Sizing Up a Key Freshman at Every Big 12 SchoolPosted by Brian Goodman on October 29th, 2013
Brian Goodman is the lead Big 12 correspondent for RTC. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.
The 2012-13 season saw a handful of freshmen throughout the Big 12 make their presences felt around the league. Everyone knows about Marcus Smart, but he was far from the only rookie player who proved himself capable. Perry Ellis, Isaiah Austin, Rico Gathers and Georges Niang also showed opposing players and coaches that they belonged in the conference too. Further down the standings, Josh Gray, Javan Felix and Terry Henderson gave glimpses of what they can do when given opportunities to show their stuff (although Gray later transferred out of the conference).
Once again, the Big 12 will welcome a stellar class of incoming talent this season. We took a look around the conference and plucked one freshman from each team who we think will make the strongest impression. Top to bottom, the Big 12 doesn’t offer quite the depth the SEC — which claims eight of the top 12 prospects from ESPNU’s Top 100 (just to use one recruiting service) — will roll out, but we’re looking forward to watching newcomers from every Big 12 team make strong impressions in their opening campaigns.
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas: Like you, we’ve seen the YouTube clips and read the scouting reports and articles in publications ranging from Sports Illustrated to GQ. Also, like you, we’re ready for Wiggins to make his debut and show everyone in actual games why he’s been the projected top overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft for so long. We agree with Bill Self in that we don’t expect Wiggins to average 20 points per game – today’s suppressed scoring environments and Self’s reputation as a coach who prefers a balanced attack makes that outcome a longshot. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t think the phenom will make a huge impact on both ends of the floor.
Matt Thomas, Iowa State: Despite starting just two games last season, Tyrus McGee was the Cyclones’ second-leading scorer thanks to a white-hot 46.4% shooting clip from long range. Now that he’s gone, though, Fred Hoiberg needs someone to fill the shooting void, and we can easily see Thomas emerging as that guy. The 51st-ranked recruit on ESPNU’s Top 100, Thomas boasts the kind of range that can break games open and cut deficits in a hurry. Once he commands the attention of the league’s defenses, passing lanes will open up to deliver the ball to the likes of Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang.
Karviar Shepherd, TCU: Shepherd is in some ways a fish out of water as a highly-touted freshmen playing for a TCU squad that finished among the worst teams from a major conference last season. Just don’t tell that to head coach Trent Johnson, who has developed his share of first round picks in the frontcourt. The typical caveats of freshmen big men apply to the raw Shepherd, who could stand to add to his 6’10″, 220-pound frame and shouldn’t be counted on to provide consistent offensive numbers. Still, his shot-blocking and rebounding abilities will help TCU stay competitive and maybe even steal a few wins that the prognosticators didn’t see coming.
Ishmail Wainright, Baylor: Missouri head coach Frank Haith lost a big one when Wainright decomitted from the Tigers and later verbaled to Scott Drew. Over the last couple of seasons, most of Baylor’s production has come from either the backcourt (Pierre Jackson, Deuce Bello) or the post (Isaiah Austin, Perry Jones, Corey Jefferson). Wainwright gives Baylor more of a pure wing type who can finish in transition against smaller defenders. He’ll undoubtedly run into his share of points when defenses are keyed on stopping Austin, Jefferson and the occasional three-point barrage from Brady Heslip, but where Wainright really flourishes is on the defensive end.
Devin Williams, West Virginia: With the departure of Deniz Kilicli via graduation and Aaric Murray by way of transfer, there were indications as early as May that Williams would have plenty of opportunities to get acclimated to Bob Huggins’ system. On top of those losses, Elijah Macon got into some trouble off the court, so Mountaineers fans would do well to get to know Williams, a freshman originally from Cincinnati who matriculated to WVU by way of Montverde Academy in Florida. Though the Mountaineers will begin their second season in the Big 12, Williams is a power forward in the classic Big East form: strong enough to power his way through the paint and skilled enough to finish from close range. Look for Williams to get plenty of run alongside junior center Kevin Noreen, at least until Macon’s situation reaches a point where Huggins feels comfortable bringing him back into the fold.
Kendal Yancy, Texas: The mass exodus of talent from Austin over the last two seasons left the Longhorns with a depleted roster for the 2013-14 campaign, but that only means more opportunities for the Richardson, Texas, native to show what he can do. Given a thin group of personnel, Rick Barnes may have to mix things up and roll out a three-guard lineup from time to time, and that’s where we see the 6’4″ Yancy, a reputed scorer and play-maker, getting his chances alongside Demarcus Holland and Javan Felix.
Marcus Foster, Kansas State: Foster’s place on this list isn’t quite as clear-cut as our other selections. After losing Rodney McGruder and Angel Hernandez, the Wildcats’ backcourt rotation beyond senior Will Spradling is far from a sure thing. In addition to Foster, newcomers Nigel Johnson and Jevon Thomas will also get their chances, so results could be a mixed bag, especially in the early going. By the time conference play rolls around, however, we expect Foster to be more of a regular in Kansas State’s rotation due to his scoring ability and versatility on defense.
Stevie Clark, Oklahoma State: As the #13 point guard in the 2013 class, Clark figured to command plenty of playing time back when he committed last November, but Marcus Smart shocked the college basketball world by announcing his return for a second go-around and that was that. Since the playing time won’t be what he originally imagined, Clark will be able to learn without having a ton of pressure on his shoulders, which is hardly an undesirable scenario for a freshman. Look for Clark, who has the range that Smart lacks (right now) to get some run in the early part of OSU’s schedule as Travis Ford looks to build leads big enough to bank some time to rest his NPOY candidate. In three and a half years, Clark may be the most accomplished player on this list outside of Wiggins, but as talented as he is, we can’t see him impacting games the way he could had Smart left Stillwater back in April.
Jordan Woodard, Oklahoma: Since assuming head coaching duties in 2011, Lon Kruger hasn’t locked down the state of Oklahoma as tightly as he probably would like, but he did secure the services of Woodard, a three-star guard from nearby Edmond. Admittedly, Woodard’s impact may be limited, since he doesn’t have enough of a reputation to be trusted as a shooter. Additionally, after playing both guard spots in high school, he may have to transition to point guard duties full-time since he stands just 6’1″. That’s no easy task, but if he can learn on the fly, it may give the Sooners just the edge they’ll need to cut into the top half of the conference and snatch up a tournament bid.
Aaron Ross, Texas Tech: While Tubby Smith brings a level of name recognition that Texas Tech hasn’t seen since Bobby Knight coached the Red Raiders, he didn’t have much time to assemble a pipeline for the immediate future. Smith cobbled together enough inventory to fill out his roster, but it’s a holdover from the previous regime that figures to make the biggest impact among the newcomers. Ross, a former Arkansas signee, will make his debut after sitting out the 2012-13 campaign with a torn ACL. His addition will help fortify an experienced frontcourt while providing Smith with some youth to build around as he molds the program in his image.