Freshman 10: Beasley Leads Love

    
February 19th, 2008
I really wish I had something profound and interesting to say this time around but I don’t. And I think that’s kinda fitting for this time of the college hoops season. Earlier in the year we had to create things to talk about in order to justify paying attention to hoops over football and other stuff. But with the sports landscape all to itself and a season that has been exciting but void of any transcendent storylines on the court (and don’t say Memphis, Undefeated because I still can’t find anyone who thinks they are the best team in the country) I think we can all agree that the best way to cultivate interest in hoops again is to let the games do the talking. After all, isn’t that is why we keep coming back? No matter the improprieties within recruiting and administrations and even the stands, college basketball will ultimately satisfy the masses with the most exciting product in sports, culminating in the most exciting event in sports. And with any good climax, there’s going to be intriguing build-up (no sexual innuendo intended) and that’s what we are in the midst of right now.

 

There is only one more Freshman 10 before Championship Week begins so I will be hunkering down and trying to watch as much basketball as I can, not only to best evaluate these guys but to enjoy some of them in their final college games in what is the best freshman class ever. The gap between 6 thru 25 on this list is extremely small and there are about 10 more guys I felt awful about leaving off the honorable mention. I’m not complaining though, that just means there’s a lot of good basketball to watch. Something most sports fans will soon be realizing.

 

Send them e-mails.

 

1. Michael Beasley, Kansas State

Well, I couldn’t hold out any longer. Despite eschewing B-Easy for Love’s dominance in the country’s best conference, you simply cannot drop 40 and 17 in 27 minutes and expect to be placed among mortals. My freshman ranking power was weakened at the hands of Beasley’s numbers and I could no longer provide resistance. I feel dirty. But seriously, the loss to Texas Tech aside, Beasley is basically doing what Kevin Durant did last year. And if you have read any of this column in its brief history, you know that I never thought I’d see a Durantian impact again. Although I’m not as enamored with Beasley’s game as I was Durant’s because they have significantly different styles; Durant’s success was based a bit more on feel and skill while Beasley does it with strength and athleticism (… and a buttload of feel and skill in his own right). I think Frank Martin, Crazy Person, owes it to us fans to keep Beasley in one of these blowouts for like 35 minutes so he can take a shot at 50. When it comes to transcendentally great players, I always think the more shame they can inflict the better. The weird thing is, despite realizing Beasley’s brilliance, I still haven’t gotten a really good look at his game; well, at least not like I have some other guys and not like I did with Durant. So I’m going to try to pay extra close attention Wednesday against Nebraska or, at the very least Monday against Texas, which will probably spawn another unhealthy admiration of a player’s game (I need help).

Stats- 25.7 ppg, 12.6 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1.6 bpg, 1.5 spg, 3 TO, 54.8 FG%, 74 FT%, 41.9 3-PT%

Featured Link- I’ve been critical of the shadiness surrounding this program but they have now gained a place in my heart: Michael Beasley and Jacob Pullen refer to themselves as “Shake and Bake.”

 

2. Kevin Love, UCLA

The drop in the ranking is not to say Kevin Love has done anything incorrectly. He simply has not had a 40 and 17 game. But he has done something nearly as noteworthy, which is assert himself as the most impressive player on a very balanced, team-oriented, title-contending team. When you watch UCLA play, you would never suspect that Love gets the numbers he does and with the efficiency in which he does it. He rarely looks for his own shot and Ben Howland rarely runs plays for him. Most of his points come in the flow of the offense or as the result of his work on the glass. And he does all of this with opposing fans despising him. Seriously, he’s getting the Redick treatment in Pac-10 play. That being said, he really needs to lose the chinstrap. No matter how much I respect his game, it is very difficult to respect a man that likely has tinted windows on his car.

Stats- 17.3 ppg, 11 rpg, 1.8 apg, 0.9 bpg, 0.7 spg, 2.0 TO, 59.3 FG%, 75 FT%, 15-38 3-PTs

Featured Link- Given the abhorrent media slobbering he receives, I’m not entirely sure who doubts Kevin Love, but I guess this was a solid feature anyway.

