The Freshman 10: The Best and Worst of Big East NewcomersPosted by mlemaire on December 6th, 2012
The season is only a month and some change old but it is never too early to check in on the progress of some of the conference’s most heralded and surprising freshmen. While young bloods like Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State and Nik Stauskas of Michigan have made an instant splash on the college scene, the Big East’s crop of rookies have made a more muted impact. There was no methodology when it came to selecting which freshmen to analyze, so we just chose 10 of the most interesting freshmen to follow. Of course, conference play hasn’t even begun yet, so evaluating their body of work is somewhat of a trivial venture. But don’t you worry, we will be back later in the year to check in on some of these players again.
DaJuan Coleman (Syracuse)
It is still far too early to make a judgment call on what type of player DaJuan Coleman can become this season. But those who expected the highly touted forward to come in and immediately start anchoring the paint for the Orange probably need to adjust their expectations. To his credit, he seems to be getting better each game. But in six games against subpar competition, Coleman hasn’t seen much playing time and has shown only promise and inconsistency when he does play.
Anyone with eyes can see the wide-bodied forward is going to be an excellent rebounder and considering he is averaging 5.3 rebounds per game in just 16.3 minutes of playing time, he is already on his way to validating that obvious observation. But he isn’t a shot-blocker which is fine so long as he is an efficient scorer in the post and an elite rebounder. He has an impressive skill set and nimble feet for a man his size, but the ball rarely makes it back out to the perimeter if it goes to Coleman in the post, and he will need to take better care of it and make smarter decisions if he wants to continue to receive looks in the paint. His downfall offensively may be his sketchy free-throw shooting (55 FT%) as he is the type of strong interior player destined to draw a lot of fouls, and if he can even make his free throws at a 66 percent clip, he will be a much more productive scorer.
Jakarr Sampson (St. John’s)
It should come as no surprise that Sampson has adjusted to college basketball quickly because the Akron native was supposed to be suiting up for the Red Storm last season before lackluster academics forced him to return to prep school. But now that he is on the roster, he has wasted little time making his mark on both ends of the floor and is the clear front-runner for conference rookie of the year honors. The lanky 6’8″ forward already had a well-deserved reputation as a sensational dunker, but his game is more nuanced than that. Sampson has thus far started all nine of the team’s games, averaging 30.8 minutes per game, and he ranks second on the team in scoring (13.8 PPG), first in rebounding (6.6 RPG), and second in blocks (1.6 BPG).
Defensively he can guard multiple positions and his length and leaping ability forces opponents to account for him when they attack the rim. Offensively he is still developing a reliable jump shot, but he has legitimate inside-outside ability and will only grow more imposing as he gains strength. He turns the ball over a little too much, but coach Steve Lavin can live with those mistakes so long as they are aggressive ones, and Sampson’s athleticism and skill set make him a tantalizing two-way prospect.
Cameron Biedscheid (Notre Dame)
Biedscheid has been unable to truly crack Notre Dame’s veteran and experienced rotation, averaging just 17.3 minutes per game coming off the bench. But even in limited playing time, Biedscheid has shown that he is a versatile volume scorer. The 6’7″ freshman is athletic, fluid, and skilled on the perimeter, and once he grows comfortable in his role and improves his shot selection, he could be one of Notre Dame’s most effective offensive weapons. He currently averages 8.0 PPG and is shooting an impressive 59.1 percent on two-point field goals.
The major reason he hasn’t seen more playing time is because he still needs to add strength and is a fairly one-dimensional player at this point. There may be no one better on the roster at creating multiple ways to score for himself, but at this point he is still a defensive liability, especially when compared to his position-mate, Scott Martin, and he is seemingly reluctant to crash the boards with any aggression.
