Everything involved with college athletic recruiting is, to put it mildly, an inexact science.
Players expected to become our next great pro-sports icons get exposed as homesick kids and poor decision-makers every year.
Conversely, the underhyped and undersized kid from the small high school gets added to a university's roster almost as an afterthought and becomes a bigger star than anyone in his class. Remember, Rivals ranked Trey Burke behind Villanova's Tyrone Johnson, Xavier's Dee Davis and Oregon's Brett Kingma coming out of high school.
So, when we gaze into the future and project how this season's blue-chip prospects will fare in their opening seasons, it's not just the player's talent level that determines his success.
How does he fit in the coach's system?
Will the player work well with his teammates or spend every game trying to show off for the NBA scouts?
Will he put in the academic work to stay eligible?
Predicting who'll become a starter is often hard enough. Predicting stat lines? That crystal ball is a whole other level of hazy.
But, we'll try it anyway to have a little fun. Commenters are encouraged to take it as such, rather than charging with pitchforks drawn.
*The 22 players herein are the ones rated as 5-star prospects by ESPN Recruiting Nation.
*Names are presented alphabetically. Photos courtesy of 247 Sports, unless otherwise noted.
Joining a team so heavy on offensive options (Andrew Wiggins, Wayne Selden, Perry Ellis, et al.) should leave 7-foot Cameroon native Joel Embiid free to focus on the defensive end. There, he should emerge as one of the Big 12's most feared rim protectors.
A HoopsWorld report by Nate Duncan on Embiid's performance at the adidas Nations tournament poked some holes in Embiid's offensive instincts, although he could surprise opponents who don't respect his mid-range jumper. His best moments came on individual post-up moves, but will he see a lot of those opportunities with so many other scorers around?
Raw length will result in Embiid getting his share of rebounds, but he'll need more experience to learn how to anticipate the bounce and maximize his opportunities.
It's possible that Embiid will come out on the losing end of the battle for post minutes, getting stuck behind sophomore Ellis and grad transfer Tarik Black. That may be the best for his long-term development, but he may not stick around in Lawrence long enough to truly get polished for the NBA team that drafts him.
Projected Line: 4.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game
Unlike Embiid at Kansas, Syracuse point guard Tyler Ennis will see major minutes from day one. He is the only true point guard on the Orange roster, joining a lineup that is in heavy flux after losing three of last season's top four scorers.
Ennis' new coach Jim Boeheim bluntly admitted to Syracuse.com, per Mike Waters, that the primary motivation for scheduling a summer tour of Canada was the integration of an experienced frontcourt with a largely green group of guards.
Between the Syracuse tour and his work with Canada in the FIBA U19 World Championships, Ennis displayed plenty of scoring potency. He led the U19 Worlds by scoring 20.9 PPG, per Fiba.com, but Boeheim won't often need him to dominate the ball that much. Not with the likes of C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant around to get on the end of his passes.
Ennis isn't a three-point threat yet, but should otherwise operate the Syracuse offense in highly effective fashion.
Projected Line: 11.3 PPG, 4.8 assists per game, 1.0 steal per game
Nobody had a more impressive summer than incoming Arizona forward Aaron Gordon.
Not only did he take McDonald's All-American MVP honors, he also went abroad and won the same award at the U19 World Championships.
His U19 line of 12.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 61.2 percent shooting from the floor would be solid for a rookie, but it might underwhelm a bit, given 5-star expectations in NCAA basketball. While his new Wildcat teammates are talented, Gordon won't be surrounded by quite the all-world ensemble that accompanied him to Prague.
UA will look to Gordon and shooting guard Nick Johnson as its first two offensive options, and the freshman leading the team in scoring should not surprise anyone. He may not top the team in rebounding with the burly duo of Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley stationed inside, but he should see his share of chances when one or the other sits.
Gordon considers himself capable of playing any position on the court, according to Mike DeCourcy of Sporting News. While we shouldn't expect Arizona coach Sean Miller to let Gordon call the plays, we'll see crooked numbers in a lot of columns on his scoresheets.
