Freshman 10: Final Regular Season Edition

    
March 5th, 2008
This here is the last regular edition of the Freshman 10, with end-of-year awards and tournament editions all that’s left to follow. Generally this would be viewed as some kind of final evaluation on these players and their first full season of work, but given the startling incoherence this season has provided, I still think my judgments on most of these guys are largely incomplete. In a year where mediocrity reigns, the right side of the Bubble resembles the NIT and No. 1 seeds are being passed around like Paris Hilton, it’s actually been the freshmen that have embodied a higher level of consistency than in past years. Looking down the list, it’s mostly guys who we knew would be good and, more importantly, guys who provide their teams with the same production game in and game out. Last season we saw the likes of Chase Budinger, Brandan Wright and Mike Conley, largely considered top freshmen of the year, shoot all over the board with their impact and statistics. Contrarily, this season has been one of big time freshman establishing their prominent roles early and never relinquishing them.

 

But that consistency doesn’t mean we should we’ve seen all we need to see from these players – several of whom won’t be playing any more college games after this year. If anything, the high-profile roles of freshman on top teams, in a season where the field should be wide open, means freshmen might have a bigger say on who wins it all this year than in any other year and how some of these players respond to that pressure will be telling. I think it won’t necessarily be consistency that we will remember this class by, but which players elevate their game in March beyond the level they show us in the regular season and whether they can take their respective teams with them.

 

Because there is only a week left in the regular season for the major conferences and some league tournaments start this week, there will be no Games To Watch section this time. The big fancy season-ending freshman awards will be doled out before March Madness begins so stay tuned for that.

 

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1.     Michael Beasley, Kansas State

In the past three weeks, Beasley made the quiet decision to enter another stratosphere of basketball that, despite how insanely talented he is, I didn’t think he had. I mean, 40, 17, 44, 30, 39 is beyond Durant-ian. It’s Pistol Pete, Jerry West type stuff. And yet, I still don’t find myself thinking, “That is an unstoppable basketball player” when I watch Beasley play. The thing is, he is an unstoppable basketball player, but as I watch Kansas State drop game after game amid these seriously absurd performances I feel like what he’s doing is cheapened. On an individual level he is unstoppable, but if those individual accolades coincide with team losses, then it’s hard for a spectator to equate his play with “what’s best for the team.” Now this is completely idiotic because no player has ever scored 39 points in 31 minutes against a top five defensive opponent and been considered a detriment to his team. But it’s gotten to the point where any mention of Beasley’s season must be compared to Kevin Durant’s last year, and I don’t remember Texas losing to lesser squads with Durant on his A-game. Now obviously KSU doesn’t have quite the supporting cast Texas did last year, but at some point (read: the NCAA Tournament) the Wildcats are going to need to win some games with Beasley dropping 30+ in order for him to be considered “a transcendent freshman” or a “college legend” rather than just “the guy who was just way too good for college.” And for the record, I do really think Beasley cares about winning, plays hard and is a team player, even if the rest of the paragraph may not seem that way. He’s just not a guy that “carried his team to greater heights,” like Kevin Love or Kevin Durant is/was, but a guy who just didn’t let his team bring him down to their level. And that’s a shame because when March rolls around, and Beasley may or may not even be involved in the NCAAs, people aren’t going to be paying attention to possibly the most talented freshman ever and a kid who, as you’ll read if you click the featured link below, is interesting beyond just what he does on the court.

        Stats-  26.7 ppg,  12.6 rpg,  1.3 apg, 1.6 bpg, 1.4 spg, 2.9 TO, 54 FG%, 76.8 FT%, 40 3-PT%

        Featured Link- There have been a lot of features on Beasley this year, but this one from Dana O’Neill at ESPN.com may be the best yet.

