By Jon Rothstein
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1. GUARDED OPTIMISM
Guards win games in college basketball and the Owls have plenty to choose from. Juan Fernandez is back for his senior season at the point along with talented scoring wings Ramone Moore and Khalif Wyatt. Aaron Brown should be more steady as a sophomore and freshman Will Cummings could make a contribution if Fran Dunphy can find a way to get him minutes. Scootie Randall is still out recovering from a torn meniscus, but should provide a legitimate scorer off the bench when he returns in November.
2. MOORE HAS MORE
Ramone Moore might be known as a dominant scorer but he could be one of the more under appreciated defenders in the Atlantic-10. With sneaky hands and uncanny awareness when denying passing lanes, Moore can be an absolute nuisance to play against. Don’t be surprised if he’s often guarding the opponent’s best perimeter player.
3. ERIC’S EFFORT
Almost back to full health after suffering a patella injury towards the middle of last season, Micheal Eric is back and ready to clog the middle. A legitimate center at 6-foot-11, Eric has the ability to affect the game at both ends of the floor and should be primed for a big season. Look Temple’s perimeter defensive pressure to increase with a shot blocker like Eric in the paint to protect the rim.
4. LEE THE KEY
He’s not going to be the bruiser that Lavoy Allen was but Anthony Lee will give Temple a different dimension at power forward. A red shirt freshman, Lee is bouncy, athletic, and has a chance to be a very effective offensive rebounder as the Owls’ third big man behind Eric and Rahlir Jefferson. “We need 20 minutes out of him each and every night,” Dunphy said of Lee.
5. A SPRINKLE OF PEPPER
He’s not going to have an impact in games this season but West Virginia transfer Dalton Pepper should step in adequately at shooting guard when Moore graduates after this season. Broad shouldered and battle tested, Pepper will bring Philadelphia toughness and big time shot making ability to an already talented perimeter.
The loss of Allen on the interior is going to be an adjustment for Temple to overcome but the combination of Eric and Lee could provide a longer, more athletic front line that could allow the Owls to have more deflections and tips on the defensive side of the floor. Offensively, we should see more of the same of what we’ve seen the past few years — good guards, few mistakes, and because of that, a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
THIS AND THAT:
– The NCAA’s decision to grant a waiver to allow Iona guard Momo Jones to play during the upcoming season immediately makes Tim Cluess’ team a national story. The Gaels were going to have monumental expectations heading into the season but Jones’ addition only adds to the cache. There is a legitimate chance the Iona will start Scott Machado, Jones, Sean Armand or Kyle Smyth, Taaj Ridley, and Mike Glover. For a team in the MAAC, that’s an incredible amount of talent to put on the floor.
– Don’t be shocked to see Rutgers coach Mike Rice play Dane Miller or Mike Poole at power forward in spurts until freshman power forward Kadeem Jack returns from a broken foot in January. Without Jack, the Scarlet Knights won’t have as many reliable big men and Rice could be more opt to feature his talented freshmen back court trio of Myles Mack, Jerome Seagers, and Eli Carter rather han throw first-year big men Derrick Randall and Greg Lewis into the mix more than he has to.
– Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said the X-Factor for the Pirates during the upcoming season is sophomore wing Fuquan Edwin. “We need him to become a reliable scorer,” Willard said this week at Big East Media Day. “Fuquan needs to become a guy we can go to behind Herb Pope and Jordan Theodore.”
– Louisville coach Rick Pitino said the Cardinals’ starting lineup will likely be Peyton Siva, Chris Smith, Kyle Kuric, Chane Behanan, and Gorgui Dieng. Pitino said it was possible freshman guard Wayne Blackshear could challenge Smith for a starting spot, if and when he gets cleared to play by the NCAA.
– New Mexico coach Steve Alford said Lobos big man Alex Kirk is a candidate for a medical red shirt after suffering a back injury. The 6-foot-11 Kirk was supposed to anchor the middle for New Mexico, who is the favorite in the Mountain West Conference.
– Pitt guard Ashton Gibbs was named Big East preseason player of the year and said he’s patented his game after former UCONN star and current Detroit Pistons guard Ben Gordon. Now let’s see if Gibbs can finish his career where Gordon’s concluded — the Final Four.
– Every year at this time, I toy with bold predictions. Remember this one — Florida State will finish second in the ACC, ahead of Duke and behind North Carolina.
– Despite being picked 14th in the Big East preseason poll, Stan Heath still thinks South Florida will be the league’s surprise team. The biggest reason why? Arizona State transfer Victor Rudd. “He has the ability to be as good as any guard in the conference,” Heath said of Rudd. Look for Heath to start Rudd along with sharpshooter Shawn Noriega, a bruiser in Ron Anderson, Augustus Gilchrist, and either freshman Anthony Collins or JUCO transfer Blake Nash at point guard.