Khem Birch and the 10 Biggest Freshman Busts of 2012

Scott HenryFeatured ColumnistFebruary 13, 2012

Khem Birch and the 10 Biggest Freshman Busts of 2012

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    In the one-and-done era, where the top high school prospects are forced to make a college decision rather than leap directly to the NBA, every season boasts several freshmen who make instant positive impacts.

    Other heralded freshmen arrive at their school and suffer, unable to fit in on their campus or on the court. McDonald's All-American designations and Top 100 rankings can become heavy burdens on players who may not be ready for a team-oriented college concept.

    Some sink quietly to the end of the bench. Some stagger from headline to headline, making news for anything other than their play. And some simply throw noisy tantrums and leave for other pastures.

    These 10 players were expected to emerge as positive contributors, if not stars, during the 2011-12 college basketball season. For a variety of reasons, they've either been invisible or downright destructive to their teams.

10. Mike Shaw, Illinois

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    When Shaw committed to the Illini, he was a Top 10 power forward prospect, expected to be an inside-out prospect with all-around skills. While not a dominant scorer in high school—averaging 14.5 points per game as a senior—analysts praised his ability to rebound, defend and do the little things for his team's cause.

    Shaw joined a recruiting class that featured fellow bigs Nnanna Egwu and Ibby Djimde, one expected to provide some size to supplement seven-footer Meyers Leonard.

    He saw solid minutes in his first three college games, ripping down seven rebounds in 21 minutes against Lipscomb. His high point of the season came in a 90-43 blowout of Chicago State, in which Shaw produced seven points and six rebounds, primarily in that game's extensive garbage time.

    Since that game, Shaw has scored seven points total in only 47 minutes. He can be counted on for a couple of rebounds per night, and his 24.4 defensive rebound percentage would place in the top 40 nationally if he qualified.

    Still, Bruce Weber would rather trot out Leonard and four guards than let Shaw flex his rebounding muscle. His 14 fouls against 16 points likely have something to do with that.

9. Angelo Chol, Arizona

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    Multiple analysts ranked Arizona's recruiting class in the top five nationally, and the production of those freshmen was expected to be integral to the Cats' hopes this season.

    Angelo Chol's rebounding and shot blocking were highly valued by schools like North Carolina and Kansas, but when he committed to Arizona, his prospects for immediate playing time soared.

    Chol carded 12 points and 13 rebounds in his first two college games, but since then, his season has been marred by a difficult relationship with the men in stripes. Chol has struggled through 15 games this season in which he committed more than six fouls per 40 minutes. For the season, Chol has recorded 7.2 fouls per 40, or a foul for every 5.6 minutes played.

    While it's Chol's aggressiveness and muscle that earned him his scholarship, he'll need to rein them in to keep himself on the court. Otherwise, he'll never achieve the lofty billing that preceded him to Tucson.

8. Amir Williams, Ohio State

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    Like Angelo Chol, Amir Williams can change the game with his shot blocking. Four swats in eight minutes against Virginia Military Institute were later followed by three more in eight minutes against Penn State. His 13.9 block percentage would rank in the top 10 nationwide.

    Unfortunately for Williams, he has run afoul of Thad Matta's infamous shrinking bench. Since Big 10 play began, Williams has averaged fewer than six minutes per game, with four DNP's out of 12 possible games.

    Coming into the season, it was hoped that Williams and classmate Trey McDonald could tag team at the center position and allow Jared Sullinger to play more of a classic power forward. At the very least, the duo could have given Sully the occasional breather. With Sullinger playing 40 minutes in two of OSU's last three games, even that plan has fallen through.

    Williams was a McDonald's All-American, but he carried to college a reputation for inconsistent energy and effort. Living up to that reputation will earn a player nothing but frequent flyer miles in Thad Matta's short rotation. Perhaps if Sullinger heads to the NBA, Buckeye fans will see a lot more of Amir Williams' strengths next season.

7. Josiah Turner, Arizona

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    Perhaps it's uncharitable to call a player averaging almost seven points, three rebounds and 2.5 assists per game a bust as a freshman.

    Still, a lot more was expected from Arizona's Josiah Turner this season. Most recruiting services listed him as one of America's Top 10 prospects. Lindy's chose him as the preseason Pac-12 Newcomer of the Year. He started Arizona's season opener against Valparaiso.

    Before the second game, Turner was late for a shootaround and pulled from the starting lineup against Duquesne. He was benched for the entirety of the Cats' next game, a win over Ball State. He missed a practice in December and got left home from a trip to Gainesville to play Florida.

    Since returning to the starting lineup in January, Turner has had his flashes. Nine points and six rebounds against UCLA. Nine points, five rebounds and three assists in a loss to Colorado. Seven rebounds against Stanford and seven assists (with no turnovers) against Utah. Still, he's yet to have a true breakout game that shows the brilliance that his billing promised.

    Turner's shooting has been erratic, making only 41 percent of his field goals, 23 percent from three-point range and 63 percent from the free throw line.

    If the Wildcats are going to survive the bubble and make another NCAA Tournament appearance, they'll need to be able to rely on Turner to make a few more shots, keep taking care of the ball and at the very least, show up on time.

6. Zach Price, Louisville

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    Much like Amir Williams at Ohio State, Zach Price was a highly rated prospect, recruited to Louisville as insurance for a promising sophomore big man. Aside from Gorgui Dieng, Rick Pitino's Cardinals had a serious lack of size.

    Fast forward to February—aside from Gorgui Dieng, Rick Pitino's Cardinals still have a serious lack of size. With Rakeem Buckles suffering a serious injury for the second straight season and workmanlike reserve Stephan Van Treese being lost in November, it stands to reason that Pitino would begin leaning heavily on Price to spell Dieng in case of foul trouble.

