I said this freshman class would be better overall than last year’s which, as a part of what should now be known as the Age-Minimum Era, would make it amongst the best ever. But I still was wary of that statement, wondering if those besides the consensus top five of Gordon, Beasley, Rose, Love and Mayo would have the same secondary impact of those that fell in line after Durant and Oden last year. Turns out we are seeing more than just an in flux of impact freshmen, we could be seeing a shift in the landscape of college basketball.
Now I know it’s early and it sounds insane to say things like that. Last season several freshmen ended up playing very inconsistently once league play began. Several of this year’s freshmen will go through the same. But the fact that some of these performances even exist, players dominating just a few months removed from high school, is a glimpse of potential — not guaranteed to be fulfilled, keep in mind — that is rarely seen.
We expected a lot from Beasley but 30 and 20?! Everyone knew Gordon was nasty but 12-19 on threes?! Sure, JJ Hickson would be good if he got the minutes in NC State’s crowded frontcourt but 26 and 10?! 12-12 FGs?! With other amazing lines popping up everywhere it seems the most talented players in the country are mostly freshmen
Jay Bilas recently wrote a column bemoaning a new, youthful trend in college basketball due to the NBA’s draft rules. Bilas thought the youth movement brought immature basketball. But to reject the type of talent we are seeing is to reject quality basketball. I wrote as much in a response on my blog. Others in the media have noticed the incredible talent level and the CHN message board provided some great discourse on the topic as well. The question isn’t whether it’s good for the game, but with the NBA-type talent these freshmen bring, will it be possible for a team without one to win a title?
I’m going to try to be skeptical and take the little I’ve seen with a grain of salt but as of right now, narrowing the nation’s top freshmen down to ten is a nearly impossible task, maybe one best suited for Wooden Award voters, not me.
This one is surely to illicit some response, so feel free to send e-mails. Oh and this was written before the Maui games so James Anderson and Kyle Singler’s performances weren’t considered.
1. Eric Gordon, Indiana – Alright, allow me to use some of the aforementioned skepticism. He does need some work defensively. To truly put this team among the nation’s elite, he’ll have to be just as big as factor in the defensive backcourt as he is offensively… OK, enough of that. Holy crap. The aspects of Gordon’s game everyone raved about were athleticism, strength and penetration ability. But if he is going to hit six threes a game and shoot 63 percent from beyond the arc, you can forget about ever stopping him without a constant double team. Plus, in what was a mediocre performance overall by the Hoosiers, giving up 50 points by half to Chattanooga and trailing by four, Gordon showed that takeover ability that everyone wanted to see in college (and got 33 on only 15 shots). It was his night and he made sure it stayed that way. The expectations are through the roof in Bloomington, which is going to put Bruce Weber and Illinois further under the microscope, and we’ll see over the next two weeks if Gordon can shine with Georgia Tech and Southern Illinois providing a truer test of his skills.
Stats- 27 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.5 apg, 2.5 spg, 2.5 TO, 17-29 FGs, 12-19 3s, 8-11 FTs
Featured Link – From Inside the Hall, a Hoosiers blog, a great breakdown of the Chattanooga game.
2. Derrick Rose, Memphis - Beasley becomes the first player in the history of the world to average 30 and 20 and placed behind someone averaging 20 and 5. He’ll get over it. But Rose possesses the type of athleticism that comes along very rarely in college basketball. I’ve always thought transcendent point guard skills are more valuable than the versatile power forward type, of which Beasley is a prime example. I can only think of about five players who can do what Rose will be able to do and they are Jason Kidd, Gilbert Arenas, Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade. Guys that combine the ability to create for themselves and teammates, all while being the best athlete on the court and making three or four “wow” plays a game. One of the things to look for in a great player is his impact when he doesn’t have his A game. Against Oklahoma Rose didn’t play to his ability and against UCONN his playmaking wasn’t up to par but in both cases he found a way to make a major impact, playing a pretty impressive second fiddle to Dorsey and Douglas-Roberts, who carried the Tigers in each game.
Stats- 19.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1 spg, 1 bpg, 3 TO, 49 FG%, 4-13 3s, 71.9 FT%
Featured Link- Finally found a great feature on Rose.
3. Michael Beasley, Kansas State – The numbers are insane but they haven’t played anyone that even remotely resembles a quality Division I team, struggling in two of those games. But it’s pretty clear that Beasley not only could have a Durant-type season, at least statistically, even with one foot in the NBA lottery. Beasley has an NBA-ready body but plays with the fluidity of a guard. There aren’t going to be many players in the country that can keep him from getting 12-15 rebounds a game. The constant question with Beasley will be if he can get those numbers within the structure of the team and whether his outstanding individual performance will reap the same team success that Durant and Oden’s did last year. His three assists per game are encouraging but he has an interesting stretch of George Mason, the rest of the Old Spice Classic, Oregon, Notre Dame and Cal to prove himself.