 

2.     Kevin Love, UCLA

Contrary to Beasley, Love has seemingly been able to give the Bruins exactly what they need of him to win and still put up pretty great numbers. He’s had 13 straight games with double-digit scoring and nine rebounds or more which have resulted in 11 UCLA wins. In the Bruins two-point win at Arizona Sunday, Love basically carried them to victory with 24 and 15. And because of that opportunism, I think you could make a serious case for Love as a more viable candidate for National POY or Freshman of the Year than Beasley. If the award was viewed like the NBA’s MVP award, as a measure of which standout player was most responsible for his team’s success, it would be a pretty dead heat between the two. KSU would probably be below .500 if not for Beasley; UCLA would be a top 25 team but not a title contender. Beasley has far more individual talent and athleticism and absolutely absurd numbers but Love is the centerpiece on possibly the best team in the nation. And there is no question whether he makes his teammates better and there is no question his success comes within the team construct. That might sound like some of the racially motivated, new school vs. old school rhetoric that the Love-Mayo faux-rivalry was founded on but that’s not my intent. It’s simply Love and Beasley adapting their incredible talent to two different situations. It benefits Love to play the team game because of who his teammates are and that’s an approach Beasley doesn’t have an opportunity to take. But conversely, Love’s lesser stats shouldn’t necessarily signify a lesser season, but just a different type of impact.

        Stats- 17.3 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 1.7 apg, 1 bpg, 0.7 spg, 2.1TO, 58.2 FG%, 75.2 FT%, 15-44 3-PT%

Featured Link- Not to dive too far into self-promotion, but I wrote this blog post using Love’s outlet passes as a jumping point for how the media constructs its own image of him.

 

3.     Eric Gordon, Indiana

        Gordon is a good example of what I talked about in the intro. It’s gotten to the point where we know what we’re getting from him and now we just have to wait and see if he can carry Indiana in the NCAA Tournament. He’s a great scorer, certainly one capable of taking over a game, but over the course of a season his streaks of dominance go largely forgotten. Gordon isn’t having a dominant season but he can be a dominant player. So in a tournament setting, Gordon’s impact can be far greater because one of those seven or eight minute stretches where he takes over can be the difference between a disappointing season (first round loss) or a special one (Final Four). Given the current make-up of the team and that turmoil some of you may have heard about, I don’t think Indiana will be that type of team. But there still is a sliver of hope I reserve for the possibility of Gordon channeling all that ability into one singular run of brilliance on the most national of stages. If not to see him at his peak ability but at least to make people stop talking about cell phones and obnoxious fans.

Stats- 21.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.5 apg, 0.6 bpg, 1.4 spg, 3.5 TO, 45.6 FG%, 85.3 FT%, 37.5 3-PT%

Featured Link- Jay Mariotti, doing that thing where he overreacts to the sports story du jour (in this case, Illinois fans taunting Gordon) like a crazed idiot.

 

4.     Derrick Rose, Memphis

Well I can finally move Rose off the No. 5 spot because he finally played a real live basketball team. And even though the Tigers lost to Tennessee, Rose was nothing short of outstanding. Even though it wasn’t particularly well-played that was the type of game for which Rose was built; up and down the court, speed against speed, crash the glass like a crazy person and get in the other guy’s shorts. He then followed it up with a great game against a spry Southern Miss squad, which started to prove that the cupcake schedule has allowed Rose to steadily remove the training wheels of being a freshman point and peak for the postseason. Against the Vols he ran the break like a terror, the only player able to out-athletic the pogo sticks on Tennessee. Versus Southern Miss, who packed in a zone like so many lesser squads have done to Memphis this year, Rose showed a three-point stroke that will make him deadly if knocked down with consistency. I still don’t think Memphis can win a title this year, but that can change if Rose, who has the type of talent matched only by Michael Beasley, can assert himself as that type of talent. Before, that was a huge question mark because the competition never warranted that type of performance. But in the past ten days, the precedent has been set.

Stats- 14.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 4.5 apg, 0.4 bpg, 1.2 spg, 3 TO, 46.9 FG%, 68.7 FT%, 32.9 3-PT%

Featured Link- While his outstanding play is one thing, it’s nice to hear his teammates recognize Rose as Memphis’ leader.

