Originally Published: August 12, 2013

Five Biggest Offseason Storylines

By Myron Medcalf | ESPN.com

Mississippi guard Marshall HendersonAP Photo/John BazemoreOle Miss guard Marshall Henderson averaged 20.1 PPG last season but has put his career in jeopardy.

1. Marshall Henderson suspended: Henderson (20.1 PPG) led Ole Miss to a win in the NCAA tournament weeks after the program had appeared to stumble into the NIT. His effort also helped Andy Kennedy change his status from "coach on the hot seat" to "coach with an extension." But Henderson was also known for his, uh, flamboyant demeanor, one that affected his performances on and off the court. Tweets about guzzling beers and something called White Girl Wednesday made the former junior college standout the most enigmatic character in college basketball last season. But he was suspended in July due to multiple failed drug tests. In addition, police allegedly found marijuana and cocaine in his vehicle during a traffic stop in May. Henderson's return or potential dismissal will be the most important storyline for both Ole Miss and the entire SEC. The Rebels have lost two of their top three scorers. Henderson would make three. He carried the program last season, but his off-court behavior could bring doom in 2013-14.

2. Tennessee loses Trae Golden, gains Antonio Barton: The loss of Golden was a discouraging development for a UT program that emerged from the offseason's rubble as an SEC sleeper talented enough to potentially challenge Kentucky and Florida for the league title. Golden (12.1 PPG, 3.9 APG), who was a veteran point guard for the program, was forced to withdraw in April. Even though Jarnell Stokes and Jordan McRae return, Golden's departure seemed to jeopardize the promise the Volunteers possessed. Enter Barton (the brother of former Memphis star Will Barton), who transferred to Tennessee weeks after Golden had departed. The 6-foot-2 point guard will be eligible immediately after graduating from Memphis in the offseason. Although he averaged just more than 16 minutes per game and 5.6 PPG last season, his experience and versatility will give the Vols a much-needed veteran ball handler in what could be a stellar season in Knoxville.

Kyle Wiltjer
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesInstead of a third season at UK, Kyle Wiltjer opted for a transfer.

3. Kyle Wiltjer leaves Kentucky: John Calipari assembled one of the greatest recruiting classes in NCAA history. Perhaps you've heard about it. Julius Randle is one of six McDonald's All Americans who will join UK in 2013-14. There's plenty of talent in Lexington, enough to place the Wildcats atop many lists of national-title favorites. But leadership and experience could be concerns -- much like they were in 2012-13 -- with Wiltjer transferring to Gonzaga. The process began with a pair of letters from both Calipari and Wiltjer that conveyed some uncertainty about the Canadian's future. But when he officially announced his decision last month, Kentucky lost a player who can stretch the floor (10.2 PPG, 37 percent from beyond the arc in 2012-13) and its only link to the 2011-12 national championship squad. The Cats still have more talent than any other team in college basketball without him. But inexperience could be a problem again.

4. Pro decisions shift the league: The NBA draft changed the SEC. There were some good decisions, some bad decisions and a few ridiculous ones. Jarnell Stokes pondered the jump but returned to Tennessee. Smart move for a young man who needs to prove he can dominate -- consistently -- in 2013-14. Ditto for LSU's Johnny O'Bryant. Kentucky sophomores Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress chose to come back for another season, too. Those moves were boons for their respective teams. But former Missouri point guard Phil Pressey diminished the Tigers' potential when he turned pro. He wasn't drafted, but a standout effort in summer league ball led to a guaranteed one-year deal with the Boston Celtics. Arkansas went from sleeper to barren when B.J. Young and Marshawn Powell left early. Neither was drafted. Young signed a deal with the Houston Rockets, and Powell went overseas, which will force Arkansas to rely on young players next season. And Vanderbilt's Kevin Bright recently signed a contract with a German team so he could be closer to his sick mother.

