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Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 Stacked With Freshmen

The Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 was released last Wednesday, and what’s notable about this year’s list of nominees is that there are seven freshman who made the cut: Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf of UCLA, De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk of Kentucky, Markelle Fultz of Washington, Josh Jackson of Kansas, and Lauri Markkanen of Arizona. The only freshmen ever to win the award are Anthony Davis and Kevin Durant, and those two were (and remain) mutants. So which rookie has the best shot this season?

Malik Monk is the most explosive scoring threat of the bunch, as evidenced by his 47-point effort against a talented Tar Heels team in a 103-100 Kentucky victory. In fact, no one in Division I basketball has scored more points in a game. Monk hit 18 of 28 that night, including 8 of 12 from beyond the arc. But scoring is about where it begins and ends with Monk, which ain’t nothing, especially given that he’s no chucker – in fact he hits 50.8% from the floor, including 41.5% from downtown, and hits 85% of his free throws to score 21.8 ppg. Monk’s fellow Kentucky freshman De’Aaron Fox has a much more complete game, averaging 17-5-6 while manning the point for an insanely stacked but very young Wildcat squad, but isn’t quite as impactful.

Heading into this season, incoming freshman Lonzo Ball was the talk of the UCLA campus, and he hasn’t disappointed, going 15-6-8 for a Bruins team that was supposed to be good, but not national title contender good. Part of what’s helped the Bruins exceed expectations is the play of TJ Leaf, whose 17-9-3 has helped propel the team to the top 10 at least a year ahead of schedule. In addition to cleaning the glass so aggressively, Leaf has proven to be one of the nation’s top sharpshooters, draining 64.1% of his field goal attempts, seventh-best in the land, and behind only Justin Patton of Creighton among major conferences. Leaf also leads all freshmen with 9 double-doubles this season,

Finnish 7-footer Lauri Markkanen is leading the Arizona Wildcats in scoring (16.7 ppg) and rebounding (7.4), while hitting 46.5% from downtown and 82.5% from the charity stripe, exactly the kind of gym rat numbers we’ve come to expect from European big men. But the ‘Cats have only beaten one ranked team, Michigan State, and that was in the season opener, and State hasn’t been nationally ranked since Thanksgiving. Markkanen and his team still have some things to prove.

The worst thing you can say about Kansas’ Josh Jackson is he’s the worst player on this list, which means he’s still one of the best freshmen in the country. Jackson is #2 on the Jayhawks in points (15.6), rebounds (6.7), steals (1.6), and blocks (1.4). His big weakness is he can’t hit the 3, making just 25%, or his free throws, just 57%. Still, his team has won 16 in a row since a stunning season-opening OT loss to Indiana.

When your two highest-scoring games are against Cal-Fullerton and Yale, it’s only fair to call into question the quality of your competition. Markelle Fultz scored 35 and 30 against those two powerhouses, while averaging 19.5 against the rest of the schedule. But Fultz isn’t a one-dimensional player, as he’s also averaging 6.1 assists and 5.8 rebounds, but the 3 turnovers a night are a drag. And things are gonna get a lot tougher for Fultz once he takes a ride through the meat grinder that is the Pac-12, playing against #16 Arizona, #25 USC and #4 UCLA just in the next three weeks, and then he’ll have to circle back to play each of those teams again.

For now, we’ll take Lonzo Ball, with Malik Monk nipping at his heels, and TJ Leaf lurking in the weeds, ready to pounce. Ball has been so good at creating opportunities for his teammates that the Bruins lead the nation in assists, 3-point percentage, and field goal percentage. Some of that is his having great shooters like Leaf and Bryce Alford on hand, some of it is playing up-tempo ball, and a good chunk of it is Ball himself.

You can catch Lonzo Ball, TJ Leaf, Markelle Fultz, Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox, and Josh Jackson this week on Sling

Monday

Marquette (12-5) vs #13 Butler (15-3)
Noon ET on FS1

#7 Creighton (17-1) vs #22 Xavier (13-4)
2pm ET on FS1

Seton Hall (12-5) vs #1 Villanova (17-1)
6:30pm on FS1

Syracuse (11-7) vs #9 North Carolina (16-3)
7pm ET on ESPN

#2 Kansas (16-1) vs Iowa State (11-5)
9pm ET on ESPN

Tuesday

#5 Kentucky (15-2) vs Mississippi State (12-4)
7pm ET pm ESPN

Texas (7-10) vs #6 Baylor (16-1)
7pm ET on ESPN2

Michigan (12-6) vs #17 Wisconsin (14-3)
9pm ET on ESPN

Wednesday

#19 Florida (14-3) vs South Carolina (tk14-3
6:30pm ET on SEC Network

Oklahoma (7-9) vs #7 West Virginia (15-2)
7pm ET on ESPN2

Thursday

#25 Maryland (16-2) vs Iowa (11-8)
7pm ET on ESPN

Clemson (11-6) vs #12 Louisville (15-3)
9pm ET on ESPN

Cal (13-5) vs #11 Oregon (16-2)
9pm ET on ESPN2

#14 Arizona (16-2) vs USC (16-3)
9pm ET on Pac-12 Network

Arizona State (9-9) vs #3 UCLA (18-1)
11pm ET on FS1

#4 Gonzaga (17-7) vs Santa Clara (10-9)
11pm ET on ESPNU

Saturday

Syracuse (11-7) vs #15 Notre Dame (16-2)
Noon ET on ESPN

Providence (12-7) vs #1 Villanova (17-1)
Noon ET on FOX

#13 Butler (15-3) vs DePaul (8-10)
2pm ET on FS1

#12 Louisville (15-3) vs #10 Florida State (16-2)
2pm ET on ESPN

Marquette (12-5) vs #7 Creighton (17-1)
*2:30pm ET on FOX

#24 South Carolina (14-3) vs #5 Kentucky (15-2)
6pm ET on ESPN

Stanford (10-8) vs #11 Oregon (16-2)
6pm ET on Pac-12 Network

#7 West Virginia (15-2) vs Kansas State (13-4)
6pm ET on ESPN2

#6 Baylor (16-1) vs TCU (14-3) 8pm ET on ESPNU

Portland (9-8) vs #4 Gonzaga (17-0)
8pm ET on ESPN3

Miami (12-4) vs #18 Duke (14-4)
8:15pm ET on ESPN

Watch college basketball on ESPN & ESPN2 by subscribing to Sling Orange; on ESPNU, ESPNEWS, and SEC Network by subscribing to Sling Orange + Sports Extra; on FOX and FS1 by subscribing to Sling Blue; on Pac-12 Network by subscribing toSling Blue or Orange + Sports Extra

All stats courtesy ESPN and College Basketball Reference.

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