Virginia's Sylven Landesberg is the Best Freshman in the Country

Ben GibsonSenior Analyst IFebruary 26, 2009

Tyreke Evans may have come in with all the hype of being the No. 1 rated recruit and Seth Curry may have had the familiar surname, but Sylven Landesberg is making his case as the best freshman in the country this year.

Landesberg of the Virginia Cavaliers is setting impressive numbers throughout this year, so much so I don't even really have to say anything except looks at the numbers.

Landesberg By The Numbers

First off, Landesberg had his "hello world" moment nice and early scoring 28 points in the first game of his collegiate career, including a few clutch shots to ensure the hapless Virginia Cavaliers would not blow their opener.

28 points is second all-time for an ACC freshman in their debut.  Perhaps even more shocking, he was two rebounds and two assists shy of a triple-double debut!

Landesberg has continued to score effectively throughout his freshman year, he is the seventh leading scorer in the ACC at 18.0 PPG and the leading freshman.  He has twelve games in which he has scored 20 points or more, that's three more than three-time Player of the Year Ralph Sampson had his freshman year.

At this rate, Landesberg will pass Jeff Lamp for the highest scoring average for a freshman in school history.

Landesberg is the second-leading scorer for freshman in the country and the only freshman to lead his team in scoring in 70% of his team's games. 

Seth Curry may be a great shooter, but even he would have trouble in the No. 1 rated conference in the country.  You would expect his numbers to drop but some of Landesberg's best performances came against future NCAA tournament teams.

Landesberg had 20 points against the stingy Duke defense on 8 of 10 shooting at Cameron Indoor.  Most freshman wilt like a flower in the inferno of Cameron Craziness and even though he struggled in the first half with some early fouls, he worked through it to an amazing offensive display.

Against Boston College, Landesberg scored 32 points, tying the highest total ever by a UVA freshman against an ACC opponent.

The last ACC player to score over 30 in a conference game as a freshman?  Tyler Hansbrough against Miami in 2006.

Clearly this solid shooting and consistency has garnered the New Yorker a great deal of credit, including six ACC Rookie of the Week awards.  That puts him behind only Hansbrough and Kenny Anderson in terms of total Rookie of the Week accolades.

Still, all these numbers are ignoring the fact that teams are centering their entire gameplan around stopping him.  Every opponent knows that he is the most (only?) dangerous player on Virginia's roster and even though the formula for stopping him seems easy, few have been able to execute effectively.

Landesberg is an incredible athlete whose speed and size forces some of the best defenders in the country to foul him and that is where he will make you pay.  The swingman has hit 127 of 155 free throws, over 81%. 

More importantly, he has made these shots in big game situations.  It was Landesberg who hit the game-tying shot against Clemson to force overtime and he made several shots in overtime against both the Tigers and Georgia Tech to secure Virginia's first two ACC victories.

As for the Virginia Tech victory, not only did Landesberg make big shots to end Hokie drives in the first half, he was able to distribute the ball by dishing out six assists.

Landesberg is becoming a complete player and silencing those early critics.

The Evolution of Landesberg

Think Landesberg is only a scorer?

In Virginia's last six games, Landesberg has 26 assists, never notching fewer than three per contest.  Evans, by comparison, has had 18 assists in his last six.

This came against five opponents (FSU, Clemson, Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Boston College) that could all potentially make the NCAA tournament by year's end.

He also accomplished this task by playing under control and avoiding turnovers.

While most freshman ball-handlers are torn apart by ACC guards (even Sean Singletary), Landesberg has proven to have a surer hand than even Virginia's true point guards.  In 13 of his 23 games, Landesberg has as many or more assists than he did turnovers in the contest

Landesberg is also the second-leading rebounder on the team with 6.0 RPG, only behind forward Mike Scott. 

In other words, Landesberg means everything to this team and without him, Virginia's despair this season would be even greater.

Sure he is asked to do more than Curry or Evans, but he still has to deliver.  Landesberg has welcomed the opportunity to lead a team and he is still able to do it without hogging the ball or showboating. 

Landesberg is great for all the reasons I mentioned above, but what sets him apart is his willingness and ability to improve.

Ask any expert and they will tell you Landesberg can't hit a jump shot.  Even the Virginia color announcer wondered if Landesberg could jump higher than a piece of paper.

For most of the year Landesberg has not even had to take jump shots because most people cannot stop his dribble penetration.  Nevertheless, he has clearly become more comfortable shooting from away the basket. 

Landesberg has hit five three pointers in his last six games after hitting only seven in his first 17.  It's not like he takes that many long-range shots, but just proving that he can hit forces defenses to play him a little tighter around the perimeter.

Landesberg has also done a good job of utilizing the players around him and getting them involved so he can have some space to spread the court and attack the basket.

Against Virginia Tech, he was able to feed Assane Sene for two mammoth dunks that brought the crowd to its feet and sucked the wind out of the reeling Hokies.

Landesberg shows flashes of not just talent but greatness.  He carries that charisma and swagger of a great player, but still shows the hunger of a young kid ready to prove something to the world.

As North Carolina coach Roy Williams put it:

“He’s going to be a complete player, there’s no question about that," Williams said.

Let's face it, with the game on the line it would be great to have Liberty's Seth Curry and Memphis's Tyreke Evans, but I would still take Landesberg every time.

So if you don't believe me, don't worry because you will.

Landesberg will make sure of that.


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