Kentucky's national championship run last year in college basketball proved that the game is moving away from senior leadership and experience and instead putting a greater emphasis on the impact of recruits.
Freshmen are no longer scrubs and can now be considered legitimate leaders of their respective teams. The Class of 2012 brings with it a new crop of freshmen guaranteed to play vital roles for their teams this season.
These guys range from leaders of their teams to National Player of the Year candidates, but they will all make immediate impacts in college this year.
PF Grant Jerrett, Arizona
PF Brandon Ashley, Arizona
SG Archie Goodwin, Kentucky
SG Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
SG Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke
SF Amile Jefferson, Duke
PG Kris Dunn, Providence
SF Danuel House, Houston
C Tony Parker, UCLA
C Mitch McGary, Michigan
SF Devonta Pollard, Alabama
PF Robert Carter, Georgia Tech
PF Ricardo Gathers, Baylor
SF Winston Shepard, San Diego State
C Robert Upshaw, Fresno State
Alex Poythress is a physical specimen, and he will play an important role for Kentucky next season. Standing at a chiseled 6'7", he is a perfect combo forward.
Poythress is athletic enough to drive through the lane and finish above the rim. He is a dangerous slasher, but he can also extend the defense with his range if they leave him alone.
Poythress is exactly the type of player John Calipari loves to coach. He is a tremendously talented player with a ton of upside, and will surely be an NBA lottery pick one day. He will be part of the recruiting class replacing the six players who entered the NBA and will be forced to be a star from the beginning.
With senior point guard Jordan Taylor gone, Wisconsin's offense needs a new go-to scorer to lead the way for this defensive-minded team.
Sam Dekker will be that guy. He is a supremely talented wing whose work ethic and perseverance have led him to become one of the top freshmen in the Class of 2012. He can score in a variety of ways and continues to make his impact defensively because of his effort.
What makes Dekker the perfect player to fill the void left by Taylor is that he is incredibly clutch. In the Division 5 title game he scored 40 of his team's 67 points in a one-point victory, including the last 12 points for his team over the last 48.5 seconds and a game-winning three.
Dekker has said that he prides himself on being the go-to guy at the end of games, and he will take over that role for the Badgers.
We've learned that Syracuse basketball needs a great center to anchor the 2-3 zone, and with Fab Melo departing for the NBA, that role will now fall to DaJuan Coleman, the No. 14 player in the Class of 2012.
Coleman is absolutely huge. While he is two inches shorter than Melo was, his 6'10", 275-pound frame makes him a huge threat inside. On offense he provides a big target with trustworthy hands, while on defense he fills the paint all by himself.
Coleman will be playing a ton of minutes for the Orange this year, and he will be arguably the most important piece for the team this year.
Our third straight player who will make an impact because of whom he is replacing, Marcus Paige is a talented point guard who will be taking over for Kendall Marshall at North Carolina.
Marshall was an incredible floor general who was a pass-first guy and proved to be clutch when it mattered most. While Paige is not quite as proficient a passer, he is still very close, and more importantly he can create for himself much better than Marshall did.
Paige will immediately be the starting point guard for the Tar Heels. He is going to run UNC's offense, and as the No. 2 point guard in the Class of 2012, that's a sweet deal for Roy Williams and company.
Gary Harris is arguably the most talented shooting guard in the Class of 2012, which is why he will be starting for Michigan State next season.
Harris is a lightning-quick player who is highly aggressive on both ends of the floor. He can drive through the lane and finish in midair, or he can stroke it from 25 feet out. He is a prolific scorer, which is why he will be playing such a big role for the Spartans next season.
Sparty will have a great perimeter game this year. With point guard Keith Appling and Branden Dawson both returning, the team simply needed a clutch shooting guard like Harris to complete their outside game. Harris will be a major player for the team and should average close to 15 points per game.
Isaiah Austin is an anomaly. He has the athleticism of a guard and loves to run the floor in transition, but he is a seven-foot center.