Stats- 30 ppg, 20 rpg, 3 apg, 1.7 spg, 1.7 bpg, 3.7 TO, 61.8 FG%, 3-7 3s, 19-29 FTs
Featured Link- Wondering how Beasley ended up at K State?
4. Kevin Love, UCLA – Love seemed to be getting the Duke treatment from Dukie V and Shulman last night, where every solid but unspectacular pass or rebound channeled the spirit of Bill Walton. He is a great rebounder, passer and team defender. That much cannot be disputed. But he is not a great post player or athlete. In fact, I have to question his potential as an NBA starter right now unless he loses some weight and improves his jumping and conditioning. If it wasn’t for him the Bruins would’ve had 30 turnovers against that press but in the half-court he didn’t show that much. Howland really needs to get him in the high post so it opens passing lanes and lets him face up. With his back to the basket, he’s not much of a scorer. My interest level has heightened a bit after last night though, his play has the potential to be polarizing and I’m interested to see how he is used in March on a title contender. Whatever happens, I just hope Vitale doesn’t make me hate him by year’s end.
Stats- 20 ppg, 11.8 rpg, 2.5 apg, 59.1 FG%, 3-5 3s, 25-35 FTs.
Featured Link- Nice feature from his hometown on the eve of his debut.
5. OJ Mayo, USC – Thus begins the conundrum that is OJ Mayo. Scores 32 in the opener BUT takes 27 shots, eight turnovers and a loss to Mercer, who absolutely blows. Five more turnovers against The Citadel BUT keeps from dominating the ball and still gets 29 in a nice road win against South Carolina. Maybe that’s what so appealing about Mayo. There’s no doubt he has a wealth of talent but it’s like he’s torn between wanting to show everyone how good he is and the natural inclination of any athlete to want to win. Maybe Mayo thought if he got his numbers they couldn’t lose, just like in high school, but Daniel Hackett’s performance against the Gamecocks hopefully proved to OJ that he isn’t as indispensable as he thought.
Stats- 25.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 4.3 apg, 2.0 spg, 0.7 bpg, 5 TO, 49.2 FG%, 10-27 3s, 9-10 FTs
6. Kosta Koufos, Ohio State – I said Koufos was a better player than Oden right now, realized how insane it was to say that, was terrified he would suck on national TV and felt mostly vindicated after watching him play. He’s a perfect complement to a very underrated Othello Hunter because he doesn’t need to stay in the post to be effective and won’t guard the opponent’s best big. There was a three or four minute span against Green Bay when he hit a three and then got three straight buckets in the post using a different move each time. Defensively he wasn’t really tested but showed ability that made him far from the anti-Oden.
Stats- 18.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1.0 apg, 2.0 bpg, 0.5 spg, 1.0 TO, 61.5 FG%, 2-3 3s, 3-5 FTs
Featured Link- Great piece by Andy Glockner of ESPN.com on the return of skilled, cornerstone college big men, most of whom are freshmen.
7. Donte Green, Syracuse – Make no mistake, Donte Greene will be the go-to guy on Syracuse. Not Jonny Flynn, not Eric Devendorf. He is a quiet guy compared to the top five on this list but is not going to shy away from being the offensive focal point or playing big minutes (40 vs. St. Joe’s). There is obviously a chemistry established with Flynn already, not unlike the Augustin-Durant connection from last year. They seem to know where to find each other at all times (as evident by Flynn’s absurd pass to Greene for that dunk against St. Joe’s). For a freshman with his talent but not exactly the established leader of the team, having an ally in Flynn will be huge for his development. Being able to score from anywhere on the court makes it easy on Jonny too.
Stats- 19 ppg, 8 rpg, 1.3 apg, 3 bpg, 1 spg, 3.3 TO, 55.3 FG%, 8-19 3s, 7-9 FTs
Featured Link- Let’s not get ahead of ourselves with the Melo comparisons, but it’s exciting to be a Cuse fan.
8. Nick Calathes, Florida – Besides a blowout of half-decent Rutgers, they haven’t really played anyone, but the freshmen-laden don’t sleep on the Gators just yet. Of the five freshmen that play big minutes, Calathes has the best all-around game. He’s 6-6 and while his jump shot hasn’t even been clicking early, it’s his playmaking and feel for the game that makes him effective. It’s an interesting dynamic for Florida. By starting over, the rebuilding process may actually be accelerated. Rather than having some impact freshmen trying to fit in with vets, they have five guys with no specific roles and no egos all coming into their own at the same time.
