Freshman 10: The Return of Mike Conley

    
February 15th, 2007
So last Freshman 10 I talked about how with the NFL season over, ESPN was going to try to milk as much ratings out of Durant vs. Oden as possible and it turns out I was right. Bill Simmons, of whom I am usually a huge fan, is now one of ESPN.com’s “authorities” on college hoops with his basketball blog. Simmons has openly denounced the college game in many of his columns and now he is writing about it daily? Admittedly, he’s only been following college hoops for a week, acknowledges his mistakes and asks readers for feedback, but is ESPN really that desperate to throw their top guy into the fire like this? Just leave it to guys like Katz, Lavin and Whelliston, who actually know what they’re talking about. Clearly ESPN.com is using its most popular columnist to help promote the college game, the only thing they have going for non-NASCAR fans right now (by the way, if I ever miss PTI for NASCAR Now again, I may go on a rampage). It’s also not a coincidence that every Texas game has been on ESPN and basically 50 percent of Simmons’ content is proclaiming his love for Durant. So, plan to get hit over the head with Kevin Durant and Greg Oden for the next month and a half by ESPN and if you don’t already, look to outlets besides the “Worldwide Leader” for your college basketball coverage.

 

Oh, and I hear Durant is going to be on the cover of the next Sports Illustrated after four straight NFL-related covers. The kid has been doing this all season people, I know it’s the playoffs and it’s the NFL and all that but he’s probably the best freshman ever. The timing just looks bad.

 

Anyway, this will be a theme for this edition as I’m tired of every person in the sports media just jumping on the story du jour (especially when it’s college basketball, an extremely expansive topic to write about) without any real authority on the issue.

 

        E-mails are welcome as always.

 

1.       Kevin Durant, Texas – Now that the Public Service Announcement is over, Kevin Durant is pretty darn good. It seems like everything fit into place for Texas in that Oklahoma State game earlier this week. Durant really only took over when he needed to and they had much more balance in their offense. We’ve seen the games where he gets the ball every possession, takes 30 shots and wills them to a win (over a team like Nebraska or Baylor) but we’ve never seen the Horns play like a team. If they can play like that in March, they will be a very, very dangerous team because Durant will be fresh enough to take over in close games down the stretch and opponents won’t be able to double-team him as much (like Oklahoma State stubbornly did Monday). If you don’t think this team has a slight chance at winning it all, you’re kidding yourself. Oh, and he’s probably going to break almost every Big 12 record there is as a freshman, so there’s that.

        Stats- 24.9 ppg, 11.4 rpg, 1.6 apg, 1.8 bpg, 1.6 spg, 3.0 TO, 48.5 FG%, 38.8 3-PT%, 79.4 FT%

 

2.       Greg Oden, Ohio State – Unfortunately for Oden, all this Durant hype is coming when he’s arguably playing his best basketball of the season. He was absolutely dominant in that Michigan State game a couple weeks back and he did it without looking like he was trying that hard. Is Kevin Durant crashing his party? Of course. But if Oden can show some sort of emotion and leadership ability, he’ll have a chance to form a bigger legacy in his one year (if he doesn’t come out, half of the college basketball content written this year will become irrelevant by the way) than Durant by going deep into the tournament.

        Stats- 15.3 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 3.6 bpg, 0.6 spg, 2.1 TO, 62.4 FG%, 62.2 FT%

 

3. D.J. Augustin, Texas – I’ve read things about Augustin being a bad decision-maker and immediately think, “This guy hasn’t seen him play more than a couple games.” His assist-to-turnover ratio is 2.15, which I consider well above average, especially for a guy playing 34 minutes per game. Over his last three games he’s averaging 21 points, almost seven assists and just under three turnovers so it’s clear he’s starting to hit his stride. He’s also had four games with over 10 free-throw attempts, a testament to his ability to get to the hoop. Unfortunately he’s never really going to get the credit he deserves, no matter what they do in March.

        Stats- 14.4 ppg, 6.8 apg, 2.7 rpg, 1.6 spg, 3.2 TO, 48.7 FG%, 47.8 3-PT%, 84.0 FT%

 

4.       Chase Budinger, Arizona – Budinger was in for a big fall on this list until he dropped 30 in a big win over Oregon. Might be the best non-Durant performance by a freshman this year. Not to hark on the whole Bill Simmons thing but he said Budinger was the fourth best pro prospect and his only basis was the Oregon game. Clearly he hadn’t seen the four-point effort the game before and the way Budinger floats in and out of games all the time. A reader pointed it out to him and he rectified the comment in the next day’s post, but why am I wasting my time reading a columnist feel his way through an immensely popular sport? Not sure if ESPN encouraged him to do this or not but I just wish members of the sports media would stick to what they know. Hopefully everyone watches Saturday’s game against UCLA to form a better opinion on Budinger’s play.