 

3. Eric Gordon, Indiana

After an obviously rattled performance at Illinois (and I suppose you can’t blame him, it’s pretty hard to have that many people hate you by age 19), I was really impressed by how Gordon responded to the Kelvin Sampson turmoil with 23 in a heartbreaking loss to Wisconsin and an outstanding game (28 points) against Michigan State (given the circumstances, probably his best of the year). Now, keep in mind those two games were at home. It’s going to be really ugly when the Hoosiers go on the road – although their next road game not against Northwestern isn’t for two weeks when they are devoured whole by Michigan State fans – and Gordon/Sampson will once again be the object of the vitriol. This is still a pretty good team, even with the shadiness and much of their fate will be decided by how Gordon responds to all this pressure. I can’t remember a freshman with more non-basketball stuff to worry about. And with DJ White hobbled, there’s no question the weight of Hoosier Nation remains on Gordon and the coach who sold his soul to get him… allegedly.

Stats- 21.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.3 apg, 0.6 bpg, 3.4 TO, 47.1 FG%, 85.7 FT%, 40 3-PT%

Featured Link- Really good recap of the Illinois-Indiana game from ESPN.com’s Pat Forde.

 

4. Jerryd Bayless, Arizona

Touch yourself all you want over Michael Beasley’s recent heroics, but NO ONE has been better individually over a three-game span than Bayless has been in the past week and a half. Even though they lost two of the games (getting robbed against Stanford), Bayless has went 39, 33, 31 against Arizona State, Cal and Stanford respectively. The rest of the Cats only had 15 points (!) vs. ASU and 35 against the Cardinal so you can see the weight that has been put on this kid. And with Nic Wise out, Bayless has had to assume most of the ballhandling and point duties. To be quite honest, I don’t really see much of a difference at this particular moment between Bayless and the three guys above him. Despite using almost 30 percent of Arizona’s possessions, he has the second-lowest turnover rate in their rotation and still shoots almost 50 percent from the floor. With the way he has kept this team together lately, he’d be a POY favorite in most other conferences.

Stats- 21.1 ppg, 4.4 apg, 2.8 rpg, 1.1 spg, 3.0 TO, 48.9 FG%, 84.9 FT%, 45 3-PT%

Featured Link- If you are late to the Bayless appreciation thing, here’s a great feature on him from the Arizona Daily Star.

 

5. Derrick Rose, Memphis

Surprise, surprise, Rose is back at his familiar five-spot. But since he has an actual opponent coming up Saturday, I will finally be inclined to make an actual evaluation and move him up or down. Apparently he was pretty bad against UAB but I suppose most people would have trouble hitting a 10-foot floater with a bottle hurtling toward your head. The key against Tennessee is whether Rose can handle being the focal point. Because of Tennessee’s pressure and up-tempo style, it will be a rare game for a balanced Memphis team where Rose is the most important player on the court. He needs to be careful with the ball, under control in spite of the speed and cognizant of when to push and when to pull the ball out. And while I think Rose is good enough to handle that, I do wonder if he can drastically heighten his focus, in the midst of all these mindless blowouts, to play the No. 2 team in the country. But on the bright side, he probably won’t have to wear a helmet.

Stats- 13.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 4.2 apg, 1.2 spg, 0.4 bpg, 3 TO, 44.6 FG%, 68.8 FT%, 31.3 3-PT%

Featured Link- If you haven’t seen this yet, it’s a must-read for serious hoops fans: Grant Wahl discovers the secret of Memphis’ Dribble Drive Motion offense, for which Rose is so perfect.

 

6. James Harden, Arizona State

I finally got my first really good look at Harden against Stanford and I was extremely impressed. I knew how great he had been this season, even ranking him as high as No. 4, but the way he put the Sun Devils on his back that game was incredible (he scored 23 points overall, including 12 straight over the end of regulation and start of OT). He gets his points not by shooting or physicality or athleticism but by relentlessly attacking the basket (with an incredible first step) and being one of the best finishers I have seen this year. Call him the Tyler Hansbrough of guards when it comes to making shots (or getting to the line) around the basket. Granted, I probably saw one of his best games of the season and he followed the upset with a stinker in a loss to Cal but obviously, being a freshman, consistency does not come easily. I saw a certain winning swagger from Harden in that Stanford game and I’m hoping the weight of playing on the Bubble the next couple weeks will bring out that killer instinct more often.

Stats- 18 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.8 apg, 2.0 spg, 0.6 bpg, 2.5 TO, 53.2 FG%, 74.5 FT%, 42.6 3-PT%

Featured Link- It really is remarkable how quickly the Sun Devils have turned things around.

