Freshmen have become the perennial headliners of college basketball, with the best carrying national-title contenders on their backs. This year’s class entered with extravagant hype, but the early returns are showing that these first-year standouts have the game to back up their press clippings.
One of the most impressive has been Aaron Gordon, Arizona’s hard-dunking forward. The Wildcats have one of the best and deepest frontcourts in the country, and Gordon has been the standout amongst the Arizona big men in 2013-14.
Read on for more on Arizona's main man and the rest of the top 20 freshmen in the country so far, with an eye toward picking the best of the best as the season revs up.
Handed the daunting job of replacing Wooden Award-winning Trey Burke, Derrick Walton Jr. has given Michigan solid floor leadership.
Key Stats: 10.0 points, 2.5 assists and 0.8 steals per game
Why He’s Here: Has helped keep the points flowing for the loaded Michigan frontcourt, even when Mitch McGary was sidelined with a sore back.
Biggest Concern: Needs to attack the paint more aggressively after getting to the free-throw line just 12 times in five games.
Sindarius Thornwell is Frank Martin’s first signature recruit since arriving at South Carolina, and the shooting guard has immediately become the best offensive weapon on the roster.
Key Stats: 14.7 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game
Why He’s Here: Led a near-upset of No. 23 Baylor with 20 points in Waco.
Biggest Concern: On a Gamecocks squad devoid of scoring options, will have to adjust to routine double-teaming.
Thrown into the fire as the successor to superstar Michael Carter-Williams, Tyler Ennis has held his own for the No. 9 Orange.
Key Stats: 7.8 points, 3.8 assists and 2.0 steals per game; 4-of-10 three-point shooting
Why He’s Here: Despite inconsistent play from all parts of the roster, has helped Syracuse dodge a couple of early upsets.
Biggest Concern: Point totals in first four starts—one, 16, 12, two—emblematic of streakiness in all areas of his game so far.
He didn’t get the offseason buzz of classmate Austin Nichols, but Nick King is the Memphis freshman who’s off to the hottest start.
Key Stats: 18.0 points and 6.5 rebounds per game
Why He’s Here: Provided silver lining in blowout loss to Oklahoma State by pouring in 23 points.
Biggest Concern: Tigers have only played two games, so impressive early numbers may be a fluke.
A natural point guard at 5’11”, Stevie Clark has still managed to find productive minutes behind (and alongside) Cowboys superstar Marcus Smart.
Key Stats: 9.8 points, 5.0 assists and 1.3 steals per game, 7-of-13 three-point shooting
Why He’s Here: Plenty of starting point guards (of any age) would be happy to have the productivity Clark has shown in just 18.5 minutes a night for loaded OK State.
Biggest Concern: Needs to keep his steal totals high to compensate for inevitable matchup problems against bigger, stronger Big 12 guards.
Being tasked with holding Kentucky’s offense together hasn’t stopped Andrew Harrison from doing plenty of scoring in his own right.
Key Stats: 11.0 points and 3.6 assists per game, 7-of-11 three-point shooting
Why He’s Here: Wildcats’ top assist man helped spearhead Kentucky’s near-comeback against Michigan State (including some clutch free-throw shooting).
Biggest Concern: Given the unimpressive collection of point guards he’s faced—with the exception of Keith Appling—he should have far more than two steals in five games.
Recruited to replace Larry Drew II, Zach LaVine hasn’t gotten Drew’s old spot in the starting lineup yet, but he’s putting up some impressive numbers regardless.
Key Stats: 10.0 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game
Why He’s Here: Vital bench scorer for thin UCLA roster is Steve Alford’s best option for a second long-range shooter to help Jordan Adams.
Biggest Concern: Recruited as a big (6’5”) point guard, LaVine’s assist totals are none too impressive for someone playing starter’s minutes on a formidable offense.
At 6’10”, 230 pounds, Eric Mika brings some much-needed physicality to the high-octane Cougars.
Key Stats: 13.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game
Why He’s Here: Already holding his own against major-conference big men, with 17 points and nine boards against No. 21 Iowa State and another 12 and four in a win at Stanford.
Biggest Concern: Now that he’s proved he can get to the foul line, he has to start making the free throws at better than a 54.2-percent clip.
On most other teams, James Young would be the leading scorer instead of Julius Randle’s right-hand man.
Key Stats: 14.2 points and 1.0 steals per game, 12-of-38 three-point shooting
Why He’s Here: Prolific three-point threat is also a first-class athlete who makes Kentucky’s fast break sizzle.
Biggest Concern: For a 6’6” swingman with his talent, he’s not doing much rebounding thus far (2.8 boards per game).