        Stats- 15.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.9 apg, 1.2 spg, 0.4 bpg, 1.4 TO, 50.9 FG%, 35.4 3-PT%, 83.1 FT%

 

5.       Brandan Wright, North Carolina – The new blood of Tar Heels was in full effect against Duke as Wright and Lawson basically dominated down the stretch. It helped that Josh McRoberts had four fouls but give credit to Wright, a usually passive player, for going right at him and being a catalyst in that comeback. But fittingly with the way Wright has been all year, he scores just six points in the loss to Virginia Tech Tuesday night and only ends up with 26 minutes despite not being in foul trouble. If you’re keeping score at home, the following freshmen seem to have no real interest in playing college ball right now: Brandan Wright, Chase Budinger, Paul Harris, Hasheem Thabeet. The age rule doesn’t work in all cases.

        Stats- 14.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.2 apg, 1.7 bpg, 1.0 spg, 1.6 TO, 64.7 FG%, 54.9 FT%

 

6.       Javaris Crittenton, Georgia Tech – Crittenton explodes onto the list this week after being honorable mention last time. I guess when your averages in your last four games (the four since the last Freshman 10) are 22.3 points, 5.3 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 3.3 steals, all four Jackets wins, you tend to get some attention. Also hitting a 70-footer at the half-time buzzer against NC State helps too. Not only does he have Tech back in the NCAA tourney picture but Sunday he gets the chance to silence the Cameron Crazies with what could potentially be the most severe ankle break ever, by crossing up Greg Paulus. Just exciting stuff all around.

        Stats- 14.5 ppg, 5.5 apg, 3.8 rpg, 2.2 spg, 3.7 TO, 46.9 FG%, 41.8 3-PT%, 78.3 FT%

 

7.       Spencer Hawes, Washington- I might be able to add Hawes to that list of guys that don’t really seem interested right now. He’s been really inconsistent, just like the Huskies, but was instrumental in Washington’s huge win over Stanford Sunday. He outscored and outrebounded the Lopez twins by himself (although they did have six blocks). I’m writing this before they take on Washington State but hopefully he can take advantage of the Cougars lack of size.

        Stats- (As of 2/14) 14.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.8 apg, 1.7 bpg, 0.6 spg, 2.4 TO, 55.0 FG%, 73.9 FT%

 

8.       Ryan Anderson, California – I really feel bad for Anderson. This team was looking good with wins over Santa Clara, Kansas State, Stanford and Washington and then DeVon Hardin goes down and they crumble. It’s up to six straight losses for the Bears but you’ve got give Anderson credit for not backing down. He’s the focal point of the offense and was forced to move inside a lot more, where’s he far less comfortable. The numbers are still there and it bodes well for next season but it would have been nice to see Cal keep it up so this kid could get some exposure. Hopefully all is vindicated and he wins what should be a hotly contested Pac-10 Freshman of the Year race.

        Stats- 16.8 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 0.8 bpg, 0.5 spg, 1.4 TO, 48.4 FG%, 37.5 3-PT%, 79.6 FT%

 

9.       Mike Conley, Ohio State – Conley’s return to this list is probably long overdue but now that I’ve got a chance to see him play more, I realize his game goes beyond his stats. I mean stats like his 3-plus assist-to-turnover ratio and 52.7 percent from the field are certainly important, but it’s his intangibles that make him a great player. I don’t know if it’s his familiarity with Oden, but he always seems to know how to get him the ball and his decisions always seem to be spot on. He knows the limitations of his game (his jump shot and his thin frame) and yet he never seems to be exposed. Over his last four he’s starting to assert himself offensively, averaging over 16 per game and he might be just as important to the Buckeyes chances as anyone else.

        Stats- 10.4 ppg, 6.3 apg, 3.0 rpg, 2.3 spg, 2.1 TO, 52.7 FG%, 33.3 3-PT%, 67.9 FT%

 

10.    Stephen Curry, Davidson – (Entourage fans read carefully) What if I were to tell you I had a mid-major team led by a six-foot freshman guard that attempts 15 shots and 8.5 threes per game and averages fewer than three assists? Is that something you might be interested in? Most hoops fans would decline my offer and not expect to see said-team again this year. But in Davidson’s case, that formula is working for some reason. They are 22-4, 13-1 in the conference, all their losses are against decent teams and it’s all thanks to a skinny son of a former NBA-er. Curry has been over 23 points in each of his last six games and barring a major setback, could have the Wildcats heading into the Southern Conference tourney at 17-1 in the league. There’s a chance he could win Player of the Year in the conference also, an honor that will probably only be reserved for one other freshman, Kevin Durant. He certainly has a lot of flaws (assist-to-turnover ratio below the Paulus Line at 0.95:1) but the NCAA tourney really needs this kid’s excitement. I’m a Davidson fan from here on out.

        Stats- 20.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.8 apg, 2.0 spg, 2.9 TO, 45.5 FG%, 40.5 3-PT%, 84.7 FT%

 

Heading out- Lopez twins, Stanford; Scottie Reynolds, Villanova; Jon Scheyer, Duke.

Honorable mention- Tyler Smith, Iowa; Brandon Costner, NC State; Ty Lawson, UNC; Taj Gibson, USC; Daequan Cook, Ohio State; Thaddeus Young, Georgia Tech; Wayne Ellington, UNC; Jeremy Wise, Southern Miss; Eugene Harvey, Seton Hall; Luke Harangody, Notre Dame; Wesley Johnson, Iowa State; Jonathan Rodriguez, Campbell; Quincy Pondexter, Washington; Patrick Beverly, Arkansas; Paul Harris, Syracuse.