By Jon Rothstein
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Can a team go 8-21 one year and compete for an Atlantic 10 title the next? Absolutely. The Rams will have a massive turnaround in 2013-14, thanks to four players that red shirted this past season. Gilvydas Biruta (Rutgers), Jarelle Reischel (Rice), and DeShon “Biggie” Minnis (Texas Tech) are three high-level transfers that should be immediate factors in Rhode Island’s rotation.
Second-year coach Dan Hurley is also high on 6-8 Ifeanyi Onyekaba, an active big man who red shirted this past season, and could very well start for this team at center. The Rams bring back a solid core, including the Atlantic 10’s top returning scorer in Xavier Munford (17.4 PPG), as well as solid role players in Mike Aaman, Jordan Hare, and Mike Powell.
Hurley also has brought in a talented recruiting class, headlined by Top 100 guard E.C. Matthews, a dynamic floor general with great size at 6-4. Staten Island native Hassan Martin is a bouncy forward that should play as a freshman thanks to his athleticism. This group still needs to find their chemistry and work out role allocation, but this has the looks of a classic Hurley turnaround.
While he was at Wagner, the former St. Benedict’s Prep coach led the Seahawks to a 12-win improvement from his first to second season. We expect more of the same at Rhode Island. The Rams should win 20 games next season.
The roster that Steve Lavin has assembled in Queens is beyond loaded.
The Red Storm will likely return their top five scorers from this past year’s team that won 17 games, and add two high-profile prospects in skilled forward Orlando Sanchez and lethal scoring guard Rysheed Jordan. Jordan should instantly blend with St. John’s perimeter triumvirate of Phil Greene, Jamal Branch, and D’Angelo Harrison, the Red Storm’s top scorer from a year ago (17.8 PPG) who missed the end of last season due to suspension.
Talented forward JaKarr Sampson also returns, and Chris Obekpa is back to anchor the middle after an impressive freshman campaign in which he averaged 4.0 blocks per game. The unsung player to watch for this team? Bouncy forward Sir’Dominic Pointer. The 6-5 Pointer has the potential to be one of the better “glue guys” in college basketball, and regularly filled up all aspects of the box score last season.
The days of waiting for St. John’s to have talented pieces are over. Anything less than a trip to the NCAA Tournament will be a major disappointment for this group.
Who will be the best guard in the Big Ten next year not named Aaron Craft? You guessed it, Tim Frazier.
The Nittany Lions’ floor general may have only played a total of four games last season before going down with an Achilles injury — but his return combined with other defections within the league — give Pat Chambers’ team a chance to make some major headway in the conference standings. Frazier, a fifth-year guard, should be healthy, and won’t have to put as much pressure on himself to carry the load thanks to an improved supporting cast.
D.J. Newbill (16.3 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 4.0 APG) and Jermaine Marshall (15.3 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 2.6) proved last season that they’re capable of being impact players in the Big Ten, and Pitt transfer John Johnson will give this team another guard that can put the ball in the basket. Penn State doesn’t have great size, but burly big man Brandon Taylor showed signs of promise as a freshman, and could be in for a breakout year up front as a sophomore.
We know this team will have to do battle on a nightly basis in the Big Ten, but the personnel losses at Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Minnesota are significant. If Penn State won 10 games last year with Frazier only playing in four of them, then they’re certainly capable of winning 16 or 17 if he plays the entire season. If that happens, the Nittany Lions will finish in the top seven or eight in the conference and should be in line for some type of postseason bid.
This is the sleeper team in the SEC. After the top tier of Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee, and Alabama, Johnny Jones and the Tigers have all the requisites to be next in the conference standings.
Bruising big man Johnny O’Bryant will be one of the better front court players in the country, and should average right around a double-double as a junior. Anthony Hickey and Andre Stringer are two crafty guards that return with SEC experience, and Shavon Coleman (10.5 PPG, 5.9 RPG) is an impact front court player that should be solid as a senior.
A major reason for LSU fans to be excited? The Tigers’ incoming class. Jones is bringing in at least seven prospects next season — three of which are ranked in the Top 100 of most recruiting services. Jarell Martin is a long athlete at 6-7 that will give this team upside at the wing, while Jordan Mickey will be expected to provide an immediate presence in the paint. Tim Quarterman is a wiry guard at 6-5 that can be used in different spots on the floor, and should be able to immediately challenge for minutes.
For the past few years, Baton Rouge has been known primarily as a football town — that may change after next season. LSU once again has a roster that can challenge for a place in the SEC’s top echelon — in basketball. Seriously.
The Cardinal return every major piece of significance, and will welcome back their best perimeter defender in Anthony Brown.
Brown missed all but four games last season with a hip injury and without his services, Stanford didn’t have anyone to check top flight perimeter scorers like UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad or Cal’s Allen Crabbe. Aaron Bright and Chasson Randle return in the back court, and both will look to bounce back after a frustrating year that saw them both drop in three-point field goal percentage from the previous season.
Center Dwight Powell could be a first-team All-PAC 12 selection as a junior (14.9 PPG, 8.4 RPG), and Josh Huestis (10.5 PPG, 9.0 RPG) is a gem of a player at 6-7 that might be the best kept secret in college basketball.
The Cardinal won 18 games last season and finished 9-9 in conference play without Brown. Add him, along with another year of experience for everyone on Stanford’s roster, and this team should win 21 or 22 games and be right on the cusp of the NCAA Tournament.
Think you have team No. 6? Make your case in the comments…