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UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, Washington’s Markelle Fultz put on a freshman show

ANAHEIM, CA - NOVEMBER 27: UCLA guard Lonzo Ball (2) drives to the basket during an NCAA basketball game in the Wooden Legacy Championship Game between the UCLA Bruins and the Texas A&M Aggies on November 27, 2016, at the Honda Center in Anaheim, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)
Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire

Freshmen are the most interesting players in college basketball. To most, they are the next wave of players who will find themselves leading an NBA franchise next season. To others, they’re unknown players who add something new to the sport, if only for a year. This year, UCLA’s Lonzo Ball and Washington’s Markelle Fultz have taken the lead in freshman hype.

Unlike last season, this year’s freshman class has hype not centered on just one player. For example, while Ball and Fultz have been great, nobody’s overvaluing empty stats to this point. Rather than looking at the numbers and jumping to wild conclusions, we’re taking them in stride and looking at all parts of the game, which is wonderful.

Ball has been accumulating freshmen hype since the start of the season, and for good reason. Not only is Ball putting up Wooden Award-worthy numbers, the UCLA Bruins are also winning. He’s also excelling unselfishly. Ball isn’t trying to pad his stats to prove he’s the best player on the floor for his #brand, he’s doing it in hopes of leading the Bruins to a win.

Fultz is also putting up incredible numbers, but the Washington Huskies aren’t incredibly successful right now. Through seven games, the Huskies are 4-3 with losses to Yale and TCU (twice against the Horned Frogs). Fultz entered Wednesday night’s TCU game averaging 23 points, 6.7 assists and 5.5 rebounds. He’s the reason Washington doesn’t have more losses on its schedule.

To this point, both Ball and Fultz are making the case to the be the top pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, but that’s not why we’re here. We’re here because they have asserted themselves as two of the most interesting and talented players in the country. They both happen to play point guard for Pac-12 programs.

What a time to be alive.

Not only do Ball and Fultz make their non-conference games feel exciting, it’s going to add to the Pac-12 schedule of must-see games for college basketball junkies. Let’s face it, the Pac-12 gets a bad rap because of its timing for most basketball fans. The games are late and the Pac-12 Network isn’t exactly easy to access, but with Ball and Fultz, fans will be clamoring to see those games even more.

Comparing the two players at this point is hard to do, mostly because of the teams they play for. Ball is leading UCLA, a talent-filled team with the potential to reach the Final Four. Fultz is leading Washington, a team that hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament in years and whose coach, Lorenzo Romar, may be out of a job if U-Dub fails to get there again in 2017.

Their numbers are very similar, with Fultz having the edge in points and Ball having the edge in assists. Both have the ability to create offense, can shoot the three and enjoy mixing it up in the paint on offense. There really isn’t a way to pick one over the other at this point, though luckily we don’t have to. We get to enjoy them for what they are. NBA folks must face the either-or argument.

Enjoy these two while you can, because they probably won’t be in college longer than a year. Ball is the one who could stick around more than a year, but it’d be surprising to see him in a Bruins uniform next season.

For now, take these two players and enjoy what they’re able to do. Two high-scoring, playmaking point guards in the same conference are a great thing, especially for a conference trying to continue its success from a season ago. Ball and Fultz are putting on a show and it’s been spectacular.

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