By Jon Rothstein
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Looking for a team from a BCS conference ready to make some noise?
Check out our list below of six schools — one from each major conference — that’s ready to make a jump during the 2012-13 college basketball season.
BIG EAST – RUTGERS
The Scarlet Knights had four top 30 wins last season and return virtually every piece of significance except for rugged forward Gilvydas Biruta, who transferred to Rhode Island. Nevertheless, Kansas State import Wally Judge should be able to fill the void left behind by Biruta and possibly give Rutgers more of a legitimate presence at the rim on both sides of the floor. Scarlet Knights coach Mike Rice has a terrific three-guard attack with sophomores Jerome Seagears, Eli Carter and Myles Mack, along with a big wild card in versatile forward Dane Miller. If the 6-foot-6 Miller can keep his engine turned on, he’s one of the better intangible players in the Big East, and maybe the country. Rutgers has caught the eye of several coaches in the Big East during the preseason — they’re on people’s radar. This team went 14-18 last year with a plethora of freshmen, and it says here at the very worst they’ll flip that record. That means the Scarlet Knights will be in the NIT or possibly on the NCAA bubble — seriously.
BIG TEN – MINNESOTA
Gophers coach Tubby Smith told me a few weeks ago that this is the deepest team he’s ever had in his coaching career — and he won a national championship at Kentucky in 1998. Minnesota returns all the components from last year’s group that reached the final of the Postseason NIT, as well as Trevor Mbakwe, who should be this team’s sixth man. The key for the Gophers will be consistent guard play from both Andre and Austin Hollins,along with another strong season at power forward from Rodney Williams, whose game went to another level last year when Mbwake went down with a knee injury. Keep an eye on skilled big man Maurice Walker, who could develop into a valuable reserve thanks to his high basketball IQ.
SEC – OLE MISS
In six seasons as Rebels head coach, Andy Kennedy has led Ole Miss to five NIT appearances and five 20-win seasons. Kennedy has regularly had the Rebels on the cusp of the NCAA Tournament, and that should happen this season thanks to the enhanced depth in this program. Ole Miss now has seven legitimate perimeter players that can be in their rotation with the additions of freshmen Derrick Millinghaus, Martavious Newby and Anthony Perez,along with junior college transfer Marshall Henderson. Veteran guards Jarvis Summers, Nick Williams and LaDarius White all return along with maybe the most underrated power forward-center combo in America in Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner. After Kentucky, Florida, Missouri and Tennessee, this is the team to watch in the SEC.
PAC-12 – USC
The Trojans have no business being picked ninth in the PAC-12 preseason poll — their ceiling is much higher. USC has drastically upgraded their roster from a season ago and they could augment things even more if the NCAA grants Omar Oraby, a 7-foot-2 transfer from Rice — a waiver to play immediately. In addition to Oraby, Trojans coach Kevin O’Neill might have the nation’s deepest frontcourt thanks to three transfers — Eric Wise (UC Irvine), Ari Stewart (Wake Forest) and Renaldo Woolridge (Tennessee). That trio combined with a freshman sleeper in Strahinja Gavrilovic and two savvy veterans in Aaron Fuller and Dewayne Dedmon should make USC one of the tougher teams in America to play against in the paint. Veteran floor general Jio Fontan appears fully healed from last season’s knee injury and should form a potentially explosive backcourt with another Wake Forest transfer, J.T. Terrell.
BIG 12 – OKLAHOMA
What a difference a year makes. Lon Kruger may be only in his second season as the head coach in Norman, but there’s a palpable buzz surrounding the Sooners. Oklahoma’s three freshmen guards — Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Je’lon Hornbeak will all see major minutes immediately, and Cousins could be this team’s starter at point guard. Hield is the type of microwave scorer that could develop into a lethal sixth man and Wyoming transfer Amath M’Baye is an athletic forward who should form a nice veteran nucleus with upperclassmen Romero Osby and Steven Pledger. Kruger is one of the best tacticians in the business and has nine capable bodies to work with. That should be enough to have the Sooners back to where they expect to be on an annual basis — the NCAA Tournament.
ACC – MIAMI
If the Hurricanes’ personnel wore Duke or North Carolina on the front of their jerseys, they’d be the unanimous pick to win the ACC. Miami may have had a small hiccup earlier this week when they dropped an exhibition game to Division II Saint Leo, but they still have all the requisites to compete for a conference title and a bid to the NCAA Tournament. The combination up front of Kenny Kadji and Reggie Johnson is as good of a baseline duo as there is in college basketball, and Durand Scott is a savvy veteran guard that should be an All-ACC caliber player. If sophomore point guard Shane Larkin can become more of a distributor, the Hurricanes should be right in the mix for an ACC title and a trip to the field of 68.
Does Rutgers have the talent to crack the NCAA Tournament field this season? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below…