So what does that leave us with? After last year and the first month of this season, it’s no longer shocking that freshmen are consistently going to be the most talented players in the country, leaving a new college basketball landscape that doesn’t seem so foreign anymore. We’ve had a freshman win the Naismith so that’s not really a storyline anymore. We’ve seen a freshman-laden team make it all the way to the championship game before losing to what will probably be the last champion to start all juniors and seniors. So I suppose what is left is a glance toward the future (starting tonight with Beasley, Rose and Mayo in action) and that will be a minor theme of this edition. Hardcore fans can clearly see a shift in the way college basketball is being played and the way this season plays out, especially in March, will be a great way to discern where the sport is headed. The regular season will provide some gray area as evident by the tremendous success from experienced teams like Butler and Washington State but come tourney time, the freshmen will have their first chance to take the game for themselves for good.
Same deal as always and e-mails are welcome.
1. Eric Gordon, Indiana – It’s becoming apparent that Eric Gordon might be the most talented player in the country. At 6-4, he just completely dominates the game. Whether this is good for Indiana or not is yet to be determined. Gordon isn’t a selfish player but his talent forces him to be the focal point of the whole game. It’s kind of like Lebron James and Cleveland. He is undoubtedly a superior playmaker and one that needs the ball. Not to take every shot but simply because he is always the best player on the court. I think most people will admit Indiana hasn’t been all that impressive so far but no one will admit Gordon hasn’t met his absurd expectations. That’s an interesting predicament for Kelvin Sampson. Do you take the ball out of Gordon’s hands in favor of a more balanced attack even if he can dominate every game he plays? At some point, you have to think, he’s going to hit a wall and it doesn’t appear Indiana is ready for that moment. Not right now.
UPDATE: Well, this sucks, but still, he’s been pretty darn good.
Stats- 26.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.7 spg, 0.9 bpg, 3.9 TO, 54.5 FG%, 82.4 FT%, 52.4 3PT%
Featured link- The mainstream media (read: ESPN) hasn’t quite jumped on Gordon yet, presumably because Indiana has only been on TV once, but everyone else realizes how special he is.
2. Michael Beasley, Kansas State – I still haven’t really figured out Beasley yet. Because he is a frontcourt player, he is much more dependent on his teammates to get him the ball so he can maximize his impact on the game. Kevin Durant was in the same situation. Having DJ Augustin certainly helped him but I think what was most impressive about Durant was his will to win and that in order to get that outcome, he went and got the ball himself and took over. There aren’t a lot of tangible ways to see if a player has that attitude but you could tell he had it. Beasley has something, I’m just not sure what. On the one hand you see him being very vocal with his teammates, which is generally a sign of leadership, but it often appears he’s just bitching at them when they make mistakes (the game vs. Oregon and Kansas State’s complete botching of the final few minutes being a prime example). With some players, that can be motivating but it doesn’t seem to work for the Wildcats. It’s a young team with a loose cannon of a head coach and you’d like the best player to be a calming influence. Will he be a great player like Durant, or just an obscenely talented one?
Stats- 26.7 ppg, 15 rpg, 1.6 apg, 1.6 bpg, 1.1 spg, 2.9 TO, 60.8 FG%, 66 FT%, 8-17 3PT%
Featured link- With these one-and-done stars every game is a big part of their college legacy. What will Beasley’s be (and does he even care)?
3. OJ Mayo, USC – USC is probably the most interesting team in the country right now. We’ve already seen their peak (Southern Illinois) and their rock bottom (Mercer). And in the peak, Mayo had just 13 points on seven shots and played just 28 minutes, sitting out the first seven minutes. It was, in my estimation, his best all around game of the Anaheim Classic (the only three times I’ve seen them play). When they hit rock bottom as a team, he played the whole game, scored 32 on 27 shots and by most accounts, was a main reason they were blown out at home by an awful team. When he gives up his star role, they succeed and that is not the OJ Mayo we expected. And I give all the credit to Tim Floyd for harnessing his talents. On a team with potentially three top 20 draft picks in 2008, OJ Mayo doesn’t have to be “the man.” As a guy who exerts more energy on the defensive end, is a very reliable passer and spot-up shooter and can lead the break and take the ball at the end of the shot clock, he is not only the best team player he can be, but he is probably making greater strides as an individual player than if he was jacking up 27 shots a game. We have already seen him do that (see: McDonald’s All-American game). Tim Floyd is an NBA coach coaching NBA talent and will have a terrifying team come February if he can keep the old Mayo from overtaking the new one… Now watch as tonight’s match-up vs. Derrick Rose and the dozens of scouts that come with it induces a 30 shot chuckfest.
Stats- 21 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.9 spg, 0.5 bpg, 4.5 TO, 45.3 FG%, 77.8 FT%, 38.3 3PT%
Featured link- Great look at Mayo from SI’s Grant Wahl.