5. Dismissals hurt trio of teams: Disciplinary challenges have hurt a few SEC programs this offseason, too. Last month, Vanderbilt lost Bright and Kedren Johnson (13.5 PPG), the Commodores' top scorer from last season, for the entire 2013-14 season. The junior was suspended by the university for a "violation," according to a letter he penned about the situation. This season was supposed to be a promising one for Kevin Stallings' squad, but these departures could lead to another season filled with struggles. Tony Barbee recently dismissed starter Shaquille Johnson following an arrest on a charge of marijuana possession. And Devonta Pollard, a former McDonald's All American, left Alabama. Pollard is facing a federal charge for his alleged part in a scheme to kidnap a girl in a land dispute. His mother was the alleged ringleader of the operation. Pollard could have helped a Bama team that also lost Trevor Lacey, who transferred to North Carolina State.

Best-Case/Worst-Case Scenarios

By Eamonn Brennan | ESPN.com


Best case: Anthony Grant has had his share of challenges at Alabama, but he has checked every box a program like the Crimson Tide's needs: He has established a style (hard-nosed, physical, defensive); he has recruited well, but to his own system; and he has handled off-court issues (such as when he suspended three starters in the midst of a crucial bubble stretch in 2012) swiftly and with zero corners cut. Now the Tide are finding their rhythm. Combining four-star freshmen Jimmie Taylor and Shannon Hale with a group that returns basically everyone -- save transfer Trevor Lacey -- should produce one of the top five teams in the SEC, and maybe more.

Worst case: If the freshmen don't pop, there's a chance this is the same team as in 2012-13 -- a merely OK bubble-bound squad that defends well but can't put the ball in the bucket. That's hardly a disaster, but it's not the trajectory Grant has in mind.

Bobby Portis
Courtesy of Kelly Kline/Under ArmourMcDonald's All American Bobby Portis is No. 16 in the ESPN 100.


Best case: Mike Anderson drew raves upon his hire at Arkansas, uniting a proud but deflated fan base around the right-hand man of glory days architect Nolan Richardson. The Razorbacks have been better since Anderson's arrival, but they've yet to totally work the "40 Minutes of Hell" system to their advantage. If freshmen big men Bobby Portis and Moses Kingsley can get up and down the floor, Anderson could have a fearsome combo on his hands. Best case? Let's start with a tournament bid -- and some really entertaining basketball to boot.

Worst case: Losing B.J. Young and Marshawn Powell (NBA draft) and Hunter Mickelson (transfer to Kansas) probably doesn't hurt as much as it might seem at first glance, but Young dominated possession as a sophomore, and if Anderson can't mold some semblance of consistency out of the talented parts that remain, another underachieving effort is probably on deck.


Best case: Since he took over three years ago, coach Tony Barbee has had as many program departures -- whether through transfer, dismissal, or (as in the case of point guard Varez Ward) point-shaving scandal -- as he does conference wins. After another wave of defections, some signs of life are all that's required.

Worst case: Barbee's diligence in ridding his program of malcontents or worse has been impressive; coaches in his position typically suffer fools in exchange for wins. But it has put him in a dire position in Year No. 4.


Best case: After three seasons playing with shot-happy Kenny Boynton (and two with Erving Walker, it should be noted), the physical specimen that is Patric Young should get his star turn as a senior. The question is what he does with it. If he hits the most bullish projections -- if he dominates the rim on both ends of the floor -- Florida has Final Four potential.

Worst case: It's also possible that Young is what he is at this point. If so, it will take some immediate stardom from freshman point guard Kasey Hill -- and/or positive news on the Chris Walker front -- for the Gators to keep their Elite Eight streak intact.


Best case: The Kentavious Caldwell-Pope era came and went with minimal fuss, a point emphasized by the NBA draft this summer, when Caldwell-Pope served as the classic "but I never watched him play" test subject among late-coming NBA analysts. Now Georgia coach Mark Fox has to rejigger an already-anemic offense that sent 33.1 percent of its shots to one player. Even the best-case scenario looks like rebuilding.

Worst case: It's possible that Caldwell-Pope was the only thing keeping the bottom from totally falling out under the UGa offense, in which case this season looks even worse than rebuilding -- it looks like a step back.


Best case: An undefeated season. I know, I know: That's crazy. But when you consider how close the 2012 group came (a last-second shot at Indiana and one blase SEC tournament performance were their only losses) and the talent the 2013-14 group has at its disposal, is it really that crazy? A national title is the obviously expectation going into the season; what if the Cats somehow do more?

