Nationals

Midterm: Some of basketball's best freshman

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Midterm: Some of basketball's best freshman

The winter break is wrapping up, conference play is under way and youth is being served on college basketball teams across the country.

With most of the preliminaries out of the way, here are six of the standout freshmen who have passed the midterm tests for their teams. Some are playing right out of high school and others had to wait a year before their first college games - but they are playing and playing well. Just like the classroom rolls, they're listed in alphabetical order (statistics as of Thursday):

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Isaiah Austin, Baylor. The versatile 7-foot-1 center quickly made an impression for the Bears when he scored 22 points in 17 minutes in his debut - on 10-of-12 shooting with three dunks and two 3-pointers. Austin has provided a needed boost for the Bears after forwards Perry Jones III and Quincy Miller both left early for the NBA draft after a school-record 30 victories and NCAA regional final appearance last season. Austin isn't likely to stay for four years, either, but the Bears can enjoy him while he's there. He is fourth in the Big 12 in both points (14.9 per game) and rebounds (8.5).

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Anthony Bennett, UNLV. The 6-foot-8 forward is the nation's top scoring freshman at 19.4 points a game, which also topped all players in the Mountain West Conference. Bennett scored in double figures in each of his first 16 games, and had 10 rebounds or more in seven of those. The first McDonald's All-American since Freddie Banks in 1983 to go to UNLV straight out of high school, Bennett averaged 8.9 rebounds a game, and was second in the MWC shooting 56 percent from the field (106 of 190).

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Jahii Carson, Arizona State. The 5-foot-10 redshirt freshman guard was worth the wait for the Sun Devils. During the 2011-12 season, the Arizona prep standout who stayed home could only practice after being ruled an academic non-qualifier by the NCAA. Now he is fifth in the Pac-12, scoring 16.7 points a game and second in the league with 5.4 assists a game. He is playing 36 minutes a game, the most in the Pac-12 for any player and on pace to be the most for any Arizona State freshman. Carson already has five 20-point games, and became the fourth freshman in school history with a 30-point game (Creighton).

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Ben McLemore, Kansas. The 6-5 combo guard can score everywhere on the court for the sixth-ranked Jayhawks. The redshirt freshman is second in the Big 12 averaging 16.9 points a game after scoring 33 (just two off Danny Manning's KU freshman record) in the Jayhawks' Big 12-opening 97-89 overtime victory against Iowa State on Wednesday night. He had six 3-pointers, the fifth a bank shot that tied the game and forced overtime. The sixth came 11 seconds into overtime, starting an 11-0 game-clinching run for the Jayhawks.

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Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA. After having to wait until the fourth game to be cleared by the NCAA, the 6-foot-6 guard/forward scored in double figures his first 12 games, just like Kevin Love for the Bruins five years ago. Muhammad was second in the Pac-12 with 19.6 points a game and led the league making 49 percent of his 3-pointers (17 of 35). He had consecutive 27-point games in December, including seven points in overtime of a 97-94 victory over seventh-ranked Missouri when he hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with a minute left in the extra period for UCLA's first win over a top-10 non-conference opponent since 2007.

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Nerlens Noel, Kentucky. Seems impossible to have a list of top freshmen without a Wildcat since coach John Calipari churns out so many one-and-done stars. Noel, the lanky 6-foot-10 forward with hair several inches on top of that, arrived to comparisons of Anthony Davis, the NBA's top overall pick and AP Player of the Year last season as a freshman after the Wildcats won another national championship. Noel, who averages 10.3 points a game, is the SEC's top shot blocker (3.5 blocks per game) and ranks second in the league with 9.3 rebounds. By the way, two other Kentucky freshmen - Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress - average at least 14 points a game.

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Which Nationals would have been named All-Stars in a normal season?

Which Nationals would have been named All-Stars in a normal season?

July 14, 2020 was supposed to be a day for celebrating the best players in Major League Baseball. The 2020 MLB All-Star Game, set to take place that evening at Dodger Stadium, had the promise of putting some of the biggest names on display such as Mookie Betts in his new LA threads, Gerrit Cole still fresh off signing a $324 million deal last winter and Mike Trout from only a few miles down the road.

However, the coronavirus pandemic had other plans. MLB suspended spring training on March 12 and spent three months on hold before ultimately settling on a 60-game season that begins July 23. As a result, there will be no All-Star Game for the first time since 1945.

The Nationals, coming off their first World Series title in franchise history, have plenty of stars who would’ve merited consideration. Even with 2019 NL MVP candidate Anthony Rendon departing for the Los Angeles Angels in free agency, there’s no shortage of talent in D.C.

Here are the players that stood the best chance of representing the Nationals in this year’s All-Star Game.

