College Basketball Betting: Freshmen With Impact
by Trevor Whenham - 11/27/2008
It seems like freshmen are playing a bigger and bigger role in college basketball every year. The last few years, freshmen have been leading their teams deep into the tournament, and they haven't been looking very much like freshmen. Knowing those freshmen - Rose, Oden, Durant, Mayo and so on - has been very important for bettors wanting to make a few bucks. We don't have any freshmen of the profile, and perhaps the talent, of that group this year, but there are still several players significantly changing the face of their teams already. Bettors will need to get familiar with these players as soon as possible. Here's a look at five of the better players to get you started:
Willie Warren, Oklahoma - The Sooners have one of the top players in the country in sophomore Blake Griffin. He's led the team to a perfect record so far, and he has elevated his play immensely over last year. A big part of the reason for that is Warren. He's a pure scorer, and he forces defenses to pay attention to him so they can't just focus on Griffin. It' obviously still early days, but it's a very good sign that Warren's best game came against his team's biggest opponent - Davidson. Coach Jeff Capel is a perfect mentor for Warren. He is more willing than most coaches to give his star players space to do what they do best. For Warren that is putting the ball in the basket, and that's going to be happening a lot this year. The combination of Griffin and Warren is a one-two punch that is going to make Oklahoma's season a long one.
Tyreke Evans, Memphis - There is absolutely nothing that can make up for the loss of Derrick Rose. Heck, losing Chris Douglas-Roberts is more than most programs have to deal with. Evans may not be quite of the caliber of Rose, but he'll certainly make it easier for coach Calipari to sleep at night. Calipari's dribble-drive motion system is pretty much ideal for Evans. He can shoot, but he's big enough and aggressive enough to crash his way to the net as well. With Rose and Douglas-Roberts gone, there is a big hole in Memphis' offensive production, so Evans will have the latitude to score as often as he likes. So far he has done a reasonable job of answering the challenge so far, though his shooting needs to be far better. There is one thing that he has done so far that doesn't immediately make him look like a typical Memphis player - he's actually shooting well from the free throw line.
Samardo Samuels, Louisville - If there is one word to describe Samuels it's power. He's pretty much the ideal player for coach Rick Pitino - he's got the game to step up and contribute right away. That's important for a team that is ready to go deep now. It's hard to know exactly how he is doing so far - they have only played two games, and neither has been against good competition - but early returns are very positive. He's averaging 21 points per game, and five rebounds. That makes him, by a wide margin, the team's leading scorer. More impressively, he has only missed five of his first 22 shots. Pitino doesn't seem to think that that is a fluke either. The coach has repeatedly said that Samuels may be the best freshman he has ever coached. Coming from a coach with a record like Pitino's that's quite a compliment.
DeMar DeRozan, USC - O.J. Mayo was a big headache for coach Tim Floyd. He was a heck of a player, but the media circus he brought with him was far more of a distraction than it was worth. In that sense, DeRozan is a blessing for Floyd. He's perhaps not as talented as Mayo, but he's close. More importantly, his profile is much lower, so the coach and his team can spend more time focusing on the game, and less on those watching it. Like the rest of the players on this list so far, DeRozan is a natural scorer. He's also extremely coachable - not necessarily a common trait for a guy who is likely only to spend one year in college. Like his team, DeRozan is off to a slow start this year - he's only averaging nine points and less than five rebounds a game in his first five games. He'll find his way, though, and he should be able to lead his team back to the tournament.
Klay Thompson, Washington State - It's a good thing that the Cougars can play basketball well, because they sure suck at football. In Thompson a talented team has perhaps the best freshman they have ever had. Thompson is a very smart player. It's no surprise since he grew up around the game - his dad is Mychal Thompson, the top pick in the 1978 draft who went on to play a long career with Portland, San Antonio and the Lakers. Thompson is a dangerous perimeter player who is a perfect match for Tony Bennett's complex system. The Cougars lost a lot of their good team last year to graduation, but they have the core and the coaching to go back to the tournament and make an impact when they get there if Thompson can find his stride quickly.