One month into the college basketball season, the four sensational freshmen in college basketball — Aaron Gordon, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Andrew Wiggins, sorted here alphabetically so as not to incite any arguments — have remained just that: sensational. Not each game has been perfect, and each player has had his (relative) struggles as of late. Still, the top four freshmen all belong on your Early Early Early National Player of the Year lists.
Aaron Gordon, Arizona
What's made Gordon most impressive through nine college games is that he hasn't forced anything for the 9-0 Wildcats, who are about to take the No. 1 spot when the new Associated Press Top 25 poll comes out Monday. Arizona has played its share of close games so far — five of its nine wins have been by 11 points or fewer — so Gordon has stayed on the floor a lot, not having much chance to sit at the end of blowout games like his freshman contemporaries have.
Gordon hasn't had huge games, either, at least in terms of points and/or rebounds and/or other stats. He scored between 10 and 19 points in Arizona's first eight games, and he had four in Saturday's 63-58 win over UNLV. He's also had between seven and 10 rebounds in eight of those games; the one outlier was on the other end of the spectrum, a 13-board game in a 66-62 win over Drexel the day before Thanksgiving. You know what you're getting with Gordon: tempered shot selection, a 6'9 athlete who can guard Jabari Parker, and consistency because of those factors.
Jabari Parker, Duke
Parker was at his "worst" in Duke's 72-66 loss to Arizona on Nov. 29. That is to say, he had 19 points. He was 0-for-5 from three (he was, going into that game, 14-of-23 from deep), had a season-low three rebounds (including only one offensive board) and was 7-of-21 overall from the field. Aaron Gordon drew the Parker assignment and did well, but Gordon is one of few anywhere in the country tall enough and fast enough to stay in front of the 6'8, 235-pound Parker. That won't happen much, not even in ACC play.
Parker is a combined 0-for-7 from three-point range in his last three games (including 0-for-2 in his 15-point performance against Michigan on Tuesday), but excluding his second game of the season against Kansas — in which Parker went ballistic despite a Jayhawks win — those two games against Arizona and Michigan were his first against NCAA Tournament-level talent. Important for Parker moving forward is getting his teammates involved more down the stretch. Still: If 19 points and three rebounds is your worst game so far, you're in good shape. Such is life for Parker.
Julius Randle, Kentucky
Randle also has struggled at times involving teammates, but to be fair to him, it's seemed at times he's been defended by 12 players at a time by opposing defenses, and when guarded simultaneously by what seems like 12 players, passing out of duodecuple-teams is not easy. Randle started his season with seven double-doubles in a row, and he's now fallen short of 10 and 10 in two straight games. He had 12 points and eight boards (including no offensive rebounds for the first time all season) in a win over Providence on Dec. 1, and he fell a bit flat in his return home to Dallas in Friday's 67-62 loss to Baylor at AT&T Stadium, finishing with 16 points and eight rebounds.
Randle's assist numbers have gone up as the season has gone on, an indicator that he's working more effectively out of double- and triple- and duodecuple-teams, and it also helps his teammates on the perimeter — Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison and James Young have been, for the most part, shooting better. One glaring weakness in Randle's game — there really isn't any too glaring, but here we are, picking apart the best players in the country — has been his repeated turn to a spin move with the ball in the lane. It's on the scouting report now, and it's been the culprit for many of his 3.4 turnovers per game to this point.
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
Wiggins was on his game Saturday despite the Jayhawks' 75-72 last-second loss to Colorado. He finished with 22 points on 7-of-11 shooting, including 6-of-8 on two-point attempts, many of which came easy in transition. Wiggins' speed at 6'8 makes him a bulldozer in the open court, certainly not one many teams will be able to stop. Wiggins is in a position unique among the other freshmen in this comparison because he's not universally considered the absolute top offensive threat on his team, no questions asked; Perry Ellis is in that conversation for Kansas, at least so far this season.
There is no question, though, that Wiggins has the highest potential of anyone on that Jayhawks roster, and maybe of anyone in the country. He's had a couple of dud games to this point — he had 10 points and four turnovers in Kansas' 63-59 loss to Villanova on Nov. 29 — but he, like Gordon, has displayed court smarts well beyond his years. He doesn't seem to force much of anything, and Kansas is a better team, and Parker a better player, for it.