If the Hoos are gonna do anything this year that even remotely resembles last year, it'll take important contributions from freshmen. We knew that going in; the exciting thing was finding out who could do what, and who would step up the highest. Tony Bennett likes to keep things under heavy wraps during the fall, so this weekend was our first really good look at how he planned on using these guys and what they could do.
Obvious and screaming caveat about quality of competition remains. Neither JMU nor NSU provide anything resembling a real test. We might be able to make better predictions a week from now, with the GW game in the books. But this post is going to be largely about comparing the freshmen to each other, so this is still plenty useful.
The rotation is the most important thing, and it has very little to do with the competition. Tony gave us a lot of info after the Norfolk State game. Still figuring things out, yes, of course - Tony has always used the early part of the season to figure things out, and doing so is a feature, not a bug. Basketball teams are chemistry experiments, especially with so many new ingredients. He always manages to have things right by the time an ACC opponent rolls into town.
Second, he mentioned a 10-man rotation, at least for now. Jack Salt didn't play a minute, even when the bench was emptied, so it don't take a rocket surgeon to riddle that one out. B.J. Stith got a few minutes, but some of them came with the walk-ons, and the rest of them in that mid-first-half area where the back-end guys go in sometimes. With a 10-man rotation, and 10 scholarship players getting double-digit minutes and the other one getting a handful, it shouldn't be hard to figure that out either. Stith is the odd man out of the rotation, at least for now. He'll almost certainly pick up a bagload of DNP-CDs this year.
(Tangent: I don't mind this, by the way. Most everyone's instinct is to say that if he's not going to give us meaningful minutes, he should redshirt, end of discussion. Yes, it makes sense to want that fifth year out of him, but keep in mind this, too: basketball players transfer at the drop of a hat, and always think they should be playing. Most programs try to keep everyone happy by juggling 13 players, and sometimes that works and usually it doesn't, and players leave. Coaches tend to over-promise when they're recruiting. Tony's never anything but up front with these guys, and doesn't redshirt anyone who's not OK with it. If someone tells him they don't want to redshirt and they'll take their chances with whatever minutes Tony dishes out, and Tony redshirts them anyway, well.... five years is better than four, but four is better than two.)
So that leaves three newcomers to the rotation: Hall, Shayok, and Wilkins. Hall appears to be following the lead of London Perrantes a bit, by which I mean he looks for his own shot about as often and at similar times. But I think there are signs he'll be considered the superior defender by season's end. One of those signs is probably the "5" in the JMU game steals column. He's more aggressive than Perrantes, who's one of the team's more conservative defenders. Getting five steals while only fouling once, that's outstanding.
Shayok, now. Main thing I thought he showed off was an ability to score a lot of different ways. He wasn't afraid to launch a three, and he looked comfortable going to the rim too. "Versatile" was the word on him, and he looked it. Everyone from Tony on down warned against falling in love with the three-ball after the NSU game, but the fact is, it's nice to know they might actually be able to shoot it.
Shayok looked pretty good on defense, too, but so far my favorite of the three main newcomers is Wilkins. And defense, of course, is the reason. Wilkins shot down two NSU attempts in one possession, but that wasn't my favorite play - an NSU player attempting to drive met with a Wilkins shot-block without Wilkins even having to move his feet. Yes, it was my imagination, but I swear I saw Wilkins give the guy a "really?" look before tossing the shot back where it came from. This is to say nothing of his JMU stat line, one which made the Swiss Army knife characterization look awfully prescient. Wilkins could be a big piece of the replacement puzzle for Akil Mitchell.
The missing link in all this analysis is that nothing the Dukes or Spartans did was able to expose any real weaknesses on these guys. It's easy and unfair to get swept away in expectations. But the truth is, Tony was able to use his freshmen and not see a scary-looking drop in quality of play. That's reassuring. Shayok and Wilkins looked the best of the bunch, but they all looked like they belonged.