 

7. Jonny Flynn, Syracuse

Just got done watching the Orange lose another lung-crushing heartbreaker to a top Big East team and Flynn actually went to the bench… for one minute. This was after playing every second of the previous seven games. Although Syracuse is a considerably worse team, Flynn’s gutty performance has reminded me of DJ Augustin’s similarly taxing freshman season for Texas. For a freshman point guard to log the minutes he has and consistently make sound decisions – especially with your freshman cohort jacking up shots like he’s got a terminal illness – is impressive, no matter what his numbers are. And it just so happens that Flynn’s numbers are solid as well. He’s had two turnovers or less in seven of his last nine games and is shooting 46 percent despite routinely having the ball with the shot clock dwindling. It’s funny because when Syracuse had a full roster they were one of the faster teams in the country and now they play considerably slower. All the while Flynn didn’t miss a beat. The Orange will surely be on the Bubble again this year and if they get in, look no further than the point guard position for praise once again.

Stats- 15.5 ppg, 5.2 apg, 2.7 rpg, 1.6 spg, 2.7 TO, 46 FG%, 78.4 FT%, 34.6 3-PT%

Featured Link- Nice feature on the adjustments Flynn and Boeheim have had to make with the obscenely short bench.

 

8. Andrew Ogilvy, Vanderbilt

Thanks to a five-game winning streak for Vandy and some serious redemption against Patrick Patterson and Marrese Speights – two guys that killed him in previous meetings – Ogilvy has found his way back on the Freshman 10. I’m assuming it’s already a national holiday in Australia. The game against Patterson (19 and 12 in 24 minutes) in the horrific 41-point destruction of the Wildcats last week was a good sign for Ogilvy, as it showed a competitive streak in not wanting to be dominated by his fellow SEC freshman again. Andrew Bogut – with whom Ogilvy will be forever compared and probably buried next beside – had that fire and it’s something we need to see more of from AJ. Obviously it’s easier to show that when you are destroying said opponent like they did Kentucky but whatever, it’s something. And he has another opportunity next Tuesday to redeem a poor performance against the erotically named Wayne Chism and Tennessee, especially with the game against Memphis still in the Vols’ rearview.

Stats- 17.2 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.2 apg, 1.4 bpg, 0.8 spg, 2.4 TO, 58.3 FG%, 77.8 FT%.

Featured Link- A comparison of non-conference and conference play for Ogilvy.

 

9. Patrick Patterson, Kentucky

Speaking of Patterson, I was tempted to drop him off the list just a week after his long overdue debut on the Freshman 10 because of a few pedestrian games. But the beatdown from Vandy aside, Kentucky is still winning and if they can do it without Patterson carrying them, well I’m not going to penalize the freshman for that. Looking ahead for the Cats, they have four of their last six at home with one road game at South Carolina (the other is at Tennessee in a revenge game; they will lose by 80) and if they can go 5-1, beating Arkansas, Mississippi and Florida in the process, they deserve to be considered for the NCAAs. And if that happens, Patterson really ought to be considered for SEC POY. His main competition is Jamont Gordon, Ogilvy and Shan Foster, none of whom have as paltry a supporting cast (Kentucky only has three players that have played more than 11 games and average over five points) as Patterson and none will have orchestrated a starker turnaround. Plus he plays as hard as anyone in the country and plays a ton of minutes… and he can juggle… OK, POY may be stretching it a bit but he should at least win Freshman of the Year over Ogilvy and Calathes. Just give him something.

Stats- 16.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.8 apg, 0.9 spg, 1.3 bpg, 2.3 TO, 58.7 FG%, 72 FT%.

Featured Link- A fantastically apocalyptic recap of the Vandy beatdown last week from the great UK blog Sea of Blue. This is what it’s like to be A Crazy Kentucky Fan.

 

10. Kyle Singler, Duke

A guy who was highly touted in the preseason but has been forgotten a bit because of Duke’s balanced, interchangeable attack, Singler recently had three monster games starting with the UNC win. He had 14 and 10 against the Heels, then 24 and 10 against BC and 26 and 7 against Maryland, shooting 12-22 from three combined. And while the scoring numbers there are nice, the rebounding may be even more important, as he has helped Duke’s most glaring weakness disappear. Because of his shooting, ballhandling and size, Singler is really perfect for the Blue Devils’ system and it seems he has finally become comfortable over the past few weeks. It’s hard to really describe his game because his amazing versatility keeps one aspect from standing out so I recommend just watching him closely (God knows you will have plenty of opportunities). When his shot is falling he’s easier to recognize but it’s his toughness and underrated defense that is probably most valuable for Duke.

