By Jon Rothstein
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– Arizona will be the deepest team Sean Miller has had in his nine seasons as a head coach. The Wildcats have 10 legitimate candidates to start and won’t see much of a drop off when a reserve takes the floor. We’re hearing that Miller will likely pair Xavier transfer Mark Lyons in the backcourt with Nick Johnson, and veteran Solomon Hill will man the frontcourt with freshmen forwards Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski. Should those five start, Miller could potentially bring Kevin Parrom in a role off the bench similar to the way Kentucky used Darius Miller last season. Parrom, who was lost for the year in late January with a broken foot, has all the tools to be one of the better players in the PAC-12. The six-foot-six forward was a key contributor to the Wildcats’ run to the Elite Eight in 2011, averaging 7.6 points and 3.4 rebounds while shooting an impressive 50.8 percent from the floor.
– Looking for a dark horse for PAC-12 Player of the Year? Try Stanford guard Chasson Randle.
“I wouldn’t trade him for anyone,” Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said of Randle, who averaged 13.8 points per game last season as a freshman. “He shot 43.8 percent from three-point range and they were all contested shots. No one was getting doubled on my team last year. To me, Chasson is one of the better guards in the country and he’s only going to get better.”
With Randle, point guard Aaron Bright, and burgeoning forward Josh Huestis, the Cardinal have some buzz heading into the upcoming season after winning the Postseason NIT last year in New York.
“We’ve got some momentum,” Dawkins said. “I’d rather have it that way. I’d rather have expectations than the alternative.”
– Harvard’s starting five without Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry will likely be Siyani Chambers, Laurent Rivard, Wesley Saunders, Steve Moundou-Missi and Kenyatta Smith. The key for the Crimson will be Chambers, a freshman floor general who will be thrown into the fire immediately after Curry’s departure. Like Curry, Casey will withdraw from school during the upcoming season and hope to return in 2013-14 following an academic incident involving multiple members of the Crimson’s athletic department.
– George Mason freshman guard Patrick Holloway may make it awfully tough for Paul Hewitt to keep him off the floor. The Patriots have solid veteran perimeter pieces with Bryon Allen, Vertrail Vaughns, and Sherrod Wright, but Holloway is special. The 6-foot-one, skinny guard is an exceptional shooter and knows how to carve out defenses. Think a mid-major version of Stephen Curry.
– Gary Harris may very well start at shooting guard as a freshman for Michigan State, but he’s not the only first-year player who will have an impact for the Spartans. We continue to hear tremendous things about 6-foot-five freshman Denzel Valentine, who could very well wind up being Michigan State’s best passer. Look for Valentine to log major minutes in the backcourt along with Harris, Keith Appling, and Travis Trice.
– Florida will miss Erving Walker’s deep range and ability to score — but they’ll be better defensively on the perimeter this year with Scottie Wilbekin at point guard.
“Scottie is bigger and more physical than Erv was,” Gators coach Billy Donovan said. “His size allows him to guard multiple positions.”
The underrated Wilbekin could be a big factor for Florida this year, who like usual will compete with Kentucky for an SEC title. “He’s an old-school type of guy,” Donovan said of the 6-foot-two Wilbekin. “He’s going to come in and grind every single day.”
– Could two freshman really play for Mike Brey? It’s starting to sound that way. Brey, who has made a living at Notre Dame with older, more experienced players, has two first-year guys in Cameron Biedscheid and Zack Auguste that should have a legitimate chance to be in the Irish’s rotation once the season starts. Biedscheid’s high skill level makes him a natural to play with both Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant on the perimeter, while Auguste should be able to spell both Jack Cooley and Michigan State transfer Garrick Sherman on the interior.
– Virginia Tech coach James Johnson said Hokies big man C.J. Barksdale is a completely different player than he was last season.
“He’s so much stronger now,” Johnson said of the 6-foot-eight Barksdale, who averaged 2.7 points and 2.7 rebounds per game last season as a freshman. “He’s more nasty now. He doesn’t get pushed around.”
Johnson has a tall task ahead of him in his first year as a head coach. Virginia Tech only has nine scholarship players and doesn’t have much room for error — but they may possess the ACC’s best floor general in Erick Green.
“He’s playing at an unbelievably high level,” Johnson said of Green. “Erick looks like he’s ready for a big-time year.”
– Georgetown freshman forward Stephen Domingo is going to be a factor for the Hoyas during the upcoming season because of his outside shooting. Domingo, who reclassified from the Class of 2013 to 2012 in order to play for Georgetown this season, has good size at six-foot-seven and should replace some of the offense the Hoyas lost with Hollis Thompson’s departure.
Is Arizona a Final Four team this season? Sound off with your prediction in the comments section below…