a deadly shooter from any position on the floor. Incoming transfer point guard Antonio Barton will provide solid backcourt leadership, with several other Vols battling for the fourth starter’s spot.
This could be the most talented team in Coach Cuonzo Martin’s tenure at Tennessee, and as he enters his third season in Knoxville, he will need that talent. The Vols have not made the NCAA Tournament in his first two seasons, and if he keeps the wolves away from his door, they need to win 20 or more games, make the NCAA field, and even advance to the “Sweet 16.” This team has the potential to do much better. The 2013-14 Volunteers could be a Final-Four team if things go their way.
The chemistry must get better. The team has had hot and cold spells for each of the last two seasons, and the season came to an embarrassing end in the early rounds of the NIT both years. Injuries hurt Tennessee last year, especially the one to Jeronne Maymon. If everyone stays healthy for the entire season, the Vols could make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
It’s been three long years since U.T. dismissed Coach Bruce Pearl, arguably the most successful Tennessee basketball coach since Ray Mears. Pearl still has his supporters, though everyone basically agrees he should have been dismissed because of lying about NCAA recruiting violations. I loved Coach Pearl; I really did, but I also think Coach Cuonzo Martin is the man for the job at Tennessee. He really needs a streak of good luck for the upcoming season; a streak of good luck that will carry his team all the way to the NCAA Final-Four. I look for that to happen!
Randy Smith has been covering sports in Tennessee for the last 43 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has continued his broadcasting career as a free-lance play-by-play announcer. He is also an author and is a media concepts teacher at Brainerd High School in Chattanooga. He is also the Head Softball Coach at Brainerd. Randy Smith's career has included a 17-year stint as scoreboard host and pre-game talk show host on the widely regarded "Vol Network". He has also done play by play of more than 500 college football, basketball, baseball and softball games on ESPN, ESPN2, Fox Sports, CSS and Tennessee Pay Per View telecasts. He was selected as "Tennessee's Best Sports Talk Show Host" in 1998 by the Associated Press. He has won other major awards including, "Best Sports Story" in Tennessee and his "Friday Night Football" shows on WRCB-TV twice won "Best Sports Talk Show In Tennessee" awards. He has also been the host of "Inside Lee University Basketball" on CSS for the past 11 years. He was the first television broadcaster to ever be elected to the "Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame", in 2003. Randy and his wife, Shelia, reside in Hixson. They have two married children (Christi and Chris Perry; Davey and Alison Smith). They also have three grandchildren (Coleman, Boone, and DellaMae).