Some schools divide their years into semesters or trimesters; we at BT Powerhouse are on the quarter system, and as hard as it is to believe, just about 25% of the regular season is already past. Now seems like a good time to look at some freshman who've made themselves comfortable.
But first, let's check in on the first years that have been struggling.
*I'm only counting freshman who've played more than ten minutes a game, which means I'm only looking at players that, by definition, are better than the players who never get off the bench. These young women are talented, but have had trouble adjusting to the NCAA level.
Ashanti Thomas, Center, Penn State. Tall people, being closer to the basket, tend to have the highest field goal percentages, and yet Thomas is shooting just 35% from the field, and an abysmal 33% from the free throw line (which makes DeAndre Jordan look like Steph Curry.) Thomas has the worst True Shooting percentage of any freshman getting at least 15 minutes a game.
Brianna Fraser, Forward, Maryland. Fraser's average minutes per game, over the first four games: 17. Fraser's average minutes per game over the last three games: 6. It's clear Coach Frese doesn't trust her right now. Fraser was a 5-Star recruit, the 14th best high school prospect in the country, according to Dan Olson at ESPN's HoopGurlz. By those standards, her 4.7 points per game are awfully disappointing.
All right, now let's take a look at the best of the best!
The Standardized Tests
In keeping with common practices, we're going to assume that the most brilliant among these students are brilliant in ways that are easily testable.
Stats are courtesy of WBBState.com.
Offense Test Part One: Scoring
Here are the results of the quarter so far.
Teniya Page, the second leading scorer, has averaged about two buckets a game more than the fifth, Kiah Gillespie. Jessica Shepard has averaged about two buckets a game more than Teniya Page. This is all to say that Shepard is head and shoulders above the field, although as of this writing she's only played six games. Still, she made five of her nine shots against Connecticut, and there's every reason to believe she really is one of the most efficient scorers in the conference.
Also, it's worth pointing out that Kiah Gillespie is the fourth option on a loaded team. It's easy to imagine her points per game going up with more touches.
Offense Test Part Two: Passing
Some familiar names, and the first time we meet Boogie Brozoski, the clear favorite to win Freshman With The Best Name Of The Year. "Detective" Boogie Brozoski has played less than half the minutes of Teniya Page. Of course, Brozoski leads all freshman in total turnovers, so there's a reason Brozoski isn't getting heavy minutes.
The big surprise is Jessica Shepard, the only frontcourt player on this list. Shepard's ability to pass out of double teams is vital to the Nebraska Cornhuskers' spacing.
Among freshman who've played at least 100 minutes, Rachel Blackburn is the leader in Rebound Rate, an estimate of the percentage of missed shots a player rebounded while she was on the floor. It's unclear how much of Blackburn's production is the result of sharing the frontcourt with Shepard.
The presence on this list of two short guards, Teniya Page and Cierra Rice, may surprise fans more accustomed to the men's game. In the women's game, rebounds and blocks are more evenly distributed across players of different heights.
Defense Test Part One: Steals
Another outlier, this time Teniya Page. Second-place Boogie Brozoski is closer to fifth place than she is to first.
Steals prevent the other team from shooting and usually lead to a fast-break layup or wide-open shot; for this reason, they are among the most valuable events in basketball, apart from actually scoring. With the use of Sports VU data, the NBA can differentiate between, say, Chris Paul, who is a tenacious on-ball defender, and Russell Westbrook, who tends to gamble himself out of position, and may actually hurt his defense more than he helps. I doubt we'll have Sport VU data any time soon, though, so let's assume the Standardized Test tells us all we need to know.
Defense Test Part Two: Blocks
Hallie Thome, our third Michigan Wolverine, leads all freshman in blocks. Michigan doesn't have any can't-miss-stars (Thome is probably the closest) but they still have three freshman with proven collegiate skills.
This is the first time I've said this, but Jessica Shepard: What a disappointment! Outside of her conditioning, which has prevented her from playing heavier minutes, rim protection has been her biggest problem. She has the tools to be a defensive destroyer, but seems not to know how to use them.
Points and rebounds are a good measure of scoring ability and rebounding ability, respectively; assists measure some types of good passes, but not others; and steals and blocks, while certainly valuable, are only a rough estimate of overall defense. But even keeping that in mind, there are three players who stand out above the field:
3. Cierra Rice.
2. Teniya Page
1. Jessica Shepard
Rice and Page are both do-it-all guards. Rice is a little taller, Page a little faster; Page's numbers have been better, and given the state of Lady Lions, Page has been cooking from a bare cupboard. Rice has Chatrice White on her team, and White's a good bet for All Conference honors. If you think Page's numbers would dip if she had to share the ball more with someone as good as White, I wouldn't argue too much, although I do suspect Page is going to be a slightly better player.
But the clear favorite for Big Ten Freshman of the Year is Jessica Shepard. A double-double threat with smart passing and good-enough defense, Shepard looks like a future first-round pick in the WNBA draft (through one quarter of the season.)