By Jon Rothstein
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– C.J. Leslie’s decision to return to NC State next season immediately makes Mark Gottfried’s team a threat for the ACC title along with Duke and North Carolina. The Wolfpack return four starters from the unit that reached the Sweet 16 this past season and bring in three highly touted recruits but they’re still going to need a third big man to fill the void left behind by the unexpected departure of veteran big man Deshawn Painter, who transferred to Old Dominion. Keep an on rugged European forward Thomas de Thaey, whom Gottfried is extremely high on due to his physicality and toughness. De Thaey should inherit the minutes vacated by Painter and play a major role in the NC State front court with Leslie and Richard Howell.
– Any conversation about the top of the ACC for next season has to include Miami. The Hurricanes were barely healthy this season and return the majority of the pieces that showed flashes of greatness towards the end of the season. Kenny Kadji and Reggie Johnson should be one of the better power forward-center combinations in the country next year and look for combo guard Shane Larkin to make a major jump as a sophomore. If Jim Larranaga can keep his team out of the training room, he should have a team that is regularly in the mix for a spot in the Top 25.
– Next year will be the season when Auburn makes a move to the top half of the SEC. Tony Barbee could bring in as many as five new starters headlined by two consensus Top 100 recruits in small forward Shaquille Johnson and guard Jordan Price. Barbee is also high on JUCO big man Asauhn Tatum, a 7-footer who’s a legit 240 with a 39 inch vertical. Auburn is also in the mix for Monroe JUCO power forward Orlando Sanchez, a skilled four man who will select from the Tigers, Providence, and St. John’s.
– The Battle 4 Atlantis will be the elite preseason tournament next year in college basketball. The three day event in the Bahamas features eight teams that could all be in the NCAA Tournament in Duke, Louisville, Missouri, Stanford, Memphis, Northern Iowa, VCU, and Minnesota.
– I was blown away at the physique of St. Raymond’s senior Kerwin Okoro when I attended a Ravens workout Wednesday afternoon in the Bronx. Okoro has dropped 10-15 pounds since the beginning of the year and legitimately looks like a Division One player. The 6-foot-5 Iowa State-bound wing will be able to have a role next year for the Cyclones if he focuses solely on intangibles and doing dirty work in the Big 12. Okoro may not be ready to contribute at the highest of levels offensively but he looked like he could have an impact as a defensive stopper down the road.
– We’re hearing from several sources close to the situation that UCLA is expected to add a commitment from highly touted big man Tony Parker in the next few days. With or without the addition of Parker, Ben Howland is in line to have his most talented roster in Westwood since he took the Bruins to the Final Four in 2008. The Bruins’ recruiting class of Parker, Kyle Anderson, Shabazz Muhammad, and Jordan Adams immediately puts them in line to contend for a PAC-12 title and a spot in the Preseason Top 25. Keep an eye on Adams, whose deft touch from the outside should complement the abilities of both Anderson and Muhammad as well as veteran big man Joshua Smith.
– Expect Rutgers to add another wing before the start of the next season. Mike Rice and his staff have been involved with a number of JUCO prospects since the end of the season and figure to add some scoring pop on the perimeter before the 2012-13 campaign gets underway. We’re also hearing that Scarlet Knights’ guard Mike Poole has shown marked improvement in off season workouts with a burgeoning outside shot to go with some newly found strength. He may not wind up playing in the NBA but Poole continues to prove he’s one of the easier college kids to root for because of his work ethic.
– Seton Hall has all the prerequisites to be a very skilled offensive team next year — if they can locate a point guard. Quality wings return for the Pirates in Aaron Cosby, Haralds Karlis, and Fuquan Edwin and Georgia Tech transfer Brian Oliver is also set to become eligible after sitting out this past season. Sophomore forward to be Brandon Mobley showed flashes during this past season and Patrik Auda should continue to progress as a junior — but who is going to run this team? Freddie Wilson did a nice job last year off the bench as a freshman behind Jordan Theodore and right now he looks like the incumbent floor general for the Pirates, who could have a cohesive, fluid group if they find stability at the most important position on the floor.
– Rutgers will play Iona as part of a local double header at Madison Square Garden next season in December. St. John’s and Fordham will be the second game. Seton Hall will play LIU in a non-conference game in the Barclays Center next season as well.
– Howard Garfinkel’s annual clinic will take place October 6th at Iona College at 9 AM. Clinicians include Bob Knight, Geno Auriemma, Fran Dunphy, Mike Fratello, and John Beilein. For more information call 212-246-3063.
How do you think the crowded ACC will shake out next season? Sound off below…