South Carolina basketball beat writer David Cloninger looks at every other team in the SEC as the season approaches
Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Donnie Tyndall (First year; 200-107, 10th year)
2013-14 record (SEC finish): 24-13 (11-7)
2013-14 postseason: Sweet 16
He’s outta here: Coach Cuonzo Martin; Jordan McRae (senior, 18.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg); Jarnell Stokes (NBA, 15.1 ppg, 10.6 rpg); Jeronne Maymon (senior, 9.7 ppg, 8.1 rpg); Antonio Barton (senior, 7.5 ppg, 2.2 rpg); Darius Thompson (transferred to Virginia, 2.6 ppg, 2.0 rpg); D’Montre Edwards (senior, 2.2 ppg, 1.4 rpg); A.J. Davis (transferred to UCF, 1.3 ppg, 1.6 rpg); Rawane Ndiaye (torn ACL over the summer ended his college career, 0.9 ppg, 1.0 rpg); Quinton Chievous (transferred to Hampton, 0.4 ppg, 0.5 rpg)
He’s here (freshman unless otherwise noted): Tyndall; 6-4 G Kevin Punter (transfer from State Fair (Mo.) Community College); 6-1 G Ian Chiles (transfer from IUPUI); 6-10 F Tariq Owens; 6-3 G Derek Mostella; 6-8 F Jabari McGhee; 6-8 Willie Carmichael; 6-1 G Braxton Bonds; 6-10 F Dominic Woodson (transfer from Memphis); 6-5 G Devon Baulkman (transfer from Gulf Coast State (Fla.) College)
Top returners: 6-3 G Josh Richardson (10.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg); 6-6 G Robert Hubbs (5.0 ppg, 1.5 rpg); 6-9 F Armani Moore (3.1 ppg, 2.2 rpg)
This week, on “As the Sunsphere Turns ”
The entire nutty soap opera at Tennessee offers more surprises and babyface/heel turns than the average episode of “Raw.” You never know when someone else is going to burst through the door, claiming a secret marriage or false contract on a bad business deal.
It would be different if this was a cloudy situation with bright days ahead. “Tennessee is a strong basketball program and that shouldn’t change” would be the tagline.
But the only thing that’s definite is Cuonzo Martin got the hell out of town when it was clear the fans would never love him the way they did Bruce Pearl, Auburn got to Pearl before Tennessee did (if it was ever going to consider him) and new coach Donnie Tyndall, after an enthusiastic first six months on the job, is now under a (smoky) mountain of scrutiny from the NCAA about his previous position. I’ve spoken with folks at Tennessee just about the team and they said it’s going to be a long year; the latest NCAA allegations about Tyndall could make it a crawl across the Gobi Desert.
Martin, after being offered a contract extension and raise, took the job at Cal in April. Why would he leave what he kept afloat after the Pearl mess? Because he had the bad sense to not be born with the name Bruce Pearl.
Pearl still lived in Knoxville during his three-year exile from the game, working for H.T. Hackney and still talking Volunteers to anyone who asked. I don’t think he was actively politicking for the job for when his penalty would end – Tennessee would have had to take a hard look at re-hiring him when the NCAA could basically set up a branch office in Thompson-Boling Arena – but of course UT fans saw him around town.
Martin didn’t do badly at Tennessee. He won 19, 20 and 24 games, with two NITs and an NCAA tournament appearance. But it wasn’t what Vol fans were used to, and they began to let it be known – loudly – that they wanted Pearl back as soon as possible.
Fans began an online petition and nearly 40,000 folks signed it, during a season where Martin guided the Volunteers into the NCAA tournament, outlasted Iowa in an overtime play-in game, beat UMass and Mercer to get to the Sweet 16 and then dropped a two-point heartbreaker to Michigan. Losing two huge pieces in McRae and Stokes was going to leave the Vols facing a rough season anyway, but Martin had a fine recruiting class ready to come to Knoxville and keep the train rolling.
Instead of accepting the contract extension, Martin realized something. He was never, ever going to be Pearl, and when Pearl started winning at Auburn, his fans were never, ever going to let him forget that he wasn’t Pearl. So he took an open job and thumbed his nose all the way to Berkeley.
