Indiana's Cody Zeller leads a strong freshman class this season
The freshman class of 2011 has proven to be an extremely productive group of youngsters. They entered the college game with plenty of hoopla, and they are exceeding expectations as the game of basketball's next group of stars.
Through early January, many of them are littered among starting lineups for ranked teams across the country. Not only are they a staple in the starting lineups, but many of them serve as leaders, both statistically and mentally.
Some names on the list are expected, such as Andre Drummond and Anthony Davis. However, if you look closer, you will find that there are quite a few surprises on this list as well.
Here are the 26 best freshman so far this college basketball season...
The New Jersey native is showing the country that it doesn't just take size and skill to dominate in the game of basketball. Heart is just as important.
Don't get me wrong, the 6'7" small forward has plenty of natural ability, but what makes him different from everyone else is that he maximizes his potential every time he steps on the floor. Right now, he is a candidate for National Player of the Year.
2011-2012 Statistics: 13.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.2 blocks
The "Sears Tower" of Lexington has shown just how promising of a prospect he absolutely is. The 6'11" spidery power forward oozes potential and has length that would make even North Carolina's John Henson blush. He is demoralizing opponents on the defensive end of the floor, and by season's end will shatter Kentucky's single season blocked shots record.
2011-2012 Statistics: 12.8 points, 10.3 rebounds, 4.6 blocks
The savior of Indiana Hoosier basketball, Cody Zeller, is leading the revival at IU. He is the most talented of the Zeller brothers, and should easily win the Big 10 Freshman of the Year award and be an all-conference selection as well.
The Hoosiers are at a shocking 15-1, and the 6'11" power forward is why. He may only be 230 pounds, but he battles every big man who enters the paint and is a tenacious player.
2011-2012 Statistics: 14.2 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 1.7 steals
The 2011 recruit with the most pressure to succeed is without a doubt Andre Drummond. He is blessed with a 6'11" frame, excellent hands, athleticism, and power. When you get compared to NBA stars Amare Stoudemire and Dwight Howard, you're expected to produce every time you are on the floor. His season started a bit slow, but his recent string of double-doubles hints at big things to come.
2011-2012 Statistics: 10.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.7 blocks
The star of the Red Storm's now depleted 2011 recruiting class, Moe Harkless has Red Storm fans excited about what can become of the talented young team this season. The 6'8" combo forward is doing damage all over the court, whether it be on the offensive or defensive end.
What may be even more crucial to the program is that he is a Queens native. This may help keep many New York stars closer to home, where they can play home games at Madison Square Garden.
2011-2012 Statistics: 15.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.8 blocks
The 6'3" shooting guard is thrilling St. John's fans with his scoring prowess. He came to college with a knack of being a scorer, and he is showing that early on in his college career.
On a team that has been dealing with turbulence since the summer, he has been a bright light for Red Storm fans. They may not make noise this year, but watch out for the Johnnies next season.
2011-2012 Statistics: 15.6 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists
The Seattle native is showing Huskies fans what all the fanfare has been about. He has been a hot name in the pacific northwest since he was in middle school. The 6'4" point guard has that "extra gear" when running the floor that coaches love. He is a phenomenal passer and can score whenever he chooses. Sometimes he tends to play out of control, but all in all, he is an absolute thrill to watch.
2011-2012 Statistics: 17.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.9 assists
The young Longhorns are going to go as far as the speedy point guard can carry them. The 6'1" Canada native teams with J'Covan Brown to form one of the more dangerous backcourts that you will find in the country. While Brown does the scoring, Kabongo uses his extreme speed and quickness to jet past defenders and find creases in the defense. He is also an excellent rebounder for his height, showing his fearlessness and athleticism.
2011-2012 Statistics: 9.6 points, 5.3 assists, 3.6 rebounds, 1.3 steals
In an absolutely loaded backcourt featuring star upperclassmen Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker, and Mike Rosario, the St. Louis native is still standing out for the Florida Gators.
The Ray Allen comparisons aren't far off, and his stroke is as smooth as you will find at the college or professional level. Give him one more season in Gainesville, and he will be a first round NBA draft pick in 2013.
2011-2012 Statistics: 14.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.4 steals
The 6'8" power forward was one of the most important recruits to ever sign with the Hokies. He is a Virginia native who was one of the hottest names in recruiting circles in the entire 2011 class. His commitment to Virginia Tech is paying dividends for the ACC school. He is putting up phenomenal rebounding numbers for a freshman, and his offensive game is making steady progress.
2011-2012 Statistics: 7.2 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists
The freshman star who came into the college game with the most hype is having a steady season on Tobacco Road. He is playing team-oriented basketball for Coach K...who wouldn't let him play any other way. Though he possesses the talent to take over games, he is letting the game come to him, which is just fine with him and his teammates.
2011-2012 Statistics: 14.7 points, 2.1 assists, 2.7 rebounds, 1.0 steals
The 6'8" power forward is off to a blistering start to the season for the North Texas Mean Green. Though he technically should be a sophomore in age, his academic woes kept him from suiting up for Missouri last season, so he transferred closer to him. He has the skills to play anywhere in America, so North Texas should be counting their lucky stars that he chose to play basketball there.
2011-2012 Statistics: 13.1 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.3 blocks
Perhaps the biggest surprise on this list, Trey Burke has been a catalyst in Michigan's rise to becoming a basketball power once again. The 5'11" point guard recently torched ranked Big 10 opponents Indiana and Wisconsin for big games, and has been instrumental in the Wolverines 14-3 start to the college basketball season.
