This freshman class deep and talented
Michael Beasley (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Michael Beasley (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
FoxSports.com
Posted Mar 18, 2008


One year ago, all the focus was on Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. This year, the NCAA tournament is all about the freshmen again.

I've got to admit, I wasn't so certain that this freshmen crop would make this kind of impact on college basketball. The talent was unquestionable, but it was the off-the-court issues that had me wondering if this freshman class would live up to the expectations.

There were numerous signs — such as O.J. Mayo's run-in with a referee or being in a car that was pulled over by the police with marijuana inside.

Michael Beasley's track record certainly brought up its share of valid question marks. He attended six high schools, was taught at home for one year and wound up reneging on his verbal pledge to Charlotte after his former AAU coach, Delonte Hill, left the 49ers program for a spot at Kansas State.

Derrick Rose never even spoke to college coaches. Everything was handled by his brother, Reggie, and Memphis supporter William Wesley, who helped facilitate Rose's arrival in Memphis.

Eric Gordon reneged on his verbal pledge to Illinois (with the help of his father) and ended up going to Indiana.

DeAndre Jordan was part of a package deal along with his AAU coach, Byron Smith, to go to Texas A&M when Billy Gillispie was the head coach. First-year Aggies coach Mark Turgeon basically had no choice but to hold true and give Smith a job in order to make certain Jordan arrived in College Station.

However, the freshmen haven't just been terrific on the court this season. They haven't had any issues off the court, either.

Beasley has been the prize of the class this season, eclipsing Kevin Durant's numbers a year ago that earned the Texas freshman National Player of the Year honors. He's versatile and has basically carried Kansas State to the Big Dance this season.

The Pac-10 has a trio of elite freshman — and don't be shocked if all three decide to bypass their sophomore seasons in college.

UCLA big man Kevin Love could be the missing piece for the Bruins' national title hopes. He's a presence in the paint that can score and rebound and is a terrific passer as well. Questions abound regarding his NBA potential, but his skill level is so high that there will be a spot for him for a long time in the league.

Across town, Mayo has been a model citizen this season. That's what Tim Floyd and the USC coaching staff says. There was the preseason incident in which Mayo broke teammate Daniel Hackett's jaw with an elbow, but all involved have maintained it was an accident.

Anyway, Floyd gushes about Mayo — and the talented guard hasn't disappointed. He's been terrific, especially since he started to buy into the team concept around the middle of the year.

Arizona guard Jerryd Bayless has basically gotten lost in all the Love-Mayo talk. Bayless, one of the top scoring guards in the nation, would have received far more attention had he been healthy all season and if the Wildcats enjoyed more success.

Rose and Gordon have been everything as advertised. Rose, an electrifying point guard, has stepped right in and led Memphis to a No. 1 seed while Gordon has wasted no time establishing himself as one of the elite scorers in the nation.

Even Duke's resurgence can be attributed to freshmen. Versatile forward Kyle Singler, who played with Love in the summer on an Oregon AAU team, has been the key for the Blue Devils -- who also have athletic and defensive-minded guard Nolan Smith and forward Taylor King.

Tom Izzo has integrated a trio of freshmen into the fray quickly — point guard Kalin Lucas and wings Chris Allen and Durrell Summers.

Blake Griffin has led Oklahoma into the Big Dance as one of the most underrated freshmen in the nation. The 6-foot-9 power forward has been a warrior all season, coming back in record time from a pair of injuries.

DeJuan Blair has given Pittsburgh a similar physical presence. Purdue has a quartet of freshmen that have matured quickly in Robbie Hummel, E'Twaun Moore, Scott Martin and JaJuan Johnson.

Two first-year imports from Australia have led their teams to improbable NCAA tournament berths. Big man A.J. Ogilvy has given Vanderbilt the ideal complement to Shan Foster while guard Patty Mills has led Saint Mary's to the Big Dance.

Oden and Durant may be history, but this freshman crop has a lot more than just two guys to watch.

Top freshmen to watch

East

Eric Gordon, Indiana
Blake Griffin, Oklahoma

Midwest

Michael Beasley, Kansas State
O.J. Mayo, USC
A.J. Ogilvy, Vanderbilt
Davon Jefferson, USC
Austin Daye, Gonzaga
Austin Freeman, Georgetown

South

Derrick Rose, Memphis
DeJuan Blair, Pittsburgh
Kalin Lucas, Michigan State
Patrick Mills, Saint Mary's

West

Kevin Love, UCLA
Jerryd Bayless, Arizona
Kyle Singler, Duke
DeAndre Jordan, Texas A&M
Robbie Hummel, Purdue
LaceDarius Dunn, Baylor

Watching the Big Dance

Patrick Patterson, Kentucky (INJURED)
James Harden, Arizona State
Kosta Koufos, Ohio State
Donte Greene, Syracuse
Jonny Flynn, Syracuse
Nick Calathes, Florida
J.J. Hickson, N.C. State
Anthony Randolph, LSU

Jeff Goodman is a senior college basketball writer for FOXSports.com. He can be reached at GoodmanonFOX@aol.com or check out his blog, Good 'N Plenty.


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