College Hoops Preview: Pivotal players

College Hoops Preview: Pivotal players
November 3, 2013, 10:30 pm
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We continue CSNwashington's formal college basketball preview with a look at the pivotal player for teams in the DMV for the 2013-14 season*. Previously we focused on those key returning players plus notable new faces...

(*) Check out CSNbaltimore for all things Maryland

Georgetown - Josh Smith, C, Junior

The 6-foot-10, 350-pound Smith transferred to the Hilltop from UCLA last January. It took until mid-October, but the NCAA granted the school's waiver request and cleared the big man to play immediately for the Hoyas. John Thompson III is certainly not complaining about delays, especially since the coach will also have Smith for the 2014-15 campaign. Considered an NBA prospect early in his college career, the big man offers legitimate low post skills, something the Hoyas lacked otherwise. Thompson said recently that he didn't fully appreciate the breadth of Smith's feel for the game until he brought the Washington state native into the program. That's code for we have a passer on our hands, which makes for a key element in Georgetown's read-and-react offense. If Smith worked on his conditioning enough to where coach John Thompson III can play for long stretches and at least 25 non-winded minutes per game, then Christmas indeed came early for the Hoyas.

George Washington - Patricio Garino, G-F, Sophomore.

Not sure what the Argentine word is for "savvy," but I would assume the 6-foot-6 wing hears that often back in his homeland about his game. It's not just that Garino gobbled up 2.3 steals a game, or finished second in assists or third in scoring for the Colonials as a freshman. It's that his level of on-court anticipation showed far beyond his newbie status, especially defensively. Garino and GW forward Isaiah Armwood were preseason selections to the A-10 all-defensive team. Though his outside shot faltered much of the season, Garino's form suggests better days are ahead. With transfer Mo Creek and point guard Joe McDonald operating the true backcourt roles, coach Mike Lonergan can use Garino's instinctive-game wherever it's needed. His entire game declined late in the campaign due to a knee injury. Now the Manu Ginoboli disciple could miss 4-6 weeks after having surgery on his broken index finger. Lonergan told CSNwashington he hopes Garino might return around Nov. 24, a few days before the Colonials head to Southern California to face Miami (Fl.) in the Wooden Legacy. At the same time, McDonald is dealing with a hip injury, though Lonergan expects the former Landon practicing with the team this week. The first 6-7 in George Washington's rotation are quality options, but uncertainty kicks in from there. They're certainly not the level of a certain wing guard NBA scouts have started checking out.

George Mason - Jonathan Arledge, F, Senior

Twenty games into his junior season the 6-foot-9 forward was, as expected, a supporting member of coach Paul Hewitt's deep rotation. Arledge had a handful of impressive rebounding performances, but in that stretch he had just one game with at least 10 points. Then fellow forward Johnny Williams missed time with injury. That's when the Silver Spring native went from supporting cast to starring role. Over the final 18 games, Arledge efficiently averaged 13.2 points, reaching double figures 12 times. Now that production, combined with his board work (4.8) is an assumed part of the Patriots' plan. With center Erik Copes suspended for the opening six games and dealing with a lingering hip injury, Hewitt needs Arledge and the other frontcourt options to produce right from the start.

American - Darius Gardner, PG, Jr.

First-year coach Mike Brennan didn't inherit much in the way of sure things on the Eagles roster. What's clear is the former Georgetown assistant has a shooter (John Schoof) and a big man (Tony Wroblicky). If early practices are any indication, Brennan also has a quality point guard in the 5-foot-9 Gardner, who sat out last season after transferring from Stephen F. Austin. How efficiently Gardner directs traffic within the confines of AU's new read-and-react offense will go a long ways toward revealing if any other reliable pieces are available.

Virginia - Justin Anderson, SG, Sophomore

The Cavaliers are loaded in the frontcourt, yet like with most college teams, all could all be undone with spotty guard play. Realistically this space should focus on Tevon Jones and the other point guards replacing Jontel Evans, the lone starter no back from last season's squad. Instead, it's the returning backcourt starter, one with a physical frame, an improving perimeter touch and Robert Griffin III level charisma who demands attention and lots of it. Heavily recruited out of Montrose Christian and originally ticketed for Maryland, Anderson averaged 7.6 points as a freshman. It's what he did over the final three games that gives UVA fans hope that a new star was born. He averaged 19 points in three NIT games, scoring 24 points with five 3-pointers against Iowa. Should Anderson string together enough of those outings, combined with All-American candidate Joe Harris and forward Akil Mitchell, UVA could challenge for the ACC title.

Virginia Tech - Adam Smith, PG, Sophomore

The 2011-12 regular season opener was at Maryland's Comcast Center, the home school hosting UNC Wilmington. The best player for most of that game wasn't a Terp but a daring, 3-point shooting Seahawk making his collegiate debut. Smith drained five shots from beyond the arc and scored a game-high 23 points. Later that season, the 6-foot-1 guard dropped 32 points on Wake Forest and finished his first - and only - campaign at UNCW averaging 13.7 points. The following offseason, Smith left the CAA for the ACC. After sitting out last season, he joins a Hokies program in need of perimeter production after losing Erick Green, the nation's leading scorer, to graduation. Virginia Tech returns muscle in the frontcourt so any hope of a winning push into the middle of the ACC pack comes from receiving consistent, or at least economical play from the backcourt.

VCU - Briante Weber, PG, Junior

Final Four appearance aside, Shaka Smart's "Havoc" full court schemes define the Rams program. The slippery Weber and his thieving ways - fifth nationally with 2.7 steals per game - stand as the poster child for the relentless style despite his supporting role over the previous two seasons. The 6-foot-2 guard will certainly play more than the 21 minutes he averaged last season. Weber will also have significantly more responsibility offensively for the No. 15 ranked Rams now that he moves into the starting point guard role after spending the past two seasons off the ball.