Tom Maayan (Seton Hall)
We could write thousands of words on the inconsistency of freshmen college basketball players, especially point guards. But instead, we will leave it to Pirates’ coach Kevin Willard to sum up his mercurial freshman point guard best. “He’s going to have games where he sucks,” Willard told SBNation’s South Orange Juice after the team’s season opening win. “But he’s going to have more good games than he does bad.” Since Willard issued that quote, the Pirates have played seven more games and most of the early reviews have been good.
Maayan was forced into action because of an injury to teammate Aaron Cosby and has retained his spot in the rotation even as Cosby has returned to the court. Maayan will never be a scorer of any form but he seems to truly relish his role as the pass-first point guard and tenacious on-ball defender who can help Seton Hall. Through eight games the Israel native is averaging 2.6 points per game, 4.9 assists per game, and 2.5 steals per game. Perhaps the most exciting part of his game is his defense, where his active hands, sneaky length, and athleticism make him a nightmare for opposing guards. He is among the conference leaders in steals and that type of defensive ability will probably help him carve out a permanent role in Willard’s rotation this season.
Omar Calhoun (Connecticut)
Calhoun was expected to make a sizable and immediate impact this season because the circumstances in Storrs meant plenty of playing time and because his offensive skill set, in particular his shooting ability and length, was so impressive. Through eight games Calhoun has shown flashes of becoming the elite scorer that helped him leave Christ the King High School as its all-time leading scorer, but there have also been plenty of growing pains along the way. Calhoun is third on the team in scoring (10.1 PPG) and he is averaging more than one three-point field goal per game.
But he has also turned the ball over far too much and is shooting just 29 percent thus far from behind the arc. Defensively he has length and athleticism to guard multiple positions, but he is still learning footwork, positioning, and occasionally loses his man on the perimeter. There is plenty of evidence to show that his numbers will likely improve as he continues to adjust to college basketball. There is also no shortage of opportunities available. Coach Kevin Ollie knows that Calhoun is one of the best scoring options he has, and so he will be more than willing to take the bad along with the good, not that he has much of a choice given the stark lack of depth on the roster.
Joshua Fortune (Providence)
Fortune wasn’t supposed to find himself playing 39 minutes per game to kick off his college career. He was supposed to be buried on the depth chart behind a slew of more highly touted freshmen and core of steady veterans. But injuries and ineligibility have forced coach Ed Cooley to lean on the Virginia native harder than he would probably like to, and Fortune has responded by showing flashes of his talent mixed in with plenty of freshman mistakes as well. At 6’5″ and nearly 200 pounds, Fortune is an athletically gifted and physically blessed guard who has the ability to fill the stat sheet in multiple categories. On the season he is averaging 8.8 points, 4.0 assists, 3.0 rebounds, and 1.1 steals per game even though he is playing fourth banana behind Bryce Cotton, LaDontae Henton, and Kadeem Batts.
The question now becomes whether he can keep it up because his game has not been without its warts and eventually the backcourt will get more than one talented player back from injury. Fortune is turning the ball over at an alarming rate (3.5 TOPG), but that can be explained in part by how often he is asked to handle the ball. Also, his true shooting percentage (43.6 TS%) is the lowest among players using more than 10 percent of possessions meaning that his shot selection is not ideal and one wonders what that will mean for his playing time when Vincent Council and Kris Dunn inevitably return from injury.
Ryan Arcidiacono (Villanova)
Arcidiacono is right behind Sampson in scoring among conference freshmen and leads his team with a 12.4 points per game average, but those numbers are slightly misleading. He did come to ‘Nova with a reputation as a score-first point guard, but few, in any, players in the conference are chucking up shots with the same reckless abandon that Arcidiacono is. He is hoisting almost 10 shots per game and shooting just 29.7 percent from the field. His effective field goal percentage (39.2%) is ugly as well and because he doesn’t have the elite first step to beat defenders off the dribble, he needs to shoot well from deep, which he isn’t doing (26.9% 3FG). He is averaging 4.1 assists per game, which would be more impressive but he is also averaging 3.4 turnovers per game and too often seems to force passes or shots on the offensive end.
