While one-and-done talent is fun to watch in college, and when they first try to make a splash in the NBA, it’s hard to find evidence that playing only one year of college ball helps anyone involved.
But one thing is for sure: Freshmen are becoming must-see TV. The hype machine is bigger than ever for high-profile recruits tearing it up in their first college season. Just look at ESPN’s 24/7 coverage of Oklahoma sensation Trae Young, who leads the nation by averaging 29 points and nine assists per game.
Along with high entertainment value comes freshman inconsistency and risk. No, it’s not Young’s fault that he already is as famous as an NBA All-Star. But he does share blame in the Sooners going from the top 10 to below .500 in the Big 12 after losing seven of their past nine games.
Among top-10 teams, No. 7 Texas Tech is the only squad with a freshman among its top three scorers. Duke and Kentucky, the premier one-and-done programs, are struggling. The Wildcats have lost six of their past nine, including four in a row.
It seems like ages ago when Apple Valley’s Tyus Jones and two other one-and-done freshman led Duke to the title in 2015. Former Timberwolves coach Sam Mitchell, who coached Jones and four other one-and-done players during the 2015-16 Wolves season, said he felt like he was coaching Duke or Kentucky, not an NBA team.
Of Wolves players who played only one season of college basketball, Karl-Anthony Towns will be the first to play in an All-Star Game on Sunday.
“We knew that was going to happen for Karl,” Mitchell said. “Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine are not far away in my estimation. Both of those have All-Star talent.”
Wiggins (No. 1 overall), LaVine (13th) and seven other freshmen were drafted in the first round in 2014. The only NBA All-Star from that group so far will be Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid (third overall) when he makes his first appearance this weekend. In 2015, Towns and a dozen other one-and-doners were drafted in the first round. Towns, the top pick, is the lone All-Star and one of only three full-time starters (joining Devin Booker and Myles Turner) from that bunch.
There were 14 freshmen in 2016 and 18 in 2017 picked in the draft, producing no All-Stars yet. More of them have spent time in the NBA’s G league than on actual rosters.
So is the NBA really benefiting from forcing players to go to college for a year, instead of coming right from high school? That was the reason the NBA put a stop to preps-to-pros, to benefit their own league, right?
If one-and-done players aren’t blowing up in the NBA and not a sure shot to lead their NCAA teams to big-time success, then why not just let some leave after high school and have others stay a bit longer?
Mitchell says he’s interested in college coaching, but he wants to see high schoolers given the freedom to leave for the NBA again. The 2005 NBA draft was the last time they had that option.
“Can’t wait,” he said. “They need to go back to that. I understand the premise of why they did it. But if someone is willing to pay you millions of dollars to do what you do out of high school, there should be nobody stopping you from doing that.”
BIG TEN POWER RANKINGS
Marcus Fuller’s rankings, with five teams to watch:
1. Ohio State (22-6, 13-2)
2. Michigan State (25-3, 13-2): Miles Bridges struggled against the Gophers with only five points, but the Spartans still won by 30. Most talented team in the country.
3. Purdue (23-5, 12-3):
Losses to Ohio State and Michigan State were tough for the Boilermakers, but it now might be time to panic with a third consecutive loss, and this one at struggling Wisconsin.
4. Nebraska (20-8, 11-4): The Cornhuskers’ six consecutive victories give them the second-longest winning streak in the Big Ten behind Michigan State’s nine in a row.
5. Michigan (21-7, 10-5)
6. Penn State (19-9, 9-6):
The Nittany Lions got a big NCAA tournament résumé victory by blowing out Ohio State at home on Thursday.
7. Indiana (15-12, 8-7)
8. Maryland (17-11, 6-9)
9. Northwestern (15-12, 6-8)
10. Iowa (12-16, 3-12)
11. Wisconsin (12-16, 5-10)
12. Minnesota (14-14, 3-12): The Gophers’ eight-game losing streak might not end unless injured guards Amir Coffey (shoulder) and Dupree McBrayer (leg) return, which is still uncertain.
13. Illinois (12-15, 2-12)
14. Rutgers (13-15, 3-12)
PLAYER TO WATCH
Jaren Jackson Jr., C, Michigan State
The 6-11 freshman showed why he’s a potential No. 1 pick with his career-best 27 points and five three-pointers in Tuesday’s 87-57 victory against the Gophers. Jackson is versatile, but he’s a finalist for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award, given to the nation’s top center.
Game of the weekend
(3) Villanova at (4) Xavier
3:30 p.m. Saturday, Ch. 9: After losing two of their past three games, the Wildcats have lost their spot as the top-ranked team in the nation. The Musketeers, who lost at Villanova 89-65 on Jan. 10, enter Saturday trying to hold on to sole possession of first place in the Big East at 12-2.
More transparency, please
The selection committee released its top 16 teams last week, the second year of this “early buzz” idea. It’s good for TV and social media, of course, but a better idea would be to give us a look at the process and what new criteria are being used — such as “quadrants” (huh?).