Stats- 15.8 ppg, 5.5 apg, 3.3 rpg, 0.8 spg, 2.8 TO, 44.4 FG%, 10-14 FTs, 5-16 3s.
Featured Link- Excellent Miami-Herald feature on Calathes and his basketball-centric family.
9. Jonny Flynn, Syracuse – The Cuse has one of the best journalism schools in the country so when they do something relevant in sports, it tends to get a bit of media attention. But the outpouring of excitement from Jonny Flynn’s 28 vs. Siena and game-winning three vs. St. Joe’s might have led to some wrong impressions. First, the 28 point performance was the anomaly, not the five-point game. Flynn is an outstanding playmaker and wasn’t recruited as a scorer or shooter. But in those two performances you saw that this kid does whatever his team needs. He’ll hit the open shot or find the open man, he’ll get to the basket or keep his man out of the paint, he’ll push the ball or operate in the half-court. There’s the potential to be a Darren Collison type player if he hangs around because he doesn’t do one thing exceptionally except lead a team. He’s a legend around the Cuse for his early-season heroics but his nearly 4:1 assist/turnover and 54 percent shooting are more important to me.
Stats- 13.0 ppg, 7.7 apg, 3.3 rpg, 1.0 spg, 2.0 TO, 53.8 FG%, 7-10 3s
10. Blake Griffin, Oklahoma – I didn’t know a lot about Griffin before the Memphis game but I was really impressed. That didn’t seem like his ‘A’ game and he was definitely Oklahoma’s best player (matched-up with Joey Dorsey too). When you see him play on the wing, drive to the hoop and fill the lanes on the fast break (which were few for the Sooners) it seems impossible that he’s 6-9. Unfortunately his lack of an outside shot will keep him on the block where his post moves rely more on athleticism and quickness than polish. What he’s shown so far has been predicated on raw ability but if he can start to play under control he could be the best Big 12 freshman not named Beasley.
Stats- 14.8 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 1.8 apg, 0.8 bpg, 1.8 spg, 2.6 TO, 55.8 FG%, 16-23 FTs.
Featured Link- Please don’t compare him to Kevin Bookout and Big Country.
Heading out- Kyle Singer, Duke; Anthony Randolph, LSU; Herb Pope, New Mexico State
11) Anthony Randolph, LSU 12) JJ Hickson, NC State 13) Andrew Ogilvy, Vanderbilt 14) Austin Daye, Gonzaga 15) Kyle Singler, Duke 16) Chris Wright, Dayton 17) DeJuan Blair, Pittsburgh 18) Chandler Parsons, Florida 19) Jerryd Bayless, Arizona 20) James Anderson, Oklahoma State. 21) DeAndre Jordan, Texas A & M 22) Brockeith Pane, Houston 23) P’Allen Stinnett, Creighton 24) Taylor King, Duke 25) E’Twaun Moore, Purdue
Games to Watch (November 20 thru December 3, excludes later round tourney games)
Syracuse vs. Ohio State, November 21 (9:00 ET, ESPN2, Preseason NIT semifinal) – Best collection of freshmen in one game thus far. Koufos could have his way with the soft Cuse interior unless they are armed with Proactive (sorry, had to do it).
NC State at Michigan State, November 28 (7:00 ET, ESPN, Big Ten/ACC Challenge) – JJ Hickson deserves to be on this list but losing to New Orleans doesn’t help. Chris Allen and Durrell Summers are in double-figures for Spartans. If they lose, Izzo will ban them from sorority houses.
Oklahoma at USC, November 29 (11:00 ET, FSN) – I think Mayo goes off. Griffin vs. Gibson should be entertaining. Maybe Davon Jefferson will show up for this one.
Oregon at Kansas State, November 29 (9:00 ET, ESPN2) – Time to play a real team Mr. Beasley. Beware the awesome stat-crushing power of Marty Leunen. Sucks to be Bill Walker right now.
Indiana at Southern
December 1 (9:30 ET, ESPNU) – Can’t wait for this one! Oh wait, I don’t
get to watch this because no one in the world has ESPNU. I’m sure it
will be entertaining to watch the
little red circle that is Eric
Gordon face a smothering Saluki defense on Gamecast.
Drexel at Virginia, November 20 (8:00 ET)
Western Kentucky vs. Gonzaga, November 22 (11:30 ET, ESPNU)
Georgia Tech at Indiana, November 27 (7:00 ET, ESPN, Big Ten/ACC Challenge)
Purdue at Clemson, November 27 (9:30 ET, ESPN2, Big Ten/ACC Challenge)
Texas A & M at Arizona, December 2 (6:00 ET)