By Jon Rothstein
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– West Virginia coach Bob Huggins told me on Tuesday in Morgantown that junior guard Gary Browne has been the Mountaineers’ best shooter so far in preseason practice. “He’s worked his tail off,” Huggins said of the 6-1 Browne, who averaged 5.6 points per game last year as a sophomore. “He’ll play both guard spots for us.” West Virginia won’t be “back” this season, but Huggins said he’s excited about the fact that the core of Browne, Juwan Staten, Eron Harris, Terry Henderson, and freshman Devin Williams will all be together for a while. “I think we’ll be really good a year from now,” Huggins said.
– Mater Dei’s Stanley Johnson will officially visit USC this weekend and will select either the Trojans, Arizona, or Kentucky. The 6-6 Johnson is one of the top players in the Class of 2014 and will have a major impact where ever he winds up. The Los Angeles product would drastically alter the landscape of the PAC-12 if he decided to stay home and play for Andy Enfield.
– Under-the-radar mid-major breakout guy — Iona’s A.J. English. I’m hearing the 6-4 guard has been the Gaels’ best player often during preseason practice and will definitely start. English averaged 7.0 PPG last season as a freshman, but only played in 17 games after suffering a mid-season wrist injury in February.
– Craig Brown is going to be an immediate factor for Rutgers. The 6-5 JUCO transfer doesn’t need the ball to have an impact and can guard multiple positions defensively. Expect Scarlet Knights coach Eddie Jordan to regularly use Brown and Pitt transfer J.J. Moore together as forwards that play interchangeably.
– I’m not expecting Duquesne to climb their way out of the Atlantic 10’s bottom third this season, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Jim Ferry’s team picks off some teams they shouldn’t. Ferry has improved the Dukes’ depth and possesses two capable guards in Derrick Colter and JUCO transfer Tra’Vaughn White. UAB transfer Ovie Soko is going to be a borderline All-Atlantic 10 player and the rest of Duquesne’s newcomers blend with the high-octane style Ferry used at LIU. It’s going to be a progress for this program to become relevant, but they’re clearly better than they were a season ago when they finished 8-22.
– Pitt freshman guard Josh Newkirk immediately stood out during the Panthers’ practice on Monday in Oakland. Jamie Dixon has had several quality point guards during his 10-year tenure in the Steel City, but he’s never had anyone like Newkirk. A jet in the open floor, the North Carolina native will have an immediate impact for Pitt and should see major minutes in reserve.
– DeVon Walker is going to help Florida. The 6-6 sophomore really competes defensively and can help the Gators with his ability to make open three-point shots in either corner. Walker only played 99 minutes last season as a freshman but he’s going to be a part of Billy Donovan’s rotation in 2013-14.
– Look for Iowa State to regularly use freshman Monte’ Morris at point guard in an effort to slide DeAndre Kane off the ball. The ultra-talented Kane will likely play 35-38 minutes per game, but needs a few possessions each half where he’s not responsible for initiating the Cyclones’ offense. Fred Hoiberg told me recently he’s been impressed with how well Morris has taken care of the ball and said he could potentially be Iowa State’s first guard off the bench.
– Speaking of the Cyclones, Iowa State will host both Jameel McKay and Rashad Vaughn on official visits during the weekend of November 15-17. Mckay, who recently left Marquette will have one and a half years of eligibility remaining while Vaughn is arguably the top shooting guard in the Class of 2014. How does Fred Hoiberg’s team cap off the weekend? A home game against Michigan at Hilton Coliseum.
– I’m hearing Mississippi State freshman I.J. Ready has the inside track to start for the Bulldogs at point guard. Rick Ray’s club is still trying to dig their way out of the SEC basement, but they possess three young talented perimeter pieces in Ready, Craig Sword, and Fred Thomas. Sword and Thomas averaged 20.2 PPG last season as freshmen and should progress this year as sophomores. Don’t be shocked if this team makes a small climb in the SEC and finished 10th or 11th in the league.
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