Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Freshman 15

Having watched Spencer Dinwiddie perform over the first 15 games of his career, I think it's high time to begin putting his performance in perspective.

Dinwiddie is the fourth high profile freshman guard to matriculate through CU over the past decade.  Richard Roby, Cory Higgins, and Alec Burks all had outstanding freshman campaigns, which propelled them into the hearts and minds of Buff Nation.  Dinwiddie is following in their footsteps, and setting a similar tone for a stellar career in a CU uniform.

But where does he stack up amongst the previous three?  By taking a look at the stats, I'll put Spencer's performance to-date in a little perspective, and give a thought or two about where his freshman performance ranks amongst the best of the past decade.

After the break, I'll touch on each player's freshman year narrative, before discussing where I think Spencer belongs amongst their company.  I put together a handy spreadsheet of each player's numbers through their first 15 games.  You can check it out here.

- Richard Roby, as opposed with successors Higgins and Burks, was a highly regarded and sought after prospect during the '03 recruiting period.  Inking during the early signing window, he showed up in the fall of '04 ready and primed to be the primary scoring threat for a team in a comprehensive rebuilding mode.
Richard had to be great for CU to have any chance in '05.  
Through 15 games that season, he was averaging a vital 15/5 for a team trying to find its sea legs.  Despite only having been on campus for a few months, he was already the team leader in shots and minutes.  While not having as strong, or as efficient, a season as Alec Burks would have five years later, Richard was Colorado basketball from the second he stepped on campus, and it's no wonder that he would go on to set the record for most points scored over a career.

 - Cory Higgins was a lightly sought after cog in the Jeff Bzdelik's first recruiting class.  With the departure of many of the freshmen that had marked the final year of the Ricardo Patton Experience, Cory was afforded a scholarship.  While mostly playing a deferential role that year, allowing seniors Richard Roby and Marcus Hall to shine, Cory still played over 83% of available minutes during his rookie campaign.
Cory played more of a deferential role his first season.
While his overall numbers aren't as gaudy as the other freshman I'm looking at, by the end of the '07-'08 season, he was already the jack-of-all-trades performer that would serve the program so well over his four years in Boulder.  Constantly on the court, doing everything it takes to win; through the first 15 games, you can already start to see the player that Cory would become.  With the departure of Roby and Hall, his game would flourish as his scoring touches increased, and by the end of his four years, he joined Roby at the top of the CU scoring chart.

- Alec Burks came to Boulder as a famously under-recruited scorer from Missouri.  K-State was his only other high-major offer, leading to a large chip on the shoulder of CU's latest NBA star.  Burks would announce his presence with authority in '09-'10, scoring in double figures in every game except the injury marred Iowa State contest, which saw him on the court for only two minutes.  It's not by accident that his numbers outpace everyone else on the list, and it's no joke that he left for the NBA after only two years in Boulder.  His break-out freshman experience was a shock to almost everyone, and his performance that season set a very high standard for those who will follow.
Burks was playing some of the best basketball ever seen from Colorado from the moment he stepped onto the court.
Burks' offensive numbers that season are ridiculous, and his first 15 games are right in line with what you'd expect.  His outside jumper wasn't ready yet, but everything else was. His ability to get to the line and make the subsequent free throws, a trait that would make him one of the best players in the nation his sophomore season, was already a hallmark of his game.  He would set the freshmen scoring record that winter, and the hype surrounding his play set the tone for the magical run of '10-'11.

- Spencer Dinwiddie came to CU this fall as the linchpin of Coach Boyle's first recruiting class.  A highly regarded player out of the Los Angeles area, the Buffs had to beat out plenty of west coast schools for his services.  Once setting up shop along the Front Range, Buff fans were overjoyed to find a player with poise and court-presence, ready to contribute from day one.
Spencer has been everything anyone could've asked so far this season.
After starting a little on the quiet side, he's become one of the more reliable scoring threats on a team in desperate need of some. Prior to the game against Washington St, he had scored double-digit points in nine straight contests.  While Carlon Brown is the player leading the offense, you can certainly see how Spencer fits into the team's overall success, and his 25 minutes each night are vital.

He's the beneficiary of a strong supporting cast, arguably the best enjoyed by the freshmen I'm looking at, and is using that to his advantage.  (Interesting topic of drunken discussion:  If Coach Boyle had lead the '09-'10 group, would they have fared better than 15-16?)  While he's a relied upon scoring threat, he's neither the end-all-be-all scoring option that Roby had to be, nor the emerging dynamo that Burks proved to be. 


By a top-level statistical measure, Burks has, by far, the most gaudy numbers.  Already, 15 games in, he had beyond impressive scoring and rebounding averages.  While his jump shot hadn't come around yet, his free throw numbers were spectacular.  In addition, he was shooting almost 55% from the field (which sets him apart from Roby), even with the struggles from behind the arc, and his true shooting percentage was in the low 60s.  His freshman year performance is something that was rarely seen in Colorado, even from seasoned veterans.

But still, Dinwiddie has a one-up on Burks.  Using Kenpom, and his advanced metrics, we find that Dinwiddie has a higher Offensive Rating so far than either of the other three.  While Burks has the overall numbers, Dinwiddie shines in deeper stats, primarily because he has put up his already impressive numbers in relatively few minutes.  Roby and Higgins, by this point in their careers, were already running around the court over 30 minutes per night, with Burks just under the milestone.  Dinwiddie, however, has only seen the court for about 25 minutes per game, making his numbers seem that much better when expanded out.

One key thing to point out is record.  Neither of the previous three freshmen phenoms had winning seasons their first try.  Additionally, at this point in their careers, they were a collective 25-20, and 0-6 in conference play.  As CU's current 11-4, 3-0 record would indicate, Dinwiddie is playing on a much better team, which puts him in a position where he doesn't have to be the guy every night (which partially explains his lower minute total).  He is starring in a situation where he doesn't have to, which says all the more about him.  I'm almost afraid to ask, but where would CU be this season without Spencer's steady hand?

I'm not saying that I would place Spencer above Alec at this point.  I think Burks' top-line performance through his first 15 games is too massive to be overlooked, but I think Dinwiddies's complete game outshines that of Roby or Higgins.  In fewer minutes, Spencer has had a much larger impact on the team than Cory had, although without a pair of high-usage teammates to defer to, and Spencer has proven to be a much more efficient player than Richard was at this stage.  Additionally, at this point in their respective seasons, Spencer has coughed-up 25 fewer turnovers than Richard had.

The cherry on top of this pie is Spencer's near-.500 shooting from behind the arc.  That's very good, especially for a freshman.  If he wasn't shooting a paltry 38% from inside the arc, he'd be one of the best players in the country.  Going forward, if he can begin finishing at the rim anywhere near the level of his three predecessors, he'll be one hell of a player.

In the end, I'll put Burks' first 15 games at #1, Dinwiddie's #2, Roby's #3, and Higgins #4. 

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