On this week's Rush the Court Big Ten Update, I ran through some of the freshmen performances so far in the conference season. Because it's an area we haven't explored much over here, I've decided to cross post those thoughts:
On the whole, the freshman class isn't getting a lot of play this season. Indeed, it's the "Year of the Sophomore." And why not? We already saw that last year's freshman class was very, very special, so it only makes sense that they would continue to be special for as long as they stayed in the college ranks. But that doesn't mean we should dismiss this year's freshmen entirely. Let's take a look at the early candidates for freshman of the year in the Big Ten:
B. J. Mullens - after being in Matta's doghouse for the early season for lazy defense and taking plays off, the freshman has...well, continues to play lazy defense and take plays off. But he's still just too good not to leave out there. Offensively, he needs to do a better job of taking care of the ball, but he's been good enough such that declaring for the NBA draft doesn't sound as ludicrous as it did a couple months ago.
William Buford - The shooting guard largely occupied the same doghouse as Mullens, but David Lighty's injury and Noopy Crater's transfer forced Buford to play out of sheer necessity. It's a shame that Ohio State isn't getting a lot of publicity, because this guy has been a dyanmo on offense. Although he scores a bit differently, Buford has been every bit as good this year as Eric Gordon was last year. Why is nobody talking about this kid?
Matt Gatens - There's an easy comparison to make here, though I'm not sure that Gatens will appreciate it. Gatens looks a lot like J.J. Redick out there. For one, he's a deadeye outside shooter who has been even better than Redick at the same stage. At 6-5 he's got great height to shoot over his opponent, he's lethal from the FT line, and he doesn't make mistakes. Perhaps the conference's most efficient player, regardless of class.
Ralph Sampson, III - The Gophers are the nation's best shotblocking team, and Sampson is a big part of that, sporting a block percentage of 8.4 (that means he blocks 8.4% of the opponents' two point attempts while he's on the floor). While he's efficient on the offensive end, he's not very assertive. Tubby has plenty of other weapons to go to, but that aggressiveness is what Sampson needs to develop before he's ready to move on to the next level.
Those, I think, are the four freshmen who have separated themselves from the pack. But here are some quick comments about some other youngsters in the league:
Delvon Roe - Roe is an efficient player and one of the league's best rebounders already, but he's very timid in the offense, shooting just 13.9 percent of the time. There's no way of sugarcoating this, but that's not a good thing. Superstars don't hide in the offense. Moreover, there's good reason to think this isn't going to change much over his career. Roe could end up being a slightly better version of James Augustine, but weren't Spartan fans hoping for more than that?
Tom Pritchard - Pritchard has a high points per game average (11.9), but he's not getting those points all that efficiently. Of course, he looks good by comparison, and we have to remember it's harder to be efficient when your teammates aren't as good (also known as the "Dee Brown Effect").
Matt Roth - The Epitome of the Spot Up Shooter. Matt Roth demonstrates how you can "break" the Offensive Rating system. Don't get me wrong, Roth is a great shooter (52.6% in conference play from three point range), but if you put 5 Matt Roths out on the floor, that team isn't going to run up the score on Duke or UNC. But that's what Roth's Offensive Rating (155.8!) says will happen. Heck, his ORtg suggests that Team Matt Roth could probably beat the Lakers by 20. This is a flaw I've found in Offensive Rating - take a guy who doesn't do much but stand in the corner and wait for a catch-and-shoot opportunity, and he'll have a huge ORtg if he makes his shots. The reason is that in addition to a high eFG, the player never turns it over, because, well, he doesn't try to make plays other than shooting. Just goes to show that even in the new era of tempo free stats, you still have to use your eyes.