The season is still young, just two, three or four games in for some teams, but there are some candidates and prospects we must point out due to their drastic improvement in this small sample size. Lorenzo Brown, a sophomore combo-guard, has taken up a new role with the transfer of Ryan Harrow. Tennessee's Trae Golden's minutes have doubled and his production has grown exponentially for the rebuilding Volunteers. With the graduation of four starters, J'Covan Brown is carrying the scoring load for the similarly-rebuilding Longhorns in Texas. And last, but not least, three-year backup Travon Woodall is thriving in his new starting role for the Pittsburgh Panthers.
We highlighted Lorenzo Brown this offseason as a guard with a new role and big time potential. Known as more of a scorer in high school, the 6'5" Brown shifted his focus to playmaking and distributing as NC State lacked a true point guard which would have allowed him to play on the wing. He adapted to his new role solidly, leading the team in assists a year ago. The team is now 3-0 against the likes of UNC-Asheville, Morehead State and Princeton, Brown has logged an 8-steal game and a 5-steal game to go along with his sturdy playmaking (23 assists and 8 turnovers). His perimeter shooting is still proving to be an issue as he is just 1-of-9 on the season after completing last year on a 17-of-57 note, but Brown is serving his new role well. His big early-season test against Vanderbilt awaits.
Tennessee's Golden may very well be the most improved player in the nation this year, but he is still a relative unknown in all basketball circles. In the season-opener against UNC-Greensboro, the combo-guard scored 29 points, knocking down 5-of-9 3s in the process, while dishing out 9 assists to just 2 turnovers. In the next matchup, Golden upped his assist count to 11, while still scoring 17. Thus far, Golden has already matched his made 3-point baskets total, while attempting 20 less shots from the perimeter and has 20 assists to just 5 turnovers on the season. His playing time is obviously way up through two games, but Golden looks like the player Bruce Pearl recruited to lead the team and it just took him one year and an opportunity the lead.
Rick Barnes lost over 80 percent of its scoring from last season's 28-win team as the lone returning starter is junior point guard J'Covan Brown. No other player averaged more than 3 points per game, as evidenced by 7 new rotational player. Through two games, Brown has been on a mission scoring the basketball, dropping 28 points in the opener and then following up with 35 against a willing-Rhode Island Rams. Brown has scorched the nets from the perimeter with 8 3s, but is more importantly served as the floor general and the glue to keep the young Longhorns together. He is averaging more than three times the number of assists as last season (7.0) and isn't forcing as many plays with just one turnover through two and a lot less off-balance shots.
Woodall, a senior, for nationally ranked Pittsburgh, moves into the starting lineup for the first time in his career with several departed starters including Brad Wanamaker and Gilbert Brown. His playmaking is quite obvious as Woodall allows All-Big East guard Ashton Gibbs to stay on the wing (instead of shifting over to the point) and Woodall has responded with 24 assists in three games, including two double-doubles. He must have also taken some tips from the lead guard Gibbs because Woodall, a career 26.7 percent shooter from beyond the 3-point arc, is connecting on 57.1 percent of his tries this season (12-21) thus far and 62.5 percent of his overall field-goal attempts (36.8 career mark). He's second on the team in scoring at 19.7 points, second in rebounding with 5.3 board per game and tops in the conference in assists at this point.