We have games! The college basketball season has started and we've shoved off into the ocean of action. There tend to be a lot November cupcakes (along with the turkey and cranberry sauce), but the Champions Classic showed us that college hoops could be for real in the early season. We had Duke beating Kentucky after Michigan State outlasting Kansas. This week, the early season tournaments will wind down, yielding even more tasty treats.
Now that we have some stats to look at, the Haze will feature seven freshmen who have opened well. We'll spin through Tier 1 and 2, and leave the lower tiers for future weeks. As with many things, we'll tip off in Ames, Iowa.
Georges Niang, forward, Iowa State Cyclones
For the past few seasons, the Cyclones have brought in a whirlwind of transfers. Players like Will Clyburn, Chris Babb and Korie Lucious dot the lineup, but coach Fred Hoiberg has also developed some young talent, including Melvin Ejim and now Niang. The 6-foot-7 forward from Massachusetts has come off the bench in the first three games and provided a wealth of stats. Against undermanned competition, Niang has averaged 14.3 points on 70.8 percent shooting with 7.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.7 steals. Despite weighing 245, Niang has a deft touch from outside and has gone 4-of-6 on 3-pointers. Look for things to get interesting for Niang on Friday when the Cyclones take on Cincinnati.
Marcus Smart, guard, Oklahoma State Cowboys
If you learn one thing from this column, it will be: do not pay any attention to the rankings. They are useless. Therefore, I will not call the Oklahoma State win over North Carolina State "an upset." The Wolfpack have a lot of returning talent, but that might not mean much. Meanwhile, the Cowboys were led by their freshman point guard Smart, who had 20 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, four steals and four blocks. Whew! When Cezar Guerrero decided to leave the team last summer, the door opened widely for Smart and he has taken advantage. The Flower Mound, Texas, native averages 35.3 minutes with 14.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists. He struggled with his shot out of the gate, but his field-goal percentage has improved in each game.
Jordan Adams, guard/forward, UCLA Bruins
While Smart's stock may be on the rise, the red flags are up for Adams, a 6-5 freshman swingman at UCLA. Adams has done nothing wrong. In fact, he has scored at least 21 points in all four Bruin games, but his opportunities to shoot may decrease now that Shabazz Muhammad is eligible. That was not the case Nov. 19 against Georgetown as Adams took a team-high 20 shots and scored 22 points. In four games, Adams has taken 25 3-pointers (and made eight), so we know he isn't shy about taking shots. Adams has averaged 26.0 minutes off the UCLA bench, but it will be interesting to see how he does as Muhammed gets incorporated into the offense. I'd advise to sell high.
Kevin Bright, guard/forward, Vanderbilt Commodores
I like to spotlight teams that have a great amount of turnover as fertile soil for sleepers. The Commodores had three players drafted to the NBA, so someone had to step into the void. That someone might be the 6-5 Bright, who opened the season with a 15-point game in a win over Nicholls. Granted, Nicholls is terrible, and the German-born freshman only had five points in the blowout loss to Oregon, but he has shown a high skill level. Bright has gone 4-of-5 on 3-pointers, provided eight rebounds in both games and hit 58.3 percent of his shots overall. The future for Vanderbilt could be Bright.
Anthony Bennett, forward, UNLV Runnin' Rebels
It is worth noting at this point that we are very early in the season. Sample size is not just for fantasy baseball, but Bennett has displayed his wide array of skills in the early going. The first McDonald's All-American to join the Runnin' Rebels in 29 years, Bennett has averaged 17.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in two games. The 6-8 power forward from Canada debuted with 22 points in a win over Northern Arizona and had 12 points, nine rebounds and three blocks as UNLV beat Jacksonville State. The competition will become fiercer with upcoming dates against Oregon and Hawaii, but Bennett looks like he is up to the challenge.
Przemek Karnowski, center, Gonzaga Bulldogs
I watch a lot of basketball, especially in the early season so I can get an idea on what these players look like. I was able to watch as the Bulldogs dismantled West Virginia on Nov. 13, and it was hard not to notice Karnowski. The lefty freshman is 7-1, 305 pounds. Even against the Mountaineers with their Tier 1 talent, Karnowski was like an immovable object on the block. He only scored six points in the game and has sandwiched two 20-point games around it. While the Polish national is huge and skilled, he is also quite slow. My guess is that he doesn't have many more 20-point games in him this season, especially as Gonzaga plays an ambitious non-conference schedule that includes Clemson, Baylor and Oklahoma State before WCC conference play begins.
Jerome Frink, forward, Florida International Panthers
We finish our weekly tour of freshman in Miami where Richard Pitino is trying to boost a team that saw dwindling returns from Isiah Thomas. In three years with the Panthers, Thomas won 26 games, which would be a slightly below average season for Pitino when he was with his pops in Louisville. The Panthers did not bring much back from last season as all five starters departed. Frink, a 6-6 forward from famed St. Anthony's High School, has started both games in the early season. He had a 22-point, 10-rebound debut in the loss to Boston College. In his second game, Frink fell to five points, but did redeem his game with six steals. The Panthers will be playing to gain experience, so Pitino has little to lose by giving Frink plenty of minutes.
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