By Jon Rothstein
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This and That

– One of the big keys for Seton Hall during the upcoming season will be whether or not the Pirates can find a quality second guard to play next to Jordan Theodore. Kevin Willard has said repeatedly that he wants to play Theodore off the ball and it will be harder to do that unless a competent options emerges. The two primary candidates are freshmen Aaron Cosby and Freddie Wilson. The burly Cosby is more mature than most Big East players thanks to a year of prep school and word is Wilson has started to emerge in recent practices. If either of those two can play capable minutes, it would be a huge asset for the Pirates.

– They may not be getting the publicity of some of the other mid-major teams in the Metropolitan area but Steve Pikiell’s team at Stony Brook is for real. The Seawolves have a veteran guard in Bryan Dougher, an underrated “glue-guy” in forward Tommy Brenton, and a real sleeper in JUCO transfer Ron Bracey. Pikiell’s team opens Friday night at Indiana and should be a slight favorite over Boston University in the America East Conference.

–  Buzz continues to grow about Louisville guard Russ Smith. The 6-foot sophomore has been terrific off the ball for Rick Pitino’s team, after initially starting out as a potential point guard. “Russ was allergic to passing the ball,” Pitino joked recently. “But he’s been terrific in a scoring role.” Smith will backup  the incumbent starter for the Cards at shooting guard in senior Chris Smith and should add quality depth at the wing until freshman Wayne Blackshear returns from a shoulder injury later in the season.

– Florida State has the talent, depth, and size to be the second best team in the ACC — but they need to settle their point guard situation. As of this week, the Seminoles still had three players — Jeff Peterson, Luke Loucks, and Ian Miller all in the mix for the starting spot. In Monday’s exhibition, Leonard Hamilton started Loucks next to Michael Snaer but word is the compeition is still awfully close. Look for this team to solidify the most important position on the floor before they head to the Bahamas later this month to compete in the Battle For Atlantis, where a potential championship game showdown looms against UCONN.

– Looking for a sleeper team out West? Try Nevada. The Wolf Pack return five starters and have a real gem in former Duke forward Olek Czyz. “His biggest attribute is his ability to put the ball on the floor,” Nevada coach David Carter said this week of the 6-foot-7 Czyz.

“That’s where he separates himself.” Joining Czyz in the starting lineup is burly big man Dario Hunt along with a pair of experienced guards in Malik Story and Deonte Burton along with “glue guy” Jerry Evans. This team should be right there with Utah State for the WAC title.

– Don’t be surprised to see Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings mix and match his lineup with center Festus Ezeli out until at least mid December with a knee injury. One of the game’s elite tacticians, Stallings used three point guards regularly during the Commodores exhibition game this week with versatile big man Lance Goulbourne at center and Jeffery Taylor at power forward.

– Speaking of Vanderbilt, I know they’re everyone’s darling pick to make a jump on the national stage but I can’t believe just yet they’re ready to leap over a team like Florida in the SEC. Billy Donovan’s squad did lose its entire starting front court but the Gators return a back court that went to the Elite Eight last season and add Rutgers transfer Mike Rosario along with pound for pound, maybe the most complete freshman guard in the country in Bradley Beal. Perimeter play wins in March and that’s what Florida will do best.

– There may not be a better quote in all of college basketball than LSU’s Trent Johnson. “People ask me all the time about my self esteem and I tell them, it’s better when I have better players,” Johnson joked. Coming off a disappointing season a year ago, Johnson feels his team has a chance to make a jump thanks to marquee freshman big man Johnny O’Bryant and Iowa State transfer Justin Hamilton. “There’s a level of optimism and excitement for sure,” Johnson said. “Johnny’s really talented and there’s moments when you’re like “wow”, but he’s got to adjust to the speed of the game. Justin’s someone with a really good basketball IQ for 6-foot-11, 250. Those two should allow us to play our other guys more conventionally.” LSU visits Rutgers in the Big East/SEC Challenge on December 3rd at the RAC.

– While UCLA may have the best overall front court in all of college basketball, their potential lack of outside shooting is a major question mark heading into the season. Sophomore guard Tyler Lamb is the likely starter at shooting guard but remains more of a defensive specialist than a scorer. Look for Ben Howland to play backup point guard Jerime Anderson next to Lazeric Jones in the back court for long stretches to augment the Bruins breakdown ability as well as Anderson’s ability to make deep shots.

– Nebraska coach Doc Sadler feels JUCO transfer Dylan Talley could be the difference to whether or not the Cornhuskers make a major impact in their first Big Ten season. “He can really score it,” Sadler said of Talley. “He’s capable of getting 25 on any given night and adds something we haven’t had.” Talley figures to be in the mix for Nebraska on the wings along with seniors Toney McCray and Caleb Walker.


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