    As it turns out, not so much. After fouling out in 15 minutes against Fairleigh Dickinson in December (albeit with six points and five rebounds, both still career highs), Price wasn't seen again for over a month.

    Dieng's status for the February 6 game against Connecticut was originally questionable after he injured his ankle against Rutgers. Pitino claimed to be unafraid to put Price in crucial game situations but still made a point to say that Price wasn't entirely prepared.

    Price has played in only 11 of the Cardinals' 25 games, accounting for a grand total of 66 minutes. Meanwhile, Pitino has occasionally employed a four-guard lineup with 6'8" Jared Swopshire or 6'7" Chane Behanan as the big man in residence.

5. Jamal Branch, Texas A&M

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    Jamal Branch was a Top-10 point guard prospect, a product of Arlington who was staying in state to play for Texas A&M. A noted defender, Branch was averaging more than 18 minutes per game in relief of Aggie starter Dash Harris.

    A team already struggling through injuries to star forward Khris Middleton and coach Billy Kennedy's ongoing battle with Parkinson's disease got off to an 8-3 start. Still, the Aggies didn't quite look like the team that was figuring in some preseason Top 25 polls.

    Branch deciding to transfer in December didn't help. The Aggies were left with no real backup to Harris, and when he suffered a foot injury in January, options were thin. Shooting guard Elston Turner and walk-on Alex Baird have been forced to man the point, a position that Branch could have made his own.

    Branch averaged 4.2 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists in his 11 games with the Aggies. He scored 10 points against Mississippi State and followed that up with seven points and five rebounds against St. John's. Perhaps he made some friends in that game, because St. John's was his chosen transfer destination.

4. DeAndre Daniels, Connecticut

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    Kentucky, Florida, Kansas and Duke were some of the schools pursuing DeAndre Daniels. The lanky IMG Academy product came in with an elite scorer's reputation. Three games into his college career, the reputation looked like it was going to be warranted.

    Daniels poured in 11 points against Wagner and 15 against Maine. He has not scored more than six since. In fact, his games have become more similar to his cameo appearances against West Virginia, Tennessee and Seton Hall, in which he played a total of 10 minutes.

    In UConn's last nine games, Daniels has played a total of 65 minutes, scoring nine points on 4-of-14 shooting from the floor, missing all seven of his three-point shots.

    Daniels' season may have reached its lowest point with his "Did Not Play - Coach's Decision" evening last weekend against Syracuse. Jim Calhoun let Daniels fall out of his rotation, and the freshman's playing time has gotten no better under associate head coach George Blaney.

3. Sidiki Johnson, Arizona

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    Bronx product Sidiki Johnson was expected to team with Angelo Chol to do the kind of rugged inside work that seven-footer Kyryl Natyazhko was unable to do.

    That expectation fell through almost immediately, as Wildcat coach Sean Miller had Johnson out of his rotation even before the season began. Johnson saw extremely limited action in Arizona's first four games, contributing one point and two rebounds in seven minutes.

    Perhaps befitting of a player who bounced through four high schools, Johnson's solution was to bolt from Tucson rather than play his way back into the coach's plans. At the end of January, Johnson made the decision to make Providence College his next home.

    A team that has been forced to play undersized Jesse Perry and Solomon Hill in the post may have had a use for Johnson by now. Of course, Chol hasn't seen extensive time, either, so perhaps Johnson knew when he was beaten.

2. Jabari Brown, Oregon

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    Sidiki Johnson bailed after four games in which he almost never saw the court. What, then, are we to make of Jabari Brown, who needed only two games to decide that Oregon wasn't the place for him?

    Brown came in as a top-20 recruit, having turned down UConn and being expected to show critics that Dana Altman could reel in an elite prospect. Brown started the Ducks' first two games, playing a total of 51 minutes.

    Those minutes weren't without incident, producing 11 turnovers and 3-11 shooting. Still, Brown was getting the time to play himself into shape. After he left, Altman alluded to concussions and a knee injury that had hindered his practice time.

    Like Johnson, Brown had a history of hopping from high school to high school, so his game of musical colleges shouldn't come as a terribly large surprise. He's headed to Missouri, where he'll join fellow transfers Keion Bell (Pepperdine), Earnest Ross (Auburn) and Danny Feldman (Columbia) in an effort to reload Frank Haith's cupboard. In an ideal world, he'll fit better into Haith's team concept than he did into Altman's.

1. Khem Birch, Pittsburgh

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    Pitt coach Jamie Dixon doesn't make a habit of starting freshmen. Khem Birch was only the third to crack his lineup in nine seasons on the Panther bench.

    Birch, for his part, was beginning to justify his coach's faith early on. In his first two starts, back-to-back wins over Penn and Robert Morris, Birch produced 23 points, 21 rebounds and nine blocks. Still, Birch wasn't keen on playing center, preferring the power forward position.

    Unfortunately for him, Pitt boasts three-year starter Nasir Robinson at the four. Plus, even though he was still the nominal starting center, Birch lost playing time to junior Dante Taylor, whose migraine on the day of the Penn game allowed Birch to get his big break.

    So, much like some of his fellow freshman transfers, Birch's decision was to bolt. Like Sidiki Johnson and Jabari Brown, Birch played his high school ball in three different places, making him somewhat of a mercenary before he even got to Pitt.

    On the way out, Birch was not shy about blasting his ex-teammates as selfish and Dixon's system as slow-paced. He's headed to UNLV, where he'll be the first McDonald's All-American since Larry Johnson.

    UNLV has boasted a 6-9 Montreal native more recently, that being Joel Anthony. Anthony left Vegas second on the school's all-time blocked shot list, and is now in his fifth season with the Miami Heat. Undoubtedly, Birch sees something grander in his future.