Projected Line: 17.7 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.5 SPG
If all the members of Kentucky's epic recruiting class produced numbers commensurate with their potential, the Wildcats would average something like 143 points per game this season.
Shooting guard Aaron Harrison may be the most likely candidate to lead the team in scoring. He's a capable three-point shooter and dangerous slasher who'll be the first look for his point guard, twin brother Andrew. The one thing that may cost him time will be shot selection, as Calipari will have no qualms about going to James Young if Aaron is forcing the issue too much.
When Andrew struggles or needs rest, Aaron may also be the most likely replacement at the point. Either Harrison brother should be capable of harassing smaller guards into making embarrassing backcourt turnovers.
As one of the most versatile players on Kentucky's roster, look for Aaron Harrison to lead the team in minutes, and his stat line should reflect that.
Projected Line: 16.5 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.5 SPG
Andrew Harrison gets more NBA draft hype than his brother, primarily due to the uniqueness of a 6'5", 205-pound point guard. Calling Andrew the better player may be a stretch, but he'll be Kentucky's undisputed floor general from the season opener.
The aforementioned size can become both a blessing and a curse for Andrew. Smart, experienced guards will know how to draw whistles when Harrison tries to rely on his size and strength to bull his way to the basket.
Early scouting reports, including this one from DraftExpress, make note of Andrew's tendency to lose composure under adversity, a trait that his brother shares to some extent. A point guard struggling with body language can be highly corrosive to his team and could prove UK's undoing if it recurs.
Andrew is not the shooter Aaron is, but he can make open looks. Getting to the rim is his strength as a scorer, but he shouldn't have to dominate that category to win games for the Cats.
One of the best creators in the 2013 class, Andrew should have more than enough weapons at his disposal to contend for the SEC assist crown. Turnovers may be a necessary evil if Harrison dominates the ball, but he should make more than enough positive plays to offset the miscues.
Andrew will also be a dangerous point man for the UK defense, especially when John Calipari wants to deploy a press. He can occasionally lose defensive focus, and if Calipari gets him locked in, big steal numbers can be expected.
Projected Line: 13.2 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 7.1 APG, 2.0 SPG
North Carolina fans have a number of reasons to be excited about the upcoming season, chief among them is hoping P.J. Hairston no longer has time to do stupid things off the court.
Another major selling point will be the first look at freshman forward Isaiah Hicks, a 6'8" hustler who should thrive if UNC's tempo is, again, near the top of Ken Pomeroy's national rankings.
Expect Hicks to run the floor with the Tar Heel guards and make a succession of alley-oops look effortless. While he's not a tremendously skilled offensive player yet, he'll still make plays by outrunning and outjumping his opponents.
At only 210 pounds, it's probably unreasonable to expect Hicks to fight off opposing power forwards for rebounds. Hicks' leaping ability will make him a force on the glass and also aid his shot-blocking efforts.
Now for the biggest issue: finding Hicks some minutes. Sophomore Brice Johnson is a more polished offensive player, and junior James Michael McAdoo is still considered a potential lottery pick. What Hicks can bring to the table is an uncanny ability to rack up those hustle points that will come in transition.
Either way, coach Roy Williams' handling of the power forward position could make these predicted numbers vary wildly.
Projected Line: 9.2 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.0 BPG
Even though he's a mere six feet tall, incoming Florida point guard Kasey Hill will excite the Gator Nation with at least a few highlight-reel dunks this season. A speedy playmaker with superb ballhandling ability, his teammates will be forced to hustle just to keep up on the break.
Hill's mixtape contains a few passes that will catch his fellow Gators unaware if they blink. His drive-and-dish skills could be the best thing for UF big men like Patric Young and Will Yeguete, who could end up with a succession of easy slams when their defenders rotate to slow Hill.
