Freshman 10: Rookie Review

    
December 18th, 2007
Ah, Finals Time. The time of year where college hoops fans/writers really stretch their love of the game to find something, anything, to get excited about. Do you stand by your game and endure such classics as Duke-Michigan, UNC-Rutgers and Kansas-Ohio? Or do you cleanse the system of college hoops for awhile, replenishing the fluids for the last of the non-conference schedule and then gorge yourself on the opening week of league play once those pesky bowl games subside?

 

I personally tried to take the latter route but couldn’t avoid Xavier-Cincinnati, Louisville-Purdue and some of Kentucky-UAB. But I didn’t get to see much of the freshmen, who for the most part have crawled into the post-USC-Memphis shadows. Some of the incredible early season numbers have come back to Earth, much as they did last year, but what is developing is an unprecedented depth coming from this class. Filling out the honorable mention portion of this edition was the hardest its ever been and even though we are currently mired in an academics-induced lull, I urge fans to brace themselves for a freshman class — from the top to the bottom of the BCS leagues, from high majors to the low — unlike any we’ve ever seen. And by then, we’ll have all forgotten about Finals (I mean, the players already have).

 

Because of the holidays, the next Freshman 10 will be January 8, just in time for conference play, where the players listed below will get their first taste of the college hoops grind. That should give people plenty of time to build an unhealthy rage toward some of the improprieties in this here ranking. Please don’t take it out on holiday shoppers, there will be plenty of faulty iPhones for all of us. Instead, e-mail me with all your vigor.

 

Oh and if you’re into the whole statistical analysis and efficiency numbers and all, John Gasaway of the excellent Basketball Prospectus, has a nice breakdown of Mayo, Love, Gordon and Beasley.

       

1.       Eric Gordon, Indiana – His numbers took a hit because he left the Tennessee State game with that injury and he couldn’t play against Kentucky (which wouldn’t have been much of a test anyway), but Gordon should have a lock at the top spot for awhile. When healthy, he hasn’t been under 20 points yet and for a guy in his position, which, in comparison, is very similar to that of inaccurate OJ Mayo, to shoot those types of percentages is really unfair. When you shoot over 50 percent from three and attempt over 10 free throws a game, you are an unstoppable offensive player. Plain and simple. Now, defensively, his steals and blocks stats are good but there is work to be done. His on ball defending will have to be better if he’s going to lead Indiana to postseason success. The Big Ten is a different style of play than what Gordon has seen so far and while some games he will be able to dictate the style himself, other games are going to be typical, physical Big Ten battles. Will he be as effective a player if he has to sacrifice energy on the offensive end to be a better defender? Against Southern Illinois, the Hoosiers’ only game with that type of dynamic, he was incredible. We’ll see if that’s a good omen.

        Stats- 24.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.4 apg, 1.6 spg, 0.9 bpg, 3.4 TO, 54.3 FG%, 50.9 3PT%, 82.5 FT%

Featured Link- Preseason, I picked Indiana to make the Final Four based mostly on White and Gordon being unstoppable in March, but it will probably be the role players that decide their Big Ten fate.

 

2.       Michael Beasley, Kansas State – In his first match-up with another NBA-level player, the Wildcats’ game against Ryan Anderson, Devon Hardin and Cal, Beasley was overshadowed by fellow freshman Bill Walker, but I’m not holding that against him. I didn’t see the game but apparently he responded to some early struggles against Hardin by easily outplaying him the rest of the way (Hardin had just seven points in 20 minutes). And even though that was the only game Kansas State played since the last Freshman 10, it was very telling. KSU’s struggles were predicated on its supporting cast and I didn’t get the sense Beasley trusted his teammates. But to get a nice win with other players stepping up as Beasley had a tough battle inside could go a long way to improve this team’s shaky chemistry. And seriously, I’d really like to see Michael Beasley in the NCAA Tournament and see Frank Martin possibly murder someone. Can they get a sponsor’s exemption or something?

        Stats- 25 ppg, 14.3 rpg, 1.6 apg, 1.9 bpg, 1.3 spg, 3.2 TO, 57.5 FG%, 66.1 FT%, 8-21 3PTs

            Featured Link- Hey they are letting him talk to the media! And, actually, he’s pretty interesting. See, the media isn’t all bad.