 

5.     Jerryd Bayless, Arizona

It’s a really tough situation that Bayless has been left in. He’s been unbelievable all year, battling injuries and the not-always-reliable brilliance of Chase Budinger that sometimes puts way too much on Bayless’ shoulders. And now, without Nic Wise, he has to be the primary ballhandler and de facto “point guard” for a team that still desperately needs his scoring. So when the Cats lose six of eight (seven of which Bayless played 38+ minutes) and the wunderkind’s scoring begins to drop, it’s easy to think Bayless is hitting the freshman wall or can’t carry a team or isn’t a true point after all. There is some partial truth to all of that but Arizona’s recent struggles should not diminish what Bayless has done this season. He isn’t going to finish this season with any awards but I would struggle to name five players who have been better than him or more important to his team this season. And even though the Cats’ tourney seed is plummeting, when Wise gets back, it’s going to be real tough to pick against a team with Bayless terrorizing opponents off screens and filling lanes in the open court.

Stats- 20.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 4.3 apg, 1 spg, 3.3 TO, 47.6 FG%, 82.1 FT%, 42.4 3-PT%

Featured Link- This was one of the filthier things I have seen this year.

 

6.     James Harden, Arizona State

I really wish us East Coast folk had the option to watch the ASU-USC game Saturday because it would have made for an interesting case study. The Sun Devils won handily but just by looking at the box score, it would seem like the much-anticipated match-up between freshmen scoring guards OJ Mayo and Harden went easily to Mayo, who dropped 37. But I would have liked to see just which player was more impressive, not which had the better stats. I’m sure Mayo, who as you’ll read below has been just ridiculous of late, had some pretty mind-boggling plays. But what I know about Harden’s game and seeing that he scored 24 points on just eight field goal attempts (opposed to Mayo’s 21 attempts), I bet it was Harden who I would have come away raving about. Alas, since the TV networks are insistent on making sure us East Coasters know just how bad the Big Ten and SEC is, I’ll never get the chance to see how Harden stacked up against Mayo at his individual best. Harden is a remarkably well-rounded and efficient scorer but people simply don’t have a point of reference with him, resulting in a vastly underappreciated national profile. He can carry a team just like Mayo and Bayless can. So, with the Pac-10 Tournament sure to provide some of the best college basketball you’ll ever see in a three-day span, I’m hoping I’ll get another crack at seeing Harden match Mayo.

Stats- 17.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.8 apg, 0.6 bpg, 1.9 spg, 2.5 TO, 53.1 FG%, 75.1 FT%, 41.2 3-PT%

Featured Link- Nice feature on Harden and his relationship with his mother.

 

7.     OJ Mayo, USC

Well, to use a hackneyed, overused cliché that white sportswriters enjoy far too much, it looks like the real OJ Mayo has stood up. In his last four he’s went for 32, 21, 20 and 37 and the effort he put in against Arizona, the lowest total of those four, was one of the more impressive games I’ve seen from a freshman this season. He took just 13 shots, scored 20 points, hit three of four three-pointers, played 40 minutes, had six assists, one turnover and held Jerryd Bayless to eight points. Unlike the first meeting between the Pac-10’s two best freshmen guards, Mayo outplayed Bayless individually and got the win. This was just a week after a game against Oregon where he put in his most complete scoring effort of the season, a 32-point showing where he hit five of seven threes and took 13 foul shots. And of those last four, it should be fitting that the only loss was the game he scored the most points and shot the most times; a sign that when Mayo scores in a efficient way, generally achieved by using his wide range of skills rather than his physical talent, the Trojans are a really good team and Mayo is an incredibly valuable player. And because of this dynamic, there might be no other player in the country with more to gain from his postseason performance than OJ Mayo. He’s been the guy who has strayed from that “freshman consistency” I talked about more than anyone, but if the recent flashes we have seen show up in March, it’ll be easy to forget about some of the low points.

Stats- 20.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.0 apg, 0.4 bpg, 1.5 spg, 3.7 TO, 44.8 FG%, 79.8 FT%, 40.9 3-PT%

Featured Link- Bill Plaschke: Absolute moron.

