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    Saturday, April 20, 2024

    Will Big East freshman of the year race come down to Karaban or Clingan?

    UConn's Alex Karaban (11), Donovan Clingan (32) and Nahiem Alleyne (4) look to the bench for instructions during a game against St. John's on Jan. 15 in Hartford. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
    Butler's Simas Lukosius, right, pressures UConn's Alex Karaban in a game against Butler on Jan. 22 in Hartford. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
    UConn's Donovan Clingan shoots during a game against Marquette on Jan. 11 in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

    Just past the halfway point of the Big East season, there’s a short list of strong contenders for the league’s freshman of the year honors.

    UConn’s Alex Karaban and Donovan Clingan in that group.

    Both first-year players are enjoying productive debut seasons.

    Karaban, 6-foot-8 redshirt freshman, is a reliable contributor at the starting power forward spot while Clingan, a 7-2 center, regularly makes a big splash coming off the bench.

    The Huskies (16-6, 5-6) wouldn’t be where they are without key contributions from both.

    A legitimate case can be made for either player to earn the league’s top freshman award as No. 24 UConn prepares to visit DePaul (9-13, 3-8) at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Wintrust Arena in Chicago.

    Villanova’s Cam Whitmore, the Big East coaches’ preseason pick to win the award, also is a serious contender. St. John’s AJ Storr is starting to enter the picture after winning two of the last three league freshman of the week honors.

    John Fanta, a national college basketball broadcaster and reporter for Fox Sports and host of the Big East Shootaround, believes the race will come down to Karaban or Clingan. He’s a regular on the sidelines at Big East games.

    Fanta offered his insight on Wednesday while at Gampel Pavilion for UConn’s game against Xavier.

    “I think it comes from Connecticut,” Fanta said.

    Let’s take a closer look at Karaban’s and Clingan’s seasons:

    Karaban has been one of UConn’s most consistent players this season.

    He’s started all but one game, averaging 9.9 points and 4.1 rebounds while leading the Huskies in minutes played overall at 28.9. Outside of sophomore Jordan Hawkins, he’s been the team’s best perimeter weapon. He’s scored in double figures in 13 games.

    In Big East action, Karaban is contributing 9.9 points and 4.4 rebounds in 30.5 minutes per game. He ranks second on the team in 3-point field goal percentage (37.3), free throw percentage (84.6) and minutes. He’s limited his mistakes, committing only eight turnovers in 11 league games. And he’s been the only healthy power forward on the roster for most of the season.

    Only one freshman has better scoring and rebounding numbers in Big East play, and that’s Whitmore who’s averaging 12.9 and 5.5, respectively.

    Karaban has won Big East freshman of the week honors four times, two more than anyone else. Clingan, Whitmore and Storr each earned two. Last season, the player with the most weekly honors – Creighton’s Ryan Nembhard – ended up capturing the league’s freshman of the year.

    A former Bristol Central standout, Clingan has posted some impressive numbers in a more limited role than Karaban due to playing behind All-Big East preseason player of the year pick Adama Sanogo.

    Clingan has had some huge games and momentum changing moments. He was named the most valuable player of the Phil Knight Invitational after helping the Huskies win the tournament title. Perhaps his best Big East game came in a loss at Marquette on Jan. 11 when he chipped in 20 points and 10 rebounds in just 21 minutes.

    Overall, Clingan is averaging 8.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and a team-high 1.9 blocks in 13.5 minutes per game. His numbers have dipped in Big East play, contributing 5.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 11.8 minutes. He’s shooting a team-best 63.4 percent. His disruptive presence on defense has been a huge plus.

    If the Big East freshman of the year race comes down to Clingan and Karaban, it would be difficult to pick between the two.

    “I think Donovan Clingan has been the most impactful freshman on a team,” Fanta said. “Between height and the fact that a guy at his size could do what he’s done immediately, it’s been super impressive.

    “If you look at Alex Karaban, there’s a case. He has four Big East freshman of the week honors. He has fit right into their system. What speaks volumes about Alex is, he’s supplied a major team need for this team when they needed a perimeter shooter.