 

3.     Jerryd Bayless, Arizona – Bayless made a big jump since the last Freshman 10, in part because of inconsistency from some other freshmen, but mostly because he has established himself as the Wildcats best player (and an extremely exciting player to watch as well). Against Kansas, he probably deferred too much to Chase Budinger but played well, against Texas A & M he completely took over the game and against Illinois he struggled initially but, along with Nic Wise, fueled an amazing comeback. With the emergence of Wise as a capable ball-handler, Bayless has been able to move off the ball and utilize his jump shot. Against the Illini he made a living coming off screens and either shooting over the defense or drawing a defender and dishing off, which I think makes him more of a “playmaker” than the ambiguous “combo guard.” He’s also made tremendous strides defensively, which might be a sign that the Cats have bought into Kevin O’Neill’s defensive-minded approach pretty quickly after Lute Olson’s departure. Bayless is not only Arizona’s best player, but could be the frontrunner for Pac-10 player of the year right now (and, according to Yoni Cohen, a national POY candidate). And while Mayo-Rose was a big deal, I think Bayless-Rose on the 29th will be better.

        Stats- 20 ppg, 4.7 apg, 3.4 rpg, 1.0 spg, 3.8 TO, 49.5 FG%, 81.3 FT%, 47.6 3PT%             

        Featured Link- No Marcus Williams, Mustafa Shakur or Ivan Radenovic? Um, who cares?

 

4.       OJ Mayo, USC – I’ve written a lot on the Memphis-USC game so I won’t write too much more. Despite his poor shooting, I was more impressed with Mayo that game than Rose. I thought Mayo elevated his game defensively to Rose’s level, which is where most people thought Rose had the advantage. Mayo seems to have already bought in to Floyd’s system, which another thing most people didn’t expect. I think he’s dispelled most of the preconceived notions about him (although ESPN doesn’t think so just yet). But I think that’s what I love about OJ Mayo. His personality, his game, his role with that Trojan team, his recruiting process; it’s all very polarizing. Even his NBA prospects, once a lock for the No. 1 pick, is under scrutiny (click that link for a really good take on his game from NBA scouts). The Pac 10 play should be interesting. You would think a nightly battle in the nation’s toughest league would solve a lot of those uncertainties, but most of the country doesn’t get to watch Pac 10 games. I have a sick feeling that the same crap we hear about Mayo now, is going to be pedaled by the mainstream media come March. And that should make Billy Packer very unbearable.

        Stats- 20.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.9 spg, 0.4 bpg, 4.2 TO, 43.3 FG%, 80 FT%, 37.5 3PT%

        Featured Link- Prior to that Memphis-USC game, Gary Parrish wrote possibly the best piece I’ve read this year on the real Rose and Mayo dynamic.

 

5.       Kevin Love, UCLA – I’m still not sure why I am supposed to be so enamored with Kevin Love. He is very skilled but at this point, doesn’t have nearly the athleticism to play in the NBA in the next couple years and doesn’t have that takeover, team centerpiece game that many of the top freshmen this year have. So why is he at No. 5? Well, perhaps unfairly, it’s because he’s on UCLA. Regardless of how good you think he is on a national level, Kevin Love is going to be a huge factor in the this college basketball season because he is the center and current leading scorer of a legitimate title contender. I might not be giving enough credit to a guy averaging a double-double, but with the exception of the Michigan State game, he hasn’t been more than a role player in the Bruins’ big games (and as he says, that’s maybe not his fault). UCLA isn’t considered a title contender because of Kevin Love, the role player. I actually think he steps up his game in the Pac 10 as his role becomes more defined but he just has not impressed me so far (I’m sure he’ll get over it, by the way).     

        Stats- 16.7 ppg, 10 rpg, 2.1 apg, 0.5 bpg, 0.5 spg, 2.1 TO, 57.6 FG%, 73.4 FT%, 3-11 3PTs

        Featured Link- He’s been Pac 10 player of the week, took a ton of preseason awards, but Kevin Love should be most proud of Whiner of the Week.

