Ranking the Top 20 Freshmen in College Basketball

Avi Wolfman-Arent@@awolfmancomethCorrespondent IIFebruary 17, 2013

Ranking the Top 20 Freshmen in College Basketball

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    With a list like this, it's always good to start with ground rules.

    1.) Any player classified as a freshman is eligible, even those returning from a redshirt year.

    2.) The only criteria considered is each freshman's overall play at the college level. NBA projectability is irrelevant.

    That out of the way, let's dive in.

    Note: All tempo-free statistics courtesy of KenPom.com.

20. Kyle Anderson, G/F (UCLA)

1 of 20

    Dashboard: 9.2 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 3.7 APG

    Standout Stat: 24.1 defensive rebounding percentage (5th in Pac-12)

    Chances He Stays (In College): 50 percent

    ESPN's Chad Ford calls Anderson "the most difficult prospect in the NCAA to scout." One look at his game reveals why. He's a 6'9" string bean with remarkable rebounding acumen and the kind of court vision usually reserved for true point guards. That said, he isn't much a pure scorer and lacks strength compared to other players his size.

    No surprise then that UCLA's most enigmatic player has also been one of its most inconsistent, vacillating from masterful (20, 17 and seven against Fresno State) to ghastly (zero points in 33 minutes against Georgetown) and back again through a puzzling debut campaign.

19. A.J. Hammons, C (Purdue)

2 of 20

    Dashboard: 11.2 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 2.1 BPG

    Standout Stat: 11.5 offensive rebounding percentage (8th in Big Ten)

    Chances He Stays: 90 percent

    Playing in America's toughest conference on a team without much ancillary talent, Hammons has more than held his own for Matt Painter's Purdue Boilermakers. His most notable performance came against Indiana on January 30, when he dropped 30 points in 28 minutes and held opposing center Cody Zeller to 6-of-14 shooting. Typical of the season to date in West Lafayette, Hammons' effort came in a 97-60 blowout loss.

18. Alex Poythress, F (Kentucky)

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    Dashboard: 12.0 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 0.5 APG

    Standout Stat: 64.4 true shooting percentage (30th nationally)

    Chances He Stays: 15 percent

    It's easy to grow frustrated with a player of Poythress' talent. Once you watch his slick 6'7" frame move through the lane once, you'll wonder why he can't do it every time. Here's a hint:  

    He's 19.

    Reel in some of those outsized expectations and you'll soon realize that Poythress is having a nice freshman campaign. He's scoring at a good clip considering his minutes (25.5 per game) and doing it with far fewer touches than fellow Kentucky freshman Archie Goodwin.

17. T.J. Warren, F (North Carolina State)

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    Dashboard: 11.4 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 61.5 FG%

    Standout Stat: 124.1 offensive efficiency rating (4th in ACC)

    Chances He Stays: 95 percent

    Warren is the only player on this list not logging starter's minutes, which should give you an idea of just how good he's been when he has played. There aren't many freshmen at 6'8" who can shoot better than 60 percent from the floor in a Power Six conference.

    Warren's 19-point performance against North Carolina on January 26 helped NC State break a long losing streak to its cross-state rival.

16. Yogi Ferrell, G (Indiana)

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    Dashboard: 7.4 PPG, 4.3 APG, 2.6 RPG

    Standout Stat: 26.2 assist rate (7th in Big 10)

    Chances He Stays: 98 percent

    Ferrell's stats won't jump off the page, but he deserves plaudits for logging major minutes (27.5 per game) at a position with a steep learning curve (PG) in the nation's toughest conference (Big Ten) for a top-rated team (Indiana). In other words, Ferrell has been thrown straight into the fire by head coach Tom Crean. And he's handled his duties admirably.

