College Basketball Nation: Conner Frankamp

By the time Florida's Chris Walker was cleared to play last season, it was difficult for the freshman to have any sort of real impact. Walker played in just 18 games and didn't even average five minutes.

He's still being projected as a lottery pick for the 2015 NBA draft.

That's why he's all wrong for this particular list of sophomores to watch. Much time is spent following the most talented players and their journey to the pros; consider this equal time tracking the players most likely to develop while staying around a few seasons.

These 12 sophomores should make big improvements from their freshmen seasons -- just not substantial enough to leap right to the NBA. The players were all ranked in the top 100 of the 2013 class by RecruitingNation, but played less than 10 minutes per game as freshmen. (The one exception was Marc Loving, who averaged 10.9 minutes.) Most important, these players will likely all be back as juniors:

[+] EnlargeLuke Fischer
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsAfter transferring from Indiana, 6-foot-11 center Luke Fischer will be eligible to play Dec. 14.
Luke Fischer, forward/center, Marquette. First-year coach Steve Wojciechowski must be plenty glad Fischer got homesick after just 13 games at Indiana and decided to transfer. Fischer will be eligible in December, which can't come soon enough for the Golden Eagles, who lost their top three rebounders and lack the size that the 6-foot-11 Fischer brings.

Tre'Shaun Fletcher, guard/forward, Colorado. Fletcher suffered a knee injury and missed 14 games as a freshman. When healthy last season, he proved to be a reliable reserve and his role should expand next season.

Conner Frankamp, guard, Kansas. The Jayhawks are looking for the stability at point guard they never seemed to get last season. Frankamp could provide it, not to mention add another shooter to the lineup. He'll have his chance to start at point if he can beat out Frank Mason and Devonte Graham.

Anton Gill, guard, Louisville. Gill's offensive skills weren't questioned, but as strictly a shooting guard, he wasn't versatile enough to work his way into the backcourt rotation. He still figures to be coming off the bench, with Terry Rozier and Chris Jones starting, but Gill will make an impact this season.

Isaiah Hicks, forward, North Carolina. Hicks appeared in every game as a freshman for the Tar Heels, but mainly played out of position at small forward. This season he should be returning to power forward, where he should establish himself as the Heels' top frontcourt reserve.

Kuran Iverson, forward, Memphis. At this point, he may be best known for being related to Allen Iverson. That claim to fame should change next season, when the Tigers no longer have such a guard-centric lineup. Iverson could help make the wings the strongest position on the team.

Matt Jones, guard, Duke. Coach Mike Krzyzewski believed in him enough to start him four times, but Jones has to rediscover his confidence after shooting just 29 percent from the floor. If he doesn't, he could find himself buried in a roster that just got a lot deeper with the incoming freshman class.

Marcus Lee, forward, Kentucky. Lee showed how effective he could be with his 10-point, eight-rebound performance in just 15 minutes in the Elite Eight game against Michigan. But his toughest competition is arguably the Wildcats' crowded frontcourt. It's hard to envision how he'll get enough playing time to stand out.

Marc Loving, forward, Ohio State. LaQuinton Ross' decision to turn pro left the Buckeyes sorely lacking in scorers. Here's where Loving will have a chance to make a big leap from his freshman season average of 4.4 points. He'll likely find himself in the starting lineup after appearing in all 35 games last season but starting none.

Elliott Pitts, guard, Arizona. Even with the departure of Nick Johnson, the Wildcats will still have a crowded backcourt. Pitts proved to be a 3-point threat from off the bench last season, shooting 39 percent from deep. That and his 6-foot-5 frame could help him crack the rotation more next season.

Tyler Roberson, forward, Syracuse. Playing behind C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant meant Roberson had to wait his turn. His lone start last season came when Grant was injured. But after averaging 2.2 points in 8.1 minutes per game, Roberson will be needed to help the Orange solve their scoring woes.

Ish Wainright, guard/forward, Baylor. The Bears lost three of their top four scorers, including 3-point sharpshooter Brady Heslip. Wainright doesn't have the same range that Heslip had, but his size and length bring versatility to the lineup. At 6-foot-5, he can play multiple positions and has the potential to be a lockdown defender.

ST. LOUIS -- There he sat on Friday, a 7-foot specimen -- taller in shoes -- on the bench, dressed in that familiar blue warm-up.

