McRae has No. 17 Volunteers ready to take next step
This preview and more on Tennessee and the SEC are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
No. 17 Tennessee Facts & Figures
Last season: 20-13 (11-7 SEC)
Postseason: NIT first round
Coach: Cuonzo Martin (39-28 at Tennessee)
SEC projection: Third
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 32
Still itching the burn of back-to-back NIT appearances, Tennessee third-year head coach Cuonzo Martin states the obvious for 2013-14.
“(The NCAA Tournament) is very important,” Martin says. “You have the personnel to be there, so you should be there. That part should be understood. It’s a given.”
Martin is 39–28 and 21–13 in SEC play since coming to Tennessee from Missouri State. He’s notched nine top-25 wins and is the only coach other than Kentucky’s John Calipari to have beaten every league team over the last two-year span. The one thing he hasn’t done at Tennessee, however, is coach in the NCAA Tournament.
This conversation begins with Jeronne Maymon’s left knee, shifts to Jarnell Stokes’ production and ends with a question of depth.
Both Maymon and Martin have said the former Marquette transfer will be 100 percent for 2013-14. That was said last offseason, however, and his surgically repaired knee never fully healed. At his peak, Maymon is one of the SEC’s top inside presences, proven when he averaged 12.7 points and 8.1 rebounds in 2011-12. Even if he’s ready to go when the Vols open the season, it will likely take time for Jeronne Maymon to look like Jeronne Maymon.
No one wants that process to progress more than Stokes. The 6-8, 260-pound fire hydrant continually complained last season about battling double-teams. After in-season adjustments, Stokes averaged 13.1 points and 10.7 rebounds in SEC play. He flirted with the NBA Draft, but questions surrounding his scoring ability, athleticism and motor brought him back.
The lone true reserve frontcourt player is 6-10, 280-pound junior college transfer Rawane Ndiaye. Sophomore Derek Reese, a long and lean wing, will see some time at the 4, along with undersized banger Quinton Chievous and freshman A.J. Davis.
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Former point guard Trae Golden is gone and no one seems fazed. The two-year starter announced his transfer from UT in the summer and was eventually replaced on the roster by Memphis transfer Antonio Barton.
Whereas Golden was a score-first guard and a defensive liability, Barton is a pass-first leader and a gritty defender. The latter is a far better fit for Tennessee.
Barton averaged 5.6 points and 1.1 assists in 16.7 minutes per game last season and left the Tigers amicably after Joe Jackson decided to return for his junior year. At Tennessee, Barton will be asked to initiate Martin’s motion offense, defend like a hound dog and hit timely 3-pointers.
If he does, the scoring door will swing open for first-team All-SEC shooting guard Jordan McRae, versatile wing Josh Richardson and smooth shooting freshman Robert Hubbs.
McRae’s senior campaign is worthy of attention. The gangly 6-6 scorer staged an impromptu SEC Player of the Year campaign after coming off the bench in 10 of the season’s first 11 games. He started the rest of the way and led the Vols in scoring (15.7 ppg), minutes played (33.6 mpg), 3-pointers made (60) and 3-point percentage (.355).
Though a capable scorer from mid-range and off the bounce, Richardson is relied on for defense. He drew the toughest defensive assignment last year. Hubbs comes with hype and will be expected to add a scoring spark for the Vols. Armani Moore took over point guard duties midway through last season as a freshman, helping UT win eight of its final nine regular-season games. He’ll split backup minutes with incoming freshman Darius Thompson.
Robert Hubbs, a 6-6 shooting guard , is a gifted scorer with range beyond the 3-point line. He’s joined by fellow incoming guards Darius Thompson and Antonio Barton, a Memphis transfer. Barton will likely start from Day 1, backed up by Thompson. A.J. Davis, the son of NBA veteran Antonio Davis, isn’t as physically imposing as his father, but is athletically gifted at 6-9, 208 pounds. Junior college transfer Rawane Ndiaye will be a reserve center.
Factoid: 37.7. Jordan McRae averaged an SEC-high 37.7 minutes per game in conference action last season. Though he flourished, averaging 19.2 points in league play, coach Cuonzo Martin wants a more manageable workload for his star shooting guard in 2013-14.
As much as Tennessee has coming back in 2013-14 is as much as it will lose come 2014-15. McRae, Maymon and Barton are all seniors and Stokes is eyeing the 2014 NBA Draft. If Martin is going to lead the Vols to their first NCAA Tournament since Bruce Pearl’s departure, this is the year.
“They want to be an NCAA Tournament team,” Martin says. “They’re hungry. They’ve been attacking offseason workouts.”
With Kentucky projected to be a top-5 team, Tennessee should hang with Florida for next-best in the SEC. All the pieces are there. Much of how far the Vols go hinges on Maymon’s knee and Barton’s play at the point.
2013-14 Preseason Top 25
25. Wichita State