Welcome back for another edition of the Freshman Haze. Every team has a few conference games under its belt, so we are getting a better idea of which teams were preseason (aka non-conference) pretenders and those that are "for real." There are simply so many non-competitive games in non-conference that it is hard to tell the signal from the noise (to steal Nate Silver's book title). It is only when a team starts to play its peers that we can tell if it is legitimate. Thus far, Ohio State does not look like for true, while Kansas might be. It goes without saying that Arizona is legitimate, so we may as well start there.
Aaron Gordon, forward, Arizona Wildcats
My first instinct was to dismiss the comparisons between Gordon and Clippers' forward Blake Griffin. There are exterior similarities, but Griffin was a dynamic offensive contributor to the Sooners (or so I remembered). In actuality, comparing Griffin's freshman stats (14.7 points on 56.8 percent from the field, 9.1 boards) to Gordon's (12.4 points on 50.6 percent, 7.8 rebounds) makes sense. I don't know that Gordon has Griffin-type athleticism, but the fact that he can find a role on a winning team makes me think he is going to be around for a long time.
Johnathan Williams III, forward, Missouri Tigers
Coming into the season, the Tigers had plenty of perimeter power in Jabari Brown, Jordan Clarkson, and Earnest Ross (a trio of transfers), but they had a lot of question marks in the frontcourt. Williams hasn't solved all of the paint problems for Mizzou, but he looks like he is a player worth monitoring. Through 17 games, he is averaging 7.1 points and a team-high 7.4 boards. The 6-9, 223 lb forward had 14 rebounds to go along nine points in the win over Alabama on Saturday and has two other games of 15 or more rebounds.
Billy Garrett, guard, DePaul Blue Demons
Could the Blue Demons finally be headed in the right direction? DePaul has already won two conference games after winning just seven over the previous five seasons. Granted, this is a new Big East, but the wins have come over Butler and St. John's. In those games, Garrett - a 6-5 guard from Chicago - provided a combined 43 points. His playing time has been on the uptick throughout the season. Garrett, whose father is an assistant coach for the Blue Demons, is averaging 11.5 points, but is hitting just 34.6 percent of his field goals.
Austin Nichols, forward, Memphis Tigers
I tend to cast a jaundiced eye at highly touted freshmen at Memphis. Coach Josh Pastner has brought in a number of McDonald's All-Americans, but few have developed into good players. Nichols, a 6-8 forward from suburban Memphis is the latest in this line. He has a smooth offensive game and is pretty good around the basket, but is averaging just 9.1 points and 4.2 rebounds. Nichols has averaged 11.0 points in his last four games and has only missed six of his 25 shots in that span, but he has been limited to 19 minutes or fewer in eight of his last 10 games.
Jalen Jenkins, forward, George Mason Patriots
The Patriots' introduction to the A10 has been a rude one. They have lost their first five conference games and maybe the only good news is that Jenkins, a 6-7 redshirt freshman, has played quite well. He had a season-high 20 points on Jan. 11 in the loss to St. Joseph's, and followed that up with 16 points and nine boards in the one-point loss to Massachusetts. With GMU getting limited contribution from center Erik Copes, Jenkins has been the main man in the paint.
Jalen Jackson, forward, Central Arkansas Bears
Like the Patriots, the Bears are going through a rough season and have a redshirt freshman named Jalen who may be a cause for hope for the future. The 6-6 forward from Memphis opened the season with a pair of 20-point games, but has only hit that total twice since. His playing time has been curtailed in the last three games with just 16.7 minutes with senior LaQuentin Miles eligible. For the season, Jackson is averaging 12.1 points and 5.0 rebounds, and he should get regular playing time sooner rather than later.
Q.J. Peterson, guard, VMI Cadets
As a fantasy college basketball owner, I love VMI. Every year, they run and gun their way into my heart. This year, they are once again atop the points per game list with 90.1 points after two years away from the top spot. Freshman guard Peterson is leading the way with 20.1 points. He won't set anyone afire with his efficiency (40.7 percent from the field, 31.3 percent on 3-pointers), but he can score in a variety of ways. He already has two 30-point games, including a career-high 38 in the Nov. 20 win over Bridgewater.