 

8.     Andrew Ogilvy, Vanderbilt

He had another terrible game against Tennessee, which still makes me wonder if he can do anything against athletic front lines, but since he only managed 12 minutes due to fouls and the Commodores won, I’ll let it slide a bit. Ogilvy is a great player but a boring one. Not because his game is boring, but because he fits perfectly with that “gives you the same thing every night” thing from the intro (well, unless that night happens to be against Tennessee). He will be a great post scorer and offense facilitator in the halfcourt but will fade away a bit once the tempo increases. This isn’t necessarily a flaw; the same could be said of Roy Hibbert or Greg Oden last season. And what kept me from dropping him even though he hasn’t been too spectacular lately is that Ogilvy’s success is largely predicated on match-ups. If Vandy gets a draw of teams with like-minded bigs, Ogilvy could be a standout player in March. But if they face a team with guys that can block his shot and beat him to spots on the floor, his impact is lessened. Unlike the other freshmen ahead of him, he isn’t a team leader; but he is one hell of an X-factor.

Stats- 16.8 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.2 apg, 1.5 bpg, 0.8 spg, 2.3 TO, 58.7 FG%,78.1 FT%

Featured Link- A day in the life of AJ Ogilvy. It includes thrilling things like breakfast, cell phone calls and Caesar salad. Not sure what to make of this but I suppose it is interesting.

 

9.     Nick Calathes, Florida

Based on numbers alone, Calathes is probably one of the top three or four freshmen in the country. No one else puts up 15+ points, and 5+ assists and rebounds. But when you realize he has the ball about 98 percent of the time, playing around 35 minutes for a young, up tempo team, the stats do seem a bit inflated. But even if you think the Gators are a completely fraudulent team that will only make the tournament based on name recognition, it still doesn’t take away how difficult it is to be a freshman point guard for a defending champ with a completely new rotation and win 20 games, even if it’s against middle schoolers the SEC. He actually played pretty well against Tennessee the first time around even if it was in a blowout, but in a really big and huge game for Florida’s postseason hopes, we’ll learn a lot about Calathes tomorrow night. Especially because the Volunteers backcourt is going to try and eat him alive. He also has spiffy hair; what a brownnoser.

Stats- 15.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 6.0 apg, 1.6 spg, 2.9 TO, 42.8 FG%, 72.6 FT%, 36.2 3-PT%

Featured Link- Nice feature on the Calathes family and its many Bubble-dwelling siblings.

 

10. Jonny Flynn, Syracuse

        It’s difficult to write about my Orange given what’s going on with them right now, but I need to recognize what Jonny Flynn has been doing lately. The kid has sat one minute in the past ten games. And because of an overtime period, he has played 404 minutes in those ten games. And he’s averaging 17 points per game in those, six of which, unfortunately have been losses, several of the “soul-crushing” variety. I don’t know if Syracuse can survive the four near misses, any one of which could’ve put them in a great position for the NCAAs, but I do know, with or without Donte Greene, this team is in great hands and a great position to compete at the top of the Big East next year. And for Christ’s sakes Jimmy, get the kid a back-up that either wants to play or knows how to keep his limbs in tact.

Stats- 15.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 5.1 apg, 1.5 spg, 2.7 TO, 45 FG%, 79 FT%, 34.6 3-PT%

Featured Link- As a Syracuse fan, I enjoyed this much the way I’d imagine people enjoy having hot wax poured on themselves.

 

Heading out- Patrick Patterson, Kentucky; Kyle Singler, Duke

Injured- Patrick Patterson, Kentucky; Blake Griffin, Oklahoma

 

Honorable mention

11) Kyle Singler, Duke 12) Donte Greene, Syracuse 13) Bill Walker, Kansas State 14) Matt Howard, Butler 15) James Johnson, Wake Forest 16) Robbie Hummel, Purdue 17) DeJuan Blair, Pittsburgh 18) Patrick Mills, St. Mary’s 19) Chris Warren, Mississippi 20) JJ Hickson, NC State 21) Kosta Koufos, Ohio State 22) Austin Daye, Gonzaga 23) Anthony Randolph, LSU 24) Dominique Jones, South Florida 25) LaceDarius Dunn, Baylor.