By Jon Rothstein
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– Texas coach Rick Barnes doesn’t have a go-to guy like he did last year with J’Covan Brown but he’s absolutely thrilled with what he’s seen from his team so far this fall. “We’re really excited about our chemistry,” Barnes said. “We don’t have one person were going to lean on but we’ll play 10 or 11 guys. The last time we had this type of balance is when we went to the Final Four in 2003.” The Longhorns aren’t the first team people will think of in the Big 12 but they’re more than capable of winning the conference. Barnes said that his sophomore class — Jaylen Bond, Julien Lewis, Sheldon McClellan, Myck Kabongo, and Jonathan Holmes are all vastly improved and have been helped by Texas’ talented freshmen class. “We’ve got competition every day,” Barnes said. “That makes each practice that much more important.”
– NC State may be the prohibitive favorite in the ACC but Wolf Pack coach Mark Gottfried is quick to point out that his team lost three key members from last year’s Sweet 16 team in seniors Alex Johnson and C.J. Williams as well as DeShawn Painter, who transferred to Old Dominion. “Those three were all guys who bought in and were without question our hardest workers,” Gottfried said. “We’ve replaced them with three freshmen who are all talented, but they’re still freshmen.” NC State’s first-year players Rodney Purvis, Tyler Lewis, and T.J. Warren are all big time talents but they’ve yet to score a basket or grab a rebound at the college level. It will be interesting to see how things evolve for this team as the year progresses.
– Louisville coach Rick Pitino believes DePaul is the sleeper team this year in the Big East. “They’re going to be much improved,” Pitino said of the Blue Demons. “I think they’ll make a jump similar to the one South Florida made last season.” DePaul does have two veteran players in juniors Brandon Young and Cleveland Melvin as well as a few capable sophomores in Charles McKinney and Jamee Crockett. We’re not sure if Oliver Purnell’s team will reach the middle of the conference standings but we could see them maybe finishing 11th or 12th.
– Look for Georgetown to use freshman guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera in spurts at point guard this season just like they did last year at times with Jason Clark. Hoyas coach John Thompson III loves having size at all positions on the floor and has even said there will be times whens forwards Otto Porter and Greg Whittington bring up the ball for Georgetown. Thompson has lost key players on annual basis but managed to keep the Hoyas program regularly in the Top 25. Look for more of the same this season.
– The biggest surprise in the Big 12 preseason poll? Oklahoma at seven. The Sooners are being vastly underrated to start the season. Lon Kruger’s team returns its top five scoring threats from a year ago and adds a potential pro in Wyoming transfer Amath M’Baye. The Oklahoma staff is also high on their three freshmen guards, Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins, and Je’lon Hornbeak. This team will finish between third and sixth in the conference and push for an NCAA bid.
– UCLA is going to need Tyler Lamb’s perimeter defense this season if they are finish in the top third of the PAC-12 and return to the NCAA Tournament. The junior guard had successful surgery on his left knee this past week should be ready in time for the Bruins first game in November. Ben Howland’s teams have always prided themselves on stopping the opponent with regularity and while UCLA has added a boatload of talent with their highly touted freshman class, there are no guarantees of what this team will be defensively. Lamb’s return is imperative for the Bruins.
– Newly minted UConn coach Kevin Ollie said the time there is no time like the present for sophomore DeAndre Daniels. “It’s all there for him,” Ollie said of 6-8 Daniels, who could see time at power forward this year after the Huskies lost both Alex Oriakhi and Roscoe Smith following last season. “Minutes are available for DeAndre, now he has to take them.” While UConn isn’t eligible to play in the postseason this year, the Huskies do still have several capable perimeter players with Daniels, Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright, and freshman guard Omar Calhoun. We’ll report back with more from Storrs after we see them in person on Monday.
– Florida State won’t have the the bruising presence of Bernard James in the middle like they did last season — but the Seminoles may be a more polished basketball team. “We’re going to play faster and go more up and down the floor,” Seminoles guard Ian Miller said. “We won’t go through scoring droughts like we did last season.” Miller, who along with Michael Snaer gives Leonard Hamilton two veteran pieces on the perimeter raved about Florida State’s three freshmen back court pieces in Devon Bookert, Montay Brandon, and Aaron Thomas. “All of them can really play,” Miller said. “We’re going to be able to score the ball much better than we did last season.”
– I still can’t get over how good Steve Zack was when I was at La Salle on Monday. The sophomore big man was by far the best player at the Explorers practice and looked primed for a breakout season. Much of the preseason chatter surrounding La Salle’s team was centered around their terrific back court but with Zack and Jerrell Wright, this team may have one of the better power forward-center combos in the Atlantic-10.
– Kentucky coach John Calipari said freshman guard Archie Goodwin will be the player on this year’s team that guards multiple positions for the Wildcats. “I’ve always had a guy who could do that,” Calipari said this week. “At Memphis I had Antonio Anderson and the last two years here I had Deandre Liggins and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. This year Archie will be the guy who sets the tone.”
What’s your Big East sleeper team? Be heard in the comments below!