Midterm: Some of basketball’s best freshmen

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 through Wednesday):

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. Austin 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 per 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.

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 nonqualifier by the NCAA. Now he is fifth in the Pac-12 in scoring at 16.7 points per game and second in the league with 5.4 assists per game.

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 in scoring, averaging 16.9 points per 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.

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. Entering Thursday’s game at Utah, Muhammad was second in the Pac-12 with 19.6 points per game and led the conference by making 49 percent of his 3-pointers (17 of 35).

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 per game, is the SEC’s top shot blocker (3.5 per game) and ranks second in the league with 9.3 rebounds per game.

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