That put Tennessee in scrambling mode, since it wanted to get a proven coach who could energize the fans like Pearl could. It nabbed Tyndall from Southern Miss, after he led the Golden Eagles to 27- and 29-win seasons. He also had turned Morehead State into an NCAA tournament team in two of six seasons.
Tyndall’s enthusiasm rallied Big Orange Nation, the printed T-shirts reading “Donnie Knoxville” going fast and he scouring the country for whatever recruits he could find (Martin’s recruiting class disappeared when he left). He found some talent on the transfer list and is hoping that Bonds will eventually be eligible, and the feeling was that Tennessee had survived a nasty situation, but would be OK in a year or two.
Then came last week.
A Bleacher Report story had the NCAA talking to Southern Miss officials about potential violations that occurred under Tyndall, which was confirmed by the Southern Miss athletic director. Tyndall said he would fully cooperate if asked by the NCAA to participate in the investigation.
That brought everything spinning back around. Tennessee knew it had to find someone with a squeaky-clean reputation, because it surely didn’t want to revisit the Pearl situation. Tyndall was hired although when he was at Morehead State, that program was found guilty by the NCAA for violations between a booster and recruits.
Tennessee had to answer for what kind of background check it did on Tyndall and is worrying what will happen with the current search. The fallout already began when Tyndall’s first big commitment for next season, four-star guard Chris Clarke, decommitted and recommitted to Virginia Tech.
The NCAA isn’t likely to wrap anything with the Southern Miss probe until the season’s over. Tyndall is simply trying to get through it. Focusing just on the basketball, the Volunteers aren’t expected to have a very strong season, but they do have six returnees who were around for the Sweet 16 run last year. If nothing else, they returned veteran leadership.
Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Holly Warlick (56-14, third year; 56-14, third year)
2013-14 record (SEC finish): 29-6 (13-3)
2013-14 postseason: Sweet 16
She’s outta here: Meighan Simmons (senior, 16.5 ppg, 2.7 rpg)
She’s here (freshman unless otherwise noted): 6-0 G Jannah Tucker (redshirted last season after knee injury, enrolled in January); 6-1 G Diamond DeShields (transfer from North Carolina, will sit out this year); 6-2 G/F Kortney Dunbar; 6-2 G/F Jaime Nared; 5-9 G Alexa Middleton
Top returners: 6-3 C Isabelle Harrison (13.6 ppg, 9.3 rpg); 5-7 G Ariel Massengale (12.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg); 6-2 F Bashaara Graves (9.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg)
It’s the price paid for being at Tennessee – Warlick has taken her first two teams to the Elite Eight and Sweet 16, has won at least 27 games in each and has taken either the regular-season or tournament SEC crown.
Where’s the ring?
The season dawns with the Lady Volunteers on their longest stretch between Final Four appearances – six years (the horror!), and folks are tired of seeing UConn win every season. Of the Huskies’ nine national titles (Tennessee was the former record-holder with eight), five have come at the expense of the Lady Vols.
The fans obviously want that to change, although knocking UConn off its perch this year will be tough. Still, this may be the best chance for Tennessee to do so, and if it does, perhaps it adds Title No. 9 to the case.
Tennessee lost its leading scorer in Simmons, but returned everybody else. It added another sterling recruiting class, including DeShields, the National Freshman of the Year who transferred in and will have three years of eligibility beginning next season. Harrison received votes for preseason SEC Player of the Year and anchors a devastating post game; if the Vols can find an answer at point guard, there could be no stopping them.
Massengale was the starter at the point last year but missed the final 16 games with a head injury. She also had offseason knee surgery, which puts Andraya Carter or Jordan Reynolds into play. The Lady Vols won’t have Mercedes Russell, a former No. 1 national prospect who will redshirt to rehabilitate from a foot injury, but they have what they’ve been missing the past two years.
Warlick’s first two teams had two seniors and one junior. Now she has a veteran squad, with three seniors and three juniors. Perhaps she ought to get her ring size updated, just in case.
Follow on Twitter at @DCTheState