Last season Arizona forward Brandon Ashley was part of a trio of freshmen who arrived in Tucson amidst much fanfare. Joined by Grant Jerrett and Kaleb Tarczewski, the McDonald’s All-American was expected to hit the ground running in his debut campaign. While that didn’t happen Ashley was a productive member of a team that reached the Sweet 16, posting averages of 7.5 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.
With a year of experience under his belt and a bigger role, Ashley’s made significant strides in all aspects of his game. Entering Wednesday night’s game against New Mexico State he was averaging 12.0 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, reaching double figures in seven of the top-ranked Wildcats’ nine games. Ashley reached double figures for the eighth time in ten games in Arizona’s 74-48 win over the Aggies, tallying 15 points and six rebounds.
Ashley scored ten of those points in the first 20 minutes, as the Wildcats struggled until the latter stages of the half to gain some separation against the preseason favorites to win the WAC. He’s been more assertive offensively, and the end result has been improved scoring opportunities both inside and out. For as good as this athletic group of Wildcats has the potential to be defensively there’s still some work to do offensively, which makes Ashley’s start to this season a key development moving forward.
Also reaching double figures were Tarczewski (14 points, five rebounds) and freshmen Aaron Gordon (11 points) and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (12 points, eight rebounds and three assists), with Hollis-Jefferson displaying his versatility on both ends of the floor. There isn’t going to be one player asked to carry the full scoring load for Arizona and that’s fine, with their balance being a byproduct of how talented the players in Sean Miller’s rotation are.
With that being the case the question is who will step up and becomes the players Arizona can expect to receive scoring from on a consistent basis. Through ten games it’s become rather apparent that Brandon Ashley’s taken that next step, but that development will be put to the test on Saturday when Arizona visits Michigan. Unlike New Mexico State the Wolverines have both the size and the athleticism to challenge the Wildcat big men, with the Aggies’ interior players struggling to keep up in the second half on Wednesday night.
Arizona’s already won in one hostile environment, as they held off San Diego State last month, and if they’re to add another quality road victory to their resume the Wildcats will need another standout performance from Ashley.
Rutgers has struggled to achieve success on the floor the last few years and head coach Eddie Jordan is hoping that some talented newcomers can help start a turnaround. With the start of practice, local media saw some of the Scarlet Knights’ early practice and Jerry Carino of the Asbury Park Press noted that the duo of freshman point guard Corey Sanders and junior college forward Deshawn Freeman were getting a lot of burn together.
With both incoming players being four-star prospects, it’s hardly a surprise that Jordan would see what the two were capable of. According to Carino, it meant a lot of Sanders driving and forcing the defense to collapse before finding Freeman.
“It seems like coach always has us on the same team,” Freeman said to Carino. “Ever since we’ve gotten here, he’s trying to get us to play together.”
Carino also notes that since Rutgers is deeper, longer and more athletic in general this season, the team could do more with a pressing defense to help create turnovers.
While Rutgers still faces an uphill climb in the Big Ten, they at least have some exciting pieces that will be in place for a few seasons.
LSU football and Leonard Fournette are off to a strong start this fall, but the beginning of October also means that college hoops is right around the corner. If you’re a Tigers basketball fan, you also have plenty to be excited about on the hardwood this season with the arrival of a loaded freshman class headlined by forward Ben Simmons.
While the versatile Simmons has solidified a spot in the starting lineup for next season, it’ll be interesting to see how head coach Johnny Jones uses the rest of his talented freshmen. In a story from Sheldon Mickles of the New Orleans Advocate, he looks into some potential LSU starting lineups.
Freshman guard Antonio Blakeney, a McDonald’s All-American with Simmons, is also expected to start, but does another talented freshman guard, Brandon Sampson get a shot to start? And what of Arizona transfer Craig Victor when he’s eligible to play in December?
Mickles believes the early favorite for starting lineup is guards Tim Quarterman, Keith Hornsby, Blakeney, Simmons and center Darcy Malone. When Victor returns, Mickles said Victor could push Simmons into the “center” position, which would be a matchup nightmare on the opposition because Simmons would be very tough for many college centers to defend.
Sampson also gets a mention from Mickles of having the potential to start down the line. Overall, a good problem to have for Jones and he’ll have to experiment to see which lineups are giving him the most. Having a productive starting five is nice, but I’m sure Jones would love to find the five players he wants to close with.