UNLV v San Diego State

Catching you up on the Freshman of the Year race

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College basketball has a different feel this season than it has in year’s past.

Why?

Because it’s not dominated by freshmen. There is no Anthony Davis or Kyrie Irving this season. The teams that are built around a recruiting class — Kentucky and UCLA, to name a few — are struggling, not overwhelming. The Player of the Year race includes a pair of seniors, two juniors and a sophomore.

But just because we haven’t seen the second-coming of Kevin Durant or Carmelo Anthony pop-up in the form of a first-year player doesn’t meant that there isn’t some impressive new talent being infused across the country.

Freshman of the Year: Anthony Bennett, UNLV

Bennett has played like a lottery pick through the first two and a half months of the season. He’s a big, strong power forward that’s averaging 18.5 points and 8.8 boards while shooting 56.2% from the field and 40.0% from three. He’s been the Rebel’s most dominant player, but also their best highlight reel; he’s a thunderous dunker in traffic with the handle and quickness to cross a defender over on the perimeter and get to the rim.

The All-Freshman Team:

  • G: Jahii Carson, Arizona State: The lightening quick Carson is the biggest reason why the Sun Devils are relevant in the Pac-12 race this season. East-coasters: he’s worth staying up late to watch. (17.3 ppg, 5.2 apg, 3.3 rpg)
  • G: Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State: Smart’s shooting numbers are slowly starting to improve, but it’s his ability as a floor leader and defender that makes him so valuable. (13.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 4.5 apg, 2.7 spg)
  • F: Ben McLemore, Kansas: McLemore has a chance to go No. 1 in this year’s NBA Draft. He’s supremely athletic a great finisher at the rim and a lights-out three-point shooter. And he’s still realizing just how good he can be. (16.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 44.6% 3PT)
  • F: Anthony Bennett, UNLV
  • C: Nerlens Noel, Kentucky: Noel isn’t Anthony Davis, but he’s a long way from being a bust. One of the most dominant defensive forces in the country, Noel’s as athletic as they come and plays the game as hard as anyone. Anyone that calls him a disappointment hasn’t been paying attention. (10.7 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 4.2 bpg, 2.5 spg)

Other Notable Freshmen:

Nik Stauskas, Michigan: An athletic sharpshooter that fits perfectly in with the Wolverine offensive attack. (12.6 ppg, 49.5% 3PT)

Damyeon Dotson, Oregon: The Ducks’ leading scorer is averaging 13.7 points in Pac-12 play. (11.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg)

Shabazz Muhammad, Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson, UCLA: Ben Howland’s trio of freshmen haven’t been quite as dominant as many expected them to be, but they’ve made UCLA a Pac-12 contender. Anderson’s melded nicely into the point-forward role, which Adams and Muhammad have been able to score on the wings.

Siyani Chambers, Harvard: The biggest reason the Crimson haven’t fallen off as an Ivy League contender is the play of their point guard. (12.7 ppg, 6.1 apg, 47.4% 3PT)

Semaj Christon, Xavier: Xavier is in the thick of the Atlantic 10 race despite being in a “down” year thanks to the Christon’s playmaking at the point. (14.9 ppg, 4.9 apg)

Chris Obekpa, St. John’s: Obekpa is blocking shots at the highest level in the country. His 17.1% block rate leads the nation. (4.6 bpg)

Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament chances take a major blow in loss to No. 16 SMU

SMU guard Nic Moore (11) shoots over Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
(AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
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Nic Moore scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half and added 11 assists as No. 16 SMU knocked off Gonzaga in Moody Coliseum on Saturday night, 69-60.

The Zags got 20 points and 16 boards from Domantas Sabonis, but Kyle Wiltjer scored just four points and shot 2-for-17 from the floor.

It wasn’t pretty.

And it may have been the end of Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament hopes.

Entering Saturday, the Zags had an RPI in the mid-60s, enough to keep them in the bubble conversation but not enough to make them anything more than a team that will be projected to end up on the cut-line.

The issue is a complete lack of quality wins on their résumé. Gonzaga beat UConn in the Bahamas. That’s a borderline top 50 win. They beat Washington, another borderline top 50 win. Beyond that? They swept Pepperdine, beat Tennessee and own a win over Montana. None of those are top 100 wins, and that’s why the SMU game was such a big deal. The Mustangs are a top 25 team. This was a road game. This win was the kind of thing that the Zags could pin at the top of their profile.

But Wiltjer didn’t show up, the Zags had no answer for Moore and they’ll head back to Spokane needing, in all likelihood, to win the WCC’s automatic bid if they want to dance.

POSTERIZED: Cal’s Jaylen Brown has his dunk contest entry

California's Jaylen Brown lays up a shot against Oregon State in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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Cal picked up a big win over Oregon State in Haas Pavilion on Saturday night, and the exclamation point was this emphatic dunk from Jaylen Brown: