This year's edition of college basketball has some excellent freshmen who are shining brightly and carrying their teams to success.
Because of the critical roles that these first-year players have, there is intense pressure for them to perform at a very high level every game.
Here are the 10 freshmen under the most pressure in college basketball.
Stats provided by ESPN.com
With three weeks to go until Selection Sunday, Pitt has some work to do.
And Steven Adams is literally right in the middle of everything.
Adams is the Panthers’ leading rebounder (6.4 RPG) and the anchor of Jamie Dixon’s defense.
After losing consecutive Big East games to Marquette and Notre Dame, Pitt needs to win as many of its remaining games as possible in order to solidify its March Madness resume.
The Ducks were 17-2 when Artis, the team's assist leader (3.8 APG), got injured in a late January game against Washington State.
Since then, Dana Altman’s team has gone 5-4 and is seriously lacking in terms of floor leadership.
Artis’ return has been the subject of weekly discussion, but for now, he remains on the sideline as the end of the season draws closer.
Harris is the team’s best three-point shooter (43.2 percent) and No. 2 scorer (13.2 PPG).
ESPN.com’s Nic Reiner recently commented (subscription access required):
Michigan State's Garry Harris, one of the best young players in the Big Ten this year, had a bit of a scare in Tuesday night's loss to Indiana when his shoulder popped out of its socket. Fortunately, the shoulder went back in on its own and Harris never left the Indiana game but one has to think Tom Izzo is worried about his key freshman guard as the Spartans enter the ever-rigorous tail end of Big Ten play.
UNC’s point guard Marcus Paige has a lot of responsibilities on his shoulders as the Tar Heels continue to secure their place in this year’s NCAA Tournament.
Paige has stepped up recently, averaging 13 points and 5.3 assists (and 1.3 turnovers) over Carolina’s last three games. He is playing with more poise and making better decisions with the ball.
Paige’s effective floor leadership is a huge key to UNC’s success in the weeks ahead.
Ben McLemore is one of the best pure shooters in college basketball.
He is Kansas’ leading scorer (16.2 PPG) and is able to create opportunities for himself from downtown or at the rim.
While this Jayhawks team is loaded with quality seniors (four senior starters), McLemore is their “go-to guy” when the game is on the line.
KU will heavily rely on the 6’5" redshirt freshman from St. Louis as they finish out what could be another Big 12 championship season
Ferrell’s strength is in directing traffic and getting the ball to his Hoosier teammates in the best possible scoring position.
Not too many teams have been able to rattle the 6'0" floor leader from Indy, but don’t expect IU’s upcoming opponents to sit back and let Ferrell operate.
They most certainly will look to confuse and disrupt Yogi's flow.
With the early-season injury to Mike Moser and the midseason addition of Pitt transfer Khem Birch, Bennett has had to do most of the Rebels' (21-7; 8-5 MWC) heavy lifting so far.
The overpowering power forward left Saturday’s game with a sore shoulder that UNLV head coach Dave Rice said was the result of “sleeping wrong.”
With three games left in their Mountain West Conference schedule, those that follow the team hope that Bennett can correct this sleep-positioning predicament.
But Smart has exceeded all expectations as he has exploded onto the Big 12 and national scene.
He not only runs the team (4.3 APG) from the point, but he is a primary scorer (15 PPG; No. 2 on the team) and rebounder (5.7 RPG).
Take away Smart’s production and leadership, and this Cowboys team (20-6; 10-4 Big 12) is a .500 ball club.
Now, Cauley-Stein is expected to be the defensive anchor in the middle of the Wildcats defense and contribute, at least, with putbacks and alley-oops on offense.
Over the weekend, WCS scored seven points, pulled down 12 rebounds and blocked seven shots in a big win against Missouri. Looks a whole lot like a Nerlens stat line.
Hopefully, for UK’s sake, he can keep that up.
No freshman has more pressure on him than Shabazz Muhammad.
UCLA’s 6’6” wing has the full weight of his team's success resting squarely on his capable shoulders. The Bruins (19-7; 9-4 Pac 12) will go as far as Shabazz will take them.
While head coach Ben Howland has other capable options, no one can do what Muhammad can do.
The skilled shooter from Vegas has averaged 20 points and seven rebounds in the Bruins' last five games.
If he falters, UCLA becomes an above-average team that can be beaten by many teams in and out of the Pac-12.