Much of the hype headed into the 2013-14 college basketball season was on the incoming freshmen class.
And for good reason. This as is good a crop as there’s been in a while.
But two months into the season, it hasn’t been all about the freshman. Yes, some have lived up to the billing, but many of the players who’ve had the biggest impact so far are ones who have been around for a while.
Here’s six impact players from the early part of the season, including one of those freshmen:
Marcus Smart, G, Oklahoma State. Smart was billed as one of the nation’s best players heading into the season and he hasn’t disappointed. The sophomore has done just about everything for the seventh-ranked Cowboys, averaging 19 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists. Smart scored 39 points against Memphis and his shooting percentages, from the floor and the arc, are up over last season. It’s still early, but he may be the front-runner for player of the year.
Doug McDermott, F, Creighton. Speaking of player-of-the-year candidates, McDermott won the past two in the Missouri Valley Conference and could add another POY honor now that the Bluejays have moved to the Big East. The relentless forward is the focus of every opposing defense, yet he still finds ways to score and snatch rebounds. He ranks second nationally with 25.3 points per game while grabbing 6.9 rebounds in his final season playing under his dad, Greg.
C.J. Fair, G, Syracuse. Fair has gotten progressively better during his career at Syracuse, from a little-used freshman to the undoubted best player on the No. 2 team in the country. The 6-foot-8 senior is at his best when the game is on the line, as he did in helping the Orange hold off St. John’s on Sunday at Madison Square Garden, and leads the team in scoring at 18.1 points per game. Syracuse has a lot weapons, but Fair has been a big reason the Orange are undefeated.
T.J. McConnell, G, Arizona. The junior transfer from Duquesne hasn’t been much of a scorer in his first season with the Wildcats, ranking seventh on the team with 7.2 points per game. He is undoubtedly the key cog in the Wildcats’ run to the top of the poll, though. Heady and steady, McConnell is the pass-first point guard Arizona lacked last season, averaging 6.5 assists per game. He’s also a gritty defender who has superb anticipation, leading the Wildcats’ defense at the top. McConnell is a big reason Arizona is No. 1 and why the Wildcats could make a deep run this season.
Shabazz Napier, G, Connecticut. The senior has great numbers for a team that’s still undefeated, so he was an easy choice for this list. Napier leads the 10th-ranked Huskies in scoring (15.3 points), assists (5.8) and, surprisingly for a 6-1 guard, rebounds at 7 per game. He’s also taken over the mantle from Kemba Walker as UConn’s go-to player, hitting numerous big shots over the past two seasons, including a buzzer-beater to lift the Huskies over No. 15 Florida on Dec. 2.
Jabari Parker, F, Duke. Of all the heralded freshman, he has arguably been the best so far. The 6-8 forward has been comfortable in the spotlight, even at a place like Duke, and has no trouble adapting to the college game. Parker leads the eighth-ranked Blue Devils with 22 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, and is shooting 55 percent, including 47 percent from 3-point range. Other freshmen like Kentucky’s Julius Randle, Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins and Arizona’s Aaron Gordon have played well, but Parker has had the edge so far.
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