15. Nik Stauskas, G (Michigan)

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    Dashboard: 12.1 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 47.7 3PFG%

    Standout Stat: 125.3 offensive efficiency rating (26th nationally)

    Chances He Stays: 95 percent

    In Michigan's offense, Stauskas' primary role is to shoot threes—and he has, 128 of them, in fact. That's not to say he's incapable of putting the ball on the floor; just that there isn't much need for Stauskas to create in an offense run by POY candidate Trey Burke. Few players in the country—much less freshmen—have been more efficient with their touches than the 6'6" sharpshooter.

14. Rasheed Sulaimon, G (Duke)

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    Dashboard: 11.5 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.2 APG

    Standout Stat: 13.5 turnover rate (15th in ACC)

    Chances He Stays: 70 percent

    The offensive statistics, though encouraging, don't do Sulaimon justice. The Houston native has been an ace perimeter defender for Coach K's squad, which helps offset his streaky shooting. Considering the Blue Devils' many options on offense (Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry, Quinn Cook), Sulaimon's value to his team is most prominent on the other end.

13. Semaj Christon, G (Xavier)

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    Dashboard: 15.1 PPG, 4.6 APG, 2.6 RPG

    Standout Stat: 30.7 possession usage percentage (1st in A-10)

    Chances He Stays: 95 percent

    Christon's turnover rate is troublesome and his outside shot needs work, but that's to be expected for a freshman functioning as his team's go-to offensive option. Big picture, Christon has handled the transition to the A-10 well, and his ability to get to the free-throw line augurs well for the future. With some refinement, Christon can be a special college player.

12. John Brown, F (High Point)

9 of 20

    Dashboard: 16.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 1.9 SPG

    Standout Stat: 6.5 fouls drawn per 40 minutes (34th nationally)

    Chances He Stays: 99 percent

    Brown scored 28 against UNC-Greensboro in his first collegiate game (including the above dunk) and hasn't slowed down since. The Big South star has reached double-digits in 22 of his first 23 college games, all while shooting better than 50 percent from the field. Here's hoping Brown—who torched Wake Forest for 27 earlier this year—gets a chance to strut his stuff in March.

    Other low-to-mid-major freshmen on the national radar include: R.J. Hunter (Georgia State), Jordan Reed (Binghamton), Shawn Long (Louisiana-Lafayette) and Venky Jois (Eastern Washington).

11. Jordan Adams, G (UCLA)

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    Dashboard: 14.7 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 1.8 APG

    Standout Stat: 11.0 turnover rate (2nd in Pac-12)

    Chances He Stays: 90 percent

    With the return and subsequent ascendance of fellow freshman Shabazz Muhammad, Adams has seen his production dip. But early in the year, no one from UCLA's highly touted 2012 recruiting class was playing better than the Georgia native. After four single-digit scoring performances in Pac-12 play, however, it is fair to wonder how Adams is adjusting to better competition.

10. Gary Harris, G (Michigan State)

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    Dashboard: 12.9 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 43.6 3P%

    Standout Stat: 57.7 effective field goal percentage (6th in Big Ten)

    Chances He Stays: 60 percent

    It might come as some surprise that Harris has a better offensive efficiency rating than backcourt mates Branden Dawson and Keith Appling, but the freshman has had a sneaky good year for the Spartans.

    Scouts question his shooting consistency, but recent trends suggest otherwise. In each of the last five games, Harris has attempted at least three three-pointers and hit at least 50 percent of those shots. He could be a standalone star for Michigan State if he stays another year.

9. JaKarr Sampson, F (St. John's)

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    Dashboard: 14.5 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 1.2 BPG

    Standout Stat: 5.0 fouls drawn per 40 minutes (14th in Big East)

    Chance He Stays: 60 percent

    The most encouraging take on Sampson's season is that he seems to be getting better as the conference schedule progresses. His 21-point, six-rebound performance against Syracuse on February 10 underscores why scouts think he could be a lottery pick someday. His seven turnovers indicate why he's probably best served waiting another year.

