Midterm: Some of basketball's best freshman


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):


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).


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).


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).


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.


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.


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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Carlson's two goals lead Capitals to sloppy 5-3 win over Calgary

Carlson's two goals lead Capitals to sloppy 5-3 win over Calgary

The Capitals are a perfect 2-0 to start their five-game road trip after a 5-3 win over the Calgary Flames on Tuesday. It was a sleepy game for the Caps who were largely outplayed through the first two periods. A few short bursts of brilliance, however, were enough to ensure Washington never trailed.

Here is how the Caps won.

A gift for Carlson

John Carlson entered the game as the NHL’s leader in points. He is arguably the hottest player in the league. He doesn’t need gifts, but he was gifted a goal by Calgary goalie Cam Talbot early in the second.

After a sleepy first period, the Caps’ came out swinging in the second and Alex Ovechkin nearly connected with Nicklas Backstrom on a pretty passing play on the backdoor. The puck curled around the boards and Carlson stepped up and just fired a hopeful shot on net that seemed to catch Talbot by surprise as it hit the short-side for the goal.

That is a horrific goal that Talbot just should not have given up. If you watch, he actually shifts a little backward after the initial play missed. Perhaps Talbot misjudged where he was in net, but that is an angle he should have been able to easily cut off based on the position of the puck. Instead, he backed up, left the near-side open and Carlson hit it.

The goal extended Carlson’s point streak to a career-high eight games. He would add an empty-net goal to give him 20 points on the season.

Bank shot!

Just over two minutes after Carlson put the Caps on the board, Chandler Stephenson extended the lead to 2-0 with a great play behind the net to pickpocket Talbot.

Talbot went behind the net to corral a dump-in from Brendan Leipsic, but Stephenson never gave up on the play and zipped in behind the net after Talbot. He stole the puck away from Talbot. He was boxed in by the Flames’ netminder and two more Flames skaters so he attempted to center the puck, but it bounced off of defenseman Rasmus Andersson and into the net.

A 10-second response

Overall, this was not a great game for the Caps. They looked sleepy and out of sync, missing numerous easy passes in the offensive zone that ended their offensive opportunities. Two early goals in the second spotted them a 2-0 lead, but Calgary took control and Austin Czarnik tied the game at 2 late in the period. That briefly woke up the Caps and Ovechkin put Washington back on top just 10 seconds after the game was tied.

Calgary won the faceoff after the goal, but Radko Gudas forced a turnover that Backstrom picked up. Two forwards had gone past him in anticipation of entering the offensive zone, a third player was on the ice after getting hit by Gudas, one defenseman stepped to the boards to give T.J. Oshie a shove, but could not recover to stop Backstrom and suddenly Backstrom was in behind four players for a 2-on-1 with Ovechkin. He made the simple backhand pass on the rush and Ovechkin fired the one-timer into the net.

Jakub Vrana’s drive to the net

Michal Kempny fired a stretch pass to launch a breakout. It looked like Travis Hamonic could have grabbed the puck, but he couldn’t control it and left it out for Lars Eller to continue the attack. As Eller took the puck, Jakub Vrana drove hard to the net bringing Noah Hanifin with him and that left Tom Wilson wide open. Eller passed to Wilson who netted the knockout punch.


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Juan Soto blasts historic home run - just as his hitting coach guaranteed

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Juan Soto blasts historic home run - just as his hitting coach guaranteed

Juan Soto was the best teenage hitter in Major League Baseball history, and he might be the best 20-year old hitter in MLB history, too.

His exploits at the plate over the past two seasons have ranged from impressive to historic, and everything in between.

He grew his legend even more Tuesday evening, launching a jaw-dropping home run to the train tracks in Houston.

This is a flat-out bomb. Left-handed hitters just don’t hit home runs to this part of Minute Maid Park.

The prodigious young outfielder actually struck out on an essentially identical pitch in his first at-bat. But it only took him one look to adjust, and he took the same pitch yard in his second at-bat.

Soto continues to see his name mentioned among baseball’s greats.

That’s a mighty impressive list. Andruw Jones is the only one besides Soto to accomplish the feat in his first World Series game.

What was even more impressive about this home run? It was foreseen by his hitting coach, Kevin Long.

Yes, that’s reporter Tom Verducci telling the world that not only did Long predict a home run for his young star, but he literally predicted it would come off a Gerrit Cole high fastball.

It was, frankly, wild that he would even suggest such a thing, given how utterly dominant Cole has been with his fastball all season long.

But Long believes in Soto, rightfully so, and never wavered in that belief. Now, Soto’s historic bomb -- which tied the game, by the way -- has an incredible story to go with.

What will this guy do next?