Most college basketball fans have taken notice of Julius Randle and his hot start for the Kentucky Wildcats. However, it is important to realize that this is not a fluke, and he will remain one of the top players in basketball all year long.
The power forward entered the season as Kentucky's highest rated recruit on what was considered one of the best freshman classes in school history. According to 247 Sports' Composite Rankings, he was the No. 2 player in the country in a group that featured four top-10 players.
However, if you were to ask which freshman would have the best chance of being named the Player of the Year, most would likely say No. 1 prospect Andrew Wiggins. He was the player chosen to the AP All-American team, and he is the one projected to be the top pick in the 2014 NBA draft, according to Chad Ford of ESPN.
Based on their roles within their teams, experts would have likely picked Jabari Parker and even Aaron Gordon over Randle for this spot.
However, the Kentucky big man has blown them all out of the water with an average of 19.8 points and 13.7 rebounds per game to start the year. He has earned a double-double in every game, and only Roscoe Smith of UNLV has averaged more boards per game.
The question, of course, is whether Randle can keep it up all season long. The truth is that he can get even better.
Despite the elite prospects that Kentucky brought in and the supporting cast carried over from last year, the squad has not provided Randle with a lot of help this season. Despite the fact that the Wildcats are the No. 3 team in the country, most of the other players have struggled with consistency.
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Probably the biggest problem to this point is three-point shooting, where the team is only hitting 30.5 percent of shots. Only Andrew Harrison has even been adequate from behind the arc.
As a result, defenses are crashing in on the 6'9" forward and giving him little space to work around the basket. The good news is that he is still strong, athletic and as skillful as anyone in the country, and this allows him to still remain efficient.
Even when he struggles from the field—like he did against Cleveland State when he went 3-for-10—he still managed to score 15 points by getting fouled and knocking down shots at the line.
Of course, you can expect things to clear up when guys like Aaron Harrison and James Young start reaching their ability and begin hitting outside shots. This will create more single coverage for Randle, and he will win those battles almost every time.
Looking forward over the course of the season, there are not too many players capable of even slowing down the dominant player.
In the nonconference season, he will go up against Baylor's Cory Jefferson, North Carolina's James Michael McAdoo and Louisville's Montrezl Harrell. In the SEC, he will battle Patric Young of Florida and Johnny O'Bryant of LSU.
While these will all give Randle a big stage to challenge himself, none of these players can match him in the post. The Texas native has a nonstop motor that will give him the advantage on the boards, and his ability to score consistently from inside of 10 feet should keep up his scoring.
According to Kyle Tucker of the Courier-Journal, Randle's teammate was one of many that believe he will keep up his current level of production:
Andrew Harrison on Julius Randle: "Well, I'm going to sit here and say he will get a double-double in every game."— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_CJ) November 26, 2013
If these numbers remain by the end of the year, it is hard to argue against Randle being the Player of the Year. While big-time players like Marcus Smart and Doug McDermott are scoring a lot this season, they have not showcased the weekly dominance of Randle.
The fact that Kentucky should remain in the top five throughout the year will also help contribute to his candidacy.
There are clearly a myriad of excellent candidates for the top individual award in college basketball. However, Randle should continue to show that he is one of the best in the country all the way through March Madness.
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