We have all heard about Duke’s star-studded trio of freshmen Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden and Kentucky’s quartet of highly-touted freshmen in Bam Adebayo, Wenyen Gabriel, De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk but there are other first-year players that have gotten off to strong starts such as Josh Jackson at Kansas, Dennis Smith Jr. at N.C. State and Markelle Fultz at Washington. The dearth of good freshmen this season goes beyond the big names. Guys like Jonathan Isaac at Florida State, TCU’s Jaylen Fisher and Creighton’s Justin Patton have also helped their teams get off to strong starts this season.
Florida State is 7-1 and their second leading scorer and leading rebounder is a 6-10 210lb. freshman from Naples, Florida Jonathan Isaac. The five-star recruit and top player out of the Sunshine State has recorded double figures in every game he’s played in this season including a career high 20 points in a win over Iona and a career high 13 rebounds in his last game, a win over Minnesota. Isaac has not only been consistent offensively but he has also been very efficient, shooting 58% from the field and 44% from beyond the arc. He has also been active on the defensive end with nine steals and eight blocks early on this season. The Seminoles have one more test against in-state rival Florida on Sunday and will need Isaac to continue his consistent play if Leonard Hamilton and company hope to make waves in a once again loaded ACC.
Jamie Dixon’s TCU Horned Frogs are off to an 8-1 start in large part due to the play of freshman guard Jaylen Fisher. The 6-2 guard from Arlington, Tennessee was a prized recruit of Dave Rice at UNLV. When Rice was fired and the debacle of a head coaching search took place over the summer, Fisher reopened his recruitment and landed with Dixon at TCU. Fisher is averaging over 11 points per game and has recorded double figures in all but two games this season. He had a career-high 15 in wins over Illinois State and in the second of back-to-back wins over Washington. He is also averaging a team-high 4.1 assists per game but would be even more dangerous if he is able to cut down on his turnovers, right now he’s averaging over three a contest. TCU begins Big 12 play with a home tilt vs. #3 Kansas on Dec. 30 but before that have three winnable games to give themselves even more confidence heading into the New Year.
How good is the Big East right now? Creighton is 9-0, ranked 10th in the country and is arguably the 3rd best team in the conference behind Villanova and Xavier. They do however have one of the best backcourts in the country with Marcus Foster and Maurice Watson, Jr. but the guy to watch has been the man in the middle for the Bluejays. Justin Patton is a 7-0 redshirt freshman from Omaha playing (and excelling) for his hometown team. He is averaging 12.3 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. He had 10 points and seven rebounds in a 12 point win over Wisconsin, 10 points and five rebounds in a 28-point dismantling of N.C. State and a career high 21 points and 10 rebounds in a 21 point victory over Buffalo. What makes Patton such a key cog for Creighton is the fact that he has been putting up these numbers in just over 23 minutes per game and is shooting 80.3% from the field this season ranking him 3rd in the country. The Creighton guards rightfully get the larger piece of the publicity pie but Patton is doing yeoman’s work for the Bluejays and that is something they will need to have continue heading into conference play.
There are big name freshmen all over the country but there are also ones that aren’t household names doing big work for their teams early on.