Forget the seniors, juniors and even the diaper-dandy freshmen. The three impact players in college basketball this season are sophomores.
Everyone has heard of two of them -- Louisiana State's 7-foot-2 center Shaquille O'Neal and Georgia Tech point guard Kenny Anderson -- but the third, 6-6 swingman Jim Jackson from Ohio State, may have the best overall game of the three. Yet he has received the least attention.
Jackson, who contributed 20 points to fourth-ranked Ohio State's 93-85 victory over third-ranked Indiana Monday in Bloomington, has been the catalyst behind the Buckeyes' surprising 16-0 start, scoring 19.5 points per game, fifth best in the Big Ten. He's shooting 60 percent from the floor, good for third in the league.
In addition, Jackson leads the Big Ten in steals and is third in assists. He took over the club in the second half Monday as Ohio State, which had won only once in Assembly Hall during the last 20 years, watched a 20-point lead crumble to three late in the game.
"I think Jimmy's right there with the other sophomores," said Ohio State coach Randy Ayers. "The thing about Jackson is that he's a talented player, he works hard and he's very team-oriented. His numbers may not be what they should be, but he's a great player for us."
Meanwhile, Anderson is having a great year, by the numbers, at least. In back-to-back games against Georgia and Loyola Marymount, he scored 40 and 50 points, respectively, and is currently just behind North Carolina State's Rodney Monroe for scoring honors in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The trouble is, Anderson doesn't want to be there. With Dennis Scott and Brian Oliver to pass to on the wings, the wunderkind led the ACC in assists last season as a freshman. This year, without Scott and Oliver, Anderson is fourth in assists and he doesn't like it.
Anderson's coach, Bobby Cremins, can sympathize with his star guard's complaints.
"The thing with Kenny Anderson is that last year, the leadership was taken care of by Brian Oliver and Dennis Scott," said Cremins. "This year, he's got to do the leadership, the scoring and the playmaking."
The news, however, is all good out of Baton Rouge, where O'Neal is running rampant all over the Southeastern Conference. He owns seven of the league's top 10 scoring performances this season and all of the SEC's top five rebounding games.
The departure of former fellow post mate Stanley Roberts for a pro career in Europe and guard Chris Jackson for the NBA has made O'Neal the focus of the Tigers' attack, both on offense and on defense.
"He's the most dominant player we've ever had in this league," said Hugh Durham of Georgia. "The thing I like about him is defense. He makes it easier for them to play defense."
"[LSU coach Dale Brown] will ask those guys, 'Can you stay with your man from 22 feet down to 10 feet?' " said Durham. "They'll say, 'But coach, what about 10 feet in?' And he'll say, 'Don't worry about that. Shack will take care of that.' "
* JUST A SUGGESTION: The new rule that awards a team two foul shots after the offending team has committed nine fouls in a half is a good idea that punishes teams that try to foul to stop the clock.
But it should only be used in the second half. There's no need to drag out the first half with a procession of free throw shooting. No one's trying to stop the clock in the first half.
* LET'S PLAY TWO: The ACC has rescheduled the North Carolina-N.C. State game at Chapel Hill that was postponed last week at the outbreak of the Persian Gulf war. It will be played Feb. 7, one night after the teams are to meet in Raleigh.
The date was the only one that was agreeable to both sides and wouldn't leave both teams at a competitive disadvantage against the rest of the league. As it is, the Tar Heels will now play games on Wednesday, Thursday and a Saturday home game against Virginia that week, while the Wolfpack will be forced into service on Wednesday, Thursday and a Sunday road game at Clemson.
"They do that [back-to-back games] in the pros, but they haven't done that in college," said North Carolina's Dean Smith. "We've had a game rained out and now we have a two-game series like in baseball."
* FEARLESS REDUX: Undaunted by an 0-2 start, your friendly neighborhood Fearless Prognosticator is going to lay two predictions, short- and long-range, this week.
First, the Nebraska Cornhuskers will do in basketball this Saturday what they haven't done in football in eons. Namely, they'll beat Oklahoma on the road.
Finally, mark it down: UNLV won't lose a single game this year. Not to Arkansas next month and not in the NCAA tournament.