Defensively Arcidiacono is a liability at this point. He doesn’t have the quickness to stay in front of most opposing point guards and he doesn’t force a lot of turnovers with his on-ball pressure either. In fact, his teammates often have to sag off their man to prevent opposing guards from blowing past Arcidiacono, which leaves the Wildcats vulnerable to teams who shoot well from deep. The best aspect of his game is his willingness to attack the rim as he gets to the free throw line nearly six times per game and shoots 87.2 percent once he gets there. That skill alone means that he will continue to be an effective scorer, but until he becomes a judicious shot-taker and decision-maker, his impressive statistics will always come with a caveat.
Christopher Obekpa (St. John’s)
It is almost too easy to compare Obekpa to the type of player that Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng was as a freshman. The Nigerian native by way of Our Savior New American School is a shot-blocking natural and an offensive project with no discernible post moves and developed touch around the basket. Lavin knew this before Obekpa stepped on campus, and he is more than willing to let the big man learn through experience, especially if he continues to block shots at a prodigious rate (4.2 BPG, which leads the conference by a lot). Don’t mistake his gaudy block totals for an true defensive understanding, though, as Obekpa is mostly getting by on natural ability and has dabbled with foul trouble in nearly every game this season. But he is a gifted defensive prospect who is already one of the country’s premier shot-blockers.
Offensively it will be astonishing if Obekpa ever turns into an interior force. He is currently averaging 4.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per game while shooting a respectable 46 percent from the floor, but he has trouble creating his own shot and is a below-average passer out of the post. I doubt Lavin has any plans to run his offense through his precocious center any time in the near or distant future, but if Obekpa works hard on his footwork and his touch and becomes even more active on the offensive glass, he has the tools to be a solid complementary piece on offense.
James Robinson (Pittsburgh)
Robinson’s arrival was overshadowed by the hype that followed center Steven Adams around, but the 6’3″ Maryland native has been arguably the more impressive of the Panthers’ freshmen through nine games. In addition to having all the makings of a future defensive star, Robinson has exhibited impressive decision-making, strength attacking the rim, and sound shot selection. In fact, the only thing that may be keeping Robinson from truly excelling is that star guard Tray Woodall still runs the show.
Woodall’s presence hasn’t kept Robinson off the floor, however, as coach Jamie Dixon has recognized his ability and started him in every game this season. No one will mistake Robinson for the dynamic offensive star that Woodall is, but he leads the conference in assist to turnover ratio by a wide margin (38 assists to just eight turnovers) and fills up the stat sheet on both ends of the floor. He is currently averaging 7.4 points per game, 4.2 assists, 2.3 rebounds, and 1.2 steals a game and he is only going to get better. He doesn’t ooze NBA potential the way Adams does, but he has the look of a four-year starter and potential all-league player down the line.
Steven Adams (Pittsburgh)
The supremely talented seven-footer from New Zealand was a trendy preseason pick for Big East Newcomer of the Year based on his unique combination of size and skill. But the adjustment to college basketball has been slightly more difficult for Adams than most expected. Jamie Dixon has started Adams in all nine of the team’s games but his minutes have fluctuated thanks to inconsistent play and as a result, he is averaging just 6.2 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. What was supposed to set him apart from other athletic seven-footers was his refined offensive talent, but it’s clear that Adams has a lot of refining to do offensively before he is ready to be considered a consistent threat. He rarely turns the ball over, but his free-throw shooting has been ugly (4-of-13), and most of his points have come thanks to his activity on the offensive glass.
Defensively Adams’ length and athleticism cause problems for opponents attacking the rim and he could develop into a truly dominating rim-protector as he gains a more nuanced understanding of defensive positioning and strategy. That said, Adams has avoided serious foul trouble in most games thus far and has impressive footwork and athleticism that allow him to guard face-up forwards as well as true back-to-the basket players. Adams may not live up to the preseason hype, but there is still plenty of time left for him to re-enter the newcomer of the year discussion.