At 7'0" and 210 pounds, he is a very thin player, but he has the potential to do a lot of things at the next level. He can either beef up and learn to bang in the paint, or he can continue to focus on his athleticism and play well in transition, like Perry Jones III did for Baylor last year.
Austin is an incredibly talented player who has consistently been ranked among the top players in the Class of 2012. While we aren't sure exactly what to expect from him next season, we can be sure he'll be successful.
Speaking of anomalies, Kyle Anderson is our second one in the Class of 2012.
Anderson is a skilled point guard with excellent court vision, passing skills and understanding of the game, which allows him to be an excellent leader. He is the perfect point guard, with everything a coach wants from his floor general.
He's also 6'9".
Anderson has ridiculous height for a point guard, but he uses it well. He loves to shoot over smaller point guards or use his quickness to get by big men who are as tall as he is. He is a matchup nightmare, and that's part of what makes him so valuable.
Steven Adams is one of the top foreign players in the Class of 2012, hailing from New Zealand. The big man has been playing in America for quite some time, however, which has greatly helped his game.
When Adams came over to America, his game was not what we expected. He played standing almost completely straight up, and he struggled on both ends of the floor at times. However, he has adjusted to the game nicely and is now a force in the paint.
Part of what makes this kid so special is his shot-blocking ability. He doesn't leave his feet until his opponent does, which makes sure he is never caught in the air where his opponent can beat him. He shoots right up and is usually able to get a hand on the ball, making him an elite defender in the paint.
Adams is still improving, but during his time under Jamie Dixon at Pittsburgh, we'll see him emerge as a legitimate force down low.
Kaleb Tarczewski is one of the top true centers in the nation. With his seven-foot body he can control the paint, and he knows that is his job.
Tarc rarely ventures outside of the paint on defense until his team gets the ball, at which time he runs the court extremely quickly, especially for his size. He is very mobile, very talented and very big.
Tarc is going to be the centerpiece of Arizona's brand new frontcourt, consisting of Tarc, Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett.
Anthony Bennett is a highly skilled power forward. He can carve out space on the low post, play with his back to the basket or facing up and do anything you would expect of a top-tier big man.
Did I mention he can also knock down threes?
Bennett has excellent range for any position, let alone a 6'8" power forward. He consistently hits threes, making him a legitimate threat on the outside as well as in the paint.
Bennett is a great player because of his talent and versatility, but he is special because of his range. He'll be putting that to good use at UNLV, where he will play a huge role in the revitalization of basketball in Sin City.
Mark Gottfried is bringing in three McDonald's All-Americans in his Class of 2012 recruiting class, none bigger than Rodney Purvis.
Purvis is a talented shooting guard who can slash through the lane like it's nobody's business, or can pull up and sink a jumper with solid range. He is a huge threat on offense, and he plays good defense as well.
North Carolina State is the favorite in the ACC this year, and Purvis will need to be a spectacular shooting guard if the Wolfpack is to take the ACC crown.
Nerlens Noel is the top center in the Class of 2012, and he has the tough job of replacing the National Player of the Year, Anthony Davis.
Like Davis, Noel is a defensive-minded player. He is an incredible shot-blocker who can control the paint and is intimidating to drive against. He has a developing offensive game based around his athleticism, but Davis proved that can work at the college level.
Noel is going to be the starting center for Kentucky this season and will be expected to help lead the team. He is going to be a big deal in Lexington, and his play will be a big factor in Kentucky's success this year.
Muhammad is the top slasher in the Class of 2012. He cuts through the lane with ease and can finish above the rim and through traffic. He is so hard to stop within 15 feet of the basket that the way to beat him is to keep him beyond the three-point-line. He has good enough range to make a few threes, but his game focuses on his ability to get through the lane.
Muhammad is a supremely talented player with a ton of potential. He is going to help lead UCLA next season along with Kyle Anderson, but instead of being a facilitator his primary role will be as a scorer. Look for him to rack up 15 to 20 points per game in Westwood.