The Coleumn: Why Alex Karaban will win Big East Freshman of the Year 

Feb 7, 2023; Photo by @uconnmbb on Instagram; Alex Karaban earns his fifth Big East Freshman of the Week Award

Earlier this week, UConn men’s basketball forward Alex Karaban won Big East Freshman of the Week for the fifth time this season. Through 13 weeks, he makes up for more than half of the Huskies’ weekly Big East awards outside of the honor roll. Those five weekly awards, although seen as a 200-meter sprint in the marathon of the college basketball season, should be enough to put Karaban in line to win Big East Freshman of the Year and make him the first UConn player to do so since Rudy Gay in 2005. 

Karaban has played a pivotal role for the Huskies this season, one where they started unranked and were ranked as high as No. 2 in the AP poll. Karaban scored 13 points with two 3s off the bench in 29 minutes against the Stonehill Skyhawks to open the season, but Samson Johnson broke his foot during the contest and ended up missing the team’s next 19 games.  

Since being named a starter against the Boston University Terriers three days after that game, Karaban has thrived in a starting role and made the most of the opportunity of the chance he was given. 

Through 25 games, Karaban is averaging 9.8 points at a 46.9% clip with 4.1 rebounds. Out of those 25 games, he has made at least one 3-pointer in all but three of them and made two or more 3-pointers on 19 different occasions. Karaban’s best performance came in the nonconference finale against the LIU Sharks — a blowout win where he scored a career-high 19 points and grabbed eight rebounds in 21 minutes. 

Not even the tough and physical opponents going up against him in the Big East conference have slowed him down. Although he has not won Big East Player of the Week, Karaban is averaging 9.8 PPG and 4.3 RPG with 28 3-pointers and 25 assists through 14 conference games. Out of those games, Karaban has scored in double figures in half of them and has grabbed at least three rebounds in all but one game. 

The primary reason Karaban has been successful is because he enrolled at UConn last spring after graduating early from IMG Academy. Although he did not play in the second half of the Huskies’ 2021-22 season, he practiced with the team and travelled to all their road games, which included trips to the Cintas Center and CHI Health Center as well as the Big East Tournament. Watching veterans such as Tyrese Martin, Isaiah Whaley and RJ Cole play their game as well as experiencing the different atmospheres has allowed the redshirt freshman to be a significant scorer from all over the court. 

In a class where eight of the top 100 recruits committed to Big East schools according to 247 sports, two freshmen have the best shot at taking home the conference award over Karaban. It should surprise no one that the candidates were the two highest-ranked recruits in the 2022 class. 

UConn beats Villanova 74 to 66 at the XL Center. This now makes UConn’s record 14-0 as they prepare to face Xavier on Saturday, December 31st at Xavier University.

The first is Big East Preseason Freshman of the Year Cam Whitmore, the Villanova Wildcats’ second-highest ranked recruit in program history and the 13th-ranked recruit in his class. Even though he missed the first seven games of the season, Whitmore has been a major focal point of the Wildcats’ offense in what is considered a down year for the organization. In 16 games and 10 starts, Whitmore is averaging 12.3 PPG and 5.4 RPG while shooting 46.3% from the field in 26.4 minutes. Without his injury, the projected lottery pick and two-time Freshman of the Week would easily win the award. 

The second is Donovan Clingan, the local product out of Bristol Central High School and 56th-ranked in his class who received offers from several Power Five programs. Clingan, the Phil Knight Invitational Tournament MVP and two-time Freshman of the Week, has thrived as the big man off the bench with 7.6 PPG (more than starter Andre Jackson) and 6.1 RPG at a 68.4% clip. His 48 total blocks are tied for the conference lead with Ryan Kalkbrenner, Akok Akok and KC Ndefo heading into Wednesday’s Big East slate even though his 1.9 rejections per game ranks fifth in the conference. 

While both Clingan and Whitmore received a lot of hype coming out of high school, the former a two-time Gatorade Connecticut State Player of the Year, Karaban has been a consistent force in the lineup regardless of the team’s results. He might not put up high-scoring performances, similar to Jordan Hawkins or produce double-doubles like Adama Sanogo, but he can bury shots from all over the court and is a force on the defensive end.  

Despite being the presumptive favorite for Big East Freshman of the Year, Karaban will most likely not win the Wayman Tisdale Award as the most outstanding freshman or the NABC Freshman of the Year Award. Jabari Smith Jr. and Cade Cunningham won those awards over the last two years, and they both got selected as top two picks in the NBA draft. If Karaban won either award, he would be a top five pick in the 2023 draft. 

That said, signs are pointing toward him returning for the 2023-24 season, and it will provide many benefits for UConn as one of their best recruiting classes in program history arrives on campus. One of those benefits will be Karaban’s leadership and experience in a starting role, which will help the new recruits blossom into big-time stars within weeks. 

The Huskies have six games left in their regular season, and Karaban will have a big role to play in terms of where the team finishes in the standings. Especially after a 13-point performance against the 10th-ranked Marquette Golden Eagles on Tuesday, I would not be surprised if he gets named Freshman of the Week again before the season is over and it culminates into Big East Freshman of the Year honors. 

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