- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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The 2013-14 Wooden Watch is upon us! And in case you haven't been paying attention, there is a lot of talent in college basketball this season.
We have a few things to thank for that: A freshman class as good as any in memory; a handful of veterans already meeting or exceeding their lofty expectations; and a handful of sophomores who resisted NBA temptation and are already looking all the better for it. Which brings us, of course, to the players on our list.
But first, a quick note: Do not -- and I can't stress this enough -- freak out about the order of these players. It is rough at best. It is Nov. 21. For a few weeks, we're going to eschew precision in favor of a more general landscape. Let's wait a month or two before we start getting super-opinionated, OK? Deal?
Good. Without further ado:
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State: If you missed Smart in Oklahoma State's 101-80 thrashing of Memphis on Tuesday night, you missed a player who was already very good at just about every aspect of basketball save one -- shooting -- establish that the "save one" is no longer applicable. Smart scored 39 points, made 5-of-10 from beyond the arc, got to the line 16 times, and kept up his typical all-around brilliance (five steals, two blocks, four rebounds) in the process. Few players grind as hard as Smart, and a summer of relentless shooting has made him a frightening prospect for opponents.
Doug McDermott, Creighton: McDermott wasn't perfect Saturday at St. Joseph's, but his team left with a win, and thus far he is doing exactly what you expect Doug McDermott to do: score as efficiently as is humanly possible. Expect to see his name in this space all season.
Jabari Parker, Duke: Is Parker the best freshman in the country? Any other season, that'd be a silly question. In any case, he's posted at least 20 points -- and a tidy 123.1 offensive rating with plenty of defensive rebounding, to boot -- in his first five college games. In the last decade, according to ESPN Stats and Info, only Kevin Durant, Eric Gordon and Michael Beasley have done the same.
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas: Wiggins may lack the pure scoring of Parker, but that's the only thing. The uber-hyped No. 1-ranked freshman has been peerless in just about every other respect. His line (17.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.7 steals) is only slightly less impressive than the actual experience of watching him play.
Julius Randle, Kentucky: Speaking of viewing experiences: It's been a long time -- certainly longer than I can remember -- that a freshman forward entered college basketball and appeared so immediately physically superior to everyone around him. Randle (20.8 points, 13.3 rebounds) has posted a double-double in all five UK games to date, and he nearly single-handedly willed an otherwise lost Kentucky team to a win over No. 1 Michigan State last week.
Jahii Carson, Arizona State: In 2012-13, Carson was an exciting, up-tempo freshman prospect on a so-so Sun Devils team; in 2013-14, he's a bona fide POY guy. On Tuesday, he threw in 40 points on 16-of-25 shooting (and seven assists) in a big-time win at UNLV.
Russ Smith, Louisville: Smith was criminally overlooked when it came to player of the year honors last season. That shouldn't be a problem anymore. The Cardinals have yet to play a challenging opponent -- and there are no guarantees about North Carolina this weekend -- but Smith's two-way brilliance is already on full display.
Gary Harris, Michigan State: Harris battled through a lingering shoulder injury for much of his freshman year and was still more than good enough to go pro had he wanted to. Instead, he came back for a national title shot at Michigan State, and his clean bill of health is evident.
Aaron Gordon, Arizona: If you don't like it when people compare current college players to current NBA stars, well, put on your earmuffs: Gordon is going to be compared to Blake Griffin all season long. But why not? The last player to impact the college game with such pure size and athleticism was ... well, you know.
Cameron Bairstow (New Mexico): I have no idea whether Bairstow can up his 144.2 offensive rating on 33.0 percent usage no more than I can assume he will keep shooting 81.8 percent inside the arc, or that he'll keep drawing nearly 11 (!!) fouls per 40 minutes. But through the Lobos' tiny two-game sample size (against Alabama A&M and Charleston Southern, another caveat), New Mexico's senior forward is the most statistically impressive player in the country.
Early honorable mentions: Keith Appling (Michigan State), Joseph Young (Oregon), Adreian Payne (Michigan State) Shabazz Napier (Connecticut), Anthony Drmic (Boise State), Rodney Hood (Duke), Mitch McGary (Michigan), Bryce Cotton (Providence), Melvin Ejim (Iowa State), Tim Frazier (Penn State), Jordan Adams (UCLA), Roberto Nelson (Oregon State), Kendall Williams (New Mexico)