How Good are Iowa's Freshmen?

Matthew Holst

Taking a closer look at Iowa's three star freshmen.

We entered the 2012-13 basketball season awfully excited about the potential in this freshman class and through ten games, nothing has happened to change that. If anything, our excitement has only grown, especially with three of those freshmen assuming starting roles and leading Iowa to the program's first win over Iowa State in three years last Friday. But just how good are they? And how do they stack up to some of the other freshmen in the Big Ten? Should we start fantasizing about filling up the Big Ten All-Freshman team or should we slow our roll a little?

(Note: Obviously, ten games is a pretty small sample size to draw conclusions from. So take these findings with as much salt as you deem appropriate.)

GUARDS

MIKE GESELL, IOWA, G
8.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 3.3 apg, 39% FG

ANTHONY CLEMMONS, IOWA, G
4.5 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 3.4 apg, 44% FG

Up first are Iowa's two freshmen guards, Gesell and Clemmons. Gesell has been a starter from day one, while Clemmons only ascended into the starting lineup in the last three games. Clemmons' arrival as the starting point guard has coincided with the blossoming of the Iowa offense and a higher overall level of play from the team; since he moved Zach McCabe out of the starting lineup and moved Gesell to the two-guard spot, Iowa has scored 80 or more in all three games (in the seven previous games, Iowa topped 80 only once, in the season opener against UT-Pan American) and won all three games by an average of 20.7 ppg. Not too shabby. Clemmons' biggest asset may be his court vision and passing ability, which manifests itself in his sparkling 34:9 assist:turnover ratio. His overall numbers are on the low end, but that's mainly a function of the fact that he's only been a starter for three games and he was a bit-player before that. His numbers have considerable upside to improve over the course of the season.

Clemmons has become the new hotness for Iowa fans over the last week or so (deservedly so), but Gesell hasn't been chopped liver, either -- his line of 9-3-3 (rounding up) is very solid for a true freshman. The main knocks on Gesell so far have probably been his assist-to-turnover ratio (33:20, which is a little sloppy for one of your primary ballhandlers) and his shooting (just 38% from the floor overall, and an even worse 31% from 3-point range). The hope was that Gesell would be able to slide in as one of Iowa's better outside shooters, but his shooting touch has been erratic so far. There's still plenty of time for that to improve, though, and Gesell has definitely had moments of brilliance in the early going this year. He also stepped up and nailed some clutch free throws to ice the win against Iowa State, which was great to see.

As for the rest of the guards in the league...

YOGI FERRELL, INDIANA, G
5.9 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 4.9 apg, 28% FG

GARY HARRIS, MICHIGAN STATE, G
13.0 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 53% FG, 39% 3FG

NIK STAUSKAS, MICHIGAN, G
13.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 1.1 apg, 54% FG, 61% 3FG

DENZEL VALENTINE, MICHIGAN STATE, G
6.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.8 apg, 41% FG

RONNIE JOHNSON, PURDUE, G
7.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.7 apg, 32% FG

The other standout freshmen guards in the Big Ten all came to college with more recruiting hype and buzz than either of Iowa's guards. Ferrell was the top dog in the group, a Rivals 5* prospect ranked 19th in their Top 150 for 2012. Harris was hot on his heels, a Rivals 5* talent ranked 25th in their Top 150. Stauskas, Valentine, and Johnson were all 4* recruits, ranked 71st, 81st, and 94th, respectively. (For the record, Gesell was a 4* guard ranked 100th.)

Ferrell's been pretty great from an assist standpoint -- his 4.9 apg average is second best in the league, behind Trey Burke's 7.1 apg average -- but he's not scoring much, probably because he's shooting an awful 28% from the field (and an even worse 10% from 3-point range). He also gets the benefit of the exposure that goes along with playing on the #1 team in the nation, too.

From a scoring standpoint, Harris and Stauskas are far and away the top of the heap among Big Ten freshmen guards. Both are shooting over 50% from the field (and Stauskas is shooting an utterly absurd 61% from 3-point range) and averaging over 13.0 ppg so far -- which is good enough to put them in the top-20 in the Big Ten, overall. Their production in other areas is a bit more limited, but their scoring prowess may make up for that. The last two guards on this list, Valentine and Johnson, are a little more well-rounded -- both are averaging almost 3 apg and over 4 rpg -- although they aren't scoring as prolifically.

If the Big Ten only names two guards to the All-Freshman team, Gesell and Clemmons are probably going to have a hell of a time being one of them. Not through any real fault of their own -- they're playing well and their numbers are solid (and some of Clemmons' stats should improve significantly from where they are now, given more playing time), but the competition in the Big Ten is fierce this year. Harris and Stauskas look like the early favorites to earn All-Freshman honors.

FORWARDS

GLENN ROBINSON III, MICHIGAN, F
12.2 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.3 apg, 54% FG

JEREMY HOLLOWELL, INDIANA, F
6.3 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 46% FG

MITCH MCGARY, MICHIGAN, F
5.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 64% FG

BRANDON TAYLOR, PENN STATE, F
7.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 48% FG

DONNIE HALE, PURDUE, F
5.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 46% FG

I'm not going to spend much time discussing this section because Iowa doesn't have any freshmen forwards getting playing time this year. Glenn Robinson III (and, yes, he is the son of former Purdue star Glenn Robinson) is living up to his considerable hype (5* recruit, #11 in the Rivals Top 150) quite nicely; he seems like the best bet of any Big Ten freshman to be a one-and-done player. After that... take your pick for the other forward on the All-Freshman team.

CENTERS

ADAM WOODBURY, IOWA, C
7.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 64% FG

A.J. HAMMONS, PURDUE, C
9.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 49% FG

ALEX OLAH, NORTHWESTERN, C
6.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 2.3 apg, 48% FG

It's rare that you can call a blue-chip recruit a "pleasant surprise," but Woodbury seems to fit the bill anyway. He was Iowa's biggest recruiting win in years (probably since Tyler Smith in 2006), a 4* prospect ranked 50th in the Rivals Top 150, but given his size and the fact that big men often struggle to adjust to the college level, expectations for Woody weren't sky high this season. He's lived up to those expectations and then some, though, averaging 7.2 ppg and 5.0 rpg in somewhat limited minutes (just 17.6 per game) and showing off a pretty sweet touch in the post (he's making 64% of his shots, good for second-best in the league so far). He's also had a noticeable impact on Iowa's defense, with his mere presence dissuading opposing guards from attacking the rim. Woodbury might have the best odds of any Iowa player of making the All-Freshman team, in part because of his strong play, but also because the options here are pretty limited.

Outside of Woodbury, the main options are Hammons and Olah. Hammons probably has the slight edge at the moment, since he has the best numbers of the bunch. But this is a pretty tight race and a good Big Ten campaign from Woody could certainly swing things his way.

As noted earlier, this is a very small sample size -- just ten games (even less for some of these players). There's still two-thirds of the season to be played and things could -- and probably will -- change quite significantly. We'll check in again when we hit the 2/3 mark of the season to see how things look at that point. For now, it seems that Iowa has three freshmen playing quite well... but no one who looks like a lock to be on the All-Freshman team.

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