Stats- 14.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.4 apg, 0.8 bpg, 1.0 spg, 2.4 TO, 49.8 FG%, 77.1 FT%, 38.8 3-PTs.

Featured Link- With the backdrop of the Maryland game, probably the best of his career, a nice article on Singler’s sudden emergence as one of Duke’s go-to guys.

Heading out- OJ Mayo, USC; Donte Greene, Syracuse; Matt Howard, Butler.

 

Honorable mention

11) OJ Mayo, USC 12) Donte Greene, Syracuse 13) Bill Walker, Kansas State 14) Matt Howard, Butler 15) Nick Calathes, Florida 16) Blake Griffin, Oklahoma 17) DeJuan Blair, Pittsburgh 18) Patrick Mills, St. Mary’s 19) Chris Warren, Mississippi 20) JJ Hickson, NC State 21) James Johnson, Wake Forest 22) Austin Daye, Gonzaga 23) Robbie Hummel, Purdue 24) Dominique Jones, South Florida 25) LaceDarius Dunn, Baylor.

 

 

-- Freshman-Related Games to Watch (February 19 to March 3)

 

Purdue at Indiana, February 19 (7 ET ESPN) – I don’t think there is any question that Indiana is a more talented team than the young Boilermakers but there aren’t many teams you will see this year with better chemistry and heart than Matt Painter’s bunch. There isn’t a “standout” freshman like Indiana has but it does seem like among Scott Martin, Robbie Hummel, E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson, a different young buck steps up each game. It was “Professor Frink” Hummel at Wisconsin and against Michigan State, it was Moore with 28 against Northwestern, it was Martin earlier in the year. That being said, Indiana really needs this game in the standings and with all the turmoil surrounding the team, can’t afford to lose much in front of its fans. Gordon seems to be breaking out of his mini-slump and should shine again.

 

Kansas State at Baylor, February 23 (8 ET) – Lost in the recent devastation Michael Beasley has enforced upon the Big 12 has been the outstanding play of his teammate Bill Walker and Baylor guard LaceDarius Dunn. “Pee Pants” Walker is averaging a quiet 16 and 6 this year and Dunn has had 23, 26 and 19 in the Bears’ last three, all against good backcourts. Also don’t forget Wildcats freshman point Jacob Pullen (a.k.a. Shake), who hasn’t been willingly giving the ball to the other team that much lately.

 

USC at Arizona, February 28 (9 ET, ESPN) – It seems like the Pac-10 has a great freshman match-up every night, but this game should go a long way to settling the Bayless/Mayo debate (assuming there actually is one, of course). In the first game, Mayo played better but Arizona won on the road, which pretty much tells you a lot about the two players. Bayless is probably as important to his team as any player in

the country, while Mayo’s success never seems to coincide with the Trojans’ wins/losses.

 

USC at Arizona State, March 1 (3 ET) – Yeah so, the Pac-10 is a lot better than everybody else. As mentioned above, I am now a huge James Harden fan and would love to see him outplay Mayo, not because I dislike OJ but so Harden is finally mentioned right along with Mayo on a national level. Out of nowhere, ASU has a rabid fanbase and chances are they will have disparaging things to say about Mr. Mayo. Just a guess.

 

St. Mary’s at Gonzaga, March 1 (8 ET) – In a rematch of one of the best games of this season so far, the Gaels and Zags will duel in national obscurity the second time around as this one isn’t on TV. I’m still reeling from what I saw Gonzaga freshman Austin Daye do in the first meeting as he dazzled with a display of long-range bombs, crossovers, shot fakes and mid-range touch (he’s 6-10 by the way). He then decided to disappear for a few games so by March 1 he should be ready to embarrass folks. And if you think Spokane won’t have a plethora of Australia-related jokes for St. Mary’s’ freshman point Patty Mills, well you just don’t understand Pacific Northwest basketball fans.

 

Honorable Mention

Ohio State at Indiana, February 26 (7 ET ESPN)

Mississippi at Kentucky, February 27 (8 ET)

Duke at North Carolina State, March 1 (12 ET CBS)

Pittsburgh at Syracuse, March 1 (12 ET ESPN)

Memphis at Southern Miss, March 1 (4 ET)