Ranking the Top 10 Freshmen in College Basketball
With Midnight Madness approaching and the season continually drawing closer and closer, this is my ranking of the top 10 freshmen for the 2012-13 college basketball season.
Anthony Davis winning National Player of the Year as a freshman last season proved that freshmen are playing a bigger role than ever in college basketball today.
Typically the top freshman is always in the PoY race at the end of the season, and many good teams rely heavily on freshmen to stay elite—or even win the NCAA tournament (*ahem* Kentucky).
With freshmen playing an evolving role, it is important to highlight the top freshmen before the season begins so fans know which guys to watch out for.
10. Alex Poythress, Kentucky
At a muscular 6'8", Alex Poythress is a strong, intimidating wing. He has a great frame for his position, and his combination of natural athleticism with a strong build makes him one of the best slashers in the country.
When Poythress drives it's nearly impossible to stop him. Thanks to his length and ability to elevate, he is able to finish around defenders or through contact.
While he does have a good jumper that extends the defense and he is aggressive on the defensive side of the floor, what makes him special is his ability to get to the rim and finish.
Poythress is going to fit well in John Calipari's system. Alongside other athletes, Poythress will be able to put his talents to good use—and I expect him to be among the nation's most successful freshmen because of it.
9. Cameron Ridley, Texas
They say everything is bigger in Texas, and Cameron Ridley is no exception. As a center it's important to have size, and we know Ridley has that.
Thanks to his big body, Ridley can easily carve out space in the low post. Once he gets the ball in his hands it's tough to stop him because he can finish with his back to the basket or facing up.
Ridley is better with his back to the basket, which has led me to compare him to former Longhorn Tristan Thompson. However, he is far from being a one-dimensional player like Thompson was. Ridley can also knock down a jumper or face up and assess his options.
While he isn't as dominant with his back to the basket as Thompson was, he's pretty close, and the rest of his game makes up for it.
8. Steven Adams, Pittsburgh
Steven Adams made a smart move when he decided to play basketball in America prior to going to college. After playing at Notre Dame Prep, Adams now has the feel of the American game, which will greatly help him at Pittsburgh next season.
Adams has great talent on both ends of the floor and makes the most of the tools he has to use. He consistently carves out space in the low post and is working to expand his repertoire of moves in the paint.
On defense, Adams plays well inside, blocking a ton of shots. He isn't as athletic as some of the other elite shot-blockers, but he is very efficient. Adams waits until his opponent has left his feet before going up, and he quickly rises to block the ball before it can get by him.
Adams has a lot of potential. Now that he has finally adjusted to the US game, he will be a force under Jamie Dixon next season.
7. Kaleb Tarczewski, Arizona
Kaleb Tarczewski is the first of two seven-footers to crack this list. While he is not as athletic as the other, he plays like a true big man.
Tarc holds nothing back on the court. He is always in attack mode, and he uses that to his advantage on both ends of the floor. Whether he is working relentlessly in the paint or swarming to the ball on defense, Tarc is a game-changer because of his effort.
What's even more rare about this big man who goes all out is that he can keep it up for long periods of time. He has a great motor and is always involved. One could even make the case that he is the best conditioned center in the Class of 2012.
When Tarc anchors Arizona's offense, the Wildcats will have one of the best big men in college basketball leading their No. 1 overall recruiting class.
6. Devonta Pollard, Alabama
Devonta Pollard is a do-it-all wing who is possibly the most versatile player in the class. He is constantly underrated by scouting services, but he will surely make a big impact at Alabama and in the NBA one day.
Pollard has it all on the offensive end. Not only can he drive through the lane extremely well, but he also has good range behind the three-point-line and a solid mid-range jumper. He can be a facilitator if defenses hone in on him, or he can lead his team in transition.
On defense Pollard is an effort player. He excels in man-to-man defense because he can put his athleticism to good work, and once his team gets the ball he sprints down the court for fast breaks.
I personally believe Pollard is going to be one of the biggest stars from this recruiting class, and it will all start in Tuscaloosa this season.
5. Anthony Bennett, UNLV
Anthony Bennett has an international game but excels in American ball as well. He is a big power forward who can play inside thanks to his body, but that's not what makes him special.
What puts Bennett above every other power forward in the Class of 2012 is his ability to shoot. Bennett has great range that extends beyond the three-point-line, showing that he can be a very versatile player.
Bennett is going to be a pro soon, and it shouldn't surprise anyone if he becomes a one-and-done freshman.
However, we will get to see at least one season of him at UNLV before that happens, and fans need to enjoy seeing this big man shooting from way downtown while they can.
4. Isaiah Austin, Baylor
Isaiah Austin is the last seven-footer on this list. However, he is a player who has the skills of a guard. Not only can he put his seven-foot frame to work inside, but he excels in transition and can even be a ball-handler at times.
Once Austin puts on some muscle he can also play well in the paint at the next level. For now, he reminds me of former Baylor Bear Perry Jones III. Both guys are big men with little guy skills, making them both valuable assets.
Austin is going to be the premier big man for the Bears, but don't be surprised to see him take a few threes or lead his team in transition.
3. Kyle Anderson, UCLA
If you've ever read any of my writing on Kyle Anderson, you'll know that I absolutely love the kid. I'm so high on Anderson that I could feasibly put him as the top player in the Class of 2012, but for now I have him at No. 3.
Anderson is an anomaly. He is a point guard with great passing skills and court vision, but he stands at a ridiculous 6'9". To put that another way, he is the same height as Magic Johnson and has a similar skill set, which is why I have compared the two in the past.
Now, I'm not saying that Anderson will finish his career as one of the greatest players to ever touch a basketball, but I am saying that he has the potential to be a superstar.
He is such a difficult matchup because he is quicker than almost any other 6'9" player and can also easily shoot over point guards.
Anderson has matched his game to his ridiculous size, and is now one of the top prospects in the country regardless of age. I can't wait to see him at UCLA next season.
2. Nerlens Noel, Kentucky
Essentially the reincarnation of the National Player of the Year from last season, Anthony Davis, Nerlens Noel is a superstar center whose hightop fade and incredible presence on the defensive end make him easily recognizable.
Noel will be playing at Davis' alma mater, Kentucky, next season. Under John Calipari, we will see another talented big man with incredible defensive game and good offensive skills become a star.
While I highly doubt that Noel will be the best player in college basketball next season (he may not even be the best center with Indiana's Cody Zeller in the mix), he will surely be a great player for the Wildcats.
1. Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA
Shabazz Muhammad is an NBA-ready player who will dominate the college game next season. He is next to unstoppable within 15 feet of the basket because of his ability to drive through the lane with apparent ease.
Muhammad also has a decent jumper that makes defenses stay honest, but if they creep up too far he can burn them inside for ferocious dunks.
Muhammad is a chiseled athlete with great effort, athleticism and stamina. His offensive game is very impressive and he can shut down many opposing wings.
With the skills of a future All-Pro in the NBA, Muhammad is going to be a force at the college level next season. If he isn't a one-and-done sensation this season I will be absolutely shocked.
He's simply that good.
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