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Wayne Cavadi | NCAA.com | January 14, 2019

DII men's basketball: Keep an eye on these 7 impact freshmen as March approaches

Walsh Athletics JT Shumate hopes Walsh can get to the DII men's basketball tournament.

The DII men’s basketball season continues to march forward to the NCAA tournament. These seven freshmen have made a big impact thus far and will help their teams play deep into March if they keep it up.

Keep in mind this isn’t listing the best freshmen in DII basketball, although some of these names are certainly in the conversation. Instead, it is a look at the freshmen making their presence felt on teams that are pushing for the NCAA tournament. 

LESSONS LEARNED:  Here's what we know after the first half of the season | Stat leaders

Trevor Hudgins, Northwest Missouri State

The Bearcats lost three big-time scorers after last season, but have shown no ill effects thus far, sitting at 16-0 on the season. That’s in large part thanks to their redshirt-freshman guard who is scoring 18.4 points per game and is leading the MIAA with 6.2 assists per game. Hudgins went through a quick rough patch, shooting 28 percent over a two-game stretch in early January while only scoring 17 combined points, but looks right back on track. The Bearcats have a solid starting five, and as long as Hudgins is running the floor, they are in good hands.

JT Shumate, Walsh

Walsh is in third place in the G-MAC, sitting at 10-6 overall, so the opportunity of playing in March is certainly still in the cards. The freshman forward is leading the way for the Cavaliers. Shumate is scoring a team-best 18.9 points and ripping down 6.2 rebounds a game. The Cavaliers have a win over second-place Hillsdale and lost to conference-leading Findlay by one point, a game in which Shumate scored a game-high 26 points. He and the Cavaliers have shown they can hang with anyone and look like a team to watch down the stretch in the G-MAC.

Qua Grant and Joel Murray, West Texas A&M

The Buffs are 16-3 and a top 25 team and have done so with two freshmen in the starting lineup for the bulk of the season. Playing alongside three seniors has certainly helped, but the impact both Grant and Murray have made can’t be ignored. The 5-11 Murray leads the team in steals (29) while scoring 11.4 points per game and dishing out the second most assists on the team. Grant is scoring 11.9 points per game and pulling down 4.1 rebounds a night. This was a 2018 semifinals team, and if this dynamic duo keeps it up, it gives the Buffs some depth to make another run.

MORE: Track the remaining DII men's basketball undefeated teams

Parker Fox, Northern State

The 2018 national runners-up have the best record in the NSIC at 9-1 behind the conference’s top scoring defense. Fox, a 6-8 redshirt-freshman, has been huge coming off the bench, contributing 10.8 points per game and a team-best 20 blocks. Fox has been particularly hot of late, averaging 13.4 points and 8.0 rebounds per game over his last five, setting and then re-setting his career-high in points, now at 21. Like last year, the Wolves don’t have a dominant scorer amongst the DII men’s basketball ranks, but everyone who plays seemingly contributes solid minutes. Fox has shown the same in his debut season.

Gavin Baumgartner, MSU Moorhead

Staying in the NSIC, we go from the top scoring defense to the top scoring offense. Baumgartner leads the charge for the Dragons, scoring 15.7 points per game on 57.3 percent shooting, third-best amongst all freshman. His game is as balanced as it comes, also leading the team in steals and rebounds while averaging 2.3 assists per game as well. The Dragons last made the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament in 2014-15, and Baumgartner is hoping his presence in the paint changes that. 

Kailex Stephens, Francis Marion

The Patriots are the top scoring team in the Peach Belt, scoring 94.6 points per game. They are coming off of a big 99-92 win over No. 5 USC Aiken ending the Pacers undefeated start. Stephens has been a factor the whole season, averaging 15.5 points per game, third-best on the team. The 6-7 forward has been big on the glass as well, averaging 7.3 rebounds. Coming off the big upset, it will be interesting to see how the Patriots handle the second run through the PBC. If Stephens can help contribute to the high-scoring attack, they could find themselves on top come March.

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