| ||Tuesday, February 1|
|Freshman DeShaun Williams buried his only two 3-pointers during a 10-point,
13-minute stint off the bench for Syracuse against Connecticut on Monday. But you won't see his name
No offense to Williams, but the Orangemen don't need Williams to reach the Final Four -- although his impact has been a nice addition during their undefeated run. But take fresh faced frosh like Arizona's Jason Gardner or Duke's Carlos Boozer off their respective rosters and neither team would be in the top five.
Halfway to March, this season has been the year of the freshman. It's likely to continue with Gardner and Boozer being keys to both teams' tourney runs. Early departures have opened up more time for freshmen this season than any other, and midway through the year, they're taking advantage of the time.
Jason Gardner, Arizona: No player had to come in and take over a team the way Gardner did this season. The Wildcats are in the top five and a legitimate title contender because of their point guard from Indianapolis. He's averaging 13.3 points, 5.2 assists and has nearly a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He's also shooting 43 percent on 3-pointers. Without a true backup, Gardner has also had to play nearly 40 minutes a game.
Boozer has given the Blue Devils a low-post presence and a finisher, averaging 13 points and six boards a game.
Nelson is averaging 6.4 points and could shoot better on 3-pointers (35.4 percent). He's 18 of 21 from the line -- which is sensational -- but as a point guard, he needs to get to the line more often..
Five worth tracking
2. Bernard King, SG, Texas A&M: King scored 17 points in the win over Oklahoma State on Saturday and has given the Aggies hope that they're finally turning the program around. Don't be surprised to see Texas A&M climb in the standings next season, with King as one of the premier players in the league.
3. Samuel Dalembert, C, Seton Hall: Brought along slowly, he's giving the Pirates a defensive presence in the lane that they lacked a year ago. Dalembert has blocked 51 shots in 13 games and is giving the Pirates a legitimate chance to finish second in the Big East (we're giving the top spot to Syracuse).
4. Troy Bell, SG, Boston College: The Eagles' return to normalcy can be credited to Bell. He's leading the team in scoring (19.1 points) and is a 41 percent shooter from the field and on 3-pointers. He gets to the line and makes 89 percent of his free throws and gives the Eagles a chance in every game.
5. Jason Kapono, SF, UCLA: Despite the Bruins having a loaded sophomore class, Kapono leads the team in scoring (15.3 ppg) and is shooting 52.8 percent, 48.5 on 3s. Without JaRon Rush, Kapono's production has been a must for UCLA to stay in the race for a top-five finish in the Pac-10. Without Kapono, the Bruins would have no chance for the NCAA Tournament.
Question these five
2. Joseph Forte, SG, North Carolina: He was exceptional at the start of the season, winning the MVP at the Maui Invitational, but he has to pick up his intensity and defensive effort in the second half of the season. He's averaging 16.2 points, shooting 38.4 on 3s, but the Tar Heels could use an emotional lift from him. He gave it to them early. They need it even more late.
3. Kenny Satterfield, PG, Cincinnati: He's done a decent job running the team but his shooting has been erratic. He's averaging 8.6 points and shooting 33.3 percent but has had games like his 3-for-10 night against Memphis.
4. Jamal Crawford, G, Michigan: He's been one of the most prolific freshmen scorers but he has to cut out the pouting over playing time and practice. He's scoring 16.9 points a game but it won't matter if he doesn't calm down.
5. Steven Hunter, C, DePaul: Hunter has decent statistics (10.1 points, 36 blocks), but he's had too many no-shows. He scored only five points and had two rebounds in 20 minutes in a loss to Louisville. He scored two points and had no rebounds and three fouls in 14 minutes in a loss to Saint Louis.
Freshmen plans that have worked
2. LaVell Blanchard, SF, Michigan: While Crawford has been an offensive surprise, Blanchard has done exactly what Michigan wanted from him. He's averaging 15.2 points and 7.9 rebounds, shooting 45 percent on 3s.
3. Jason Williams, PG, Duke: Williams over-penetrated early in the season but has settled down the last month. He has been the premier point guard Duke expected when they signed him., averaging 14.8 pints and 5.4 assists. He could get his turnovers down (74) to become an even better point guard.
4. Casey Jacobsen, SG, Stanford: Jacobsen leads the Cardinal in scoring (13.4 ppg) and is shooting 39.3 percent on 3s. He has given the Cardinal what they needed from a newcomer -- reliable perimeter shooting and the ability to create his own shot. He's a tough defensive player who doesn't seem to get rattled in big-game situations.
5. Donnell Harvey, PF, Florida: Harvey has met expectations, creating space inside and becoming a rebounding force for the Gators. They lacked toughness inside a year ago, but Harvey's 11.2 points and 7.5 rebounds have been the most consistent part of the Gators' game this season.
Looking for a chance
2. Doug Wrenn, SF, Connecticut: He was held back because of a poor attitude early and, then, poor production. He's finally getting his chance, but he still gets into foul trouble too often. How little has he played? Wrenn has logged 122 minutes, while starting wing Albert Mouring has played 501. But during those 122 minutes, Wrenn has picked up 19 fouls while Mouring has only 25 in 501.
3. Andre Williams, PF, Oklahoma State: He's back after being suspended for accepting extra benefits prior to college. Williams' rebounding (5.2 a game) has been a necessity for the Cowboys. Give him a full season and the Cowboys' interior defense would likely be even better. Having him for the stretch run could pose the difference between first and fourth in the Big 12.
4. Kareem Rush, SG, Missouri: His suspension for an offense similar to what kept Williams on the sidelines ends Saturday against Texas A&M. During his first eight games, Rush averaged 10.9 points and grabbed 5.1 rebounds. The Tigers have done well without him, but could use him for a final push for a tournament bid.
5. Brian Cook, C, Illinois: Cook has the most talent of any post player on the Illini. But his defense has kept him off the floor. He's played in 16 games and averaged 6.6 points, but has only 15 blocks. He'll get more playing time with Marcus Griffin out for three to six weeks with a knee injury.
Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
The Weekly Word on college basketball
Midwest: Patience pays off
West: California dreamin'
South: Secret to Cincy's success
Statistical breakdown of top 20 freshmen
Poll results for top 10 freshmen by conference
Top 10 freshmen in the Big Ten
Top 10 freshmen in the Big 12
Top 10 freshmen in the SEC
Top 10 freshmen in Conference USA
Top 10 freshmen in the Pac-10
Top 10 freshmen in the Mountain West and WAC
Top 10 freshmen in the ACC
Top 10 freshmen in the Atlantic 10
Top 10 freshmen in the Big East
Top 10 freshmen in the rest of the country
Jason Gardner with the easy assist.
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Carlos Boozer takes the ball to the rack in OT.
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Drew Gooden gets it done on both ends of the floor.
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