Coach Billy Donovan may frequently utilize Hill and senior Scottie Wilbekin together in a two-point offense. Both are strong perimeter defenders, but neither is considered an elite shooter. Following repeated discipline problems, Wilbekin may actually cede a substantial amount of minutes to the freshman.
The biggest qualm with Hill may be inefficiency, as his game, sometimes, emphasizes speed over security. Still, he'll make enough plays to be considered an elite SEC point guard, ascending to a level that Wilbekin could never quite reach.
Projected Line: 10.3 PPG, 5.6 APG, 2.0 SPG
Scoring at a college level will not come overnight for Arizona's Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (left, with classmate Aaron Gordon). While he's a great athlete with good length (7'1" wingspan on his 6'6" frame) and should be a dangerous finisher at the rim, he's not a shooter.
Offensive woes got him cut from the U19 World Championship team, according to a DraftExpress report. That said, he was facing an all-star crew in those tryouts, so his actual performance should be more efficient against the Wildcats' schedule.
One thing that he'll do well against any opponent is play defense. Former Arizona assistant—now Ball State head coach—James Whitford told the Arizona Daily Star, according to Greg Hansen, that Hollis-Jefferson "has a little Stacey Augmon in him," invoking the former UNLV star who went on to a lengthy NBA career.
Jefferson is capable of guarding four positions, and Wildcat head coach Sean Miller will deploy him liberally. With several other skilled scoring options, don't expect Hollis-Jefferson to have a ton of big nights, but do expect him to regularly deny others their fun.
Projected Line: 5.6 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.7 SPG
New Michigan guard Zak Irvin compares very favorably with new teammate Glenn Robinson III. The two are both Indiana boys with rangy builds, and both are capable of scoring from nearly anywhere on the court.
Irvin may not, however, be able to walk right into a starting spot the way Robinson did.
Not only will Robinson be there to dominate minutes, potentially at small forward, but GR3's fellow sophomores Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert will also compete in the backcourt. Irvin has the talent to beat out the two second-year players, but he'll need to impress coach John Beilein on defense.
In another similarity to Robinson, Irvin has the versatility to play multiple positions. He claimed to Joe Stapleton of UMHoops.com that he could play the point in a pinch. While it's not likely to come to that, look for Irvin and Robinson to share the court frequently.
If Irvin pulls 25 minutes per game, he has the potential to be an All-Freshman team performer. We'll operate under the assumption that he will.
Projected Line: 11.5 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 2.2 APG
As 6'11", 265-pound man-child Dakari Johnson enters Kentucky, questions follow.
Will his freshman season look like that of Randolph Morris (8.8 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 0.9 BPG) or Daniel Orton (3.4/3.3/1.4)? Will he stick around and improve a la Morris or bail immediately like Orton?
Or, could Johnson be the new DeMarcus Cousins (15.1/9.8) and shunt sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein to the bench? Certainly, Johnson looks like the most imposing physical presence in a UK uniform since Cousins.
Offensively, Johnson's bulk will allow him to get position on just about anyone in America, but how well will he fit in the typical Kentucky offense?
Perfectly willing to bang and scrap with his back to the basket, Johnson will crush undersized opponents. His footwork and finesse elements will need some extra polish, and he may stare down the barrel of early foul trouble in some games.
On defense, Cauley-Stein is a far superior player with greater athleticism. Johnson will not be a tremendous shot-blocker and will need to learn when to react as a help defender. Against elite offensive big men, Cauley-Stein should see the majority of the minutes.
How Calipari handles his pair of bigs will be a key factor in Kentucky's success. Minutes may get split down the middle, perhaps leaning slightly toward the sophomore. Johnson's line may not be as impressive as Cousins', but don't expect him to sleepwalk into the NBA first round like Orton did either.
Projected Line: 6.1 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 62% FG
How rare is it for ESPN's third-ranked point guard to sign with a team that hasn't been to the NCAA tournament in a couple of years and still not be the starter?
