By Jon Rothstein
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ST. JOHN’S LANDS BRANCH
St. John’s might only have seven scholarship players available this season but they’ll be adding one big addition in practice.
The Red Storm secured a commitment from former Texas A & M guard Jamal Branch on Monday, who will be eligible to play in December of the 2012-13 season.
The 6-foot-3 Branch appeared in 11 games this season for the Aggies and should help St. John’s build a solid nucleus in the back court around freshmen Phil Greene and D’Angelo Harrison.
While the steady Greene has emerged the Red Storm’s long term floor general and the sharpshooting Harrison looks like one of the nation’s elite first-year players, Branch should able to complement both players next season with his ability to get into the lane and find opportunities at the rim.
St. John’s coach Steve Lavin still has five scholarships available for the pivotal 2012 recruiting class.
DEMPSEY RALLIES RIDER
Rider coach Tommy Dempsey didn’t know what to do when his team started out 1-10 to start the season.
“I just said to our guys we’re either going to band together and fight or it’s going to be a really long year,” Dempsey said by phone Sunday night.
Through suspensions, eligibility issues, and injuries, the Broncs never got into a rhythm early and wound up losing two overtime games at home to Penn and Princeton.
Now things have changed.
Thanks to a newly found zone defense and some renewed confidence offensively, Rider has won five of their last six and is 6-11 heading into Thursday’s game at Siena.
“We’ve always been good offensively so we just got back to doing what we did well,” Dempsey said. “And defensively, we just realized we weren’t a good man to man team so we’ve went with the zone and it worked.”
The Broncs offense has also really hit its stride, scoring over 80 twice in the last three games.
Role allocation seems finally to be in place for Rider, who is getting really good play from 6th man Anthony Myles as well as starting forwards Brandon Penn and Novar Gadson.
However the biggest key for the Broncs may be the steady play of guard Jonathon Thompson, who has 23 assists to just four turnovers in his last three games.
MASSENAT RISING FOR DREXEL
I’ll admit it — I’d pay money to watch Drexel sophomore point guard Frantz Massenat play — and apparently, so might VCU coach Shaka Smart.
“He’s become the best player on their team, there’s no doubt about it,” Smart said of Massenat following Drexel’s 64-58 win over VCU Sunday night in Philadelphia. “He’s expanded his range and done a good job of taking his man to the basket.”
The 6-foot-4 Massenat is far from a finished product, but he’s looking like he’s ready to make a case as the best player in the CAA along with George Mason’s Ryan Pearson and Old Dominion’s Kent Bazemore.
“I’d like to see him do a better job of finishing at the rim,” Drexel coach Bruiser Flint said of Massenat. “But he’s definitely getting better.”
The Dragons host conference leader George Mason on Thursday night.
HUSKIES NEED TO FIND THEIR COMPASS
UCONN has proven this season that they have great talent but have yet to prove they’re a great team — they could also use a great true point guard.
The Huskies’ lack of fluidity on offense was better in last night’s 64-57 win over West Virginia but they still don’t seem as in sync as they should be.
Starting point guard Shabazz Napier thrived in his role last year as a freshman off the bench next to Kemba Walker but at times this season, seems more concerned with making sure he gets his own shots in the offense rather than running the team.
Napier dished out eight assists in the win over West Virginia but still committed four turnovers and was 0-6 from the field.
His progression will be vital moving forward for the Huskies, who got a breakout game from Andre Drummond against the Mountaineers, as the freshman big man scored 20 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked three shots.
SIN CITY CONTINUES TO SIZZLE
The buzz surrounding UNLV is already palpable after the Runnin Rebels’ 16-2 start but first-year coach Dave Rice got a major coup on Monday when he secured a commitment from shot blocking big man Khem Birch, who started the season at Pitt.
Birch will be eligible to play in December of 2012 after transferring.
The addition of Birch is another sign of how UNLV has become a common place for high level transfers. In addition to Birch, the Runnin Rebels will also add former USC shooting guard Bryce Jones next season, who is currently red shirting.
Birch and Jones join a heralded first recruiting class for Rice that features Mater Dei point guard Katin Reinhardt and Baltimore guard Daquan Cook.
UNLV is also amongst the finalists for Bishop Gorman wing Shabazz Muhammad, who is unanimously the top overall player in the class of 2012.
Will Branch make a huge difference for the Johnnies next year? Sound off below…