Ben McLemore has been sensational for Kansas this season. Anthony Bennett has meant just as much if not more to UNLV. But the Freshman of the Year should be Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart and he showed why in the Cowboys’ 76-70 win over No. 9 Kansas State Saturday.
His 21 points, six rebounds, and six assists, lock Oklahoma State into the third seed in the Big 12 tournament and cap an 11-2 stretch in the final 13 games of the conference season. And much of the credit goes to Smart.
While Bennett and McLemore have each had their share of struggles down the stretch, Smart has found a way to contribute in ways that don’t necessarily involve scoring the ball. Take, for example, Oklahoma State’s Feb. 6 win over Baylor. Though Smart was 4-of-21 from the floor, he still had eight rebounds, seven assists, no turnovers, and was 5-of-6 from the free throw line.
Saturday, Smart was aggressive getting to the basket, tough, physical and wiling to draw contact in the lane. McLemore might have the scoring acumen, but he is not the type of distributor that Smart is, and Bennett has had to struggle through injuries down the home stretch.
All three should be Top 10 picks in the upcoming 2013 NBA Draft, but at this level, Smart is the nation’s best freshman.
The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 10.3 points per game, while shooting 42 percent from three, as a freshman. He, along with Malcolm Hill and Michael Thorne Jr., is one of three returning players who averaged double figures last season.
This could prove to be a make-or-break year for John Groce, who enters his fifth season at the helm. He guided the Illini to an NCAA Tournament in his first season, but hasn’t been back since.
The key for the Illini is health. Abrams gives them experience and leadership, but it won’t be a surprise if there’s some rust in his game after spending the past two seasons on the sideline. Having a healthy Coleman-Lands will help stabilize the backcourt, while Hill, an all-conference caliber forward, and Thorne anchor the frontcourt.
Like Alkins, Jones was a sought-after scorer. The 6-foot-4 two-guard was rated No. 69 overall in the Class of 2016 by Rivals. He picked Indiana over offers from Cal, Cincinnati, Georgetown and more than a dozen other high-major programs.
Jeter, the 6-foot-10, played in a reserve role as a freshman, averaging 1.9 points and 1.9 rebounds per game last season. He will be part of a loaded frontline that includes heralded freshmen Harry Giles and Marques Bolden, as well as redshirt senior Amile Jefferson, who returns to the lineup following a foot injury.
The greatest player in Auburn program history will honored with a statue outside of the team’s home arena.
The university announced that Charles Barkley, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, will be the fourth athlete to be given a statue, joining Heisman Trophy winners Bo Jackson, Pat Sullivan and Cam Newton.
“It just means a great deal to me,” Barkley said in a statement. “Being a kid from Alabama, going to Auburn. I think everybody knows what Auburn means to me. It’s going to be pretty cool.”
Barkley, currently working as an analyst for TNT, was the SEC Player of the Year in 1984, as well as a second team All-American. He averaged 14.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per game in 84 appearances for the Tigers.