Ever since the NBA changed its rules regarding early entries, requiring prospects to be at least one year removed from high school before being eligible to enter the NBA Draft, many have debated whether or not these prospects are “truly” student-athletes. Dan Patrick discussed the topic on the Dan Patrick Show this morning, just hours after some of the best freshmen in the country played in the Champions Classic in Chicago.
There’s no denying the fact that Cody Zeller was one of the best players in college basketball last season, as the 7-footer averaged 16.5 points and 8.0 rebounds per game on an Indiana squad that won the Big Ten regular season title and reached the Sweet 16. But he’s gone now, as are Victor Oladipo, Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford and Derek Elston, meaning that head coach Tom Crean will need his newcomers (and seldom-used returnees) to have an impact in 2013-14.
One of those players is 6-foot-11 freshman Luke Fischer, who is expected to factor into Indiana’s interior rotation. Fischer arrived in Bloomington after leading his Germantown (Wis.) High School team to a 56-0 record over his last two seasons, but there’s still much for him to learn as he transitions to the college game. Fischer’s gotten stronger, adding 15 pounds to his frame as the strength and conditioning staff gets the big man ready for those rugged nights in the Big Ten.
Fischer’s development is important given the Hoosiers’ lack of interior experience, and according to Pete DiPrimio of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel Indiana head coach Tom Crean feels that it’s “very important” that Fischer be ready (and able) to play right away.
Crean didn’t recruit Fischer to sit the bench. Fischer has to be a big contributor, especially with the Hoosiers’ lack of inside experience. Sophomore forward Jeremy Hollowell played the most of the returning big men last year (he averaged 2.8 points and 2.06 rebounds in 9.7 minutes). Forward Hanner Mosquera-Perea and center Peter Jurkin saw limited action.
Indiana will certainly have leaders, with senior Will Sheehey and sophomore point guard Yogi Ferrell filling those roles. But if the Hoosiers are to factor into the Big Ten race their youngsters will need to contribute. Coach Crean and his staff reeled in one of the nation’s top recruiting classes, led by forwards Noah Vonleh and Troy Williams and guard Stanford Robinson, so the talent is certainly there.
Even with the stars from last season’s Big Ten champion squad gone, the process of restoring one of the game’s most storied programs continues. The hope is that Fischer and the other underclassmen will prove themselves capable of helping the Hoosiers return to the days when they were consistently contending for Big Ten and national honors.
A hearty welcome to those of you just now joining the rest of us in following college basketball now that football season has ended. We’ll be running a series of posts to get all you football fans caught up on the season at-large. To read through them all, click here.
There have been a number of outstanding freshmen that have been cornerstones of their programs in 2012-13, but a select five stick out, along with some honorable mentions.
Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA (18.4 points, 4.8 rebounds per game)
After the eligibility debacle with the NCAA that forced Muhammad out of the first three games of the season, it took time for the five-star freshman to get into the swing of things at UCLA. As he got more into game shape and became more comfortable in the UCLA offense, the Bruins began to win games and gain traction in the Pac-12.
Isaiah Austin, Baylor (14.5 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.3 blocks per game)
The seven-footer Austin is solidifying himself as a Top 10 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, not only because of his ability to score and rebound, but also his willingness to stretch the defense by consistently hitting jumpers on the perimeter. He’s shooting 35 percent from three-point range and, though it’s not stellar, is a major asset for a player his size.
Dominic Artis, Oregon (10.2 points, 3.8 assists per game)
Often the mark of how valuable a player is rests on how well his team plays when he is not in the lineup. In the case of Artis, Oregon has a 1-2 record while he currently sits out with injury, averaging nearly 22 turnovers per game. The Ducks have slipped into a tie for first place in the Pac-12 and will welcome Artis back to the lineup with open arms when he becomes available.
JaKarr Sampson, St. John’s (14.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.2 blocks per game)
Sampson was originally a member of coach Steve Lavin’s big 2011 recruiting class, but did not qualify and headed back to Brewster Academy for a prep year. Much like his one-and-done former recruiting classmate Maurice Harkless, Sampson has been one of the most impressive freshmen in the Big East.
Siyani Chambers, Harvard (13.3 points, 6.1 assists per game)
Chambers leads all freshmen in assists per game and has the Crimson off to a 4-0 start in Ivy League play. He was perhaps biggest just this past Saturday, when his double-double of 17 points and 10 assists propelled Harvard to a double-overtime win over Brown.
5. Nerlens Noel, Kentucky (10.6 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.6 blocks per game)
Since the day Noel stepped on campus, comparisons to Anthony Davis have been levied on him, fairly or unfairly. He may not have the offensive game that Davis had while with the Wildcats, but defensively he hasn’t missed a step. His 4.6 blocks per game have anchored the Kentucky defense, including a 12-block game against Ole Miss that sparked a Kentucky comeback victory.
4. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State (14.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 2.9 steals per game)
No one game perfectly exemplified how important Smart is to the Cowboys than his 25-point, 9-rebound, 5-steal outing at Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday to lift Oklahoma State to a win over Kansas. Smart does a little bit of everything and should be cashing in on draft day. First, though, he’ll likely be leading the Cowboys to the NCAA tournament.
3. Jahii Carson, Arizona State (18.3 points, 5.3 assists per game)
Carson is the biggest reason why Arizona State’s offense has been completely transformed this season and why the Sun Devils are competing in the Pac-12, en route to a likely NCAA tournament berth. The redshirt freshman is athletic and the offensive catalyst for Herb Sendek’s team. Even in a win over UCLA when he scored just 12 points, he controlled the pace of the game and was a key to Arizona State’s success.
2. Ben McLemore, Kansas (16.4 points, 5.4 rebounds per game)
After Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson left Kansas’ Final Four team last season, they needed a scoring star to go alongside returning center Jeff Withey. Redshirt freshman Ben McLemore has more than fit the bill. Not only can he dance, but he has been Kansas’ most productive offensive player and carried them in key spots. His bank three-pointer at home against Iowa State helped the Jayhawks to a win in dramatic fashion.
1. Anthony Bennett, UNLV (18.5 points, 8.5 rebounds per game)
In a tightly contested Mountain West race, the fact that Bennett has become such a dominant force only bodes well for the Rebels. Mike Moser’s production isn’t what it was last year, but Moser and Pitt transfer Khem Birch, in combination with Bennett, make for one of the most formidable front lines in the country.