Marner: Wigginton’s freshman season unlike any other in Iowa State history

Aaron Marner, assistant sports editor 2017-18

Aaron Marner

Iowa State doesn’t have an incredible history with highly-rated recruits.

Craig Brackins was a top-25 recruit 10 years ago, and he lived up to the hype. His 33 points against Baylor as a freshman is still the single-game Iowa State freshman record, and he was picked No. 21 in the NBA Draft after his junior year.

About 10 years before Brackins, Marcus Fizer was the first — and only — McDonald’s All-American to come to Iowa State. And of course, he lived up to his billing as well. Fizer led Iowa State to its best season ever, grabbing a 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament and making the Elite Eight in 2000. He was picked fourth overall in the NBA Draft after his junior season.

And when Lindell Wigginton stepped on campus, he had those same expectations placed upon Fizer and Brackins.

“I just want to go play my game I know I can play,” Wigginton told the Daily before the season. 

The crazy thing? Wigginton is doing even more than Fizer or Brackins as freshmen. In fact, he’s doing more than any freshman in Iowa State men’s basketball history.

Through 11 games, Wigginton is averaging 15.5 points per game. If Iowa State plays the minimum 20 more games — 18 conference games, one non-conference game and one Big 12 Tournament game — Wigginton would end with around 500 points at his current pace.

That would put him at second in school history for freshmen behind Curtis Stinson at 534 points in 2003-04. Stinson played 33 games that season and averaged 16.2 points per game, so Wigginton could break it with a good run.

And that’s not to mention Wigginton’s improvement.

In Iowa State’s first four games, he scored 10, eight, 17 and eight — an average of just under 11 points per game.

In the seven games since then? Wigginton is putting up 18.3 points per contest. If he stays closer to that 18.3 average than the 11 per game figure, Wigginton could put up scoring numbers unlike any freshman in school history.

That’s not all.

Assuming he stays healthy, Wigginton is on pace to break plenty of other school records.

He has four games of 20-plus points, which already ties him for fifth place all-time for freshmen with Barry Stevens. The record is eight by Stinson and Fizer.

“Growing up I watched [former NBA MVP] Derrick Rose,” Wigginton told the Daily. “That was really my favorite player. His change of speeds, his explosiveness, I really feel I’ve got that in my game. He played above the rim at all times and I like playing above the rim, that’s kind of my strong suit.”

Fizer hit 101 free throws as a freshman. About one-third of the way through the season, Wigginton is at 34 made free throws. His ability to get to the line, reminiscent of Rose in his MVP season with the Chicago Bulls, has been a huge factor for Wigginton’s scoring ability.

But that’s not all.

Jake Sullivan nailed a record 61 3-pointers in his rookie campaign. Matt Thomas is second with 44. Wigginton is already at 23 — and his 45.1 percent shooting from long range would be a freshman record, too.

And this is even after factoring in Wigginton’s lackluster performance against Maryland Eastern Shore on Dec. 20, in which he had a career-low in points along with just two rebounds and one assist.

His 28 points against Northern Illinois is tied for fifth-most in a game by a freshman, so Brackins’ 33 against Baylor is not out of reach.

Simply put, a lot of freshmen records could fall to Wigginton after this season. And with a decent postseason run, he could smash them. He’s even on pace to get within striking distance of the top five in rebounds and assists — he’s at 46 rebounds and 27 assists, with Fizer’s 202 rebounds and Julius Michalik’s 96 assists sitting in fifth place in those respective categories.

Considering how successful he’s been, the biggest question remaining for Wigginton is pretty simple: how will he fare in Big 12 play?

The Big 12 is a gauntlet, especially this season. Over half the league is currently ranked in the AP Top 25 poll and it’s the toughest league in the nation according to KenPom.

But that may not be a bad thing for Wigginton.

Wigginton’s best games this year have come against some of the toughest opponents on Iowa State’s schedule.

He posted a game-high 20 points (7-for-12 shooting), seven rebounds and no turnovers against Northern Iowa. For reference, the Panthers have the No. 26 rated defense per KenPom.

How about the Iowa Hawkeyes? Iowa has a top-100 defense as well. Wigginton dropped a game-high 24 points (9-of-18), hit four 3-pointers on eight attempts and again, had zero turnovers.

Wigginton saves his best performances for his best opponents.

“I’m always just gonna step on the court and play my game but I always have a chip on my shoulder,” Wigginton said. “I go into every game looking to kill anybody in front of me.”

His performance during Iowa State’s non-conference schedule showed just how well he can do that. The improvement he’s shown so quickly is remarkable, and it shows exactly why Wigginton should have fans as excited as ever before.

After all, he might be the best freshman in Iowa State history.