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Rothstein Files: This And That Around College Basketball

Arizona Coach Sean Miller May Have Best Defensive Team He's Ever Had
Sean Miller (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Sean Miller (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

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By Jon Rothstein
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THIS AND THAT:

- Arizona coach Sean Miller told me this week that both Jordin Mayes and Gabe York took thousands of three-point shots this summer in preparation for the upcoming season. Miller may very well have the best defensive team he’s ever coached, but either Mayes or York is going to have to emerge as a legitimate outside threat for the Wildcats to get to a Final Four. Arizona will likely start a frontcourt of Aaron Gordon, Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski, but in late-game situations there’s a strong chance that Gordon will slide to power forward and either Mayes or York will play on the perimeter next to T.J. McConnell and Nick Johnson.

- The biggest thing I took away from watching Syracuse practice on Monday? Jerami Grant is primed for a monster season, one that could be his last in upstate New York before he heads to the NBA. “He really worked on his outside shot,” Orange coach Jim Boeheim said of the 6-foot-8 Grant. “He’s a threat to score now when he catches the ball on the perimeter.” Don’t be surprised if Grant winds up being Syracuse’s sixth man, but plays in excess of 30 minutes a game. Boeheim has shown a knack for wanting a strong reserve off the bench in past years, and has had great success using guys like Dion Waiters, Kris Joseph and James Southerland as sixth men. Either way, Grant looks like the Orange’s second best offensive player behind senior C.J. Fair. Grant averaged 3.9 points and 3.0 rebounds per game last season as a freshman.

- Looking for an under-the-radar transfer for next season? Try Dayton’s Jordan Sibert. The former Ohio State guard has all the makings of being a big-time scorer in the Atlantic 10. “He’s probably separated himself as our most talented offensive player,” Flyers coach Archie Miller said this week of Sibert, who averaged 3.0 PPG two seasons ago with the Buckeyes. With the addition of Sibert, freshman point guard Scoochie Smith and big man Matt Kavanaugh, who was suspended last season, Dayton has the look of a team that’s ready to compete for an NCAA bid. The Flyers lost seven conference games last season by six points or less and still won 17 games overall. “We expect to be good, obviously” Miller added. “Our biggest thing is trying to keep everyone happy. We’ve got 12 guys now that can all play. It’s going to increase our competition on a daily basis, and that’s a good thing.”

- One team that’s not getting enough love in the PAC-12? Arizona State. The Sun Devils are an NCAA team on paper, and got good play out of their young wings — Egor Koulechov and Chance Murray – during a recent trip to China. Herb Sendek’s teams haven’t been known to play at a breakneck pace, but Arizona State really accelerated the tempo during their foreign trip, according to Sun Devils associate head coach Eric Musselman. “Our team speed was the biggest thing that stood out from the trip,” Musselman said on Thursday. “Our young guys did well and our athleticism was a big factor.” Arizona State has the best point guard in the PAC-12 in Jahii Carson, but they also are going to have a pretty good backup in redshirt freshman Calaen Robinson. It will be interesting to see how much Sendek chooses to play Robinson and Carson together, but there’s a good chance it will happen regularly just to create headaches for opponents. This is a team to keep an eye on as we inch closer to the start of the season.

- Former St. Raymond’s coach Oliver Antigua will join Kevin Willard’s staff at Seton Hall on September 1, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation. Antigua spent last season as an assistant coach at Manhattan. With the additions of Antigua and former Rutgers coach Freddie Hill, Willard has taken major steps this offseason in upgrading the Pirates’ chances for landing marquee recruits on an annual basis. Antigua is a former CHSAA coach that’s well-connected in the five boroughs, and Hill is a known pit-bull recruiter who works New Jersey like no other. Willard has proven that he’s a strong X’s and O’s guy in the past few years, but needed to do the things he’s done with his staff to be able to have a chance to sign Top 100 players with regularity.

- Saint Louis freshman Tanner Lancona is going to remind Billikens fans of Cody Ellis. The 6-foot-7, 220-pound Lancona is a lefty face-up forward who should be an immediate contributor for Jim Crews’ team. Saint Louis lost Ellis and point guard Kwamain Mitchell from last year’s squad that won both the Atlantic 10 regular-season and tournament titles, but should have enough left over to be right in the mix for another NCAA bid.

- Things can always change on a daily basis in recruiting, but right now it appears that Stanford is the team to beat for 2014 power forward Reid Travis, according to multiple sources. The Minnesota native has an unbelievable motor and could walk into any college program and average a double-double as a freshman. At 6-foot-8 and 240 pounds, Travis already has an NBA body.

- VCU coach Shaka Smart said this week that he may play as many as 11 or 12 guys on a regular basis during the upcoming season. The Rams, who could be Smart’s deepest team since he’s been a head coach, are the prohibitive favorites in the Atlantic 10. “Playing that many guys allows us to play the way we want to play,” Smart said. “We want to always have fresh bodies out on the court.” VCU will add six newcomers to a strong returning core that won 27 games and lost to Michigan in the third round of the NCAA Tournament. The Rams have all the requisites to be a major factor again nationally, but need to solidify their point-guard situation by the start of conference play. Smart has said that senior guard Rob Brandenberg has worked relentlessly on his ball-handling ability this summer, and could see time at the “one” along with junior Briante Weber and freshman JeQuan Lewis.

- One of the underrated coaching hires during the offseason was South Florida’s addition of Mike Wells as an assistant. Wells, who was at George Mason the past few years under Paul Hewitt, has 17 years of NBA experience and will be solely responsible for invigorating the Bulls’ offense. Stan Heath has proven that he’s more than capable of making his teams play at a high level defensively, but the addition of Wells should give this team a jolt on offense.

- Boise State coach Leon Rice told me this week that the key to the Broncos competing for a Mountain West title during the upcoming season may be sophomore guard Mikey Thompson. “We need a third all-league player in addition to Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks, and we think Mikey could be that guy,” Rice said of Thompson, who averaged 7.9 PPG last year as a freshman. Boise State reached the NCAA Tournament last season but was beaten by La Salle in the First Four. With all of their main ingredients back from last year, there is a palpable buzz surrounding the Broncos. “There’s expectations and excitement, no doubt,” Rice said. “We have all the things we were looking to build when we took the job.” Boise State will play Kentucky at Rupp Arena on December 10 as part of their non-conference schedule.

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