NASHVILLE, Tenn.--This is undoubtedly the year of the freshman in college basketball. John Gasaway deftly broke down the game’s four most touted freshmen on this site Thursday, pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of Kansas State’s Michael Beasley, Indiana’s Eric Gordon, UCLA’s Kevin Love, and Southern California’s O.J. Mayo. Gasaway also stated astutely that we should be watching other freshmen such as Pittsburgh’s DaJuan Blair, Butler’s Matt Howard, Memphis’ Derrick Rose, and Duke’s Kyle Singler.
However, there is yet one more freshman who deserves attention. That would be Vanderbilt center A.J. Ogilvy, a 6-foot-10 Australian who is a big reason why the Commodores have gotten out of the gate at 8-0, their best start since beginning the 2003-04 season 12-0.
“He’s very impressive,” Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio said. “He uses his body better than any big man I’ve ever seen in college basketball.”
Ogilvy is averaging 18.8 points and 5.9 rebounds a game while scoring 1.47 points per shot. He is shooting 69 percent from the field and 81 percent from the foul line. It’s all heady stuff for a guy who wasn’t looked at by any super powers--Ogilvy chose Vanderbilt over New Mexico and Saint Mary’s. While Ogilvy may be somewhat unknown on the national scene, he is fulfilling the high hopes of Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings.
“We thought A.J. had a chance to be a very special player,” Stallings said. “He isn’t your average freshman coming to America from another country. He played on the national team in Australia for a number of years. He has played against very good competition, so we felt he could make a relatively smooth transition here. He is still learning and needs to become more consistent, but he has played very well so far.”
Well enough that he is already drawing comparisons to fellow Australian Andrew Bogut, the former All-America at Utah who was the first pick in the 2005 NBA Draft. Ogilvy also wanted to play for the Utes, but coach Ray Giacoletti needed to use his last scholarship on a point guard last spring. Giacoletti thus recommended Ogilvy to Stallings. Now, the Canberra native is poised to help Vanderbilt be a factor in the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division a year after a blown traveling call against Georgetown’s Jeff Green kept the Commodores from going to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.
Ogilvy is a true post player, unlike many of today’s centers. He rarely ventures near the three-point line, instead planting himself on the blocks and scoring consistently either with a pretty jump hook shot or by getting fouled. That style of play helped Ogilvy be a sensation on the international scene last summer, as he averaged 22.3 points and 9.8 rebounds while shooting 69 percent from the field for Australia in the U19 World Championships.
“That’s when I knew I could come here and be successful,” Ogilvy said. “I played against some of the best players in the world in my age group and performed well. That led me to believe that I could do that in American college basketball. That took away any nervousness I might have had about my freshman season.”
Ogilvy is also helped by the plenty of other players around him who can absorb the scoring load. Senior guard Shan Foster is scoring 20.4 points a game and shooting 52 percent from three-point range, while point guard Alex “Red” Gordon is averaging 10.0 points and 4.4 assists, and forward Ross Neltner’s scoring average is just a hair away from double digits at 9.9.
“A.J. has added so much to this team,” Foster said. “He’s a great player but what really sets him apart is he is a hard worker. He is only a freshman and he wants to get better. He works at his game every day. He’s like our team. We know we’re not perfect but we’re working hard to try to get there.”
Arizona coach Lute Olson, whose sabbatical after filing for divorce will extend through the entire season, brought Kevin O’Neill back as an assistant coach this season because he felt his team needed to play better defense. O’Neill, who was an assistant at Arizona before going on to become the head coach at Marquette and Tennessee, has been serving as acting head coach. Thus, O’Neill has had a great opportunity to instill his defense-first philosophy.
Through a 5-2 start, the Wildcats are showing progress on the defensive end. They have held opponents to 43 percent shooting from the field and 0.97 points per possession after allowing 44 percent shooting and 1.02 points last season. It is incremental progress, to be sure, but Arizona has certainly played better interior defense, as opponents are connecting on 45 percent of their two-point attempts after making 50 percent last year.
“I’m looking at the defense as a progression,” O’Neill told the Arizona Republic. “We were better in Game 7 than in Game 1.”
Said sophomore forward Chase Budinger, “there’s a toughness that wasn’t there last season.”
It is quite a challenge to keep up with these conference-versus-conference challenges, as additions and subtractions are made seemingly every season, and they often also change shapes and sizes. Regardless, here is how this year’s three challenges shook out:
As mentioned last week, the Atlantic Coast Conference took the ACC/Big Ten Challenge 8-3.
Meanwhile, the Pacific-10 Conference eked out a 6-4 advantage in the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Challenge.
Finally, the Big East went 3-1 in the Big East/SEC Invitational.
The Team of the Week is Drake, sitting at No. 9 in the Pomeroy Ratings. The Bulldogs are off to the best start in their 102-year history at 7-1 under first-year coach Keno Davis, son of legendary coach Dr. Tom Davis.
The Bulldogs have ran off five straight wins since dropping a 72-66 decision to Saint Mary’s on Nov. 10 after beating UC San Diego the night before in the opener. During the winning streak, Drake has beaten Cornell College, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, North Carolina Central, Duquesne, Iowa State, and Chicago State. The Bulldogs pounded Iowa State 79-44 on Wednesday night for the most lopsided margin of victory in the history of the 167-game series.
Drake relies on an outstanding backcourt, which features seniors Leonard Houston and Adam Emmenecker, and sophomore Josh Young. Young is scoring 18.3 points a game, Houston is averaging 17.6 and 2.0 steals, and Emmenecker is dishing out 5.1 assists a game. Junior forward Jonathan Cox is the top inside player with averages of 10.6 points and 8.1 rebounds.
Drake is also averaging 10.6 three-point field goals a game and shooting 41 percent from behind the arc to lead the Missouri Valley Conference in both categories. The Bulldogs were last in the MVC in both last season.
“Our team has changed dramatically,” Keno Davis told the Des Moines Register. “We tweaked the offense.”
The top five games of the next week (based on the Pomeroy Ratings through Wednesday’s games):
Saturday, December 8 – No. 8 Marquette at No. 7 Wisconsin
Saturday, December 8 – No. 15 Duquesne at No. 1 West Virginia
Saturday, December 8 – No. 14 Michigan State at No. 31 Brigham Young
Saturday, December 8 – No. 28 Arizona vs. No. 37 Illinois at Chicago
Saturday, December 8 – No. 45 Kentucky at No. 28 Indiana
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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