Kentucky’s top perimeter shooter, Aaron Harrison has also been the ‘Cats’ best defender on the outside.
Key Stats: 12.4 points and 1.4 steals per game
Why He’s Here: An unstoppable scoring weapon (when he’s on).
Biggest Concern: A bad game at the wrong time, like his 1-of-7 from the floor against Michigan State, could end Kentucky’s title hopes.
Although he’s going on the shelf with a high ankle sprain, Kasey Hill had jumped out to a fast start running the Gators offense.
Key Stats: 10.3 points, 4.3 assists and 2.3 steals per game
Why He’s Here: Even while struggling with his shot in a loss at Wisconsin, he’s been a productive distributor without generating a massive amount of turnovers.
Biggest Concern: Ankle injuries are especially tough on point guards, and he’ll have little or no warm-up time between his return and the start of SEC play.
Towering center Joel Embiid has some muscle, too—250 pounds on a 7’0” frame—and is on the fast track to replacing Tarik Black in the starting lineup.
Key Stats: 9.0 points and 8.0 rebounds per game
Why He’s Here: Showing impressive maturity on offense (five assists against Duke) and already has his first double-double off the bench (16 points, 13 boards against Iona).
Biggest Concern: Has the reputation of a great shot-blocker, but prior to Friday's three-block outburst against Towson, he’d only managed three rejections in as many games. Maybe Friday got him out of his funk.
Even while stuck in Andrew Wiggins’ considerable shadow, Wayne Selden Jr. is making his own mark on second-ranked Kansas’ starting lineup.
Key Stats: 10.0 points, 3.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game
Why He’s Here: Athletic slasher has been a surprisingly effective playmaker for KU’s deep pool of scorers.
Biggest Concern: Hasn’t shown much as a three-point shooter (2-of-7 through three games).
Stepping onto a roster with four returning starters, Jabari Bird has immediately become the Golden Bears’ leading scorer.
Key Stats: 13.5 points and 4.0 rebounds per game, 9-of-18 three-point shooting
Why He’s Here: 4-0 team will challenge Pac-12 leaders if he keeps up his torrid shooting.
Biggest Concern: With several other viable scorers around him, could stand to pass more than his current 1.5-assist-per-game pace.
His 2-3 Huskies are already underachieving, but Nigel Williams-Goss has been the most successful member of the country's deep crop of freshman point guards.
Key Stats: 13.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.5 steals per game
Why He’s Here: He's dazzling on D and dishing out plenty of assists in spite of Washington’s suspect offensive frontcourt.
Biggest Concern: Although his scoring repertoire is light years ahead of expectations, he's missed all five of his three-point tries.
Indiana ranks third in the country in rebounding, primarily because of the performance of Noah Vonleh at power forward.
Key Stats: 15.4 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game
Why He’s Here: Set of four straight double-doubles to open the season includes one recorded in just 18 minutes against Samford.
Biggest Concern: Has been committing an awful lot of fouls considering the quality (poor) of Indiana's first four opponents.
He’s essentially sharing the starting power-forward spot with Brandon Ashley, but Aaron Gordon is still dominating for the 5-0 Wildcats.
Key Stats: 13.0 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game
Why He’s Here: Has been the best player in almost every area—including outstanding defense—in a stacked Arizona frontcourt.
Biggest Concern: Embarrassing 9-of-21 start from the free-throw line mars otherwise sensational showing.
Andrew Wiggins was the top-rated recruit in the incoming class, and he hasn’t exactly disappointed now that he’s arrived in Lawrence.
Key Stats: 17.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game, 54.5-percent field-goal shooting
Why He’s Here: Jayhawks’ leading scorer lit up Duke for 22 points in early signature win.
Biggest Concern: Given the Blue Devils’ start, it seems fair to say that he hasn’t faced a big-time defense yet.
Even dragooned into the power-forward spot, natural SF Jabari Parker has been the ACC’s best player as the leader of sixth-ranked Duke.
Key Stats: 22.4 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 1.2 steals per game, 13-of-20 three-point shooting
Why He’s Here: Dominating in more areas of the game than anyone this side of Marcus Smart.
Biggest Concern: At 235 pounds, may wear down once he starts having to wrestle ACC power forwards on a nightly basis.
In five games of college ball, Julius Randle’s worst showing has been 10 points and 15 rebounds in a blowout victory against Robert Morris.
Key Stats: 20.8 points and 13.4 rebounds per game; 61.1-percent field-goal shooting
Why He’s Here: Even Jabari Parker isn’t as irreplaceable to Duke’s offense as Randle is to the freshman-heavy ‘Cats.
Biggest Concern: With so many touches, needs to cut down on freshman mistakes—and 3.4 turnovers a night—sooner rather than later.