On Tuesday night, each of the nation’s top four freshmen took to the court.
Jabari Parker went for 21 points, nine boards and six blocks in a win over East Carolina, a performance that also just so happened to include his second ridiculous, coast-to-coast move of the young season. Kentucky’s Julius Randle had 22 points, 10 boards, four assists and two blocks, getting outshined by teammate James Young’s 26 points, in a win over UT-Arlington. Andrew Wiggins, who was overshadowed by 16 points and 13 boards from Joel Embiid, finished with a modest 13 points, seven boards, three assists and two steals in a win over Iona, while Aaron Gordon’s reverse alley-oop was the highlight of Arizona’s win over Rhode Island.
Those four teams and their freshmen phenoms have received an overwhelming amount of hype and coverage early on this season, so it should come as no surprise that the chance to see all four on the same night drew quite a bit of attention.
You’d have to think that irked Marcus Smart a bit.
A Preseason First-Team All-American and the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year, the attention that Smart has gotten this season has been, frankly, non-existent. That changed on Tuesday night, as he put on an absolute show, scoring 26 of his career-high 39 points in the first half as he led Oklahoma State to a dominating, 101-80 victory over No. 11 Memphis.
It truly was an unbelievable performance. Smart was a terror on the defensive end, getting credited with five steals (which seemed low) and two blocks, while showcasing the intangible aspects of his game that has scouts and writers alike salivating. But more importantly, he gotten into a kind of offensive rhythm that we’ve rarely seen from the sophomore. Twice in the first half he reeled off 12 straight Oklahoma State points, including a flurry of three straight threes that put Memphis in a double-digit hole they’re never be able to climb out of.
It was, unquestionably, the most dominant performance that we had seen to date.
He wasn’t the only sophomore point guard with a statement to make.
Jahii Carson, Arizona State’s dynamic lead guard, may have done Smart one better. At the very least, he did in the scoring column, finishing with 40 points and seven assists as the Sun Devils went into the Thomas & Mack Center and knocked off a rejuvenated UNLV team.
Carson, another Preseason All-American that returned for his sophomore season, is more-or-less a known quantity at this point. He’s a super-quick, uber-athletic playmaker that is so difficult to keep out of the lane he can still put up numbers like he did tonight despite the fact that everyone knows he doesn’t go left.
I don’t think Smart was the only guy upset about all the attention that the freshmen class has been getting.
Don’t worry, fellas.
We haven’t forgotten about you.
In fact, this budding rivalry between the freshmen and the returners is part of what makes this season so special. Think about it. I’ve mention six legitimate superstars at the collegiate level to this point in this column. Six. With the exception of Carson, it’s not crazy to think that the other five could end up being the top five picks in the NBA Draft.
You know who I haven’t mentioned?
Doug McDermott. Or Russ Smith. Or Gary Harris. Or Mitch McGary. Or Aaron Craft. Or Shabazz Napier.
The list goes on.
There is as much star-power, from coast to coast, as there has been in college basketball since at least the 2007-2008 season, when Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, Michael Beasley, Eric Gordon and O.J. Mayo were dominating campuses across the country. And not only are there stars, but those stars play on really good teams. The general consensus is that the top six — Michigan State, Kansas, Kentucky, Duke, Louisville and Arizona — are all very legitimate title contenders, a number that is larger than we are used to seeing. And that was before Oklahoma State did everything they could to play their way onto that list.
Star power. Great teams. Balance. And as good as all of that is, it’s not what makes this season so special.
What makes this year so great is that, on a night where there was this much talent on display, the kid that was the best player to take the court was … Frank Kaminsky?
If you don’t know who that is, he’s Wisconsin’s newest starting center. He entered the day having scored 26 points this season and 133 points in his career. His career-high in college was 19 points. His career-high ever? 39 points.
And on Tuesday, he stole the show.
Kaminsky finished with 43 points on 16-for-18 shooting, hitting all six of his threes.
Should I mention we’re just 10 days into the year?
This is going to be fun.