 

6.       Derrick Rose, Memphis – As all the other freshmen get gear up for conference play, Rose will gear up for… Conference USA. Yes, it seems like we may have already seen the majority of Derrick Rose’s tests this year. They play Arizona, Georgetown, Gonzaga and Tennessee still, but they also play Tulsa, SMU and Rice. And this might not be great news for Rose because I think he has underachieved by most accounts so far this season. Coming in I saw a player with physical skills that few point guards in this world possess. But so far I’ve seen flashes of brilliance with an overwhelming sense of discomfort. It seems like it’s been difficult for Rose to adapt to not being able to get by strictly on physical skills. He’s played out of control at times, making some questionable decisions and he’s shown little ability to handle the frequent zones Memphis has faced because he isn’t a good outside shooter and has been stifled when he does get into the paint. That’s why I think the easy league schedule will help Rose. It will give him a chance to adapt to the college level and hone his skills within the team context in low pressure situations. Ultimately, his season will be judged on March so if Rose can deal with a little less excitement than the other guys, he could still achieve the greatness we expected.

        Stats- 14.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 3.9 apg, 1.4 spg, 0.6 bpg, 3.1 TO, 47.6 FG%, 71.7 FT%, 4-16 3PTs

        Featured Link-Great feature on the Rose family and his, ahem, interesting recruitment.  

 

7.       Andrew Ogilvy, Vanderbilt – In case you missed it on your calendar, the national media held Andrew Ogilvy Week last week. It was a nice celebration, complete with regurgitated quotes, lame Australia jokes and the word “sleeper” was bandied around with much festivity. Gary Parrish celebrated before everyone else, an Ogilvy Festivus if you will. ESPN.com had its party a few days later. The AP decked the halls shortly after. Even Basketball Prospectus, who usually fails to recognize major-media holidays, decided to put a little something together. OK, there are two points to this. One, that different media outlets probably get caught wearing the same tie pretty often and two, Andrew Ogilvy is really good. Obviously his shooting percentages are completely absurd but it’s his quick adaptation to a “go-to guy” role that is most impressive (you know, what Kevin Love should be). Sure, he was dominant in international play this summer, but that’s far different than playing over the course of an entire basketball season. I thought Vandy could be a Final Four darkhorse this year and having one of the best low post players in the country doesn’t hurt.

        Stats- 19.5 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.1 apg, 1.3 bpg, 0.9 spg, 2 TO, 68.6 FG%, 74.3 FT%

        Featured Link- The always reliable Andy Katz takes, gasp, a different angle on the story.

 

8.       Donte Green, Syracuse – Ugh. It’s not easy being an Orange fan right now. They are the Northeast reincarnation of VMI (and VMI is not a good team), they have lost Eric Devendorf for the season and they probably wouldn’t finish in the top half of the A-10 right now. But at least they have Donte Greene, who, besides Beasley and Gordon, might be the most talented offensive player in the country. If you must compare a freshman to Kevin Durant, it should be Greene. They are both great, effortless shooters with great size and length. They both have outstanding handle for forwards. But I’m not sure Greene is same type of team player — one that makes his teammates much better — that Durant was (and we’re seeing the effects of playing with Durant on this year’s Texas team). His numbers across the board can match up to any other freshman, although that may be a product of Syracuse’s inexplicably fast style, but if he can’t get Cuse into the NCAAs, it’s all moot.

        Stats- 18.9 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 2.1 apg, 2.4 bpg, 1.1 spg, 2.1 TO, 46.8 FG%, 83.8 FT%, 37.7 3PTs

        Featured Link- Nice piece from the student paper at Syracuse. See Boeheim, they aren’t so bad.

 

9.       Davon Jefferson, USC – Count me as one of the first passengers on the soon to be crowded Davon Jefferson bandwagon. After some early season uncertainties that I thought would take a bit longer to resolve, Jefferson has cemented himself as the Trojans other future lottery pick. Because of all of USC’s options, you might not notice Jefferson at first, dismissing him as just another ancillary athlete. But in the occasions when USC gets out in the open court or decides to iso Jefferson on the baseline, you can see the talent manifest itself. In the four games since he’s assumed a full spot in the USC rotation he’s not only average 18 points per game and shined against top opponents but he’s already gotten his conditioning up to where 35 minutes against Kansas and 40 against Memphis is commonplace. With Taj Gibson struggling, Jefferson is probably their best low post option, in addition to his role as their top finisher (filthiness). Trojan fans knew this freshman class would be fleeting but I wouldn’t get to familiar with Jefferson.

        Stats- 14.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.0 spg, 0.8 bpg, 2.7 TO, 54 FG%, 73.2 FT%

        Featured Link- As usual, NBA scouts are early to the bandwagon.

