An early look at the schools with the best freshmen
Posted: Wednesday December 7, 2005 5:21PM; Updated: Wednesday December 7, 2005 5:55PM
Guard Bobby Frasor and the young Heels upset Kentucky -- at Rupp Arena.
In journalism as in Mailbags, sometimes it's the simple questions that work best. Which is why this week's most valuable reader is Mike Ross of Crawfordsville, Ind., who asks: "Which college hoops teams are playing or starting the most freshmen, and are any of those teams looking good right now? Which freshman looks to have the biggest impact this year?"
Since our tag-team partner Seth Davis is taking a look at some top sophomores, it makes sense to check in on some leading freshmen and the teams that have a lot of them. Inside this week's Top 25 there are four teams starting at least two freshmen:
In case you're wondering, the 'Bag had UNC at No. 24 in the preseason ranking we sent to Sports Illustrated HQ, but the votes from our other college hoops scribes put the Heels out of our final rankings. Then a certain unnamed staffer responsible for putting together our Field of 65 (O.K., Luke "Young Skywalker" Winn) left UNC out of our NCAA tournament prediction altogether. That snub then became the lede of a New York Times story about Carolina and (judging from the letters we received) the subject of much agitation among Tar Heels fans.
Lo and behold, UNC knocked off Kentucky on the road last week and now finds itself in the Top 25 as the only ranked team starting at least three freshmen. Tyler Hansbrough is the best of the bunch, averaging a team-high 17.8 points and 7.3 boards, but he's getting lots of help from fellow rookie starters Marcus Ginyard and Bobby Frasor. (Danny Green is the fourth Tar Heel freshman getting significant minutes for coach Roy Williams.)
The most impressive freshman in the country so far has been Shawne Williams, who's leading the No. 7 Tigers in scoring (17.4 ppg), but not far behind is fellow starter Antonio Anderson, who lit up Cincinnati for 32 big ones last weekend. What's scary is Memphis has three other freshmen averaging more than 10 minutes per game: Kareem Cooper, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Robert Dozier. We thought the Tigers would be a top-15 team, but so far they've been even better than advertised ... and should only keep improving. Look out.
We expected freshmen Josh McRoberts and Greg Paulus would get plenty of minutes for the top-ranked Blue Devils, and sure enough, they're both starting. Paulus leads the team in assists (4.1 per game), and McRoberts has been solid if not yet spectacular (7.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg) in a supporting role to seniors Shelden Williams and J.J. Redick. That said, we're a little surprised that Duke's three other scholarship freshmen (Martynas Pocius, Eric Boateng and Jamal Boykin) aren't getting more run, especially Pocius -- who has shown some serious flashes on the attacking end and would figure to get more time now in place of the injured DeMarcus Nelson.
The Huskies got a huge win to end their seven-year losing streak against Gonzaga last Sunday, and I came away impressed with freshman starters Jon Brockman (a load down low) and point guard Justin Dentmon (who made some big plays down the stretch). With the Pac-10 in disarray right now -- what on earth is happening with Stanford and Arizona? -- Washington may be in line for another conference title run. The Huskies and Cal are the only Pac-10 teams that are actually better than expected so far. The two other Top 25 teams that have at least three freshmen averaging more than 10 minutes a game are Louisville (Terrence Williams, Andre McGee, Brian Johnson) and UCLA (Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Alfred Aboya, Michael Roll, Darren Collison).
Here are some intriguing freshman classes outside the Top 25:
The Jayhawks are struggling at 3-4 after Tuesday's loss to Saint Joseph's, and Bill Self's highly touted freshman class is so far not nearly as good as advertised. Brandon Rush is leading the team in scoring (13.6 ppg), but Julian Wright, Mario Chalmers and Micah Downs are going through some serious growing pains. How much patience will Jayhawks fans have? (Especially when they make the inevitable comparison to Roy Williams, who's doing so well with his freshmen in Chapel Hill.)
The Tigers start two freshmen (Tasmin Mitchell and Garrett Temple), and a third (Tyrese Thomas) is putting up some impressive numbers (17.3 ppg). Add in two more freshmen who are contributing (Magnum Rolle and Ben Voogd) and you have five freshmen playing at least 10 minutes a game for coach JohnBrady.
The young Gold (oops, Golden Eagles) have been up and down, winning a watered-down Great Alaska Shootout, but losing to Nebraska and Winthrop. But keep an eye on freshman point guard Dominic James, who leads the team in scoring (15.4 ppg) and assists (6.7 apg) and is entertaining to watch. Fellow freshmen Wesley Matthews and Jerel McNeal are also starting for coach Tom Crean and should gain plenty of experience in the Big East. (Good luck, guys.)
Good thing the Panthers have senior point guard Carl Krauser, because they'll need some leadership with three freshmen getting significant minutes: LevanceFields (who starts), Tyrell Biggs and Sam Young. Random fact: Not one freshman is currently among the nation's top 50 players in scoring or rebounding. If there are any other Division I schools starting three or more freshmen, please let me know and I'll include them in next week's 'Bag.