NCAA: Freshmen On The Fence
Senior NBA Writer & College Basketball Editor
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With NBA teams cramming a 66-game season into an abbreviated time period, enough games have been played for weaknesses to be exposed. By now fans are already starting to get an idea of what areas their favorite club needs to address at the trade deadline and at the draft, which will be here before we know it. That’s why we rolled out our player rankings (1-10, 11-20, 21-30) for the 2012 NBA Draft these past two weeks. In our final rankings, freshmen were excluded due to the fact that sticking in school often the right choice to make when you’re only a fringe first rounder.
However, with still over two months left in the college basketball there’s plenty of time for the first-year players not ranked as highly as Kentucky’s Anthony Davis or UConn’s Andre Drummond, who surprised everyone by saying he’s going to stay in school another year regardless of where he’s projected (we’ll see how that holds up when the early-entry deadline rolls along), to finish strong and move themselves up the board. In our latest NCAA Notebook, we take a the five freshmen with the most to gain over the final stretch of the season and try to predict whether or not they end up being one and done:
Marquis Teague (Kentucky) – 6’2, 189 lbs. Point Guard
It was just a matter of time before Kentucky head coach John Calipari’s tradition of having freshmen guards taken in the top ten came to an end. Derrick Rose (Chicago Bulls), Tyreke Evans (Sacramento Kings), John Wall (Washington Wizards) and Brandon Knight (Detroit Pistons) left tremendous shoes to fill and eventually their high standard wasn’t going to be met. Teague, while obviously possessing great talent and potential, has been the first to come up drastically short of the bar set beforehand.
The Indianapolis native has underwhelmed, contributing just 10 points and four assists a night while running Coach Calipari’s guard-friendly dribble-drive offense. He’s giving it away more than three times a contest, while struggling with his shot individually. One of the biggest differences between Teague and the lottery selections that he’s been looked to replace is confidence. He’s simply doesn’t appear to have the same belief in his game that they always did, even during their struggles.
Teague’s lack of faith has taken away from Calipari’s faith in him at times, as he’s put the ball in sophomore guard Doron Lamb’s hands down the stretch of some tight contests. Right now staying looks most likely for Teague; Calipari doesn’t have a top-flight point guard signed in the 2012 recruiting class and he could be looked to as a leader for next year’s squad.
James McAdoo (North Carolina) – 6’9, 220 lbs. Power Forward
Coming into the year there were a lot of people who felt like McAdoo, nephew of former NBA champion Bob McAdoo, was the best pro prospect on the Tar Heels, a team loaded with futures pros. He very well could end up being the best five or six years down the line, but as of right now he’s only the third best post player on the team and that has kept him on the bench for most of the year. Stuck behind surefire first round picks John Henson and Tyler Zeller inside, McAdoo is logging just 13 minutes a contest.
While he’s out there he’s not blowing anyone away, although the skill level is evident. He’s still getting a feel for the college game, though, which is understandable considering that he only gets game action in short durations. The adjustment has been tough for McAdoo, who was expecting to have a big year since he came in as one of the most likely high schoolers to be one and done.
Henson is good as gone with where his stock is at right now and Zeller is obviously done since he’s out of eligibility at the end of the year. That opens up a lot of playing time for McAdoo to showcase himself as a sophomore. It’s hard to imagine him jumping after this year, even with an impressive NCAA tournament the benefits from staying another year will likely outweigh those that come with leaving early.
Cody Zeller (Indiana) – 6’11, 230 lbs. Center
One of the biggest surprises in college basketball this year has been the dominance of Zeller at Indiana. He’s anchored their turnaround despite being someone who was widely regarded as needing at least a year or two before becoming a dominant player collegiately. Instead it’s taken him no time at all as he’s delivered from day one in Bloomington. Coming from a family of basketball players, Zeller looks to be the best prospect of them all.
Zeller’s putting up a very respectable 14 points and six rebounds a contest while knocking down 64% of his shots from the field. He’s got an adept skill set, undoubtedly aided by having two older brothers play DI basketball before him. They did a great job of teaching and developing his game and now Hoosiers head coach Tom Crean is grooming him into an elite player.
The problem for Zeller leaving as a freshman is that there is a lot of depth at the power forward and even center positions. That’s not the case in next year’s draft, though. Should he stay, Zeller would go into the season projected as a top five pick. That’s not a status he can reach in this year’s draft. That, paired along with the enjoyable life that comes with being the face of Hoosier basketball, will probably be enough to keep Zeller around for at least one more year. They shouldn’t expect much more because at this time next year his stock will probably be too high to justify any talk of staying put.
LeBryan Nash (Oklahoma State) – 6’7, 230 lbs. Small Forward
It’s easy to fall in love with Nash when you read about him because there is a lot to like. Built like a grown man but only a freshman, Nash already features a frame stronger and more defined that a lot of current pro small forwards. He’s also freakishly athletic, known for highlight reel worthy plays that made him a must-watch player during his days on the AAU circuit in high school.
Those factors would create someone who you would expect to be a dominating player at the collegiate level. Except, Nash isn’t that. In fact, he’s largely struggled as a Cowboy. He is scoring in double figures at 12.5 a night, but he’s doing so on 36% shooting from the field, 25% from deep and with nearly three turnovers.
Nash, like many prospects we’ve seen in the past, is finding out just how high the skill level is on average in the NCAA. No longer going against inferiors like he was in high school, Nash blends in a lot more than he stands out. It would only be worse in the NBA. That’s why Nash should stay at school no matter what kind of positive feedback he receives. College basketball is made for guys like him to be able to refine their game and reach their full potential. He’d be much better off sticking with the Cowboys, who have a great recruiting class coming in, than entering the draft and basically buying a one-way ticket to the D-League.
Myck Kabongo (Texas) – 6’1, 169 lbs. Point Guard
Like Teague, Kabongo came into college basketball with lofty expectations that he hasn’t exactly lived up to yet. Kabongo is averaging a modest nine points, three rebounds and five assists a contest. His assist-to-turnover ratio is lackluster, as is his stroke from beyond the arc. While many coaches could live with that production from a freshman guard, Kabongo was billed as the next great one-and-done player for the Longhorns. Unfortunately, he just doesn’t look ready at all.
Before playing at the next level Kabongo has to get stronger and really put in a lot of time working on his jump shot. That work is better done in the NCAA, as he would be one of the top-ranked prospects for next year’s draft if he sticks around. Longhorns head coach Rick Barnes is going to continue to surround him with a lot of talent, so he never has to worry about being without help. He just has to concern himself with doing the things that he needs to do to become a pro-level point guard.
Kabongo doesn’t control the game like he has the ability to do. That’s something that should come in time, but if he leaves early he risks losing out on great development opportunities just to be glued to an NBA team’s bench, or in the D.
Five Games To Watch This Week: 1/16: Baylor at Kansas (9:30 PM EST), Louisville at Marquette (3:30 PM EST), Texas A&M at Missouri (5:30 PM EST), 1/17: Michigan State at Michigan (7 PM EST), 1/21: Alabama at Kentucky (12 PM EST).
Senior NCAA and NBA analyst Yannis Koutroupis will be hosting his weekly chat at 11 am EST on Friday January 20th. You can get your questions in here.