Philadelphia product Rysheed Jordan joins a St. John's backcourt that may be its deepest in decades. Returning guards D'Angelo Harrison, Phil Greene, Sir'Dominic Pointer and Jamal Branch combined for about 41 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists per game last season.
During St. John's European tour, Red Storm coach Steve Lavin usually went with Branch as the starting point guard, but managed to find time to play Jordan and Branch together. This was possible, however, with Greene being out while he recovers from a hip injury.
Few playmakers in the 2013 class have Jordan's blend of quickness, size and strength. Still, even he has admitted that he needs to adapt to the speed of the college game.
A New York Daily News preview, by Roger Rubin, of the European trip quoted Jordan as saying, "I know that I am a great passer, but as we've been practicing I've learned that I can't make the same passes I made in high school now that I'm in college.”
For now, it appears that Jordan may serve a bit of an apprenticeship early on, with minutes coming his way as Lavin tries to set his rotation. There are a lot of bodies in play here, so Jordan will need to adapt quickly.
Projected Line: 5.8 PPG, 3.3 APG
Jarell Martin is easily LSU's most touted recruit since Anthony Randolph in 2007. Just imagine how good he'd be with more than two years of full-time basketball experience.
Martin will line up next to All-SEC big man Johnny O'Bryant, giving LSU what could be the best frontcourt duo in the conference by season's end.
The Tigers will run the court with anyone in the country, which will give Martin plenty of chances to stuff the stat sheet. With the ability to score inside and out, Martin could lead the team, despite the return of four double-digit scorers from last year.
He's also spent the summer working hard on the defensive end. A player who averaged four blocks per game as a high school senior should be expected to make a few disruptive plays on defense, so Martin's adaptation to defending college players will be a storyline to watch during LSU's early games.
With Kentucky's army of rookies likely to split the votes, look for either Martin or Arkansas' Bobby Portis to claim SEC Freshman of the Year honors.
Projected Line: 16.2 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 2.0 BPG
If a member of Memphis' hyped recruiting class is going to crack the starting lineup, it's going to be 6'9" local product Austin Nichols. He may be the only Tiger big man who can keep up with coach Josh Pastner's likely four-guard lineup now that Missouri transfer Michael Dixon is eligible to play.
Nichols can run the floor with anyone, but at somewhere near 210 pounds, he'll struggle with bulk in the halfcourt. A capable shooter from 15 feet, he'll be just as valuable as a decoy to clear the lane for Dixon and Geron Johnson to attack the rim.
When Pastner goes with a more traditional lineup, Nichols will be free to drift away from the rim, while Shaq Goodwin crashes for rebounds. Nichols has the quickness to break down a slow-footed power forward, and he'll produce a few great games this season.
Overall, though, his averages won't leap off the page with the Memphis backcourt commanding a majority of the possessions.
Projected Line: 7.1 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 1.6 APG
With the absurd array of perimeter talent at Mike Krzyzewski's disposal this season, Duke will likely spread possessions evenly. The upside, though, is that there will be a lot of possessions to go around.
Freshman forward Jabari Parker will get a hefty share of those playmaking chances and look for him to make the most of them wherever he finds them.
By "wherever he finds them," we mean that Parker will see some time wherever Coach K needs him along the front line. If he's going to bang with centers for rebounds, he'll do it. If he's going to break down small forwards and attack the rim, he'll do it. Drag power forwards to the perimeter and shoot over them? Absolutely.
The presence of athletic defenders like Rodney Hood and Amile Jefferson will allow Krzyzewski to pick and choose Parker's defensive assignment with an eye toward keeping him fresh late in the game. Parker will lead a talented roster in scoring and contend for All-ACC honors at a minimum.
Projected Line: 18.6 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 2.9 APG
Arkansas fans haven't seen anything like Bobby Portis in a long time, if ever.
The Little Rock product measured 6'11" in shoes and weighed 231 pounds at the Nike Hoop Summit, with a wingspan of 7'1.5". He'll put those measurements to good use every time he drags an opposing big man out to the perimeter, where his shooting stroke extends to the arc.