4. Derrick Rose, Memphis – Of the top five freshmen, he is the most soft-spoken and the probably the least familiar to the average fan. This is ironic because he has more professional potential of any player in the country. And tonight he gets his chance to show it. Now, it’s not in Derrick Rose’s game to go one-on-one with OJ Mayo, but it is well within his game to make several plays that will have even the casual fan in awe. He doesn’t need to make these plays to validate his talent, a win will likely do that. But Rose is a better player than Mayo and if he wants to assert that superiority, he can’t exactly treat this as just another game. With Mayo’s, shall we say, opportunism, you know he is going assert himself. Rose doesn’t have quite the same personality, but he and Mayo are a bit bigger than this game. Hopefully they provide what we, the selfish fans, want.
Stats- 17 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 4.3 apg, 0.7 bpg, 1.0 spg, 2.8 TO, 50 FG%, 73.2 FT%, 4-14 3PTs
Featured link- One of the few places it’s not too early for 2008 draft speculation is Seattle (or Oklahoma City… whatever).
5. Kevin Love, UCLA – I think through Love we can now truly see the plight of the post player in college basketball. It’s a pretty simple problem really. The three-point line is too short which shrinks the passing lanes and makes it very easy to double a post player without leaving a shooter too open, especially with the length and athleticism of today’s players. There’s a lot more to it than that, but that is essentially the crux. Even Kevin Love, one of the best passing big men in awhile, isn’t going to be as big a part of the offense as the guards. He hasn’t had more than seven shots in the past three games and his 2.4 assists per game isn’t quite what we expected. Plus, how shall I put this… he is fat. Well, he’s carrying more weight than he should. Think Sean May as a freshman. He could get away with it in high school but not anymore. He only has four blocks this season, which is pretty awful for a starting center on any team, let alone a title contender and his post moves seem to be pretty predictable. On the bright side, Love doesn’t have to carry UCLA. They can’t win a title without him playing well, but he is going to have more room for growing pains than any other high profile freshman in the country because UCLA is such a deep, balanced team (when healthy). We just have to get him on the treadmill first.
Stats- 17.3 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 2.4 apg, 0.5 bpg, 0.6 spg, 1.9 TO, 56.6 FG%, 73.1 FT%, 3-10 3PTs
Featured link- Andy Katz hearts Kevin Love.
6. Kyle Singler, Duke - Ugh, this is so annoying but let’s just get it over with. Duke looks good. I mean really good. Seriously, it sucks but it’s true. You’ve got to wonder if Coach K’s time with Mike D’Antoni through USA basketball has anything to do with it but they are playing small ball to perfection right now. Given the aforementioned obstacles facing big men, a team of versatile wings and guards who are quick, can handle and pass can be really tough if they have the right personnel. Singler is the key to that winning combination because there is very little he can’t do. He is a very good rebounder for his size and can hold his own against most college fours defensively. Plus with their depth, he has only played over 31 minutes once, which means even if he is overmatched in size, he probably isn’t overmatched in energy. Duke is going to be around all year people, I hope for Taylor King’s sake he doesn’t have a sister.
Stats- 14.1 ppg, 7 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1.0 bpg, 0.6 spg, 2.4 TO, 57.6 FG%, 82.4 FT%, 9-23 3PTs
Featured link- You gotta be kidding me.
7. Donte Green, Syracuse – I’m going to try to be calm about this because Syracuse is one of the more frustrating teams in the country and I am a diehard fan. This is a team with stretches of exciting brilliance and then devastating immaturity. But this column is about the individuals and Greene has been consistently great this season. He has struggled to learn the 2-3 zone as much as everyone else on the team but his rebounding is huge for a thin frontcourt. Offensively, there’s nothing he can’t do (if we forget the 1-12 Tulane game) and it looks like Boeheim knows how to utilize his skills. All that is well and good. Here’s the problem. He is playing way too many minutes and the Orange are still underperforming. There’s a reason the early season performances by freshmen have been met with so many accolades. It’s because it’s difficult to keep that up. Freshmen aren’t used to the college grind and at some point they are going to wear down. Greene is averaging 37.4 minutes per game and is approaching that wall faster than nearly every other freshman. I’m now going to stick my head in the oven.
Stats- 18.9 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 1.7 apg, 2.4 bpg, 0.7 spg, 2.1 TO, 46.5 FG%, 82.8 FT%, 33.3 3-PT%
Featured link- At least I’m not the only one going insane with this team.
8. Patrick Mills, Saint Mary’s – I had heard about Mills before the season because of his strong play for the Australian junior team in the World Championships this summer but dismissed him as any sort of impact freshman, probably because he was overshadowed by the preseason hype for his international teammate Andrew Ogilvy (see below). But the reality is, in Australia Mills was actually a basketball prodigy and more highly touted than Ogilvy. Mills played on the Australian senior national team this summer at 18, their youngest player ever. At 17, he was named the 2006 Australian basketball player of the year. Plus he’s an indigenous Australian and the first to ever achieve any type of basketball success, so he’s practically a celebrity over there. Which makes it pretty impressive that the kid would swallow his pride at a tiny WCC school and get an education when he could be playing professionally in his homeland like many other top Aussie prospects, prepping for the NBA against grown men. His 37 points against Oregon helped his US rep inch closer to his Aussie stardom and I can’t wait for those midnight WCC games on ESPN so I can actually see him play.
