Marquise Moore is turning heads in the college basketball world this season and while he and Otis Livingston II are a big reason why Mason is currently 9-3 and not 3-9, this year’s freshmen class is also playing a big role in the turn around. We knew heading into this season that, much like last year, we’d see freshmen play a lot of meaningful minutes. Whether or not that would result in George Mason getting out of the Atlantic 10 basement was the big question. Kenpom’s team experience rating formula ranks Mason 305 out of 351 this season which is not surprising given how many sophomore and freshmen are on the roster. The team has surpassed expectations and already two wins away from matching last season’s win total. The freshmen have been in impressive to say the least.
So far I’ve been blown away by how confident the team as whole looks considering they are much different than last year’s team in terms of style and personnel. It has to be a big adjustment for the returning players and a lot to take in for the new ones. However it certainly didn’t take long for this group to buy into Dave Paulsen’s plan and learn how to win. Standouts Ian Boyd and Justin Kier have looked like veterans a lot already this season and don’t seem to let mistakes turn them into a downward spiral. Kier has been in the starting lineup every game except the opener and has played the most of the freshmen averaging 26 minutes a game. Boyd got off to a slower start but had his coming out party versus James Madison where his 10-for-12 from the line helped seal Mason’s victory.
But which freshman has been the most impressive this season? Let’s take a look.
Justin Kier – The kid has poise and probably the best court vision of anyone on the team. He just kind of does it all, a great utility player that resembles a bit of what Luke Hancock did back a few years ago. He won’t give you 20 points a game but he is one of the driving forces behind Mason’s much improved ball movement this season. Also he is one of the best ball-handlers on the team and has even played a little point guard already. Defensively Kier has been holding his own and has been hitting the boards hard averaging 5.6 per game. He’s a guy who doesn’t seem to make a lot of mistakes (only 4 turnovers last 7 games), which is great for a freshman, and seems to have great awareness on the court. We’ll see him play the 1-3 spots all season long.
Ian Boyd – Boyd, much like Justin Kier, is another versatile player who has a high basketball IQ. He so far has been able to score when needed off the bench and grind it out by getting rebounds, steals, and free-throws as well. He leads the team in steal % (Steals / Defensive possessions) and seems to always be in the right place at the right time on both ends of the court. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him shoot the ball more and I definitely think his minutes will start to increase as we get into conference place. He’s turning in to a player that almost definitely needs to be on the floor in the closing moments of a close game.
Karmari Newman – Newman is a bit of a later bloomer to the rotation compared to Kier and Boyd but he’s certainly made his presence known during this current winning streak. Since the Bradley game he’s hit nine three-pointers and has the making of a player that can come off the bench and provide a spark on offense. He’s a bit of a streaky shooter from what we’ve seen so far but the talent is there.
He takes a ton of shots for the amount of minutes he typically plays but you can see why a few missed shots don’t send him immediately back to the bench. He will remind some of Isaiah Tate and Vertail Vaughns.
Troy Temara – Temara has missed the last three games due to an ankle injury (should return against Prairie View A&M) and has gotten off to a slow start adjusting to Division I. We are all still waiting for that emphatic dunk down the lane one of these days. So far from what we have seen he’s been a good replacement off the bench for Jalen Jenkins at the five. He has already shown some great passing:
With Jenkins doing a better job staying out of a foul trouble and Mason having success with four guard lineups it’s difficult to say if Temara’s playing time will increase much this season. He needs to develop his post moves more and learn to defend in the low blocks without fouling. However, I like his upside and think he has a high ceiling. Also he is the team’s best cheerleader:
Daniel Relvao – Relvao, a redshirt freshman, has been a surprising force in the middle so far during Temara’s absence. He’s definitely the biggest body on the team this season and has done well when called upon. I thought he played really well in the Penn State game when he had two big blocks and a steal. While a bit of a liability on offense he still provides what little depth they have at forward and at the five spot this season. It’s a long season and he will surely be called upon more as time goes on.
So now it’s time to vote, who has been the most impressive freshman?
[Photos by Bill Bride]