Coach Mike Anderson will have to make sure that he's got either fellow freshman Moses Kingsley or Houston transfer Alandise Harris on the floor with Portis at all times. Those two will welcome the dirty work that comes with fighting on the glass and playing offense with a back to the basket. Portis can do the interior work, but prefers to get his points facing the rim.
The Hogs will be athletic enough this season to press and run the way Anderson likes, and Portis will lead the way from his first game. Look for him to place among the SEC's top scorers and be a favorite for top freshman honors.
Projected Line: 17.6 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 1.6 BPG
If you're looking for the next Kentucky folk hero, it may be power forward Julius Randle.
Top freshman prospect Andrew Wiggins garners comparisons to LeBron James, but Randle is even closer to LeBron's blend of skill and size. At 6'9" and 250 pounds, Randle probably shouldn't be holding his own in a dunk-off with a 6'4" point guard like Marcus Smart, but he did.
That athletic ability will make Randle a dangerous and versatile offensive threat for UK this season, dangerous on the drive, in the post and with a mid-range jumper. A former Texas AAU rival of the Harrison twins, Randle knows their games well and vice versa. That should make all three even more potent offensively.
Randle's sheer aggressiveness will drive defenders into submission as he repeatedly pounds away at any perceived weakness. As long as he keeps that in check, avoids foul trouble and doesn't commit many careless turnovers, Randle should be UK's most efficient offensive player.
Despite being surrounded by frontcourt talent, Randle's ability to work both inside and out should make him the least likely Wildcat to leave the floor, save, perhaps, the Harrison twins. He may struggle slightly in guarding wing players, but should prove capable of slowing all but the best power forwards.
Look for him to amass at least 10 double-doubles on the season, and, perhaps, threaten to average one at year's end.
Projected Line: 16.2 PPG, 8.4 RPG
For all the excitement about Andrew Wiggins, his fellow blue-chip rookie Wayne Selden is already generating plenty of buzz himself.
Selden started off August by drawing attention for superb play at the adidas Nations camp in Long Beach, Calif. Draft Express publisher Jonathan Givony tweeted, “Great week for Wayne Seldon [sic]. One of the top performers here. Made shots, scored in transition, defended, played under control.”
The strength of the 6'5" Selden appears to be just that, his strength. Smaller shooting guards will have a fight on their hands to keep him out of the lane. He and Wiggins have waged head-to-head battles during most of KU's summer practices, sharpening both for competition that will be much less NBA-ready.
Selden will be well-prepared to pick up the slack from opponents who focus too much on Wiggins. This writer has maintained over the summer that it will be Selden, not Wiggins, who leads the team in scoring, while Wiggins leads in assists. The same will be said here.
Projected Line: 18.8 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.9 APG
Indiana's Noah Vonleh has a versatile skill set that should conjure memories of former Hoosier All-American Jared Jeffries. As a matter of fact, I compared the two back in July, indicating that Vonleh would need a season comparable to Jeffries' decorated second year for IU to truly excel.
Vonleh's dimensions are tantalizing, measuring just shy of 6'10" with a 7'4" wingspan at the Nike Hoop Summit. At 240 pounds, he'll be the Hoosiers' primary post engine from day one after a lot of summer work on his primary weakness, the strength he'll need to battle Big Ten post players like Mitch McGary or A.J. Hammons.
Capable of shooting out to 17 feet and beating slow-footed pivots off the dribble, Vonleh should be hard to keep off the scoresheet. What can slow him down is the occasional hiccup on the other end.
Vonleh will need to prove he can defend those burly Big Ten big men without landing himself in foul trouble. His length will allow him to get some blocks, but he'll need to pick his spots to avoid hacking shooters.
If he's not on the bench after too many whistles, Vonleh should run away with Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors and contend for first-team All-Conference.
Projected Line: 16.8 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 1.8 BPG
The Florida Gators finally got their answer on the academic eligibility of blue-chip forward Chris Walker. It wasn't the one they were hoping for, but it's an answer nonetheless.
