By Jon Rothstein
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– South Florida coach Stan Heath said sophomore guard Musa Abdul-Aleem will be out until December with a foot injury. The 6-5 wing was expected to be a major piece for the Bulls and now he’ll have to begin the start of the season on the bench. Even without Abdul-Aleem, Heath is still bullish on his group that will play a completely different style than last season. Unlike last year’s group that won 22 games thanks to a suffocating defensive front line, South Florida will now rely on a small ball approach headlined by sophomore point guard Anthony Collins and South Alabama transfer Martino Brock. Heath said if had a game to play tomorrow he’d start those two in the back court with Shaun Noriega, Victor Rudd, and Toarlyn Fitzpatrick up front.
– Several PAC-12 coaches believe Oregon State is a major sleeper in the conference. The Beavers lost Jared Cunningham, who was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the NBA Draft but return every other piece of significance from a team that won over 20 games last season. Craig Robinson has two capable guards in Ahmad Starks and Roberto Nelson along with two skilled forwards in Devon Collier and Angus Brandt, who many believe could wind up being this team’s best player. There’s no flash with Oregon State — but there could be a lot of balance. Don’t be surprised if the Beavers have four players or more averaging in double figures.
– Word out of Richmond is that VCU power forward Juvonte Reddic has been a monster early in practice for the Rams — and that’s a great sign considering this program’s decision to join the Atlantic-10. If Reddic can take his game to the next level, it will greatly enhance VCU’s chances of finishing in the top quarter of their conference and making the NCAA Tournament. Last year as a sophomore, Reddic averaged 10.3 points and 6.7 rebounds per game.
– We’re hearing Rice transfer Arsalan Kazemi has been Oregon’s best player in practice since he transferred to Eugene last month. The 6-7 Kazemi averaged a double-double last season for the Owls and the Ducks have filed a waiver for the NCAA in hopes that he can play this season. Should Kazemi get cleared, Oregon could present an intriguing team with a solid front line with Kazemi, Tony Woods, and E.J. Singler.
– Arkansas is going to need JUCO transfer Coty Clarke to be a factor if the Razorbacks hope to make a jump in the SEC and compete for a berth in the NCAA Tournament. The 6-7 Clarke was extremely productive during the team’s trip to Italy over the summer and should blend seamlessly into Mike Anderson’s high octane system. The Arkansas staff believes Clarke is very similar in mold to both Demarre Carroll and Leo Lyons, two forwards who played under Anderson at Missouri when the Tigers reached the Elite Eight in 2009.
– We’re hearing Rutgers and Syracuse are the teams to beat for 2013 Roselle Catholic forward Tyler Roberson. The Scarlet Knights have been desperately attempting to land a marquee wing under Mike Rice and the addition of Roberson could make Rutgers a legitimate NCAA Tournament threat over the next few seasons. An athletic combo forward whose best basketball ahead of him, the 6-8 Roberson is eerily similar to NBA star Trevor Ariza in terms of his instincts and body type.
– Kentucky’s John Calipari and Florida’s Billy Donovan have both said in the past two weeks that Tennessee is capable of winning the SEC. “They play the way you need to play if you hope to win the NCAA Tournament,” Calipari said. “They’re really strong inside.” Cuonzo Martin’s team has one of the best power forward-center combos in the country in Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes along with one of the more complete lead guards in the nation in Trae Golden. A major key for this team will be 6-6 wing D’Montre Edwards, an underrated rebounder that Martin believes could potentially crack the starting lineup.
– St. John’s coach Steve Lavin said sophomore Dom Pointer will spend some time at point guard this year for the Red Storm. With Pointer, D’Angelo Harrison, Phil Greene, and Texas A & M transfer Jamal Branch, St. John’s has several people that will be charged with ball handling responsibilities — and according to Lavin that will be the key to their season. “We will go as far as our guard play,” Lavin said. “Since we have such a young team, the decision making in our back court will shape how good a team we can be. We have to be able to take care of the ball.”
– Baylor power forward Cory Jefferson has drastically changed his body since the end of last season. The 6-9 Jefferson is an incumbent starter up front for the Bears and has all the requisites to be one of the breakout players in the Big 12. Jefferson logged starters minutes in Baylor’s first five games of the season a year ago when Perry Jones III was serving a suspension and averaged seven points, 6.9 rebounds, and three blocks per contest. Keep this guy in bold print.
– I’ll be at Drexel today (Thursday) and will have a full report back here tomorrow. The Dragons are one of the more intriguing mid-major teams in the country and have a BCS level back court with Frantz Massenat and Damion Lee. I’ll be live tweeting starting around 3:30 PM at twitter.com/JonRothstein.