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Freshmen ahead of their time

Al McGuire is credited with delivering the famous line: "The best thing about freshmen is they become sophomores.

Today's response: Not necessarily.

Freshmen are hitting the college ranks more mature, both physically and emotionally, than ever. We're seeing with greater frequency freshmen make the jump (or at least attempt to make the jump) to the NBA after one season of college ball. More and more players come in and make significant contributions at the Division I level right from the get-go.

Surely few freshmen have had as great an impact on their team's success this season as the University at Buffalo forward Javon McCrea. McCrea is third on the Bulls in scoring at 10.6 points per game. He's gone for 21 points or more in two of the last four (both, notably, on the road). He ranks third in the nation in field goal shooting at 67 percent. He's first on the team in rebounds at 7.1 and second in assists at 1.6. All that and he ranks sixth on the team in minutes at 19.6 (although those have been increasing, too).

Here's a look at the other freshmen of significance throughout the Big 4:

Reggie Groves, G, Canisius: Received medical red-shirt after playing just seven games last year. Has evolved from a potential scorer into a caretaker of the offense. Averaging 11.7 minutes and has 24 assists and 13 steals against 10 turnovers.

Marvin Jordan, G, Niagara: Some similarities to former Niagara guard Tyrone Lewis. Jordan's averaging 10.4 points for the freshman-laden Purple Eagles although his shot selection will have to improve. His plus-20 assist-to-turnover differential is by far the team's best.

Malcolm Lemmons, G, Niagara: Slasher-type is averaging 24 minutes and 6.1 points.

Skylar Jones, G/F, Niagara: Perimeter-oriented swingman hit double figures in four of his first seven games but just once since. He's just 9 of his last 41 from the field. Averaging 21.7 minutes and 6.7 points.

Antoine Mason, G, Niagara: Leading team in scoring (16.7) until a stress fracture forced him to sidelines after three games. He's eligible to red-shirt and he probably will.

Matthew Wright, G, St. Bonaventure: Toronto native had a career-high 18 points at George Washington on Saturday for his second straight double-figure outing. Once went 0 for 15 from three over 11 games but is 5 for last 7 from behind the arc. Averaging 13.2 minutes.

Jarod Oldham, G, UB: Averaging just under 10 minutes in 16 appearances but has played 12 minutes or more in last three games. Solid defender has four steals in that span.

*On the Week: The first showdown of the season between Canisius and Niagara takes place at 7 p.m. Friday at the Koessler Athletic Center. Griffs then play at Fairfield on Monday while Purple Eagles are at Siena on Sunday Bona entertains Massachusetts on Wednesday night and plays at Fordham on Saturday afternoon. Realistically speaking, UMass (3-2) is one of the teams competing with the Bonnies for a first-round home game in the Atlantic 10 Tournament. Minutemen guard Anthony Gurley (19.9 points per game) is deadly inside and out. UB transitions into Mid-American Conference crossover games this week. The Bulls play at Western Michigan tonight and return home to face Northern Illinois at noon on Saturday.

*Stat Watch: Point guard Anthony Nelson of Niagara and Byron Mulkey of UB remain 1-2 in the nation in steals. Nelson's averaging 3.28, Mulkey 3.12. McCrea is back up to third in field goal percentage but he won't be matching Northern Arizona's Shane Johannsen anytime soon. Johannsen, a 6-foot-7 senior forward, is at an astounding 74 percent. Bona's Andrew Nicholson has slipped to 24th in scoring at 20.1. Iona's Mike Glover plummeted from 18th to 30th (19.7) after a highly unimpressive stop in Western New York. Meanwhile, Xavier Silas of Northern Illinois holds down fourth at 23.6. Junior post Mitchell Watt gives UB three players in the Top 25 in individual statistics. Helped by his eight blocks against Kent State, Watt is up to 22nd in the country (2.47). Tomas Vazquez-Simmons of Canisius is one place ahead of him at 2.53. On the team front, surging UB is tied for 18th in the country in field goal percentage (48.4) and 13th in blocks (5.82). Niagara remains next to last in team three-point field goal percentage (26.4).

*Nationwide: The mid-major game of the year, Part I, takes place at 10 p.m. Wednesday when unbeaten No. 6 San Diego State visits once-beaten No. 9 Brigham Young and Jimmer Fredette with first place in the Mountain West on the line. The rematch at San Diego State is Feb. 26. How tough is it to win on the road in the Big 12? Missouri is 17-3 overall but 3-2 in conference with losses at Texas A&M (acceptable) and Colorado (not). The Tigers play three of their next four on the road, a stretch that begins with Saturday's game at No. 10 Texas and concludes Feb. 7 at (gulp) No. 2 Kansas. Duquesne's off to a 5-0 start in the Atlantic 10 with a win over Temple. Are the Dukes legit title contenders? Sunday's game against visiting Dayton will shed more light. Get by that one and Duquesne can look toward a visit by co-leader Xavier on Feb. 13.

e-mail: bdicesare@buffnews.com

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