By Jon Rothstein
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– There is a legitimate possibility that St. John’s coach Steve Lavin could again have one of the country’s best freshman in lengthy forward JaKarr Sampson. The 6-9 Sampson is longer than Moe Harkless, who was picked 15th overall by Philadelphia in the first round of June’s NBA Draft, and should replace Harkless as the Red Storm’s go-to player.
“He’s special in every sense of the word,” Lavin said recently of Sampson. “He’s continued to improve his offensive skill set. His mid range game has noticeably improved and he’s comfortable operating from the wing.”
St. John’s is going to be incredibly young and inexperienced at the beginning of the season, but you won’t want to play this team in February. A big reason for that is Sampson, who could wind up being one of the better players in the Big East next season.
– We’re hearing Boston University big man Jake O’Brien could decide as early as this weekend as to where he wants to transfer. Word is Temple, Virginia, and Boston College are the three likeliest suitors for O’Brien and while the Cavaliers and Eagles each have their own appeal, the Owls might make the most sense on a number of levels. Temple assistant Dwayne Killings was on the Terriers’ staff during the 2011 season and already has a built in relationship with O’Brien. Fran Dunphy’s team also can offer immediate playing time since their only two accomplished post players are Anthony Lee and Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson, meaning O’Brien would immediately become the Owls’ third big man if he decided to transfer to the Philadelphia school. Even with a revamped Atlantic 10, the prospects of playing in the NCAA Tournament appear more likely for Temple in 2013 than both Virginia and Boston College. That alone could go a long way in O’Brien’s decision. O’Brien averaged 10.9 points and 5.5 rebounds two years ago at Boston University and sat out last season due to injury. He will be eligible to play immediately because the Terriers are joining the Patriot League in 2013-14 and will be inelgible during the upcoming season to participate in the America East Conference Tournament, thus negating their automatic chances to earn an NCAA bid.
– South Florida coach Stan Heath continues to rave about the progress of Victor Rudd. Now a legitimate 6-foot-9 and 225 pounds, Rudd looks set for a breakout season in 12-13. Heath said he plans to use Rudd frequently at power forward in hopes of making the Bulls’ offense a little more fluid than it was a year ago. “We’re going to be much better offensively,” Heath said. “It’s going to take some time to get our interior defense to where it was last season, but we should be much better at scoring the ball”. South Florida was one of the better defensive teams in all of college basketball last season and will need quality rim protection from JUCO transfer Waverly Austin and former Florida Atlantic forward Kore White if they’re to become the same defensive team they were last year when they reached the NCAA Tournament.
– Don’t be shocked if Missouri transfer Ricky Kreklow winds up starting on the perimeter for Cal along with Justin Cobbs and Allen Crabbe. Kreklow, who only averaged 2.1 points per game two years ago in Columbia is a capable outside shooter that never really fit in Mike Anderson’s system and should do much better with the Bears. Mike Montgomery’s team isn’t receiving a lot of hype but they have all the pieces to return to the NCAA Tournament should they get stable front court play from Richard Solomon and David Kravish, who recently tipped the scales at a solid 220 pounds.
– The Battle 4 Atlantic field in late November is one of the more impressive early season tournament fields in recent memory. All eight of the teams participating — Louisville, Duke, Missouri, Stanford, Memphis, VCU, Minnesota, and Northern Iowa could wind up in the NCAA Tournament. If you’re looking for a team to bet on in the first round, take VCU over Memphis. The Rams’ style should frustrate Tigers’ point guard Joe Jackson and if we learned one thing about Shaka Smart’s teams over the past few years it’s that they’re terrific at taking opponents out of what they like to do. It says here Memphis won’t respond well to “HAVOC”.
– JUCO forward Titus Rubles is starting look more and more like Cincinnati’s X-Factor for the upcoming season. The 6-7 Rubles has guard like skills in a forward’s body and is a perfect fit for the Bearcats’ high octane, high pressure attack. If he’s good enough offensively, there’s a legitimate chance that Mick Cronin could close games with Rubles on the floor and either Justin Jackson or Cheikh Mbodj at center.
– USC has a real sleeper in 6-8 freshman forward Strahinja Gavrilovic. The Serbian native is legitimate threat as a skilled power forward and will challenge for a spot in Kevin O’Neill’s rotation. Despite only winning one game in the PAC-12 last season, the Trojans all of a sudden have a ton of guys who can be on the floor. O’Neill’s biggest challenge next year might be settling on a rotation, something that’s looking harder and harder to do when you think of the influx of talent this program’s had over the last 12 months. Stay tuned.
– After barely missing the NCAA Tournament last season, Drexel has a real chance to build at an large resume in 2013 if they fail to win the CAA Conference Tournament. Bruiser Flint’s team will play in the Anaheim Classic with a first round game against WCC power Saint Mary’s. Should they advance, the Dragons would then possibly play Cal in the next game and Xavier in the finals — that’s three potential games against teams that have a legitimate chance of playing in the field of 68. Drexel will also host MVC contender Illinois State in mid November as well as St. Joseph’s on New Year’s Eve. Flint also said this week that he’s trying to finalize a game with Davidson to round out the Dragons’ non-conference schedule.
– Look for Carlos Emory to emerge as a potential go to scoring threat for Oregon next season. Last year as a junior, Emory averaged 10 points and five rebounds in the Ducks’ final 14 games and seems primed to potentially become Dana Altman’s go to perimeter scorer. If Emory and freshman point guard Dominic Artis can add some offense, Oregon should have the requisites to push for a spot in the top half of the PAC-12.
Think Sampson will break out for St. John’s? Let us know in the comments below!