Players to Watch as Conference Play Begins
As the end of 2017 approaches, so does the midway point in the college basketball season. Aside from Michael Porter Jr. suffering a season-ending injury in the first ten minutes of his collegiate career, the rest of my All-American picks, Miles Bridges, Bonzie Colson, Allonzo Trier, and Grayson Allen, have all lived up to the expectations. The following is a list of five other players that have taken the college basketball scene by storm in the first half of the season.
Marvin Bagley III, Forward, Duke
Marvin Bagley III’s choice to reclassify into the class of 2017 propelled Duke to being an early favorite to win both the ACC and the National Championship. No one has been able to find an answer for Bagley and he is averaging 21.1 points and 10.9 rebounds per game. Bagley has performed his best against Duke’s toughest competition. As of right now, Bagley is a leading candidate to be the first pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. The Blue Devils will resume conference play when they host 24th ranked Florida State at 11am on Saturday.
Trae Young, Guard, Oklahoma
Trae Young elected to stay home in Norman and is lighting up the college basketball world, averaging a double-double, as a freshman. Young leads the nation in both points and assists per game, averaging 28.7 points and 10.4 assists per contest. The freshman dazzled as he scored 26 points and dished out an NCAA record 22 assists against Northwestern State. Oklahoma is now ranked 12th in the country after going 10-1 in non-conference play and will take on undefeated and 10th ranked TCU on the road on Saturday at 2pm.
Deandre Ayton, Forward, Arizona
Deandre Ayton is a 7’1” 250 pound freshman forward from Nassau, Bahamas and is one of the nation’s top young big men. Ayton is averaging a double-double with 19.5 points and 11.4 rebounds per game. He is evolving to a point that some think he could surpass Marvin Bagley III as the top pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. With fellow 7-footer Dusan Ristic in the front court and another All-American contender Allonzo Trier in the back court, Arizona has rebounded from their struggles in the Bahamas at the Battle 4 Atlantis and will look to take the Pac-12 by storm. The Wildcats will open conference play when they host in-state rival and college basketball’s biggest surprise team, undefeated and 3rd ranked Arizona State, on Saturday at 9pm.
Jordan Murphy, Forward, Minnesota
Jordan Murphy leads a Minnesota team that struggled to live up to the hype toward the end of non-conference play. Murphy, the nation’s leading rebounder, has been a steady force throughout averaging 19.6 points and 12.6 rebounds per contest. The Big Ten is weaker than normal this year and the Golden Gophers, behind Murphy, will have a chance to make noise when they resume conference play at home on Wednesday, January 3 versus Illinois at 9pm.
Yante Maten, Forward, Georgia
Georgia senior forward Yante Maten will be a key player if the Bulldogs hope to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015. He ranks second in the SEC in points per game (20.2) and first in the conference in rebounding (9.3). Maten lead Georgia to a 9-2 non-conference record, including wins over St. Mary’s and Marquette. The Bulldogs will need Maten to be on the top of his game and provide senior leadership if they hope to navigate through a tougher than normal SEC slate this year. Georgia opens conference play on Sunday at 6pm versus 16th ranked Kentucky on the road.