In this iteration of “You’re Nuts”, the Bucketheads, Connor Lemons and Justin Golba, are back to discuss this week’s topic in the world of college basketball. If you are reading this, make sure to also check out the Bucketheads podcast every week and leave us a nice review, because it helps us get better guests and continue to make better episodes.
Last week, we talked about who we thought Ohio State’s next 1,000-point scorer would be in honor of superstar junior E.J. Liddell reaching the milestone against Minnesota. Connor picked sophomore center Zed Key, and Justin picked Bruce Thornton, Ohio State’s highly touted point guard that is entering the program next season.
Most people disagreed with both of us, as the “other” option won with 53 percent of the vote. I can only assume a lot of those votes were with freshman guard Malaki Branham in mind, but we both believe he will head to the NBA before reaching the milestone. Zed Key received 37 percent of the vote and Thornton received a whopping 10 percent of the vote.
Here are the updated standings of You’re Nuts after 37 (!) weeks
After 37 weeks:
(There have been two ties)
So now onto this week. With the regular season wrapping up in around 10 short games for most teams, we are discussing who we think will win Big Ten Freshman of the Year if the season ended today. The league is loaded with freshman talent, and it is fun to look at how they have performed thus far.
For transparency purposes, we predicted the freshman of the year in the conference in the preseason, and Connor chose Nebraska’s Bryce McGowens while Justin chose Michigan State’s Max Christie. Neither have had bad seasons, but McGowens has played better and more consistent than Christie. So are the boys changing their answers or sticking to their guns?
Today’s Question: If the season ended today, who would be the Big Ten freshman of the year?
Connor: Bryce McGowens
There’s still plenty of basketball to be played, but I think I can cautiously start taking my victory lap for this one. Way back on Oct. 21, we made predictions for post-season accolades in the Big Ten. Yours truly picked Bryce McGowens of Nebraska for B1G Freshman of the Year, and so far that prediction is standing up.
Through 22 games, McGowens leads Nebraska in scoring at 17 PPG and is second on the team in rebounds at 5.5 per game. He’s shooting 40% from the floor overall, which is fine but not great. He’s also taking 13 shots per game, the most of all Cornhuskers.
Nebraska is atrocious, but I don’t think his team’s record should outweigh any of his individual statistics this season. The award goes to the most outstanding freshman in the conference, and by nearly every measurement McGowens has been just that. He leads all freshmen in the Big Ten in scoring as well, with Ohio State’s Malaki Branham second with 10.6 PPG — a whole six points below McGowens.
Big Ten season-high 23 points for potential 1st-rounder Bryce McGowens vs Wisconsin, showing his smooth shooting stroke and advanced scoring instincts. Still has a lot to prove defensively, handling physicality and playing with toughness, but unquestionably has significant talent pic.twitter.com/A3XMMGUWKW— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) January 28, 2022
He’s been the benefactor of an inopportune injury by one of his teammates, his brother Trey. The older McGowens broke his foot back in November and missed two months of the season, leading to extended minutes for Bryce. The younger McGowens is playing 34 minutes per game this season, which is also in the top-10 in the Big Ten.
The Big Ten’s 2021 recruiting class didn’t have any slam dunk superstars, with McGowens, Michigan State Max Christie, and Branham being the most likely to be selected in the 2022 NBA Draft. McGowens is projected as a late first-round pick, but his poor outside shooting (27.9%) may give teams some pause. At 6-foot-7, he’s got the build of an NBA combo guard but will need to refine that jump shot if he wants to climb draft boards. Branham and Christie are both fringe NBA prospects right now.
Pretty much every way you look at it, McGowens has been the most impressive freshman in the conference this year. Nebraska being awful shouldn’t matter, because this is an individual award, not a team award and not an MVP award.
Happy trails, Bryce. Good luck in the league!
Justin: Malaki Branham
I am absolutely changing my answer. Christie has not been bad by any means, but not consistent enough or splashy enough to win this award. So I am going with Ohio State freshman Malaki Branham.
McGowens’ stats are undeniable and impressive, but he also plays for Nebraska, who is 0-11 in conference play thus far. Branham has done more to contribute to winning for the Buckeyes, while also putting up the numbers to back it up.
For starters, Branham is averaging 10.6 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. He is also playing 26.3 minutes per game as a starter for a top five team in the conference and a top 15-20 team in the country. Branham has fairly impressive shooting splits as well, as he is shooting 48 percent from the field, 40 percent from three-point range and 83 percent from the free throw line. This is high efficiency for a freshman that has a high usage rate.
As I mentioned above, he has also contributed to winning. In his first game ever against Akron, he showed unbelievable poise and levelheaded thinking down the stretch and made the game-winning pass to Zed Key for the go ahead layup, helping the Buckeyes avoid an opening game nightmare.
Against Nebraska, he scored 35 points, leading the Buckeyes to an overtime win, and against Northwestern he was their second-leading scorer as he put up 24 points in the win. Even in the Buckeyes’ most recent loss to Purdue, Branham had 20 points and seven rebounds and was instrumental in Ohio State’s comeback effort.
Most points by an @OhioStateHoops player in a B1G game since 2000:— Ohio State on BTN (@OhioStateOnBTN) January 3, 2022
35 - Malaki Branham (1/2/22 at Nebraska)
35 - Keita Bates-Diop (2/4/18 vs. Illinois) pic.twitter.com/JNEkwwVzuj
Winning matters in these awards, and simply put Branham is doing impressive work on a tournament team. Nebraska is a bad team. Bryce McGowens is still a great player of course, but it is easier to put up stats as the number one option. And Branham has done an awesome job of carving out his role on the Buckeyes as the number two scoring option behind E.J. Liddell.
Not to mention he got permission from the legend himself Jimmy Jackson to wear the No. 22. That is sweet.
Who is the B1G freshman of the year right now?
This poll is closed
Bryce McGowens (Connor)
Malaki Branham (Justin)