Stats- 16.3 ppg, 4.8 apg, 2.7 rpg, 2.5 spg, 0.3 bpg, 2 TO, 43.9 FG%, 93.8 FT%, 10-35 3PTs
Featured link- Yes, there is an Australian Vibe magazine and even they sweat Mills.
9. Andrew Ogilvy, Vanderbilt - Behold the Aussie revolution in college hoops. I guess Andrew Bogut started all of this craziness (or perhaps Luc Longley? Nah). Ogilvy flew onto the radar by dominating the Under 19 World Championships this summer against some strong competition and it’s carried over into the season. He’s shooting almost 70 percent from the floor and 79 percent from the line. I haven’t seen him play yet but it seems like he, Mills and Koufos, who played against top competition in Australia and Greece respectively, are having an easier time adapting to the American level of competition than past international players have.
Stats- 18.1 ppg, 6 rpg, 1 apg, 1.4 bpg, 1 spg, 1.9 TO, 69.2 FG%, 78.7 FT%
Featured link- Basketball is a very prominent sport in Australia now, and the prospects keep on coming.
10. Jerryd Bayless, Arizona – I was never in the camp that Chase Budinger was aggressive enough to take over for Arizona this year and already Bayless has emerged as their leader. He was outstanding in the comeback against Texas A&M, held his own against Sean Singletary and Virginia and played a very good second half against Kansas when Budinger decided to run off screens the whole time. People questioned Bayless’ playmaking ability, calling him a shoot-first point but he has managed to do both this season while also playing some off-guard resulting from the stellar play of Nic Wise. Defensively he needs some work and the turnovers are concerning, but he makes up for it with a surprising maturity in his shot selection, backed up by his impressive percentages. Many thought Bayless was the key to Arizona getting past the first weekend in the NCAAs but it turns out it’s his supporting cast that might be the question mark.
Stats- 19.9 ppg, 4.9 apg, 3.7 rpg, 0.7 spg, 3.7 TO, 51.3 FG%, 43.8 3PT%, 80.4 FT%
Featured link- Don’t believe Bayless has supplanted Budinger? Well most NBA scouts do.
Heading out- Kosta Koufos, Ohio State; Nick Calathes, Florida; Jonny Flynn, Syracuse; Blake Griffin, Oklahoma.
11) Kosta Koufos, Ohio State 12) Davon Jefferson, USC 13) DeAndre Jordan, Texas A&M 14) James Anderson, Oklahoma State 15) Corey Fisher, Villanova 16) Jonny Flynn, Syracuse; 17) Blake Griffin, Oklahoma 18) Corey Fisher, Villanova; 19) JJ Hickson, North Carolina State 20) Brockeith Pane 21) Taylor King, Duke 22) Austin Daye, Gonzaga 23) Chris Wright, Dayton 24) Bill Walker, Kansas State; 25) Anthony Randolph, LSU
Games to Watch (December 4 thru December 17)
Memphis vs. USC, December 4 (9:00 ET, ESPN) – For me, and NBA scouts, this is the biggest game of the season so far. There is still a lot of basketball to be played, but this game could be a big factor for the top of the 2008 draft. Both Mayo and Rose have done a great job of playing within the team construct lately but I really hope they just go at it. What’s one game in December, really? Oh, and a big opportunity for Davon Jefferson, who is a monster, to make a name for himself.
Michigan at Duke, December 8 (1:30 ET, CBS) – This will be a pummeling, even with Tommy Amaker gone but Michigan has a really good freshman in Manny Harris. He’ll be matched up with King and Singler at times but probably Henderson most of the game. Also, the possibility of Gus Johnson gives the game an added boost.
Kentucky at Indiana, December 8 (4 ET, CBS) – The game right after Duke-Michigan should be a lot better. I really hope Gordon can play in this game because I fully expect him to try and drop 40 on the Cats. DJ White vs. Patrick Patterson should be outstanding, I’m not sure White is athletic enough to keep up with the frosh. And we might get to hear Billy Packer’s first senile rant against freshmen.
Saint Mary’s at Southern Illinois, December 11 (8:05 ET) – Well we saw what Gordon could do against a tough Saluki defense, let’s see what Mills can do. Oh, and I refuse to call him “Patty,” I shouldn’t have to explain why.
Oklahoma State at Pittsburgh, December 15 (12 ET, ESPN) – OK State’s James Anderson is one of the more impressive freshmen to watch live. He’s got a wide variety of ways to score and is a freak athletically, definitely a top 15 or 20 draft pick if he wants this year. On the other hand, DeJuan Blair is just a beast on the inside and continues the legacy of tough Panther post players.
Creighton at Xavier, December 5 (8 ET)
Syracuse at Virginia, December 5 (7:30 ET, ESPN2)
LSU at Villanova, December 6 (9 ET, ESPN2)
California at Kansas State, December 9 (2 ET)
Vanderbilt at DePaul, December 12 (8:30 ET, ESPNClassic)