The breakout star of this Kansas basketball season, freshman Joel Embiid didn’t play in Kansas’ tough test of an NCAA tournament opener, an 80-69 victory over 15th-seeded Eastern Kentucky.

His presence at the Scottrade Center, no doubt, torments some of the thousands who drove across the state of Missouri this week. Nursing an injured back, Embiid won’t play in St. Louis. He didn’t play at the Big 12 tournament as Kansas exited in the semifinals.

[+] EnlargeJoel Embiid
MCT via Getty ImagesJoel Embiid, right, has become a fixture on Kansas' bench but could return to the lineup if the Jayhawks advance to the second weekend of the tournament.
He might return next week if the Jayhawks beat Stanford on Sunday and advance to the Sweet 16.

And all of it mattered very little on Friday.

Forget those longing looks to the bench. Kansas trailed 23-14 less than 12 minutes into the game, and it had almost nothing to do with the absence of the imported big man from Cameroon.

The Jayhawks committed 13 turnovers in the first half against EKU’s frenetic-paced defense. Kansas owned the inside, even without Embiid. It did not make a 3-point field goal all day, attempting only seven.

But if it can’t take care of the basketball, even Embiid can’t help.

Which is why the second half on Friday ought to provide hope.

The Jayhawks entered the tournament with a national ranking of No. 299 in turnover margin. Against the Colonels, they hit their per-game figure in the first half -- then lost the handle just once in the final 20 minutes.

Credit Conner Frankamp. He’s another freshman. He’s the antithesis of Embiid, 12 inches shorter and from Wichita, Kan. On Friday, Frankamp understood exactly what the Jayhawks needed.

“There’s a lot of pressure on Conner to be a calming influence on us,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “I thought he handled everything beautifully. He ran our team.”

Frankamp started tournament play right there alongside Embiid, figuring he might sit all day. Before Friday, he played 1.8 minutes per game.

Against the Ohio Valley Conference champion, Frankamp stayed on the court for 25, a season high.

“I just try to get in there and feed the ball to whoever is open as best I can and play sound on the offensive end and defensive end,” Frankamp said.

He said he focused on taking care of the basketball. He committed no turnovers, scored 10 points and dished four assists.

Mission accomplished. Little man to the rescue.

Self said the Jayhawks felt fortunate to escape Eastern Kentucky, which used a 10-0 run in the second half to regain a 48-45 lead after Kansas began to assert control.

“The key was to pound the ball inside,” KU forward Perry Ellis said, “and we did that.”

[+] EnlargeConner Frankamp
Icon SMIConner Frankamp's poise and patience helped push Kansas past Eastern Kentucky.
Tarik Black and Jamari Traylor took over. Embiid himself couldn’t have done better work in the paint.

Kansas didn’t need him on Friday. It needed Frankamp, who watched Duke fall to No. 14 seed Mercer before KU took the floor in St. Louis. The game in Raleigh, N.C., reminded the Jayhawks that anything can happen in the tournament.

Still, Self said, he didn’t know if his players “totally respected” Eastern Kentucky’s ability to create havoc.

Senior guard Glenn Cosey led the charge early for the Colonels, hitting four of his first five 3-pointers. He was everywhere on the offensive and defensive ends.

Eastern Kentucky shook Kansas with a tricky zone defense for a few possessions before halftime.

“I didn’t think we attacked it well at all,” Self said.

Once Frankamp entered to restore some order, though, another Kansas freshman, leading scorer Andrew Wiggins -- the rookie who began this season with all the hype -- sent a message with a pair of sky-high dunks en route to 19 points.

The first dunk, an alley-oop in transition from Frank Mason, forced an immediate timeout from EKU coach Jeff Neubauer. The Colonels recovered.

With each slam from Wiggins and Black, who delivered an array of his own after halftime, the Jayhawks looked closer to hammering their way to victory.

But EKU never cracked. The key to victory existed elsewhere on the court.

“We knew that Kansas was a great rebounding team,” Neubauer said, “and we absolutely had to steal it before they could rebound it. In the first half we did that really well.”

Not so well after halftime.

Credit the secret weapon on the bench, the 6-foot freshman who saved the day.

Thanks to Frankamp, that other freshman may soon shed his warm-up and receive an opportunity to return.

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