Creighton's Doug McDermott has all but locked up the college basketball post-season awards reserved for the best individual player in the country. Fortunately for pundits, none of the slew of talented freshmen has been able to put any distance between himself and the field as the country's best first-year player. The race for Freshman of the Year, handed out annually by the U.S. Basketball Writers of America each year, is coming into the home stretch, with six players still eligible.
USBWA FOY finalists: Joel Embiid, KU; Tyler Ennis, Cuse; Aaron Gordon, AZ; Jabari Parker, Duke; Julius Randle, UK; Andrew Wiggins, KU.— Pat Forde (@YahooForde) February 26, 2014
Individual numbers and team success will be huge factors in who the writers choose, with each player attending a marquee program that is currently ranked. Each guy has a chance to take home this award, but also an opportunity to win a national championship. With the list down to six, let's break down the resumes of the remaining candidates.
Joel Embiid, center, Kansas
The tallest of the candidates, Embiid uses his seven-foot frame to great acclaim on both ends of the floor. In addition to breaking Kansas' freshman record for blocked shots, the 19-year-old from Cameroon is shooting 62 percent from the field. He is averaging just 11.1 points per game, but Bill Self runs his offense through Andrew Wiggins and Perry Ellis. Embiid is just there to clean up.
What helps Embiid's case is his recent play. Writers are often swayed by late production, with highlights and stat-lines fresh in their minds. In the last three Kansas games, Embiid has managed to tie his career-high in points (18), tie a career-high in rebounds (13) and block six shots in a huge win over Texas.
Tyler Ennis, point guard, Syracuse
Had Syracuse run the table in ACC play and entered the tournament undefeated, this article would be pointless. Tyler Ennis would be your Freshman of the Year. Even with a couple of losses by the Orange, Ennis still has a great resume. His late-game heroics allowed Jim Boeheim's team to be the last team from a power conference to lose, hitting the most famous 30-foot buzzer-beater in recent memory against Pittsburgh.
What could hurt Ennis is the raw numbers. Syracuse plays a slower, more defensive approach, relying on Boeheim's infamous 2-3 zone. The freshman averages 12 points and 5.6 assists per game, which pales in comparison to the totals of guys like Wiggins and Parker. But Ennis gets props for his defense as the entry point of the zone, notching 2.1 steals per game.
Aaron Gordon, forward, Arizona
Another guy coming off a huge game, Gordon hung 23 points and eight rebounds on the road at Colorado on Saturday. With Brandon Ashley out for the season, Gordon's importance to the Wildcats has never been greater. A hyper-athletic forward, the San Jose native can guard almost any player in the country. Not bad for a guy listed at 6'9 and 225 pounds.
Averaging 11.9 points and 7.9 rebounds, the freshman can get it done on the offensive end too. His highlight-level dunks have come in transition and off the inbound, as evidenced in the game against Colorado. If there was a Most Exciting Freshman of the Year, Gordon would certainly win.
Jabari Parker, forward, Duke
The most gifted offensive player of the bunch, Parker leads all freshmen in the country with 18.8 points per game. Jabari had double-doubles in both of Duke's biggest games this season, with 17 and 11 against North Carolina and 19 and 10 in the second Syracuse game.
Though a natural three or small-ball four, Coach K has been using the Chicago-native as a rim-protecting five. This has exposed Parker against bigger post players, calling his defensive skill-set into question. Despite the poor defensive showing, the writers could still lean toward Parker. After all, Jimmer Fredette and J.J. Reddick have both hoisted major hardware for their work in college.
Julius Randle, forward, Kentucky
Part of Kentucky's insane recruiting class, Randle has been a huge success from the opening tip of the season. The 6'9, 250-pound Randle is a force inside, using his big body and endless motor to dominate the post. John Calipari's top recruit is the only of the six candidates averaging a double-double, scoring 15.7 points and grabbing 10.3 rebounds per game.
As the season has progressed, Calipari has lifted some of the restrictions from Randle. While he was buried in the paint for most of the season, the versatile big has recently been bringing the ball down the floor in transition. The coast-to-coast against Ole Miss is an example of the highlights Randle is capable of.
Andrew Wiggins, forward, Kansas
As the most hyped freshman in his class, Wiggins has been under the microscope for the entire 2013-2014 season. And when he disappeared in big games against Oklahoma State and Texas, he was labeled as "passive". But in Kanas' seven games since the 2-12 performance against the Longhorns, the Toronto native has scored at least 14 points.
Wiggins' case suffers because he is teammates with Embiid, as the Jayhawks may split some votes. But the Canadian might be the most effective transition player in the country, creatively finishing through contact on the break.