March 19, 2008

Watch for clash of best of freshman class

Kansas State has Michael Beasley and Bill Walker. Southern California has O.J. Mayo and Davon Jefferson. Which pair of super freshmen will lead its team to another day in the NCAA Tournament? We'll find out as the No. 11-seeded Wildcats meet the sixth-seeded Trojans in the first-round game at Omaha's sold out Qwest Center on Thursday night in what has been dubbed the most intriguing opening contest in this thing called March Madness.

Big 12 followers already know plenty about Beasley and Walker. While they give K-State, 20-11, the most prolific scoring duo in school and Big 12 history, the fourth-leading scoring duo in the nation (42.3 points per game) will try to help the Wildcats bounce back from a stretch of five losses in its last eight games, including a 63-60 loss to Texas A&M in the Big 12 quarterfinals last Friday.

Behind Mayo and Jefferson, the Trojans, 21-11, have won 11 of their last 16 games and come off a third-place finish in the Pac-10 during the regular season. The 6-foot-5, 200-pound Mayo, who has scored the most points (664) of any freshman in school history, had a combined 38 points in a 59-55 win against Arizona State and a 57-54 loss to UCLA in the conference tournament semifinals. Jefferson, 6-foot-8 and 215 pounds, ranks in the school's freshman top 10 in nine categories, including points per game (12.0), field-goal percentage (56.7) and blocks (27) to go along with 6.3 boards per contest.

The Wildcats get 75 percent of their scoring from their freshman class, which entered ranked as one of the top freshmen classes in the nation. The USC freshman scored 53 percent of their team's points this season.

No other pairing in the brackets likely harbors freshmen production like these two teams have mounted this season. In fact, no region has more freshmen superstars than the Midwest. Besides Beasley and Walker at K-State and Mayo and Jefferson at USC, there's A.J. Ogilvy at Vanderbilt, [db]Austin Daye at Gonzaga and Austin Freeman at Georgetown.

"It's kind of what college basketball has become," K-State first-year coach Frank Martin said. "It's become real young because all of the really good players are leaving school early to pursue professional opportunities. It's going to be a heck of a matchup and we'll see which group of freshmen is more prepared to take on the challenge."

K-State and USC have four common opponents in Oregon, California, Oklahoma and Kansas. The Wildcats lost to then-No. 17 Oregon, 80-77, in overtime before beating California, 82-75, in Manhattan. The Trojans swept the Ducks (95-86 OT in Eugene and 81-75 at the Galen Center) and split their series against the Golden Bears (a 92-82 loss in Berkeley and a 93-89 OT win at home). K-State split its series against Kansas; USC lost to the Jayhawks, 59-55, on Dec. 2 at home. K-State and USC both beat the Sooners.

What do Kansas, Memphis and UCLA have in common? USC faced all three of the top seeds, losing by four to both Kansas and Memphis within two days at different venues and beating the Bruins, 72-63, on the road on Jan. 19. The Trojans lost their last two against UCLA by 10 and three points. Additionally, Stanford is a No. 3 seed. USC redeemed itself from a six-point loss by beating Stanford by 13 in the final game of the regular season.


No. 6 USC
No. 11 Kansas St
Thurs., 6:20 p.m.
Omaha, Neb.

USC doesn't have a senior on its roster, but three players return from the Sweet 16 team that beat Texas by 19 points in Kevin Durant's final game last season.

"For a young team to go into some of the buildings we've been in and play and have 96 percent of our scoring from freshmen and sophomores is a tribute to their talent," USC coach Tim Floyd told the Los Angeles Times. "They have great talent and they have great heart and have been a very good defensive team all year."

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