 

10.    DeJuan Blair, Pittsburgh – Quite simply, DeJuan Blair is a man. He’s not the most athletic guy or the most polished player, but he is, in my opinion, undefeated Pittsburgh’s best player. Pitt has had a pretty easy schedule thus far but Blair hasn’t fattened his stats on cupcakes (I believe large quantities of cattle can provide enough nourishment for DeJuan). He had 20 and 14 in the opener against Houston, 16 and 14 against Jon Brockman and Washington and 20 and 10 against Oklahoma State. In a three-game stretch of blowouts against MVSU, Buffalo and Boston he played sparingly and scored just 15 points combined so his near double-double average should probably be better. I’ve only seen him play once and was astonished to see his steals per game number. For a bruising post player to be tied for 28th in the nation in steals is an indication of how surprisingly athletic the (listed) 250-pound Blair really is. All that being said, let’s see if he can make a thin Duke frontcourt pay on Thursday.

        Stats- 11.8 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 1.6 bpg, 2.4 spg, 57.6 FG%, 76.9 FT%

        Featured Link- As much as I hate Pitt, this was a nice story about the hometown kid.

 

Heading out- Patrick Mills, St. Mary’s; Kyle Singler, Duke

Honorable mention

11) Kyle Singler, Duke; 12) JJ Hickson, NC State; 13) James Anderson, Oklahoma State; 14) Patrick Mills, St. Mary’s; 15) James Harden, Arizona State; 16) Kosta Koufos, Ohio State; 17) DeAndre Jordan, Texas A & M; 18) Chris Wright, Dayton; 19) Nick Calathes, Florida; 20) Anthony Randolph, LSU; 21) Blake Griffin, Oklahoma; 22) Patrick Patterson, Kentucky; 23) Devin Gibson, Texas-San Antonio; 24) Jeff Allen, Virginia Tech; 25) Jonny Flynn, Syracuse.

 

Games to Watch (December 18 thru January 7)

Duke at Pittsburgh, December 20 (7 ET, ESPN) – Lots of questions will be answered in this one. Is Pitt’s record a product of their easy schedule? Can Duke rebound with a physical Panther team? Can Pitt slow the game down? Will DeJuan Blair enjoy Greg Paulus as a snack? Real chance for Blair to take over if he can, real chance for Singler and King to face some tough wing defenders.

Ohio State at Florida, December 22 (4 ET, CBS) – Last year’s national title is this year’s battle of the best recruiting classes. Florida’s Fab Five (or maybe Fraudulent Five, depending on how you look at it) hasn’t played anyone so this will be a good test and a good first TV look at how Calathes, Parsons, Allen, Tyus and Lucas play together. Koufos v. Speights should be very entertaining as neither should be able to defend the other.

Arizona at Memphis, December 29 (10 ET, ESPN2) – Won’t be the hype or national storylines of Memphis-USC, but this one should be way more entertaining. Should be interesting to see if O’Neill plays man and if so, will Bayless or Wise be on Rose? Rose needs to step up in this one. He’s got the quickness and physicality to shut down Bayless if he wants. Should be some draft positioning on the line here.

Texas-San Antonio at Oklahoma State, January 2 (8 ET, Full Court) – Didn’t see this one coming did you? I didn’t feel like writing more about Memphis and Pittsburgh. James Anderson of Oklahoma State is a lot of fun to watch and would be a staple of the Freshman 10 if his team was better. He’s an athletic swingman who can score in a variety of ways and could be a top 5 Big 12 scorer this year. The unstoppable force that are the Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners are led by freshman guard Devin Gibson who is averaging an Eric Maynor-like 13.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 3.1 steals per game.

Saint Mary’s at Texas, January 5 (6 ET, FSN, Full Court) – Good chance to see Patrick Mills against an elite backcourt. I’m not certain he’s ready for this challenge but both he and St. Mary’s could really gain some legitimacy if they play the Longhorns tough.

 

Honorable Mention

Gonzaga at Oklahoma, December 20 (9 ET, ESPN)

Georgetown at Memphis, December 22 (12 ET, ESPN)

Pittsburgh at Dayton, December 29 (8 ET, ESPN2)

St. John’s at Syracuse, January 2 (7 ET, Full Court)

Pittsburgh at Villanova, January 6 (12 ET, Full Court)