|A recent three-game stretch from Gary Harris showed he can provide solid perimeter production for MSU. (US Presswire)|
As we head into the final month of the season -- and only a few weeks until the final release of the rankings -- there wasn't a ton of movement in the top five. Anthony Bennett stayed at No. 1, although Ben McLemore's consistency is making life difficult. Jahii Carson dropped down a notch, while Nerlens Noel is emerging at the right time.
One thing to watch for in the next few weeks is how much of a factor freshmen play in the Big Ten race. Each of the four teams at the top of the standings relies on newcomers, and each needs some consistency from its freshmen.
Start with Michigan State and Gary Harris, who averaged 16.7 points and hit 12 3-pointers during a recent three-game span. Michigan's duo of Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III has been somewhat inconsistent recently, totaling three single-digit games during February. Furthermore, Mitch McGary has to continue to bring energy and rebounding off the bench inside. Sam Dekker provides Wisconsin with a weapon not many teams can handle, but he has to assert himself more. Meanwhile, Indiana has Yogi Ferrell at the point guard spot, and he will simply need to make smart decisions in a half-court setting.
As always, the Freshman of the Year rankings will be released on Tuesdays, along with the Player of the Year rankings.
|1. Anthony Bennett -- UNLV|
|2. Ben McLemore -- Kansas|
|3. Marcus Smart -- |
|4. Nerlens Noel -- Kentucky|
|5. Jahii Carson -- Arizona State|
Others to Note:
- Before I proceed, I just want to make note that this "Others to Note" category isn't just the honorable mention players. I try to rotate the players on a week-to-week basis, in order to highlight as many players as possible over the course of the season.
- UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad was the last one out of the top five, as he shot 22-for-55 in his past three games. He's continuing to put up points -- which UCLA certainly needs him to do, but he needs to limit some of the more forced attempts. With that said, he did take over the freshman scoring crown from Bennett.
- Bright sign for the future of Boston College's backcourt: Olivier Hanlan has scored at least 16 points in three of his last four games.
- Alex Caruso of Texas A&M was one of my favorite players back in high school (mainly because he wore boat shoes to games), but he's been a dynamite defender in his freshman year. He's at 2.1 steals per game, but he only plays about 23 minutes -- meaning he leads the nation's frosh in steal percentage.
- Staying in the Lonestar State, keep an eye on Texas guard Demarcus Holland. His numbers for the season aren't great, but he's moving into the starting lineup alongside Myck Kabongo, and he did score 13 points in his last outing. He's also a good defender.
- Unfortunate news for Oklahoma and Buddy Hield. The freshman guard will miss four-to-six weeks with a fracture in his foot. His scoring has fallen off a bit, but he has shown the ability to hit shots and be a solid perimeter defender. Fellow frosh Isaiah Cousins will see his role increase with Hield out.
- Guess who had the best single-game scoring performance for any freshman this season? If you said Georgia State's R.J. Hunter, you'd be right. He had 38 points on 10 3-pointers two weekends ago against Old Dominion, and is now averaging nearly 18 a game.
- Although Noel and Chris Obekpa get all the attention as shot-swatting freshmen, there is one other newcomer averaging at least three blocks per game: Austin Peay's Chris Horton, who has blocked at least six shots on five occasions in the last two months.
- Freshman leaders -- Points: Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA (18.5); Rebounds: Shawn Long, Louisiana-Lafayette (10.5); Assists: Siyani Chambers, Harvard (6.2).
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