It’s also a chance to see freshmen get some real tests. Last year we saw the statistics of most non-Durantian freshmen decline and with the gaudy numbers put up this season, merely treading water will be an impressive feat for most folks. So rather than just continue to rank the top 10 freshmen as the “second season” begins, I welcome conference play with a big ol’ primer – complete with a nifty little boxing gimmick – examining the impact freshmen and handicapping the rookie of the year awards in each BCS league and on the non-BCS landscape. The regular ranking comes at the bottom, minus snarky elaboration, with the usual games to watch following.
My New Year’s Resolution is to not develop an unhealthy proclivity toward one freshman which could severely cloud my judgment, taste and smell like I did last year so send anti-Eric Gordon e-mails before it’s too late.
The Champ – Kevin Love, UCLA
Because of UCLA’s profile and title aspirations, it’s basically Love’s freshman of the year award to lose. Last year Chase Budinger won the award, even though the less known Ryan Anderson of Cal probably deserved it. So it goes, with these type of media awards. That being said, Love has been outstanding, even if he doesn’t have quite as big a role on his team as the Pac-10 froshes listed below (although he’s starting to change that). Last week, against the vaunted interiors of Stanford and Cal, on the road no less, he combined for 34 points and 21 rebounds. Those are the type of big-time performances, in tough conference games, that most freshmen fail to register. I’ve been down on Love for his lack of athleticism and defensive presence, but he’s certainly doing a lot with what he does have.
The Contenders – OJ Mayo, USC; Jerryd Bayless, Arizona; James Harden, Arizona State
Mayo continues to be utterly confounding, dropping 34 on Cal on 12-21 shooting and then blowing against Stanford, shooting 5-19 and registering five turnovers and zero assists. They lost both games so the only constant appears to be that the more Mayo shoots, the worse the Trojans play. He has shot 19 times or more eight times and they are 3-5 in those games. They are undefeated otherwise. Bayless has lost some momentum because of that injury and the Wildcats have been blown out twice in his absence. They have four road games coming up against solid teams and it doesn’t appear he’ll be ready too soon. Everyone expected Arizona State’s revival to begin this season, but no one thought they would make this type of leap. Harden is the main reason. All he’s done is top 20 points seven times, all while shooting an insane 56 percent from the floor. He’s the rare college wing scorer that doesn’t need to rely on the three – even though he’s hit 16 of the 34 he’s attempted – and scored 44 in his first two Pac-10 games. It’s never going to happen because the Devils just don’t have the attention of the public, but Harden is playing like a first team All Pac-10 player.
The Undercard – Ty Abbott, Arizona State; Davon Jefferson, USC
Both are stuck in the spotlight of their outstanding classmates, but will still be very important their respective teams’ success. Abbott is the surprise third option behind two very good players in Harden and Jeff Pendergraph and while he’s done a lot of damage against cupcakes, his 19 points in a blowout of Xavier is a promising performance. Jefferson has shown flashes of lottery pick type talent, and has done it against the Trojans’ toughest opponents, but still plays too inconsistent on a largely inconsistent team, playing just 15 minutes against Stanford Saturday. Obviously we can only speculate Tim Floyd’s confidence in Jefferson, but it appears that if USC starts winning regularly in conference, Jefferson will have to be a part of it.
The Champ – Andrew Ogilvy, Vanderbilt
The Commodores just keep winning and for some reason, most of college basketball still isn’t sure how, even though they were very close to an elite eight team last year and are obviously improved. Yes, few people heard of Ogilvy before the season, but that doesn’t mean his incredible play should be considered a flash in the pan. After a season high 25 against UMass Saturday, he’s up near 20 points per game and has registered at least nine rebounds in six of his last seven. If you still need proof, a Saturday match-up against Patrick Patterson and a Jan. 17 track meet against Tennessee should really test Ogilvy’s only apparent weakness, athleticism. But I’m not betting against him. Oh, and I refuse to call him AJ, he’s not a teen heartthrob.
The Contenders – Chris Warren, Mississippi; Patrick Patterson, Kentucky; Nick Calathes, Florida
If Ogilvy should falter, these guys are not far behind to take the SEC’s top freshman honor. Warren is in a similar situation to Ogilvy, an unsung recruit (he wasn’t in Rivals top 150) leading a surprisingly undefeated team that doesn’t get much credit because of a weak schedule. I haven’t seen him play, just like everyone else, but when you consider everyone’s preseason expectations for the Rebels, you’d have to think Warren is the main reason for their success. I don’t want to pull the whole “they haven’t played anyone card,” but I will wait a day to see how he handles Ole Miss’ game at Tennessee tomorrow night before I make a complete evaluation. Patterson… well I just feel bad for him. He waited awhile to decide where to play this season and he clearly made an unfortunate choice. I mean, being a starter at Kentucky for Billy Gillispie certainly seems like a great gig, but he’s simply the best player on a bad team right now. And Saturday’s stinker against Louisville isn’t going to help the situation, no matter how great he was before that. Ironically, the fact that he’s at Kentucky is going to get him more attention than Warren, so if he’s a lottery pick next year, I guess Kentucky wasn’t all bad. As for Calathes, a lot of eyes will be on Florida and if they can finish better than expected in the SEC, he’s going to get a lot of the credit as their de facto floor general. He struggled in a big game against Ohio State but his all around game is undeniable. Part point guard, part spot up shooter, part slasher, the 6-5 Calathes is the Gators leading scorer, assist man and thief and is second on the team in rebounds.
