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Rothstein: This And That Around NCAA Basketball; Duke's Unsung Presence & More

By Jon Rothstein
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- Amile Jefferson will be Duke's unsung presence next season. The 6-8 forward will likely start at center for the Blue Devils and should benefit from playing at a faster pace. With Rasheed Suliamon, Jabari Parker, and Rodney Hood likely to command the majority of attention from the defense, look for Jefferson to excel on the offensive glass and in 50-50 situations. This is a good early name to put on your "Glue Guy" list for next season.

- Penn State coach Pat Chambers got a steal in freshman guard Geno Thorpe. The 6-2 Thorpe is really good off the bounce and should be the Nittany Lions' third back court piece behind Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill. "He's been better than advertised," Chambers said of Thorpe following Monday's practice in State College. "Geno is going to play a significant role for us." Penn State was a trendy pick to make a jump in the Big Ten, but then lost a key piece when starting guard Jermaine Marshall opted to transfer to Arizona State. The Nittany Lions still have a chance to have a solid season, but they'll need to rebound and get timely outside shooting from Miami (OH) transfer Allen Roberts, who was brought in to replace Marshall. "He's going to have a chance to start," Chambers said of Roberts, who averaged 12.3 PPG last year at Miami (OH). "He's going to be a big part of what we do." Roberts is eligible to play without sitting out a year since he's already graduated.

- Maryland's Charles Mitchell is down 20 pounds, and could be in line for a big sophomore year. The 6-8 Mitchell averaged 5.5 points and 5.4 rebounds as a freshman, and had seven games last season with nine rebounds or more. "He's always had a nose for the ball," Terps coach Mark Turgeon said last week of Mitchell. "His biggest question has always been conditioning." Look for Mitchell and fellow sophomore Shaquille Cleare to split time in the pivot for Maryland as the Terps look to find a focal point on the interior after Alex Len's departure for the NBA.

- I'm hearing Marquette junior Derrick Wilson has had a terrific summer and is the early favorite to start for the Golden Eagles at point guard. Wilson isn't a major offensive threat, but he's a terrific on-ball defender and is more than capable of running Buzz Williams' offense. Freshman Duane Wilson will also compete for time with Wilson, who needs to emerge as a leader for a team that lost three perimeter starters off last year's team that reached the Elite Eight.

- Northwestern coach Chris Collins said this week that one of the main keys for his team next season will be the development of 7-footer Alex Olah. The sophomore big man averaged 6.1 PPG and 4.1 RPG last year as a freshman, and will be the Wildcats' lone hope for a low post presence. "At some point next season, he's going to have to emerge," Collins said of the 275 pound Olah. "We need him to be a factor in the middle." Northwestern will welcome back veterans Drew Crawford and JerShon Cobb, who both didn't play a single minute of action last year during Big Ten play. Collins said there's a strong chance he'll use Crawford, Cobb, sophomore Tre Demps, and point guard Dave Sobolewski together in spurts around Olah in the pivot. "I think I learned working at Duke that it's important to put your best players on the floor," Collins said. "I don't get too caught up in positions. You need to have your best players on the floor."

- Villanova transfer Ty Johnson will be eligible for South Carolina on December 15th and should immediately give Frank Martin a pass first point guard. The Gamecocks aren't ready to be a real threat just yet in the SEC, but Martin should have a group of players that are ready to compete on a nightly basis. Freshman shooting guard Sindarius Thornwell was a Top 50 recruit nationally coming out of high school, and first-year players Demetrius Henry and Duane Notice are both promising prospects that should develop into quality four-year players. South Carolina still has a long ways to go in terms of being relevant in the SEC, but Martin is starting to lay a capable foundation.

- Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli believes UMass is more than just a team to watch in the Atlantic 10. "They're being underrated nationally," Martelli said of the Minutemen, who have reached the NIT in each of the past two seasons. "If college basketball is about the point guard position, they have one of the best in Chaz Williams. They also have a transfer in Derrick Gordon (Western Kentucky) that's capable of being a first-team all-league player. He's that good." UMass has been projected as one of the better teams in the Atlantic 10, and they'll have plenty of early opportunities on their schedule to make statements nationally. The Minutemen play Boston College at TD Garden on 11/10 and then host LSU in Amherst on 11/12.

- Two of the more exciting mid-major teams in college basketball are starting a home-and-home series. Iona will visit Florida Gulf Coast on 12/1/13 with a return game during the 2014-15 season in New York.

- Howard Garfinkel's annual clinic will be Saturday, September 28th at Iona College. Clinicians include Kentucky's John Calipari, Pete Gillen, Seth Greenberg, and Mike Fratello. For more information, call 212-246-3063.

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