But when he looked at Kentucky, he thought the Cats still had more than enough pieces to be a good team, especially when he learned Randolph Morris would return. So what happened to make UK lose 13 games?
"The freshmen classes those two other teams, and a lot of other teams had, were stronger. They came in and clicked. Kentucky still had more upperclassmen and couldn't start clean after losing Chuck Hayes and Kelenna Azubuike," O'Connell said. "They had to deal with who came back. The other programs were wiped out. Even a program like Florida lost three great players, but had new guys ready to step in. Kentucky just did not have a group that clicked.
"I thought Kentucky would be a little bit better. I thought Kentucky with Rondo being able to run the offense like he could would be the big difference in them having a good year. I don't want to say they played too many guys out of position, but they were not playing guys where they were most comfortable. Kentucky didn't have enough parts to get everybody where they wanted to be. When you have people playing out of position, then anything can happen."
O'Connell says the national perception was that Kentucky lacked Kentucky-like talent. "(Rajon) Rondo is one of most fun players to watch in the nation. But even he is kind of a man without a position. Then the whole (Randolph) Morris thing added to it. They had to wait so long to get him back.
"I guess I also had more faith in Tubby than I should have. I was waiting for that breakthrough game that never came. Some teams just never get it. I thought the talent was not that bad when the year started. Sometimes plans fall to pieces and you have to have some stop-gap measures in place. I just have more blind faith in Tubby than other people do. I just kept waiting for it to turn around, but they never got that run to do that."
Will they be able to next year? O'Connell admits his bias toward Smith might impact his answer, but he thinks Kentucky will return to national prominence and didn't have to see UK almost upset Connecticut to form that opinion.
"I think Tubby definitely will get the program back going. He will have something to show this group. He has to find those right pieces, and that's the hardest thing. Recruiting is everything. Every coach will tell you if you don't have players, it doesn't matter how great a coach you are. He has to fill those talent gaps, but he seems to think he has, or will.
"Having Morris from start of the year will make a huge difference, too. Picking a guy up in the middle of the year, especially when it seemed like to me that everyone was feeling that when he came back all the problems were solved, is not always easy. Starting with a clean slate and knowing Morris will be there from the start will make a big difference for Kentucky. I just refuse to believe Tubby Smith will let another team lose 13 games. He's too good a coach for that."