By Jon Rothstein
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– Tony Criswell may not be in bold print when people talk about Missouri’s prospects for next season, but the JUCO big man is going to have a key role for the Tigers. Criswell, a 6-9 power forward should see ample time off the bench behind both Alex Oriakhi and Laurence Bowers for Frank Haith’s team. With transfers Keion Bell, Jabari Brown, and Earnest Ross all receiving major attention in the preseason, watch Criswell as a key reserve up front.

– NC State may be the sexy pick to win the ACC but the Wolfpack still have major questions to answer before they can be looked at as a legitimate contender to Duke, North Carolina, and Florida State for the league title. Mark Gottfried’s team still needs to identify a big man to replace the void left behind when Deshawn Painter transferred to Old Dominion following last year’s run to the Sweet 16. NC State also needs to replace C.J. Williams, a senior who developed into a reliable glue guy for the Wolfpack as last season progressed. It appears freshman T.J. Warren, who played well during the team’s trip to Spain will get a crack at playing both forward positions until things are settled in Raleigh. NC State is also awaiting word on the eligibility of freshman guard Rodney Purvis. I’m not questioning that this team has ability and potential — but being a trendy pick and living up to expectations are two way different things.

– Cincinnati sophomore Jermaine Sanders is now down to 210 pounds after tipping the scales at 230 plus during last season. The skilled guard should be a bona fide reserve this year for Mick Cronin’s team, who will likely be picked in the Big East’s top four. Sanders will spell both Sean Kilpatrick and JaQuon Parker on the Bearcats’ perimeter.

– Marist coach Chuckie Martin may have a real sleeper in 6-2 freshman guard Khallid Hart. Hart, the 2012 Delaware High School Player of the Year led all players in scoring at the U18 FIBA Americas and could potentially give the Red Foxes another threat on the perimeter. If Hart can become an immediate factor, Martin would have three really strong back court pieces in Hart, senior Devin Price, and sophomore Chavaughn Lewis.

– This might very well be arguably the deepest year in the history of the MAAC. While Manhattan, Loyola, and Iona look like legitimate favorites, six or seven different teams could win the league and all ten have a chance to beat each other on a given night. Keep an eye on Mitch Buonaguoro and Siena. The Saints have the MAAC’s best player in O.D. Anosike and should really benefit from depth they didn’t possess a season ago.

– Iowa coach Fran McCaffery really believes his team will need a tangible contribution from sophomore guard Josh Oglesby next season if the Hawkeyes are to have a chance to reach the NCAA Tournament. “He’s a critical, critical piece,” McCaffery said of Oglesby, who averaged 6.4 points per game last year as a freshman. “We need to replace some of the outside shooting we lost with Matt Gatens. Josh should be able to do some of that.” Oglesby, who had 24 last year at Indiana could be the first guard off the bench next year for Iowa, who should have a legitimate chance to win around 20 games.

– Scott Pera’s decision to leave Arizona State to become the top assistant on Jerome Allen’s staff at Penn shouldn’t come as a major surprise. While leaving a BCS level job for the Ivy League may not be the norm, Pera has deep Pennsylvania roots and will now have an opportunity to build his name again on the East Coast. Allen needed a big time hire to solidify his staff for next season after the Quakers lost Mike Martin, who is now the head coach at Brown, and Dan Leibovitz, who took a job with the Charlotte Bobcats.

– Xavier along with Temple has been the backbone of the Atlantic 10 over the past few years, but it’s going to be real hard to see the Musketeers having a major impact in the conference next season after Dez Wells was expelled from the university earlier this past week. Wells was a fierce presence last season for Xavier and would have provided Chris Mack’s team with a veteran presence that the Musketeers desperately needed. Without Wells, Xavier will have five new starters in what looks to be one of the best seasons in the history of the Atlantic 10. Wells averaged 9.8 points and 4.9 rebounds per game as a freshman last season.

– We’re hearing that 2013 St. Anthony’s (NJ) point guard Josh Brown will likely decide between Temple and Rhode Island on Monday. Brown, one of our favorites during the July summer recruiting period is a tenacious defender that could evolve into a lethal ball hawk at the college level. Think former Providence guard John Linehan.

– Drexel finalized their non-conference schedule this past week after agreeing to play Davidson on 12/22 in Philadelphia. After missing out on at large bid last season, Dragons coach Bruiser Flint has positioned his team to put together a solid NCAA resume if Drexel fails to win the CAA Conference Tournament and earn an automatic invitation to the NCAAs. In addition to Davidson, the Dragons host MVC favorite Illinois State and St. Joseph’s as well as playing in the Anaheim Classic with an opening game against Saint Mary’s. Xavier, Cal, and Georgia Tech are also in the field, giving Drexel ample opportunities to get quality wins outside of their CAA schedule.

Which team do you think is tops in the MAAC? Let us know in the comments below!


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