    “So, when you look at the freshman of the year race, to me, it’s not Whitmore because I haven’t seen him do enough to impact winning, whereas Clingan and Karaban have.”

    Of course, there’s still plenty of time for players to continue to build a case. For example, Storr has really come on in recent action, averaging 17.5 points in the last two games to lift his Big East average to 9.1 points.

    Judging from resumes so far, Fanta would give the award to Karaban.

    “Clingan’s size and explosiveness lends people to say he’s the best freshman. But take a look at the full material. It’s nothing against Donovan.To me, Karaban has factored into winning for this team through the entirety of the season.

    “And it’s part of the equation for Donovan that he has to sit down because there’s an All-American on the floor in Sanogo.

    Fanta continued to explain why Karaban is his choice.

    “I’d give it to Karaban for the sake of minutes, reliability, overall production, and consistency throughout the season,” Fanta said. “It’s a season award. It’s not, he had a great game against them so now I’m going to give him the award.

    “It’s fluid. It will be decided upon in the last month. Like it or not, we’ve seen co-award winners, so the coaches might go dead down the middle. But, the freshman of the year has to come from Connecticut because they’ve had the best two freshmen overall.”

    Only five Huskies have previously earned that honor in the Big East, with Rudy Gay (2004-05) the last to accomplish the feat, joining a list that also includes Khalid El-Amin (1997-98), Doron Sheffer (1993-94), Nadav Henefeld (1989-90) and Earl Kelley (1982-83).

    Daniel Hamilton (2014-15) won the top rookie award during UConn’s days in the American Athletic Conference.


    No. 24 UCONN at DEPAUL

    Location: Wintrust Arena, Chicago, Ill.

    Tip: 8 p.m. (FS1)

    Records: UConn 16-6, 5-6; DePaul 9-13, 3-8

    Last game: UConn lost to Xavier, 82-79, Wednesday; DePaul lost to Marquette, 89-69, Saturday

    Probable starters: UConn, 6-5 sr. guard Tristen Newton (9.8 pts, 4 rebs, 4 assists), 6-6 jr. guard Andre Jackson (6 pts, 6 rebs, 4.4 assists), 6-5 so. guard Jordan Hawkins (16.1 pts, 3.9 rebs), 6-8 r-fr. forward Alex Karaban (9.9 pts, 4.1 rebs), 6-9 jr. forward Adama Sanogo (16.9 pts, 7.2 rebs)

    DePaul, 6-1 grad guard Umoja Gibson (16.2 pts, 4.6 assists), 6-7 sr. guard Philmon Gebrewhit (6.9 pts, 6-6 grad forward Eral Penn (9.5 pts, 7.4 rebs), 6-6 grad forward Javan Johnson (14.9 pts, 4.7 rebs), 6-10 grad forward Yor Anei (5.5 pts, 4.3 rebs)

    Noteworthy: UConn trying to shake out of funk, dropping six of its last eight. … DePaul lost four of its last five. … Series: Huskies lead, 15-1, winning 14 straight. Won last season’s meetings 57-50 on the road and 75-68 at home. … Strange recent results for DePaul, which stunned Xavier, 73-72, on Jan. 18 and six days later became the first Big East team to lose to Georgetown (81-76) since March 2021. … Top reserve: 6-8 jr. forward Da’Sean Nelson (10.4 pts, 5.3 rebs). … DePaul one of the worst rebounding teams in the league, owning a minus 8.1 in Big East games. … Blue Demons average 71.5 pts overall, allow 75.6. … Hot: Hawkins is on a tear, averaging 23 points and shooting 52 percent in a four-game stretch. Cold: Jackson shooting 6 for 21 from the field in the last four games, scoring a total of 13 points. … Huskies play three of next four games on the road where they’ve gone 2-4 overall. Blue Demons 7-4 at home. …. Newton has scored in double figures in three straight games for the first time this season. … Defensive breakdowns: Three of UConn’s last five opponents converted at least 50 percent from the field. … Huskies fell five spots in AP top 25. … As of Monday, UConn No. 7 NCAA NET rankings, No. 6 in kenpom ratings. … Up next: UConn visits Georgetown Saturday at noon in Washington, D.C.

    Gavin Keefe

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