The Undercard – Everyone Else On Florida; Anthony Randolph, LSU
Chandler Parsons is a notch ahead of Jai Lucas, Adam Allen and Alex Tyus in the non-Calathes freshman pecking order but they are all making major contributions. It’s almost like there is an odd chemistry amongst these guys because together they suddenly inherited this two-time defending champ. I think all five should stay in school until at least their junior year, in which case they will be finishing each other’s sentences and wearing matching Christmas sweaters. There’s still a tourney bid to be had this year and while it won’t be a Fab Five repeat, it’ll still be something to watch. I had Randolph in my preseason top 10 and he hasn’t done anything to really ruin that assertion but playing on an underachieving team isn’t going to get you much more praise. At times he leaves you in awe. A 6-10 stick with incredible hops, a sweet left jumper he can get off whenever he wants and the ability to control the game at the rim on both ends. But when you’re losing the way the Tigers are, the freshman mistakes are sure to creep in, and they have. Then again, the freshman mistakes have crept in for most LSU players, regardless of their actual class.
Non BCS (excluding Memphis because they are really good)
The Champ – Patrick Mills, St. Mary’s
OK, there isn’t really an award for non-BCS freshman of the year, non-Memphis division, mainly because it won’t fit on a trophy. But in College Basketball Writer Land, you can make up anything you want! Mills gets the nod as of now and still has my top performance of the year by a freshman so far with the 37 he put on Oregon, but the Aussie has slowed down a bit of late. He struggled in the Gaels other two tests, losses to Southern Illinois and Texas. But thankfully, Texas doesn’t play in the West Coast Conference and even though he isn’t going to sneak up on anyone anymore, he’s still one of the more talented players in the league. His turnovers have been rising steadily in recent games, which is always concerning for a freshman, but his scoring might be more important to the team right now.
The Contenders – Chris Wright, Dayton; Austin Daye, Gonzaga; Matt Howard, Butler; P’Allen Stinnett, Creighton; Josh White, North Texas
The first three guys were all pretty highly-touted coming out of high school, have generally lived up to expectations and are chasing Mills mostly because they are contributors on high-caliber teams. Wright came out of the gate strong but has sputtered a bit lately, scoring just 12 points in his last three games. But he’s still the Flyers’ second leading scorer and is still the team’s best chance of making SportsCenter every night. If you are slated to cover Wright for a game, I would not advise inviting family or loved ones. He will dunk on you and take your girlfriend. Daye was a top 25 recruit but has yet to really assert himself. He is behind Bouldin, Pargo and Heytvelt on the pecking order but he still has the talent to take a game over. If he doesn’t press, he could be a nice role player for the Zags because he can score in spurts when the other guys need a rest or are struggling. Howard is the opposite of Wright, starting off with some paltry minutes but becoming a major contributor of late. He is another guy who scores in spurts, with double figures in his last five despite only playing more than 25 minutes once. But Howard’s value isn’t really as a scorer. He’s a tough interior guy with a nose for the ball and a willingness to cover bigger, stronger players. Stinnett has emerged as the second option on a very deep Creighton team that should contend for the Valley title. He had 18 of their 50 in a tough one-point win at Missouri State and is a slasher that can get into the paint at will. On the other hand, no one really heard of Josh White before, but after dropping 28 on Texas’ and its outstanding guards, he’s on the radar. The Mean Green (yes, that is their nickname) are a respectable 9-4 with wins over Oklahoma State (White had 25) and Indiana State (only 11).
OK, consider yourself substantially primed. If you have any other questions regarding freshmen or the ideal way to incorporate boxing metaphors into college hoops columns, I probably cannot answer them at this point. Below is the standard Freshman 10 goodness, minus even more words.
1) Eric Gordon, Indiana
2) Kevin Love, UCLA
3) Michael Beasley, Kansas State
4) Andrew Ogilvy, Vanderbilt
5) Derrick Rose, Memphis
6) Donte Greene, Syracuse
7) James Harden, Arizona State
8) Jerryd Bayless, Arizona
9) OJ Mayo, USC
10) Chris Warren, Mississippi
Heading out- Davon Jefferson, USC; DeJuan Blair, Pittsburgh
11) DeJuan Blair, Pittsburgh; 12) DeAndre Jordan, Texas A & M; 13) Patrick Patterson, Kentucky; 14) Blake Griffin, Oklahoma; 15) Kyle Singler, Duke; 16) Nick Calathes, Florida; 17) Kosta Koufos, Ohio State; 18) Patrick Mills, St. Mary’s; 19) Jonny Flynn, Syracuse; 20) JJ Hickson, NC State; 21) James Anderson, Oklahoma State; 22) Davon Jefferson, USC; 23) Josh White, North Texas; 24) LaceDarius Dunn, Baylor; 25) Corey Fisher, Villanova
Freshman-Related Games to Watch (January 10 thru January 21)
Vanderbilt at Kentucky, January 12 (1:30 ET, CBS)
Kansas State at Oklahoma, January 12 (6 ET)
Gonzaga at Pepperdine, January 15 (Midnight, ESPN)
Oklahoma State at Baylor, January 15 (8 ET)
Florida at Mississippi, January 16 (8 ET)
USC at UCLA, January 19 (3:30 ET, CBS)
Texas A & M at Kansas State, January 19 (4 ET, ESPN)
Villanova at Syracuse, January 19 (12 ET, ESPN)
Previous Freshmen Primers: