Freshman checkup, November edition

November, 19, 2013
11/19/13
12:20
PM ET
In a season that looks likely to be dominated by the best group of freshmen we've seen in a decade, a statistical oddity is afoot. Kansas' Andrew Wiggins, Duke's Jabari Parker, Kentucky's Julius Randle and Arizona's Aaron Gordon -- the top four recruits in the 2013 ESPN 100, and a possible 2014 NBA draft superfecta -- play on the same night just five times total this season.

One of them -- opening night on Nov. 8 -- is already behind us. Three take place in February (Feb. 1, 22) and March (March 8).

You can probably guess where this is going: Night No. 5 -- or No. 2, if you're into the whole linearity thing -- comes Tuesday night.

I'll be the first to admit this is not exactly a Champions Classic-level confluence we're talking about here. All four teams are playing games they should win, and rather easily; the most difficult opponent on the schedule is Tim Cluess' Iona program, a good mid-major that will nonetheless almost certainly get a right smack in Allen Fieldhouse. Arizona's home date against Rhode Island might look a bit tougher in a few months, but for now it's hard to get too excited. Duke plays East Carolina. Kentucky will destroy UT-Arlington.

Still, with all four players in action just before the holiday and early-season tournaments begin in earnest, we might as well take the opportunity to check in on each. (Oh, and this early in the season, all small sample size disclaimers apply.)

Andrew Wiggins, Kansas Jayhawks (vs. Iona, 8 ET on ESPN3): Kansas' likely and aforementioned smacking of Iona will be just the third game on the Jayhawks' schedule, which was a smart move; the rest of the Jayhawks' schedule is insane. In other words, if you saw the Champions Classic, there's not a whole lot to update where Wiggins concerned. I mean, you saw him, right? Right.

It's just two games, but the numbers are already stellar. Wiggins is shooting 63.2 percent from 2, he's 2-of-5 from 3, his offensive rating is a sterling 120.3, he's rebounding at a high rate (particularly on the defensive end), he's blocking shots and creating steals and he's drawn 6.4 fouls per 40 minutes. He is, in short, doing everything. If there is one minor gripe -- and I really can't stress "minor" enough here -- it's that Wiggins' foul trouble against Duke and his total floor game (as opposed to strictly dominant scoring, for example) can make one feel as if the future No. 1 pick isn't always impacting the game as much as he could be. But, again, minor: When Wiggins is totally on, he -- and by extension his team -- can do anything.

Jabari Parker, Duke Blue Devils (vs. East Carolina, 6 ET on ESPN3): If you thought Wiggins' numbers were good, check out Parker's. In four games, Parker has posted a 128.3 offensive rating on 34.5 percent usage and a 36.4 percent shot rate; a 70.4 effective field goal percentage; a 28.8 defensive rebounding rate; a 3.4 percent block rate; and a 12-of-18 mark from 3-point range. It's flabbergasting. It's hard to tell which number is the craziest. They're all a little bit crazy.

Meanwhile, Duke's offense is looking like one of best units, if not the best unit, in the country. (Frontcourt mate Rodney Hood, meanwhile, is flirting with the 140.0 O-rating mark. Yeesh.) The only problem to date is defense. That was most noticeable when the Blue Devils yielded 54 points in the second half -- and 32 in the final 10 minutes! -- to Kansas at the United Center. Because of the opponents since (Florida Atlantic, UNC Asheville), it's been hard to get a sense of just how good Duke's defense might be. The issue is not pace; the Blue Devils should be able to get stops at any speed. The biggest issue is whether Parker can shoulder so much offensive load and still be an asset on the defensive end, often guarding bigger, more experienced players.

Julius Randle, Kentucky Wildcats (vs. UT-Arlington, 7:30 ET on ESPN3): Maybe the biggest surprise about Randle's numbers thus far is that his usage rate isn't even higher. Kentucky's star forward is using 32.4 percent of UK's available possessions when on the court. If all you saw was the Champions -- when Randle was basically UK's only effective weapon, and the only player anyone in blue seemed to trust to go get a basket -- you could have been convinced his usage would be trending toward the 40s.

In any case, the dude is, quite simply, a beast. The biggest thing for Randle -- and no one has been more vocal about this than coach John Calipari, who clearly sees greatness in Randle and is determined to push him toward it -- is his lack of second- and third-level moves in the low block. Against Kentucky's lesser opponents, the one-dribble spin he has perfected will work every time. He often doesn't even need that. But against better, experienced defenders (see: Michigan State), Randle will have to devise another move and another counter-move. He will have to keep defenders guessing. In the meantime, though, sheer physical strength will do the job.

Aaron Gordon, Arizona (vs. Rhode Island, 11 ET on ESPNU): Gordon is the only player on this list not to lead his team in usage rate, but that makes perfect sense, given the differences in his game. Gordon is not as fully formed a wing player as Wiggins or Parker; he is not a "true" post-up guarantee like Randle. Instead, at least right now, Gordon's a bit of both, and neither at the same time.

What he is, however, is very good, and very athletic -- "Blake Griffin with a jumper" is not a ridiculous comparison. Thus far, per Synergy data, Gordon's shots most frequently come from offensive rebounds and putbacks. His second most frequent play type is "cut," which is a simpler way of saying "Gordon runs to the rim, jumps really high, catches the ball, and dunks it." (See: The baseline inbounds play with 1:22 remaining in the second half at San Diego State. And-1. Yikes.) Post-ups have comprised just five of his overall plays to date.

Which is fine: Gordon may not have a refined post game just yet, but he has more than enough to impact the game in ways very few players -- including the three on this list -- can. Watch him. You won't be disappointed.

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