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College Basketball - Freshmen Coming of Age

By Sean McDonald
Thursday, January 2nd, 2003
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Freshmen are playing larger roles than ever in today's college basketball setting, so I thought I would take a look at some of the best and their chances of helping their team reach every program's dream, the NCAA tourney, and also their chances of advancing deep into March.

UNC Boys (Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants, and Sean May)

Losing to Iona doesn't exactly excite a North Carolina fan, but even with a couple of slip-ups, there is no denying that Tar Heels basketball is back, thanks to the tremendous trio of freshmen suiting up every game. Point guard Raymond Felton (7.1 apg) has shown he is one of the most dangerous guards in the country when the ball is in his hands, although he has been a bit dangerous for his own team as well (35% FG%, 7 turnovers vs. Rutgers, 8 against Illinois.)

Rashad McCants has shown an explosive first step and the ability to finish around the rim, while also showing a deft shooting touch from the outside (45% 3-pt. FG%). McCants had led the Tar Heels in scoring in seven of 11 games and has yet to score less than 12 points in any game.

Sean May has shown he is more than the son of a great basketball player and has quickly established himself as one of the best post players in the country. He has shown good range and good hands for a big man, but he has also been able to mix it up as his 8 rebounds a game suggest. Unfortunately for the Tar Heels and for Sean, he broke a bone in his foot during the loss to Iona and will be out for at least a couple of months.

Chances at NCAA Tourney: May's injury puts North Carolina's future into some doubt since he was their only legitimate post player. If they can play .500 ball while he's out, they should still be in line for an at-large birth if he returns strong.

Chances in NCAA Tourney: The Tar Heels are still probably a year away from doing some serious damage, May's injury probably makes predicting anything more than a second round exit a men in white suits kind of optimism.

Carmelo Anthony, Syracuse

I'm not one to buy into the Dickie V hype (how many "Rolls Roycers" are there by the end of the year? I know it's at least 20), but Vitale hit it on the head this year when he predicted that Carmelo Anthony (24.9 ppg, 10 rpg) would be the top impact freshman in the country. Anthony has scored 20 or more points in each game and is as dynamic player as there is in the country (in other words, lottery pick in next year's draft.) Add in point guard Gerry McNamara (14.4 ppg, 5.1 apg) and the Orangemen have two freshmen playing key roles.

Chances at NCAA Tourney: Very good, however, another Jim Boeheim schedule (Albany, Canisius, Binghamton -- come on, Jim, please) has made it hard to predict how good this team can be.

Chances in NCAA Tourney: Anthony is the best player on the court virtually every time he steps on it, giving Syracuse a solid shot at the Sweet 16.

Bracey Wright, Indiana

Let me get this straight: you get to the NCAA title game, lose your leading-scorer, but bring back your other top five players, and a freshman is leading you in scoring. Either Mike Davis has gone crazy (okay, bad choice of words) or the kid can play. The answer: he can play. He gives Indiana what was missing last year -- a slasher from the perimeter.

Wright (18.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg) has shown he can shoot from the perimeter, as well, which blends well in Indiana's motion offense. He has also shown that he wants the ball at crunch time, which is rare from a freshman, and phantom fouls aside, he is able to get almost any shot he wants.

Chances at NCAA tourney: Excellent, since Indiana should finish in the top three of the Big 10.

Chances in NCAA tourney: I think a repeat of the title game is a big stretch (unless the Hoosiers can rent Jared Jeffries from the Wizards), but another Sweet 16 appearance seems to be a solid bet.

Dee Brown, Illinois

If you haven't seen Dee Brown yet, it's for one of two reasons: 1) You haven't seen the Illini play; or 2) Dee had the ball in his hands when you were watching the game. No player in the country is as fast with the ball, especially in transition, as the Illini's Brown (14.1 ppg, 4.6 apg).

Brown is one of three freshmen (guard Deron Williams and forward James Augustine) to start for Bill Self's team and he fits in better with Self's schemes than the previous Big 10 Player of the Year, Frank Williams. While Brown isn't Frank Williams, he is a slasher who thrives in transition, and a player who is able to play with or without the ball in the halfcourt.

Chances at NCAA Tourney: Excellent, as the Illini, Michigan State, Indiana, and Minnesota should battle it at the top of the Big 10.

Chances in NCAA Tourney: Illini fan biases aside, this is still a team with the ability to move deep into the tournament. Along with the freshmen, the Illini also feature preseason Big 10 Player of the Year, Brian Cook (20.1 ppg, 7.6 rpg) and a multiple set offense that can play various styles. This Illini team reminds me of the last team Self coached at Tulsa, a versatile, fast team that can win playing at various speeds. My guess is that this team has the ability to move to the Elite Eight as Tulsa did under Self.

Old traditions are made to be broken. Seniors winning championships just isn't probable under the "rules" that govern college basketball today. Coaching is more important than ever, as many teams feature players that may only stay for a year or two, so the coaches who are able to ingrain ideas like defense and patience at the offensive end are able to mold young players quicker than others. Coaching is the key to keep a program thriving today, since the turnover rate is much higher than even a decade ago. Coaches like Brad Doherty, Boeheim, Davis, and Self have proven that they have the ability to not only recruit talent, but to also coach it as fast as their players will allow.

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