With Walker planning to enroll in December, his growth will be stunted by dropping into the practice routine just as the team is ramping up for SEC play. UF already has a strong frontcourt nucleus, and adding Walker may upset the roles that players like Will Yeguete, Patric Young and Dorian Finney-Smith cultivate for themselves during the non-conference schedule.
Walker may have moments of dominance, but his overall line will likely be underwhelming compared to some of his fellow McDonald's All-Americans. If he averages double figures, the 10-plus points per game may not come as efficiently as coach Billy Donovan might like.
The chemistry concerns of incorporating a player like Walker mid-stream may prove to be Florida's biggest obstacle to getting over the Final Four hump after three straight Elite Eights.
Projected Line: 10.4 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.4 BPG
Yeah, here he is, likely the only reason you clicked on the link.
Andrew Wiggins is already an All-American, according to the Blue Ribbon Yearbook. Others will follow suit. There will be plenty of reasons to put Wiggins on your All-American ballot, whether you buy in at the start or wait to see some production.
What will truly make Kansas fans enjoy his short time in Lawrence will be Wiggins' desire to involve his entire team. A capable and willing passer, Wiggins will find opportunities to help the likes of Wayne Selden, Conner Frankamp and Perry Ellis get easy baskets.
Draft Express red-flagged his defensive effort in All-Star and international settings, but such events aren't normally marked by players fighting to lock others down. Fishing that deep for a negative is like getting to check Kate Upton for a birthmark and complaining when you find one.
Wiggins doesn't have the same strength and physicality as Selden, which will result in the occasional deferment. Expect Wiggins to lead the Jayhawks in assists, since KU enters the season without proven, consistent production at the point guard position.
Projected Line: 17.8 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 5.1 APG, 2.1 SPG
Nigel Williams-Goss played more minutes and dished out more assists than Marcus Smart.
Granted, that was when they played together at the FIBA U19 World Championships, and Williams-Goss racked most of his numbers in garbage time. Still, Williams-Goss put in work on a virtual collegiate all-star team, leading the USA in minutes, assists, three-point percentage and free-throw percentage while committing only 1.2 turnovers per 40 minutes. Whew.
A three-year starter at powerhouse Findlay Prep (Las Vegas, Nev.), Williams-Goss has been performing against college-bound talent since he was a sophomore, so don't expect him to be cowed by opponents in the Pac-12. He's earned some "assassin cred," too, as evidenced by this buzzer-beater to top Montverde Academy in the Hoophall Classic tournament last January.
The 6'3" Williams-Goss isn't as quick as some of the smaller players he'll face, but he may be the smartest point guard in the class of 2013. Look for him to put on interesting battles with Pac-12 foes like Arizona State's Jahii Carson and Arizona's T.J. McConnell.
Projected Line: 11.1 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 4.9 APG
A potent scorer like James Young playing behind the likes of Julius Randle and the Harrison twins should conjure memories of another prominent sixth man who carried the same first name.
James Harden has performed quite well since leaving the shadows of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to be "The Man" in Houston. Likewise, the new Kentucky scorer could become an All-American on any other team.
The stylish 6'7" lefty will get his points from anywhere and should prove capable of racking an outsized scoring average for his playing time. Shot selection may slow Young down if he falls too in love with the three-point shot, and he'll need to get any such problem fixed fast.
After all, John Calipari will have no qualms about chaining any of his prized freshmen to the bench, since there's always a next man up.
When he's fully engaged, Young can be a solid rebounder, thanks to his 6'11" wingspan. Big Blue Nation should be prepared, though, for him to occasionally fade into the background like Alex Poythress did last season.
Young has never been described in terms like "alpha beast," which has been applied to Julius Randle, and he does not appear to be the fiery competitor that both Harrison twins are.
The line below may seem overly conservative, but it may also be in only 20 minutes of work.
Projected Line: 8.8 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.0 APG
For more from Scott on college basketball, check out The Back Iron.