Last season, the Tennessee Volunteers made a late push to sneak into the talk for an NCAA tournament berth, but fell short after losing to the Alabama Crimson Tide in the SEC Tournament. Cuonzo Martin’s young squad flopped out of the NIT in a surprising loss to the Mercer Bears. Overall it was a very disappointing college basketball season for the Volunteers; however, the 2013-14 season will be completely different.
This season, Tennessee should be one of the favorites to win the SEC. The Kentucky Wildcats are going to be one of the best teams in the country, but in the past, John Calipari’s young teams struggle against the Volunteers. The other top team in the SEC, the Florida Gators, has never won against Tennessee during Martin’s time as head coach.
The Volunteers are returning four of their starters from the previous season. One of the best scorers in the SEC – and clearly the best dunker – Jordan McRae, reigning double – double leader, Jarnell Stokes and one of the best all around defenders, Josh Richardson. Along with these three outstanding players, first team All-SEC post presence, Jeronne Maymon, will return from injury and the Volunteers will have immediately eligible Memphis transfer, Antonio Barton.
The Volunteers only lost three-point shooter Skyler McBee, rebounder Kenny Hall and struggling point guard Trae Golden at the end of last season. Although Golden’s loss may cause the Vols to struggle early on, Barton along with incoming freshman Robert Hubbs should give this team a much-needed boost.
McRae made the first team preseason All-SEC, and Maymon and Stokes both made the second team preseason All-SEC. The Volunteers have a Final Four capable group of players.
Tennessee should have been included in the preseason top 25, but were snubbed and left out of the rankings. This will only give them even more of a reason to succeed in the upcoming Battle 4 Atlantis opening-season tournament, where Tennessee could face Andrew Wiggins and the Kansas Jayhawks in the final.
Expect the McRae, Stokes and Maymon-led Volunteers to show out early and often in the 2013-14 NCAA basketball season; Tennessee should easily finish the season one of the top teams in the SEC and be a top-eight seed in the 2014 NCAA Tournament.