2011-2012 Statistics: 14.1 points, 5.1 assists, 3.6 rebounds
The 6'0" point guard has been in the media since his commitment to Southern Cal as a freshman in high school. Since then, mostly because of his lack of growth, analysts have slid him farther and farther down their ranking boards. Bad idea. He came to UCONN with a chip on his shoulder, and is proving once and for all that he has always been an elite talent.
2011-2012 Statistics: 10.2 points, 3.5 assists, 3.1 rebounds
You might be surprised to find LeBryan Nash so low on this list. Coming into the season, he was being looked at as a possible 1st Team All-Big 12 selection and young leader of the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
Truth is, he is doing just fine. Slowly but surely, he is adjusting to the college game and making his presence felt in a big way. Need proof? In Oklahoma State's last game against Oklahoma, he torched the Sooners for 21 points, eight rebounds, and three assists.
2011-2012 Statistics: 12.9 points, 5.1 rebounds
Georgia's most touted recruit this season is starring for the Bulldogs in the rough-and-tumble SEC Conference. The 6'4" shooting guard has solidified his place in the Bulldog lineup and has produced consistently all season.
His best game came last week against Alabama, where he scored 22 points, grabbed three rebounds, and notched four steals.
2011-2012 Statistics: 14.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.7 steals
The Indianapolis native has been judged unfairly so far this season. Being compared to one-and-done Wildcat point guard predecessors Brandon Knight and John Wall.
Sure, his turnover numbers are a bit too high right now at 3.1 giveaways per contest, but he is running the show just fine for the young Wildcats. If he continues to mature, like he should, he could be the X factor for this Kentucky team in the NCAA tournament.
2011-2012 Statistics: 10.9 points, 4.4 assists, 2.5 rebounds, 1.2 steals
The 6'8" lengthy small forward is an integral piece of Mississippi State's standout season. They are 16-3 right now, and have the look of a March Madness threat.
The swingman is logging serious minutes for the Bulldogs and is serving as a nice compliment to star center Arnett Moultrie and point guard Dee Bost. He uses his long frame to pull down rebounds and slither in the paint for scoring opportunities.
2011-2012 Statistics: 12.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists.
The Baylor Bears are rolling through their schedule. They may not be winning pretty, but they are 16-0 and their roster is filled with athletic forwards.
One of those forwards is 6'9" small forward Quincy Miller. He is the prototype of what NBA personnel drool over. A skilled big man who can dribble, pass, and shoot with consistency. The Bears are keeping their fingers crossed for a 2012 National Championship, because this might be their only season with the Chicago-born star.
2011-2012 Statistics: 11.1 points , 5.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists
New Arkansas Razorback head coach Mike Anderson got the job done right away on the recruiting trail, by landing local standout B.J. Young. The 6'3" athletic point guard is the player who will lead the Razorback revival over the next few seasons. He is always in attack mode, and knows how to get to the rim and score.
2011-2012 Statistics: 14.8 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists
The 6'6" small forward is the prize recruit for Josh Pastner and the Memphis Tigers. Though the Tigers are struggling right now, that is not the case for the strong forward. On a team full of young stars, he has found his niche and picks his spots nicely when looking to score.
If he, as well as the Tigers in general, mature and realize the potential they possess, this could be a scary team come March.
2011-2012 Statistics: 9.7 points, 3.6 rebounds
The 6'8" combo forward was a bit of an unknown prospect until the end of his season season of high school. He played at a very small school in Missouri, and garnered very little attention recruiting wise until the start of 12th grade.
He is showing that he was a gigantic fish in a little pond, and is playing a large part in Georgetown's season. He is a smooth athlete who has the tools to develop into a phenomenal rebounder.
2011-2012 Statistics: 8.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists
The young floor general for the Stanford Cardinal is proving to be quite the steal for head coach Johnny Dawkins. The Rock Island, Illinois native is showing poise beyond his years in the backcourt.
He has already carried his team to a four-overtime victory against Oregon State, including sinking the winning basket. He will only get better with more seasoning under the tutelage of the former Duke star who played the same position.
2011-2012 Statistics: 11. 9 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists
Coming to Xavier as the most decorated recruit in school history, Dezmine Wells had quite a reputation to live up to. Well, he has succeeded at this point in the Musketeers turbulent season.
The 6'4" powerfully built shooting guard has electrified arenas with his dunks, and is becoming more and more consistent with each game. He should be the runaway winner of the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year award.
2011-2012 Statistics: 10.2 points, 4.7 rebounds
The College of Charleston Cougars are in the midst of having a very successful season in the Southern Conference. With wins over Tennessee, Clemson, and Massachusetts already this year, they are proving that they could be an NCAA Tournament sleeper pick this season.
The highly touted freshman big man is a reason why. The 6'9" power forward is getting better with each game, which is a scary thought considering he has the potential to develop into an NBA prospect.
2011-2012 Statistics: 8.3 points, 5.9 rebounds
The 6'2" athletic shooting guard is the starting shooting guard for the young Arizona Wildcats. While he didn't come to Tuscon with the hype of fellow freshman Josiah Turner, he is certainly outplaying him so far this season. He came to Arizona from Findlay Prep in Nevada, a breeding ground for blossoming stars. He has the potential to work himself into becoming an All-Pac-12 player.
2011-2012 Statistics: 9.4 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists