When the college basketball season began one thing was clear: Duke’s Jabari Parker, Kansas’s Andrew Wiggins, and Kentucky’s Julius Randle were all in contention for the top pick in next spring’s NBA Draft.
Thus far, all three freshmen have lived up to the hype, leading their respective schools in scoring. The powerhouse programs appear destined for at least a top three or four seed in the NCAA tournament.
It is far too premature to assume all three will forgo their final years of college ball for the pros, but at the beginning of the season it seemed all but certain the trio would continue the trend of one-and-done players, following the last four No. 1 overall picks in Anthony Bennett, Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving, and John Wall. Bennett was a bit of a surprise pick in last year’s underwhelming draft, but the three before him were locks and have turned into some of the best young players at their positions.
Before the start of the season, Wiggins appeared destined for stardom. Cagey and powerful with elite athleticism that have garnered comparisons to LeBron James, Wiggins seemed like a near lock for the top overall selection, but both Parker and Randle are making it very hard on scouts and potential lottery teams to come to a consensus.
The Jayhawks have dropped three out their last four, though Wiggins exploded with back-to-back 20-point games for the first time this season. He also snagged a season-high 11 rebounds while unloading four three-pointers in the 67-61 loss to No. 19 Florida earlier this week.
Turnovers have become a bit of an issue, with Wiggins responsible for 11 giveaways during Kansas's early slide. He also nearly fouled out of two games, suggesting a lack of effort on defense that could stir doubt in NBA general managers. Still, ESPN’s Chad Ford has Wiggins at the top of his early draft board.
To his credit, Wiggins did perform on the biggest stage when Kansas faced Duke, notching 22 points and eight rebounds in the Jayhawks' 94-83 victory in the second game of the season.
Parker, however, didn’t exactly fold against Kansas. He had a game-high 27 points and nine rebounds. Displaying composure beyond his years, and an already polished turnaround jumper and post-game, Parker leads the No. 8 Blue Devils in points, rebounds, steals, and blocks per game, while shooting 46.7 percent from three-point range.
A case could be made that Parker has a stronger supporting cast, with junior point guard Quinn Cook feeding him all over the court. Quinn leads the ACC with 6.3 assists per game, but Wiggins also has top freshman center Joel Embiid holding down the middle.
The Blue Devils have already dropped two key games against the ranked Jayhawks and the Arizona Wildcats, when Parker shot a miserable 7-for-21 from the floor for 19 points and five turnovers. Matt Moore of CBS Sports employed a formula to determine the likely order of next year’s draft, and placed Parker at No. 1 to the Milwaukee Bucks, a team that could use his all-around game for their rebuilding efforts.
Where certain teams end up could be the deciding factor, especially for Randle to move up.
Standing 6'9 and a hefty 250 pounds, Randle has been impressive with averages of 17.8 points and 12 rebounds per game thus far, carving out his niche as the top star on a talent-laden Wildcats squad. He’s also easily the best rebounder of the three, earning a double-double in all but two games this season.
Randle also torched Michigan State for 27 points and 13 rebounds, but like Wiggins his eight turnovers against the Spartans might leave an indelible mark.
As usual, John Calipari has a talented crop of freshman. In some ways, Randle has been somewhat overshadowed by the overall talent of the roster. James Young, along with the Harrison Twins, Aaron and Andrew, have all made significant contributions in the Cats' first 10 games. However, Randle is still considered the most prominent player on the squad, and is expected to have a more developed game as the season progresses.