Welcome to the Year of the Freshman. I know, I know. That's what we say every year. Last year it was Ben Simmons. Two years ago it was Andrew Wiggins. However, this year's crop of neophytes may be the deepest bunch the sport has ever seen. Kansas freshman sensation Josh Jackson is already dunking on everybody. Markelle Fultz of Washington has been described as "This Year's Ben Simmons." Heck, Duke has nearly a starting five of McDonald's All-Americans injured and riding the bench. The "One and Done" phenomenon is in full swing, and while it may or may not be the appropriate rule, it cannot be denied that business is booming as a result of these young phenoms crashing the college hoops world. Even if it is just for one season.
As you watch these games in November and December, take note of early-season stumbles or impressive victories. It is never too early to start counting bad losses or significant victories. March Madness will be here before you know it. Every game matters. I'll stop with the clichés now. Let's dive right into the first edition of the College Hoops Barometer.
Lonzo Ball, G, UCLA - One of the better names for a basketball player, Lonzo can indeed ball for the Bruins. The 6-foot-5 freshman is yet another "big" point guard, and Ball is just as likely to smash a rim-rocking dunk as he is to drop a dime to one of his UCLA teammates. Ball's numbers through four games for the Bruins are eye-popping. he is averaging 16.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 9.0 assists per tilt. He is tied for third in the nation in assists. Ball is shooting a blistering 61.1 percent from the floor, including 43.8-percent from long range. Perhaps most importantly for the Bruins, Ball seems to have injected life into a seemingly stagnant UCLA program, and Ball just may be able to save coach Steve Alford's skin. Many of Pauley Pavilion's residents are calling for Alford to be axed. However, if Ball continues to play this way, the Bruins will be surging deep into March, and Alford's job will be safe, at least for one more season.
Lauri Markkanen, G, Arizona - Another freshman sensation, Markkanen is a seven-footer from Finland, though he is every bit of a European-style big man. The long, muscular freshman is an outstanding shooter. For example, he's hit 22 of 23 free-throws to begin his career at Arizona, not to mention shooting an impressive 55.6-percent from the field. He has no issues stepping out and hitting threes as well. Markkanen is not a one-trick pony, though. Not only can he can score in a variety of ways, but he is averaging 8.3 rebounds per game, and has shown great instincts and agility as well. He's fluid, skilled and perhaps scarily, may only be scratching the surface of his potential. Markkanen has already been asked to assume a larger role in the offense due to the murky eligibility status of sophomore Allonzo Trier. Markkanen has immense upside and could be a lottery pick in next year's draft.
Peter Jok, G, Iowa - Jok's numbers were expected to get a bump with Jarrod Uthoff graduating, and that is exactly what has transpired during the early part of the season. Jok is averaging 24.3 points per contest, a jump of over eight points from a season ago. Certainly the fact that he is shooting 52.9 percent from the field hasn't hurt either. Jok is hoisting over eight three-pointers game. He has also seen an uptick in rebounds and assists as well, showing a versatile, well-rounded game. Jok had a 30-point, 11-rebound performance against Seton Hall on Nov. 17, and was recently named Big Ten Player of the Week. The Hawkeyes will go only as far as Jok takes them, but they appear to be in very capable hands.
Bonzie Colson, F, Notre Dame - Don't let Colson's 6-5 height fool you; the 255-pound forward is difficult to guard in the paint, though he can also step out and can an occasional trey (he's 3-for-5 on the season so far). Still, Colson's real impact comes around the basket, and he has flexed his muscle thus far this season. Colson is averaging 20 points and nine rebounds through four contests for the Irish. His best performance came in Monday's 89-83 win over Colorado, in which he notched his first double-double of the season. Three of Colson's five double-doubles last season, when he sometimes came off the bench due to the presence of Zach Auguste, came against Duke and North Carolina. Colson is talented, physical and ready to shine for Notre Dame as a junior.
Dillon Brooks, F, Oregon - Brooks tested the NBA waters, only to decide to return for his senior season and a chance at an NCAA title. He finally returned from an offseason foot injury that the Ducks were being curiously coy about in terms of updates. In his first live game action of the year, Brooks played 13 minutes and tallied eight points, three rebounds and two assists in the 65-61 loss to Georgetown. He followed that up with a 17-point effort the next day in an OT win over Texas. In fact, Brooks hit the eventual game-winning shot. Though it is a great sign that Brooks was able to take the court on back-to-back days, it is clear he will still be brought along slowly, and it may take some time for him to return to dominant form. Expect the Ducks to be extremely cautious with him to avoid re-injury during the early part of the season. This season is supposed to be a marathon for the Ducks, not a sprint.
