Buried amid the hype about the NFL’s conference championship games on Sunday was the juiciest college basketball matchup of the season. A day before the NFL took center stage, two Pac-12 powerhouses rammed heads at Pauley Pavilion as No. 3 UCLA hosted No. 14 Arizona, placing the Bruins’ stud freshman Lonzo Ball in the national spotlight once again. And though Ball had his typical sparkling stat line (24 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds), it was another freshman we should have been paying attention to all along.
Arizona made tidy work of UCLA, downing them 96-85, and the Wildcats’ Finnish 7-foot freshman Lauri Markkanen had his fingerprints all over the victory. He dropped 18 points, 9 from beyond the 3-point arc. He dribble-drove to the basket and threw in a spin move for good measure. And he essentially sealed the Wildcats victory when he corralled an errant pass that had ricocheted off the bottom of the backboard and threw it down for a nasty dunk plus the foul.
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The performance was nothing new from Markkanen, who’s averaging 17.1 points per game this year. But because he plays out West, you might not yet be hip. Pay attention, though, because Markkanen is doing things no 7-foot college basketball player has done before.
Markkanen has made 48 3-pointers on the year, which is already six more than former Wisconsin 7-footer Frank Kaminsky made over his entire senior season. Texas’s Myles Turner hoisted up 62 3-pointers during his one and only season as a Longhorn, making just 17 of them. During Chris Bosh’s one year at Georgia Tech, he only drained 22 3-pointers. Kristaps Porzingis didn’t attend college, but during his final season in the Euroleague, he drilled 42 3’s in 50 games, a number Markkanen has already eclipsed in just 20 games.
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What makes Markkanen so impressive is not just that he’s made more 3’s than any other college big man, but also that he’s shooting them at a ridiculous 50 percent clip. In his final season as Badger, Kaminsky shot 41 percent on a similar number of attempts. Bosh took 46 3’s in college and made 48 percent of them. Markkanen dwarfs other college big men both in number of 3’s taken and in percentage made.
Markkanen’s defense remains a work in progress, but his skill on the offensive side of the ball must have NBA scouts salivating to get their hands on him if he elects to go one-and-done at Arizona. His shooting touch from virtually anywhere on the court creates the type of mismatches that opposing coaches lose sleep over, especially when they have to dedicate a less athletically gifted big man to cover him. I mean, the guy has so much skill with the ball in his hands he makes impossible trick shots seem like layups.
After their win over UCLA, Arizona now sits at No. 7 in the polls. Come NCAA tournament time, the boys from Tucson will have a legitimate shot at winning a championship, and you’re not going to want to take your eyes off the most prolific 3-point shooting big man college hoops has ever seen.