It has been a wild non-conference season for the Big Ten, full of marquee games in big-time venues and nationally televised contests between traditional powers. And a few too many losses. Key freshmen like D'Angelo Russell and Isaac Haas have already gotten a taste for the rigors of college basketball, but that was all leading up to their first real test: Big Ten conference play. So how have this year's newcomers graded out after their first big-time collegiate conference game? We'll take a look at the numbers so far now that conference play has begun.
But first, to review - we'll cover all of the true freshmen in the league that are playing significant minutes for their team which we'll define as 16mpg. And now, the numbers.
By The Numbers (Through Wednesday, December 31st)
|James Blackmon Jr.||G||Indiana||20||29.6||17.2||122.3||.468||.440||.857||5.4||1.4||0.0||0.6||1.6|
|Shep Garner||G||Penn State||173||26.5||9.8||114.2||.537||.385||.857||2.4||2.3||0.1||0.6||1.6|
|D'Angelo Russell||G||Ohio State||16||30.4||17.4||117.0||.471||.434||.771||4.6||5.2||0.1||1.7||2.8|
|Jae'Sean Tate||G||Ohio State||58||17.8||6.2||102.1||.600||.167||.500||4.8||0.3||0.6||1.1||1.3|
|Lourawls Nairn||G||Michigan State||104||17.6||1.2||78.9||.200||.000||.467||1.7||2.9||0.0||0.3||1.1|
Bold highlights indicate the strongest performance in a given category
Dropped: Dakota Mathias, Leron Black
Added: Ricky Doyle, Michal Cekovsky
Bryant McIntosh leads Northwestern in minutes - The talented point guard doesn't just lead all Big Ten freshmen in minutes, he leads his entire team. And sure, we are talking about Northwestern here but Northwestern does have some upperclassman talent in guys like Tre Demps and Alex Olah. Bryant is playing more minutes than either of those guys. But when you can assist the ball as well as McIntosh does, the true freshman assists on 34% of his possessions, you deserve some floor time.
Kameron Chatman's Continued Struggles - I feel kinda bad harping on the same guy but Michigan needs Chatman to play better. Beilein is doing what he can to infuse confidence into the young wing player, who started his first Big Ten game in a win over Illinois on Tuesday. Chatman has rebounded well, which Michigan needs as a short team, but that's about it.
Robert Johnson, G - Indiana - 14 PTS, 5/9 FG, 3/6 3PT, 1 REB, 1 STL, 1 TO in 23 minutes at Nebraska - Robert Johnson's 2 first half 3-pointers keyed a run for the Hoosiers that led to a 16-point advantage.
Nate Mason Jr, G - Minnesota - 12 PTS, 4/9 FG, 2/5 3PT, 3 REB, 2 AST, 1 STL, 0 TO in 26 minutes at Purdue - Nate Mason Jr's smart play was crucial in helping the Minnesota Gophers build a lead on the road that they ultimately could not sustain.
Bryant McIntosh, G - Northwestern - 17 PTS, 5/11 FG, 2/2 3PT, 3 REB, 4 AST, 4 TO in 37 minutes at Rutgers - McIntosh has already earned the reigns of the Northwestern Wildcats and his game-high 17 points led his club to a victory.
Kameron Chatman, F - Michigan - 2, PTS, 1/2 FG, 0/1 3PT, 2 REB, 1 AST, 1 BLK, 1 TO in 19 minutes vs. Illinois - Kameron started and played 19 minutes but did little to reward John Beilein's confidence.
Jared Nickens, F - Maryland - 0 PTS, 0/3 FG, 0/2 3PT, 1 STL in 16 minutes at Michigan State - The Spartans' Breslin Center is one of the Big Ten's most intimidating venues and Nickens did not rise up to the very formidable challenge.
Vic Law, F - Northwestern - 0 PTs, 0/2 FG, 0/0 3PT, 3 REB, 1 PF in 10 minutes at Rutgers - Collins starts Law but the freshman's tenative play saw him on the floor for only 10 minutes before Collins cut his losses.
Freshman of the Year (to date)
D'Angelo Russell, G - Ohio State
Some have, rightfully, seized on Russell's reduced efficiency against major conference opponents. D'Angelo shot 40% from the floor against Marquette, 30% against Louisville, 24% against North Carolina, and now 25% against Iowa. That's cause for concern going ahead as the Buckeyes depend on Russell's scoring, but the freshmen guard brings a lot more than that to the table. Russell leads the Buckeyes in minutes and points, is second in assisting and steals behind Shannon Scott, and is third on the team in rebounding. As a true freshman, D'Angelo is already the most important player on his team which few freshman can claim not only within the Big Ten(McIntosh may have an argument), but around the country. Once D'Angelo figures out how to score against the bigger defenses he's facing at this point in the season, watch out.
What to Watch For
The Emerging Freshman of the Year Race - After the offseason, it looks pretty clear that Indiana's James Blackmon Jr, Ohio State's D'Angelo Russell, and Maryland's Melo Trimble are the early favorites to win the nod as the Big Ten's top freshman this year. The three guards are explosive scorers who typically limit mistakes and utilize smart shot selection, so it should be an entertaining race to the finish. Expect Trimble to receive some extra consideration as the leading man if Maryland ends up contending with the Wisconsin Badgers for the conference championship. And don't count out Northwestern's Bryant McIntosh, who has an outside chance to join the conversation.
Bryant McIntosh's Rising Star - That may sound a hair dramatic, but after watching Bryant rack up 37 minutes on the road at Rutgers earlier this week it became clear to me that Chris Collins is going to let the young guard shoulder as much of the load as he can. Northwestern won't make the NCAA tournament this season, and probably not next season either, but McIntosh looks like he could finally be the player to get the Wildcats into the big dance before he graduates.
Lourawls Nairn's Adjustment to the College Game - Nairn is fortunate that Tom Izzo isn't counting on him to do much quite yet. Travis Trice, thankfully, has advanced his game enough to handle most of the passing for the Michigan State Spartans and much of their scoring as well. But Trice is a senior and there's a reason Nairn is playing as much as he is right now. Izzo may not rely on Lourawls to lead the team in scoring, but his 1.2 ppg on an abysmal 19% from the floor still isn't enough. Nairn has had a long leash so far, and to his credit his assist-to-turnover ratio has been impressive for a true freshman guard, but Lourawls will be seeing less of the floor soon if he can't figure out how to score over collegiate size.
As you might have expected, nearly every freshman listed here has seen their numbers decrease in volume and/or efficiency as the level of competition has ratcheted up. Some talented freshmen, like Dakota Mathias and Leron Black, have seen their minutes decrease so much that they no longer qualify for this listing while others, like Ricky Doyle and Michal Cekovsky, have found niches in the rotation as they grow more comfortable with the pace of play at the collegiate level. But for the most part this list will shrink going forward, not grow. We'll continue to follow the freshmen that have already carved out a role on their teams, and as the season wears on the freshmen whose names remain will have an impact on their team that only increases.