Worst case: Losing in the Final Four? Losing in the national title game? Expectations are so high that almost anything but a national title will feel like the worst possible outcome. Crazy, but that's where we are.

Johnny O'Bryant
Dak Dillon/USA TODAY SportsWith Johnny O'Bryant leading the way, LSU seems to be a popular sleeper pick out of the SEC.


Best case: The Tigers were already better than you probably remember last season; they even flirted with the tournament bubble for a week or two. They'll bring back every starter save senior Charles Carmouche, and they're adding the No. 11-ranked player in this loaded recruiting class, Baton Rouge's own Jarrell Martin. A tournament bid -- and a huge local profile boost for the program -- is absolutely in play.

Worst case: Adding Martin, it's hard to imagine the Tigers won't noticeably improve, but if they don't, and Martin takes his raw potential to the NBA draft next summer, a huge opportunity will have been missed.

Mississippi State

Best case: Rick Ray inherited almost nothing from the Rick Stansbury era when he took over the program last year, and he's still in full-on rebuild mode this season.

Worst case: If we're still here in a couple years' time, it might be different, but for now there's no such thing.


Best case: It will be a fascinating season at Mizzou. Almost all of the vestiges of the team that won the 2012 Big 12 tournament title are gone, including ball-dominating point guard Phil Pressey, in their place a mix of Frank Haith's intriguing 2013 recruiting class and a swath of recent transfer additions. There's talent here, but is it enough to get in the NCAA tournament?

Worst case: Missouri won't be bad, but its worst case could basically end up as a holdover year as Haith stacks pieces for seasons to come.

Ole Miss

Best case: Speaking of fascinating seasons, things are going to be wild in Oxford, Miss. That's due in large part to Marshall Henderson, who will be likely returning after his manic junior year helped get the Rebels to the NCAA tournament for the first time in Andy Kennedy's tenure. He's currently in a highly publicized drug-related suspension, and assuming he's reinstated, he will have to develop his game in a variety of areas for Ole Miss to repeat its March performance this season.

Worst case: Even if Henderson exceeds last season's performance (a big if), the loss of three seniors, including bruising forward Murphy Holloway, could make the repeat tournament hopes moot.

South Carolina

Best case: The Gamecocks are going to get better in the years to come. That's essentially guaranteed, given the recruiting boost new coach Frank Martin has produced in just a year's time. The fruits of those efforts should show up right away -- South Carolina will feature a top-100 recruit (Sindarius Thornwell) this season, which is not something I've ever written, ever -- but for now an NCAA tournament trip is too much to ask.

Worst case: Meh. What's the worst that could happen? Barring some personnel issue, it's all uphill climb in Columbia.

Jarnell Stokes
AP Photo/Wade PayneMost major contributors return to a Tennessee team that has narrowly missed out on the NCAA tournament in each of the past two seasons.


Best case: The Volunteers lost Trae Golden this offseason, but most of the other key pieces are back, including rangy perimeter scorer Jordan McRae and pounding forward Jarnell Stokes. If UT can shore up the so-so defense of a year ago and big-time recruit Robert Hubbs lives up to the hype, it might be the best challenger to Kentucky the SEC has to offer.

Worst case: The Vols finished No. 75 in Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency rankings last season, which might be a good place to plant the worst-case flag for the year ahead.

Texas A&M

Best case: Junior college product Fabyon Harris was key in 2012-13, and 6-foot-9 sophomore Kourtney Roberson looked capable of an even larger offensive load. But A&M has a lot to replace in departing senior Elston Turner, and the best case is probably still short of the tournament.

Worst case: An even worse year than last season's definition-of-mediocre 18-15 campaign.


Best case: Before late June, the best case here might have been a return to the tournament. But on June 29, the school announced that rising junior Kedren Johnson was suspended for the entire season for the result of what Johnson called "very poor judgment." It also announced that promising would-be sophomore guard Kevin Bright had taken a pro contract in his native Germany. Kevin Stallings' rebuilds are steady, textbook affairs. The textbook is out the window now.

Worst case: Vanderbilt probably can get by without Johnson and Bright, but it almost certainly isn't going to go to the tournament, and any worst-case scenario involves the kind of single-digit-wins season that everyone will want to forget as soon as it happens.


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