Grayson Allen, G, Duke - I'll be the first to admit I'm not buying into the hype for Allen. He's not the shooter that JJ Redick was, and while his athleticism and reckless pursuit of the hoop is a plus, it can get him in trouble at times. He'll force the issue when not quite necessary, and it also caused him to hurt his ankle in the 77-75 loss to Kansas He'll have his huge games, certainly, but this Duke squad is going to be loaded with talented players, including the currently injured freshmen trio of Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden. Allen is a key cog, but his impact may be overstated.
Keita Bates-Diop, F, Ohio State - The junior forward is expected to play a vital role for the Ohio State frontcourt this season, but he tweaked his ankle and missed Monday's laugher of a win over Western Carolina. The injury is not considered serious, but the Buckeyes will need a healthy Bates-Diop once conference play begins. He averaged 11.8 points and 6.7 rebounds last season, and has started the 2016-17 campaign on a similar pace. He even notched a double-double in the first game of the season with 14 points and 14 bounds versus Navy. The Buckeyes were picked to finish in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten this season, though,, so after losing several bodies via transfer, the health of players like Bates-Diop will be key.
Tyler Lydon, F, Syracuse - Just how good can Lydon be? The Orange are stacked in the frontcourt this season with players like Tyler Roberson, Taurean Thompson, DaJuan Coleman and Paschal Chukwu. None of those players are as versatile as Lydon, though, who is averaging 8.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.3 blocks per game thus far this season. He's athletic and was a terrific three-point shooter as a freshman. Still, Lydon's shot has been off to begin the year. He is hitting just 40.9 percent of his shots from the floor, and the three-point shot is not falling just yet. Lydon can fill up the box score, but the next step in his evolution is to refine his scoring prowess, something that may not happen on a team with so many mouths to feed. You guessed it; Lydon needs to be more consistent.
Quinndary Weatherspoon, G, Mississippi State - Arguably the top player for the Bulldogs after the graduation of double-double dynamo Gavin Ware, Weatherspoon will miss the entire year due to a significant wrist injury. Weatherspoon was something of a stat sheet stuffer for MSU, averaging 18.8 points, five rebounds, 2.5 assists and two steals in a small sample size to begin the 2016-17 campaign. Freshman Lamar Peters will see the most direct bump in minutes as a result of 'Spoon's injury, though fellow freshman Mario Kegler will also be asked to step up, as will senior stalwart and point guard IJ Ready.
Terry Larrier, F, Connecticut - A poor start to the season has gone from bad to worse for the Huskies, as Larrier suffered a sprained knee eight minutes into Monday's loss to Oklahoma State and did not return. The VCU transfer was second on the squad in scoring and rebounding prior to the injury. It is unknown how long Larrier will be sidelined. This puts even more pressure on standout point guard Jalen Adams, who was already carrying a huge load for the disappointing 1-3 Huskies. The Huskies had already lost freshman Alterique Gilbert to a dislocated left shoulder. Rodney Purvis has had a horrific start to the season in terms of shooting the ball, though he would be the most logical choice to fill some of the scoring void left by Larrier. Freshman Christian Vital could also see a bump in minutes.
Kethan Savage, G, Butler - A transfer from George Washington, Savage has had a history of injuries during his collegiate career. Most recently, Savage had offseason shoulder surgery, battled back spasms in October, and has yet to see the floor through Butler's first four games while suffering from a bout of pneumonia. Savage has yet to be cleared by the team medical staff, though should suit up for the Bulldogs shortly. When right, he is a slashing combo guard who thrives at wreaking havoc in the paint. Savage is not much of a long distance shooter, though he can hit a three-pointer now and again. However, he must prove that he can stay healthy in order to have an impact.
Jabari Bird, G, California - Bird came to Cal amid much fanfare, but has never quite been able to live up to the hype. In fact, an argument can be made that he's no more than the third-best player on his current squad. That was certainly the case with Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb on the team. Brown was a lottery pick for the Celtics, but Rabb is back as the leader of the Bears. Bird, meanwhile, scored 14 points in his first outing of the season, only to be subsequently sidelined due to a balky back. Any back injury can be fickle, and as such, Bird may not be playing at 100% for some time. he has already missed the latest two games for Cal. Now a senior, Bird must find consistency in both playing on the court as well as staying on the court.