One of the strange things that happened in college basketball this year is that a freshman — Harrison Barnes of North Carolina — was named a preseason AP first team all-American. And I can understand why the voters did that given the domination of freshmen the last few years. The voters were trying to figure out which freshman was going to dominate the way Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, John Wall and Demarcus Cousins did in their one-year college careers.
The problem? So far they seem to have missed their guess. Barnes hasn’t been a bust, but he’s not been nearly as impressive as some other freshmen in the game. The 6’7 small forward got off to a pretty good start with 14 points and 4 rebounds against Lipscomb, then followed it up with 19 points and 7 rebounds against Hofstra. Then he hit some real competition.
Against Minnesota he had a disastrous game, going 0 for 12 from the floor as the Tar Heels lost in the first round of the Puerto Rico classic. Then against Vanderbilt in the consolation game — the second straight loss — he was 4 for 12 in an 11 point, 4 rebound game. He’s shooting 37 percent for the year so far.
At this point, he’s not even the best freshman — maybe not even the second best — freshman in the ACC. Duke point guard Kyrie Irving is off to a blistering start, averaging 14 points, 4 rebounds and 7 assists per game with a 3/1 assist to turnover ratio. He’s shooting 48 percent from the field, 42 percent from 3 point range and 91 percent from the free throw line. If those numbers continue, he’s the one who is going to be on the all-American team.
There’s a reason why his AAU coach, who also coached former Duke point guard Jason Williams, said Irving was way ahead of Williams at this point in his career. And Williams was only a two-time national player of the year and a national championship winner in 2001. And he’s already completely outplayed all-American Jacob Pullen, making him look like a walk-on scrub. Irving, not Barnes, is the best freshman in the ACC.
One could make a case that NC State’s CJ Leslie is better than Barnes at this point too. Their stats are similar — Leslie is averaging 12 points and 5 rebounds a game — but Leslie is shooting 52 percent vs. Barnes’ 37 percent. Then there are guys like Perry Jones of Baylor, Brandon Knight of Kentucky and Jared Sullinger of Ohio State, all of whom are off to better starts than Barnes.
But none of these guys is the best freshman in the country. That designation belongs to Terrence Jones of Kentucky. This guy is a beast inside and outside, averaging 21 points, 12 rebounds and 3 blocks a game so far.
I’m not saying Barnes is going to be a bust or that he’s not justifiably rated very highly by scouts. I think he’ll get better as the year goes on and do some great things for the Tar Heels this year. But he’s not even the best freshman in the Triangle, much less the country.