Top Ten Diaper Dandies: Midseason EditionPosted by zhayes9 on January 13th, 2012
Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.
Compiling a list of the nation’s top freshmen in mid-January is admittedly unfair. Whether they’re a high-profile athlete or a science lab dork, ask anyone to reminisce about their first semester at school and the phrase “learning experience” comes to mind. Over the next two months, the grind of conference play will quickly mold youthful freshmen into hardened veterans. As Jeremy Lamb can attest, there’s still plenty of time for collegiate rookies to become a household name.
With that important caveat in mind, let’s gauge where this year’s talented rookies rank in terms of production and instant impact. Not all of the inclusions were ballyhooed recruits and high school All-Americans, but instead I present to you the collection of players who possess the maturation, intelligence and skill level to succeed immediately during such a difficult transition both on and off the court.Honorable Mention
Thomas Gipson, Kansas State- Gipson has proven a tremendous frontcourt compliment to the more perimeter-oriented Jamar Samuels, bulldozing opponents with his sturdy 6’7” frame to the tune of 9.2 PPG and 6.3 RPG through his first half season at Manhattan. Gipson ranks in the top-60 in the country in both offensive rebounding percentage and fouls drawn per 40 minutes.
Tony Mitchell, North Texas- Since becoming eligible on December 18 after failing to qualify at Missouri, Mitchell immediately scored in double-figures his first four games at North Texas. His banner performance to date was a 34-point, 16-rebound effort against South Alabama. The former five-star recruit is shooting an efficient 65% from inside the arc.
Quincy Miller, Baylor- The jewel of Scott Drew’s recruiting class may not post the raw numbers of other rookies due to the abundance of talent on his roster, but Miller has shown flashes of a future lottery pick, including a smooth step-back three down the stretch in Baylor’s win over Kansas State this past week. Miller is a versatile matchup nightmare as a double-figure scorer that shoots 35% from three and also snatches over five rebounds per contest.
Eli Carter, Rutgers- Carter didn’t come to Piscataway with quite the sterling reputation of some of his fellow classmates, but he’s been the most productive freshman from day one. Carter uses the most shots and possessions on a per-minute basis on the Scarlet Knights, and as long as he’s scoring over 14 a game, shooting 43% and posting 31/7/7 efforts like he did in their upset over Florida, Mike Rice will keep the green light on.
Tony Wroten, Washington- The Seattle native has been a Jekyll and Hyde act early for an equally enigmatic Huskies team. The turnovers (4.1 per game), defensive lapses and shot selection are sometimes mind-numbing, but you’ll live with some faults when your 6’5” guard is shooting 55% from inside the arc and grabbing 4.6 rebounds per game. Wroten has scored 20+ points in three of his first five conference outings.
10. Rodney Hood, Mississippi State- Dee Bost, Renardo Sidney and Arnett Moultrie receive the bulk of the attention, but Hood has provided a steady and efficient complimentary scoring option for Rick Stansbury. The southpaw is averaging 12.6 PPG on 53% from two and 44% from three and turns the ball over roughly once every 34 minutes. Improve from the charity stripe (59%) and Hood could be an all-SEC contender as soon as next season.
9. Austin Rivers, Duke- If you can filter out all of the unrealistic expectations, Rivers has completed a very respectable first semester serving as Duke’s primary dribble-drive threat and crunch-time scoring option. Rivers leads Duke in scoring, shoots 45% from two, 40% from three and put together 20+ point performances against top-15 Ohio State and Michigan. Look for Rivers to cut down on his turnovers as the game slows down and his decision-making improves.
8. Andre Drummond, Connecticut- Outside of #1 on this list, no player has as much room to grow from now until March as Drummond. Just as impressive as his highlight reel dunks during a 20-point, 11-rebound outing against West Virginia last Monday were two baseline jumpers he nailed during the second half. If Drummond can expand his offensive repertoire to include occasional mid-range/post scoring to compliment his explosiveness and pick-and-roll prowess, Connecticut may emerge as the second best team in the Big East by season’s close.
7. Jordan Tolbert, Texas Tech- Casual college basketball fans may not be familiar with him because he plays for a cellar dweller in Lubbock, but Tolbert has been a total revelation for Billy Gillispie. Easily Tech’s most valuable player, Tolbert’s interior efficiency (62%) and frequent trips to the free throw line are two easily identifiable reasons for a scoring average barely lingering below 15 points per contest. Also blessed with tremendous rebounding instincts, Tolbert is the cornerstone for Billy Clyde’s rebuild.
6. B.J. Young, Arkansas- Along with Dion Waiters, Will Sheehey, Pierre Jackson and other fashionable subs, Young is providing a scoring spark for the Razorbacks off the pine. His numbers in just over 23 minutes of action per game offer up signs of a bright future: 14.8 PPG, 52% FG, 43% 3pt, 77% FT. Young will need to improve on nearly identical assist and turnover totals to prove he’s a true point guard, but that development should come with more experience during his trial-by-fire freshman season.
5. Trey Burke, Michigan- The prevailing question heading into this season for Michigan was replacing early entry Darius Morris at the most important position on the floor. As a superior jump shooter to Morris, Burke may actually be an upgrade. John Beilein’s young gun has displayed a maturity well beyond his years, playing 35 MPG and recording over a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio. One note: Burke is shooting just 32% in his last three Big Ten outings; we’ll see if his first rodeo through the rugged conference turns Burke’s season sour.
4. Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga- Despite the fact he looks like your next door neighbor’s younger brother, Pangos’ game is intimidating enough to make this list. The Canadian import claimed the starting point guard job after he dropped nine threes on Washington State, but he’s also perfectly adept at putting the ball on the floor (55% from two) and creating for others. If you’re looking for the next four-year star in Spokane, search no further.
3. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky- Merely listing off MKG’s averages wouldn’t do the kid justice. He does everything on the floor for John Calipari, from shadowing as a backup point to locking up the other team’s scoring wing to relentlessly pursuing every crucial rebound. Terrence Jones may get the attention and Anthony Davis the hype, but Kidd-Gilchrist is just as vital to a dashing Kentucky start that sees the Wildcats one Christian Watford miracle away from being undefeated. MKG shows up when it matters most, posting 18 vs. those Hoosiers, 17 against Carolina and an insane 24/19 vs. Louisville.
2. Cody Zeller, Indiana- No player on this list has made the same palpable impact on their program as Zeller. Many like to point to Watford’s game-winner as the signal that Indiana basketball is back, but it truly re-entered the college hoops landscape when the Washington, Ind., native officially committed to Tom Crean. The youngest of three Zeller’s has the most refined and complete game of any diaper dandy and undoubtedly has pro potential. Zeller is shooting an efficient 65% from the floor, attempts over five free throws per game at 77% and grabs 6.5 rebounds while also anchoring the Hoosiers improved defense from the post. The sheepish and humble Zeller would never admit it, but his central role in revitalizing a dilapidated program has been immeasurable.
1. Anthony Davis, Kentucky- Like many elite shot-blockers, Davis’ true defensive impact can’t simply be measured in blocks per game (although a nation-leading 4.6 per game is noteworthy). What can’t be tallied is how many shots Davis simply alters with his alien-like wingspan or how many penetrating guards instead stick around the three-point line to avoid embarrassment. Davis is also averaging a double-double, shoots both 64% from the floor, 67% from the line and ranks fourth in ESPN.com’s player efficiency ratings, which is quite impressive for a raw freshman that recently grew into his newfound body. Davis will be the number one pick in the NBA Draft for good reason.