The favorites

SP Max Scherzer

Name value alone could’ve gotten him in if fans could vote on pitchers, but even a 35-year-old Scherzer can’t be counted out of making another run at the NL Cy Young.

SP Stephen Strasburg,

The reigning World Series MVP is already a three-time All-Star and coming off an offseason in which he signed a seven-year, $245 million deal to return to Washington.

LF Juan Soto

Making his first All-Star team would seem like something of a formality for Soto, who has already established himself as one of the game’s best young stars.

RELATED: DANIEL HUDSON ISN’T SURE A 60-GAME MLB SEASON CAN DETERMINE THE BEST TEAM

Needed a career year

SP Patrick Corbin

Corbin was given the Warren Spahn Award for the best left-hander in baseball last season and is no stranger to the Midsummer Classic. If he could’ve avoided the infrequent implosion (five starts of 5+ runs allowed in 2019) on the mound, he stood a good chance of posting numbers worthy of a selection.

RP Sean Doolittle

With Will Harris and Daniel Hudson in the fold, Doolittle wouldn’t have been relied on as much as he was last season. By getting more rest and still handling closer duties for a contending team, Doolittle certainly would’ve been in the running.

SS Trea Turner

No broken finger holding him back, Turner had a chance to show he can help replace some of Rendon’s production in what would’ve been his age-27 season. Shortstop is a deep position in the NL (Trevor Story, Javier Báez, Fernando Tatís Jr., Corey Seager) but Turner has to make it one of these years, right?

2B Starlin Castro

Castro may not be the first player who comes to mind when you hear “four-time All-Star” but that’s what happens when a young, healthy infielder plays every day during a rebuild. However, coming off a 2019 second half in which he hit .302 with 16 home runs, Castro came to D.C. looking to show he’s developed into a different kind of player.

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If he made the leap

CF Victor Robles

Though it’s a bit of a long shot considering his struggles at the plate as a rookie, Robles has always displayed the tools that make coaches dream of what he can become. As he gains a few more pounds—Robles is one of the strongest players on the team—and improves his plate discipline, there’s no telling what his ceiling might be.

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Antonio Brown and other available receivers Washington could add after Kelvin Harmon's injury

Antonio Brown and other available receivers Washington could add after Kelvin Harmon's injury

Kelvin Harmon's torn ACL is tough news, as it will prevent him from taking the next step in his career in 2020. That injury also does significant damage to Washington's already limited group of receivers.

So, if Ron Rivera wants to replace Harmon with a free agent, who's out there?

Before getting to the list — which begins with one guy fans have been yearning for and will now yearn for even more — it is worth wondering how signing an outside free agent could be affected by COVID-19. How much more complicated is that process? 

As long as the virus doesn't make a move like that very strenuous, though, keep an eye on these options. The first name stands out, of course, but a few others make sense as well.

Antonio Brown

When asked about Brown last month, Ron Rivera basically shut down the thought of Washington acquiring him. Rivera explained to the media that he didn't want to "stunt the growth of somebody young" by introducing a vet to the mix.

Well, circumstances are obviously different, as the offense has one less young target to feature. Based on that logic, the possibility of going after Brown has to be at least a little higher. He has been working out plenty with Dwayne Haskins this offseason, by the way.

Yet the ex-Steeler, Raider and Patriot wouldn't just bring huge talent to the organization, and that's something else Rivera has to weigh. Is Brown, with his propensity for being involved in non-football drama, someone the coach will want to deal with during this rebuild?

That could be the real key in this matter. But with Harmon now sidelined, there's an even larger need for help on the outside. Maybe that'll sway Rivera. Maybe.

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Jarius Wright

Wright doesn't have nearly the same production that Brown has — few who have ever played the sport do, honestly — but he is a pro that Rivera knows well and Scott Turner knows really well.

The 30-year-old overlapped with Turner in Minnesota, and he spent the last two campaigns with both coaches in Carolina.

That kind of familiarity is always useful, but it would be particularly useful in this bizarre offseason. Wright should probably keep his phone nearby over the next handful of days.

Chris Hogan

Like Wright, Hogan is a recent former Panther. The 32-year-old joined the club for 2019, but a left knee injury marred most of his season and he finished with just eight receptions.

Before that, however, he did record five straight years with at least 34 catches, so he can be an effective role player. Let's see if Rivera gives him another chance to make an impact on his roster, this time in Washington.

Demaryius Thomas

By size, Thomas would be the most similar of these choices to Harmon. Harmon would've been a nice complement to the speedier Terry McLaurin and Steven Sims because of his height and physicality. Maybe Thomas could step into that void.

The accomplished five-time Pro Bowler has reportedly drawn interest from both the Jets and Giants this summer, so his services are still in some demand. He's no longer the dominant star he once was, but he could be a piece that Washington will now want, too. 

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