8. Glenn Robinson III, F (Michigan)

13 of 20

    Dashboard: 10.9 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 56.1 FG%

    Standout Stat: 61.0 effective field goal percentage (35th nationally)

    Chances He Stays: 30 percent

    Robinson III's relatively pedestrian per-game totals are a reflection on Michigan's slow pace and multi-pronged attack. But don't be fooled, GR3 is a potent combination of raw athleticism and statistical efficiency. He also might be the Wolverines' most versatile and valuable defender.

7. Isaiah Austin, C (Baylor)

14 of 20

    Dashboard: 13.6 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 1.5 BPG

    Standout Stat: Fourth among all freshmen in rebounds per game

    Chances He Stays: 10 percent

    Austin's numbers read "typical seven-footer." His tape, however, reveals something entirely different. With a slick handle and smooth jump shot, Austin looks like a small forward at times in Baylor's offense. By the same token, his lack of strength speaks to a post-up game that needs work.

6. Jahii Carson, G (Arizona State)

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    Dashboard: 17.6 PPG, 5.0 APG, 3.1 RPG

    Standout Stat: Second among all freshmen in minutes per game (36.3)

    Chances He Stays: 75 percent

    Carson's numbers are a bit inflated by the minutes he gets and the shots he takes, but the sprightly guard still merits mention as one of the nation's best sub-six-foot scorers. Arizona State is one game out of the Pac-12 lead almost exclusively on the strength of Carson's breakout play.

5. Shabazz Muhammad, G (UCLA)

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    Dashboard: 18.2 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 42.3 3P%

    Standout Stat: Leads all freshmen in points per game

    Chances He Stays: Less than 1 percent

    Muhammad was one of the best volume scorers in college basketball the minute he slipped into Bruin gold. And although that debut was delayed by a bungled NCAA investigation, the second-ranked prospect from a year ago has lived up to his considerable hype. Muhammad is one of few players who can slice to the cup and spot up from beyond with equal aplomb.

4. Nerlens Noel, F (Kentucky)

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    Dashboard: 10.5 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 4.4 BPG, 2.1 SPG

    Standout Stat: 12.7 block percentage (11th nationally)

    Chances He Stays: 5 percent

    For the purposes of this list, we're freezing Nerlens Noel's season at the moment before he tore his ACL on Tuesday against Florida. Up until then, the nation's top recruit was also its best defender and one of its most explosive finishers. Critics will make note of his uneven offensive game, but that in itself is a tacit acknowledgement of Noel's distinct ability to impact the game without touching the ball.

    And while we're on the topic of injured debutantes, let it be noted that the Oregon Ducks have struggled mightily without freshman point guard Dominic Artis.

3. Marcus Smart, G (Oklahoma State)

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    Dashboard: 14.4 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 4.5 APG, 3.0 SPG

    Standout Stat: 5.4 steal percentage (11th nationally)

    Chances He Stays: 5 percent

    Marcus Smart plays point guard at 6'4" and 225 pounds. And he can fly. There isn't much more you need to know about the most physically imposing primary ball-handler in the college game. His eight offensive rebounds in a win over Kansas were the stuff of pure athletic dominance.

2. Anthony Bennett, F (UNLV)

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    Dashboard: 17.8 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 1.2 BPG

    Standout Stat: 61.0 true shooting percentage (5th in Mountain West)

    Chances He Stays: Less than 1 percent

    Whether underneath the basket or on the perimeter, the beefy Canadian overwhelms foes with his rare combination of size and quickness. He's cooled a bit since a scorching start, but remains the centerpiece of UNLV's offense.

1. Ben McLemore, G (Kansas)

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    Dashboard: 16.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 43.5 3P%

    Standout Stat: 64.9 TS% (21st nationally)

    Chances He Stays: Less than 1 percent

    There isn't a more lethal off-ball guard in college basketball than McLemore. His shot is pillowy soft and he can finish above the rim better than just about any shooter you'll find at this level. He won't create much for himself, but that's a secondary criticism when you're as good a scorer as McLemore.