By Jon Rothstein
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– The NCAA’s decision to allow Dez Wells to play this season for Maryland immediately changes the landscape of the entire ACC. When I was in College Park two weeks ago, I felt the Terps were a borderline NCAA team without Wells — with him they should definitely reach the field of 68. Wells averaged 9.8 points and 4.9 rebounds per game last season at Xavier and should start for Maryland at small forward. His debut? Friday night at the Barclays Center against Kentucky. Sounds delicious.
– Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton has raved about several members of his perimeter during the off season but the one name that’s been kept under the radar could wind up starting — Terry Whisnant. The 6-3 sophomore has started both of the Seminoles exhibition games and has the ability to really stretch the defense with his outside shooting. Last year as a freshman, Whisnant appeared in 25 games for Florida State, who still should be more than capable of being in the mix for another ACC title.
– Kentucky freshman big man Nerlens Noel has already become must-see TV because of his defense. The 6-10 Noel is comfortable guarding all five positions on the floor, but he really takes things to another level when he plays next to Willie Cauley-Stein. The 7-foot freshman gives Noel more freedom to bounce around the perimeter when he’s in the game because of his ability to protect the rim. “I feel like I have a security blanket behind me when I play with Willie,” Noel said last week. “I know I can roam more because I have someone behind me who’s guarding the rim.” Kentucky coach John Calipari said he plans to play Noel and Cauley-Stein together regularly in stretches throughout the season meaning the Wildcats will have two big men on the floor standing at 6-10 and 7-feet.
– Marquette should be able to survive the first semester without sophomore guard Todd Mayo, who was ruled academically ineligible by the NCAA earlier this week. The 6-3 Mayo averaged 7.9 points per game last season as a freshman but Golden Eagles coach Buzz Williams has two players — junior guard Vander Blue and Arizona State transfer Trent Lockett that should be able to hold things down on the wings. The addition of Lockett is a major coup for Marquette and an addition that’s really flying under the radar nationally. The 6-3 senior already has three years of BCS level experience and averaged 13 points per game last season for the Sun Devils in the PAC-12.
– Small ball could be coming to Cambridge. Now operating without the services of both Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey who will miss the entire 2012-13 season, Harvard coach Tommy Amaker could potentially turn to a smaller, more skilled lineup that would feature four perimeter players and 6-7 forward Steve Moundou–Miss as the Crimson’s lone inside presence. Harvard still has some pieces that we like, but returning to the NCAA Tournament will depend solely on the play of freshman point guard Siyani Chambers, whose role will drastically increased once Curry left the team.
– Fordham freshman big man Travion Leonard was 341 pounds when Rams coach Tom Pecora first started recruiting him. Now? He’s down to 278. The 6-8 Leonard is exceptionally skilled for his size and should have a significant impact for Fordham during his first season of college basketball. The Rams open Friday night at Texas State.
– The most underrated opening night game in college basketball? North Texas at Creighton. The Mean Green have one of the better mid-major teams in the country and a potential first-round pick in forward Tony Mitchell. The match up between he and Blue Jays star Doug McDermott should be a real early season treat for fans anywhere. “Tony is as gifted an athlete as I’ve ever been around in 21 years of coaching,” North Texas coach Tony Benford said of the 6-8 Mitchell, who averaged 14.7 points and 10.3 rebounds per game last year while shooting an impressive 43.9% from 3-point range. “He’s more skilled than I thought he was. He really has an unbelievable feel for the game.” The Mean Green should be part of a fun two team race this year in the Sun Belt along with upstart Middle Tennessee State, who return several key pieces from last year’s team that won 27 games.
– Two years ago, Ty Johnson was a consensus Top 50 recruit nationally and one of the most sought after point guards in the nation. Wednesday, Villanova announced his intentions to transfer after one disappointing season. It’s amazing how quickly perception can change in sports. Here’s hoping that Johnson makes the final two and a half years of his college career as productive as they possibly can be.
– Syracuse guard Brandon Triche has played his entire career as a role player — but that’s about to change. The 6-4 guard looks healthier than he’s ever been during his three-year career and could very well be the Orange’s best player this season. “He’s worked so hard during the off season and he’s gotten himself in great shape,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said of Triche. “This is his team. He’s our leader. There’s no doubts about that.”
– Ole Miss JUCO transfer Marshall Henderson will be one of the impact newcomers in the SEC. The Rebels only averaged 4.4 made 3-point shots a game last season and Henderson’s strength is his ability to stretch the defense. “He’s going to change the way teams have to guard us,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said of the 6-2 Henderson. “He’s a big time shot maker.” Look for Henderson to start for the Rebels, who should be right in the mix with the top half of the SEC.
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