The 2018-19 NCAA college basketball season is well underway. Hundreds of men's and women's team will be battling for a place in the NCAA Tournament. From now until April, we'll be following along, closely watching. But instead of just box scores and highlights, we're going to profile a player from each class, plus one additional story. With TSFJ and the help from Josh Naso, we present to you The Sports Fan Journal's Box And One.
Freshman: Darius Garland, Vanderbilt. Before his horrific injury, Darius Garland was slated to possibly be a lottery pick in next year's NBA Draft. The 6'2" lead guard was averaging close to 17 points per game, shooting 53 percent from the field and 48 percent from three. Even though he only played in five games before he went down, he was demonstrating that Kentucky was not only school who landed a highly-skilled freshman. He can get anywhere on the floor he chooses, and I hope he bounces back an even stronger and better player.
Sophomore: De'Andre Hunter, Virginia. The University of Virginia has been consistently good for the better part of this decade. The men's basketball program has won at least 22 games each year since the 2011-12 season, and it's because Head Coach Tony Bennett preaches tough defense with minimal mistakes on offense. While games involving the Cavaliers are not the most aesthetically pleasing to watch, a few quality players have come through those Charlottesville halls. Sophomore De'Andre Hunter is the man to watch right now, as he's averaging 15 points per game for Virginia. He's a big wing who is capable of stretching the defense with his shooting. He will be a huge part in how tough Virginia is to knock from the ranks of the unbeaten.
Junior: Cassius Winston, Michigan State. Michigan State Head Coach Tom Izzo has always made sure his talented squads have a heady point guard who can settle the team down and make sound decisions. Cassius Winston is the latest to fit that mold for the Spartans. The junior from Detroit is averaging nearly 17 points per game, while also dishing out almost 8 assists per game with an assist-to-turnover ratio over 3:1. Winston has taken on a bigger role for the Spartans, and he has responded favorably. We will see how they fare come tournament time, as many college sportsbooks love leaning on Sparty in March.
Senior: Megan Gustafson, Iowa. Leading the nation in scoring is one feat. Doing that while also being in the top ten in rebounding is another. Then there is doing both those things while making nearly three-quarters of the field goals attempted. That is what Iowa's Megan Gustafson is doing this season. She's pouring in 26.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and shooting 74.7 percent from the field. That is truly one of the best statistical lines going for anyone in the country. But this is yet another amazing feat Gustafson has had in her career. Last year, she scored 35 points without taking a dribble to get in position to score. That takes an understanding of spacing and timing that few players have, especially when it comes to scoring that many points in a game. As talented as she is, she managed to score within the flow of the offense. if she continues to play like this, Gustafson may find herself on more than just All-Conference teams, especially if the 9-2 Hawkeyes continue to play this well on the season.
And One: With the short week, there weren't any games around the holiday. But there was a contest between two historical programs. Kentucky beat North Carolina 80-72 last Saturday. The focus shouldn't be on the individual win, though it was impressive. Instead, understand that Kentucky Coach John Calipari is slowly maturing his team and priming them for March. The Wildcats are not the same team that got manhandled by Duke to begin the year, nor should we expect them to be. Calipari is very good at making sure his team's seasons are a crescendo and not them peaking early before an abrupt end to the year. Stay calm, Kentucky fans. That team will be there come March.
Seven weeks in, and we're still in the zone. Enjoy the college basketball season.
Poemer. 8-time Hug Champion. Pick&Roll Enthusiast. Guardian of Logic and Tact. Apocalypse's good Brother. Collector of muted souls for Mt. Filtermanjaro.