By Jon Rothstein
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– UNLV is now legitimately among the top seven or eight teams in the country heading into next season after adding Findlay Prep power forward Anthony Bennett. The super-skilled Bennett is built like an ox and should mesh perfectly with both Mike Moser and Pitt transfer Khem Birch up front for the Runnin Rebels. Throw in underrated big man Carlos Lopez along with burly veteran Quintrell Thomas and UNLV coach Dave Rice might have the best baseline in all of college basketball in 2012-13.
– VCU’s jump from the CAA to the Atlantic-10 this past week augments the quality of the inaugural conference tournament next March at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn — and also puts more pressure on Rams forward Juvonte Reddic. Out of all the players on the VCU roster, Reddic’s progress is the one that’s most pivotal as Shaka Smart’s team bumps up in conference. At 6-foot-9, Reddic is the Rams best interior player and needs to be a consistent factor every night if VCU is to compete with the brutal frontcourts they’re going to see in the Atlantic-10.
– Newly minted Duquesne coach Jim Ferry is getting a warrior in UAB transfer Ovie Soko. The 6-foot-8 power forward is extremely accurate around the rim and relentless on the backboards. As a junior last season for the Blazers, Soko shot 46.8% from the field and averaged 8.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per contest. He’ll have one year of eligibility remaining starting in the fall of 2013 for Ferry and the Dukes.
– Looking for an A-10 sleeper next year? Try La Salle. The Explorers may have lost Earl Pettis to graduation but return several key perimeter pieces in Tyreek Duren, Sam Mills, and Ramon Galloway while adding Virginia Tech transfer Tyrone Garland in December. Sophomore to be Jerrell Wright figures to be one of the better front court players in the conference next season and burly big man Steve Zack should also be more capable in his second year under Dr. John Giannini.
– Iona sharpshooter Kyle Smyth should help Seton Hall next season as a fifth year transfer. The grizzled Smyth was originally recruited out of high school by Kevin Willard and his staff when Willard was at Iona and should blend nicely with the Pirates’ stable of capable outside shooters. The bigger question for Seton Hall is — who’s their point guard? The Pirates are still holding out hope that Texas transfer Sterling Gibbs will be granted a waiver to play next season but if that doesn’t go through, fans in South Orange will look to sophomore Freddie Wilson or incoming freshman Tom Maayan (whose coming off a knee injury) as the likely options as the teams primary ball handler. Combo guard Aaron Cosby could potentially be an emergency option at point guard but he’s probably better suited at playing off the ball.
– Rutgers coach Mike Rice is desperately craving a marquee wing in his 2013 recruiting class and the Scarlet Knights are one of the schools that lead for the services of Pope John combo forward Jermaine Lawrence. The 6-foot-9 Lawrence is also considering Cincinnati, St. John’s, and Florida.
– Virginia Tech transfer Dorian Finney-Smith will likely choose from Florida, Iowa State, Alabama, Marquette, or Texas. The 6-foot-8 wing averaged 6.3 points and seven rebounds per game as a freshman for the Hokies and will have three years of eligibility remaining.
– Cincinnati’s non-conference schedule for next season is beyond brutal. The Bearcats will travel to Marshall, play Iowa State and potentially UNLV in a tournament in Las Vegas, host Xavier, and also have a home game in the SEC/Big East Challenge.
– I’ve talked to a slew of PAC-12 coaches in the last few weeks and they’ve all told me the same thing — watch out for USC. The Trojans may have finished 1-17 in conference play last season but Kevin O’Neill has them set to bounce back big time in 2012-13. Jio Fontan returns from a knee injury to form a solid back court with Maurice Jones and the Trojans will add four solid transfers in Eric Wise (UC Irvine), Ari Stewart (Wake Forest), J.T. Terrell (Wake Forest) and Renaldo Woolridge (Tennessee). The million dollar question for USC will be the health of 7-footer Dewayne Dedmon, who played only 20 games last season due to injury. If Dedmon stays healthy, O’Neill could have a team in the top third of the conference.
– South Carolina forward Damontre Harris will transfer to either Florida or Kansas. There is no timetable on the decision. The 6-foot-9 shot blocking big man averaged 6.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game last season for Gamecocks. He will have two seasons of eligibility remaining.
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