Indiana's Romeo Langford and North Carolina's Nassir Little are two of college basketball's most promising freshman wings. We dove into the numbers and the game tape to break down their skill sets and find out just what it is that separates them from the pack.
Let's dive into the numbers first.
Romeo Langford and Nassir Little's stats
Langford has gaudier per game numbers, but that's mostly because of his sizable edge in minutes. Here are their averages:
But the per 40 minute numbers tell a different story:
Now, it's fair to debate why Little averages less than 20 minutes per game, and we'll get into that later. Credit to Langford for fully earning Archie Miller's trust; that has to matter. Both guys have been productive, but Little has been more efficient and better on a per-minute basis.
It would be interesting to see if Little would maintain those stats with more playing time. We don't know the answer to that. Langford's larger sample size gives him a slight edge, for now.
The Nassir Little College Experience summed up in one clip thus far: he's caught out of position on this defensive possession. But he's so athletic that his effort allows him to make up a ton of ground to block this 3-point attempt anyway:
This is the best thing Little has going for him. He reminds you of former Kansas star Josh Jackson, who was a springy leaper with elite end-to-end speed. The difference: Little is built sturdier (6-6, 220 pounds) and can take on more defensive assignments. He'll get caught straying from the scheme too often, but he's an outstanding one-on-one defender based on his physical attributes and high effort level.
He can also do stuff like this. Little's explosiveness can impact a game on both ends:
Langford is a good athlete, too, but he's not on Little's level. And overall, that's OK. He's got more craft and wiggle in his arsenal, as we'll see below in the scoring section.
But Little is clearly the more dynamic athlete.
Langford has a little James Harden to his game. As we mentioned before, he's outstanding at getting to the free-throw line and is an awesome slasher in general. Considering his early 3-point struggles, it's remarkable Langford is able to break down defenders as consistently as he does.
This is the kind of stuff Langford does regularly. Watch as he goes coast-to-coast, hits his defender with a sweet hesitation dribble and gets the and-one:
Langford is a chore to stop when he's in the paint. He's making a ridiculous 60.8 percent of his 2-pointers this season, and he's not a big man just dunking putbacks. Langford has excellent touch around the rim and is an expert at drawing contact.
This is a bad shot for most players. But Langford has proven he can make it over and over:
Little does his scoring a little differently. He's a power player, and a total nightmare in transition. But he doesn't have the pick-and-roll craft of Langford. Little doesn't always need it, though, considering how often he's able to put himself into position to dunk or finish easy lay-ins.
Little has a developed a knack for cutting; he'll catch his defender falling asleep, and all he needs is a crease to do serious damage. Like here:
It depends on your preference. The numbers say these guys are similar in terms of scoring capability, but Langford is more advanced on that end and consistently able to create better shots for himself and others.
The biggest weakness in both of their games. Little is shooting 25 percent from 3, while Langford is at 22 percent.
Langford looks more comfortable launching from deep, and their mechanics are fine. But Langford's 3-point struggles have translated to the free-throw line: he's shooting 67.6 percent from there, which isn't bad, but not to the level you'd like for someone who gets there a whopping 8.1 times per game. Langford could approach 20 points per game if he became an ace free-throw shooter.
Little is more comfortable at the line. He's shooting 76.9 percent from there on 5.2 attempts per game. A slightly bold prediction: these guys will both approach 30 percent from deep by the time the season ends. They're better shooters than they've shown.
Slight edge: Little
Both guys could improve here, but Little simply hasn't shown a consistent ability to make plays for others yet. He's only averaging 0.6 assists per game, and his shot selection is likely part of the reason he doesn't play more. Considering how efficient Little is, that feels nitpicky. But he should be averaging at least an assist per game.
Langford is averaging 2.5 per game. He has a score-first mentality, and considering how dangerous he is from inside the 3-point line, that's fair. But every once in a while, Langford will fire a pass that will make you wonder if he cold average something like four assists per game.
This is something to monitor with both of them going forward. But Langford has displayed more advanced vision thus far.
This is where Little shines, and frankly, where North Carolina could use him the most.
Sure, he has a tendency to overplay passing lanes and lose his guy off the ball. But he's such a good athlete who plays with such a high motor that he's a big plus on that end. Little blocks these two shots against Wofford with ease, and spoiler alert: most college basketball players wouldn't sniff either of them:
Little is capable of guarding multiple positions well. He's got the speed to stay in front of ball-handlers and the girth to stonewall foes in the post.
Langford doesn't make the highlight reel plays Little does, but he's passable on that end. Indiana is slightly worse defensively when he's on the floor, statistically, but he obviously makes up for it with his offense. At 6-6, 215 pounds, Langford can also guard a variety of players. But he just won't wow you like Little does.
Right now, the answer is Langford by a hair. He's just a more consistent night-to-night performer at this stage, and he's the No. 1 offensive option on a good Indiana team. That's more than we can say for Little.
But Little has the tools to become the better player based on his high-end athleticism and burgeoning skillset. These guys are both intriguing and v talented, and perhaps Williams will unleash Little a bit more in the second half of the season. Regardless, both of these freshmen will play big roles in March.