With the last days of nonconference play bringing marquee matchups in bunches, college basketball’s best freshmen are getting to show what they’re made of against the country’s older stars. More often than not, the youngsters have been thrashing their more experienced foes.
Kansas center Joel Embiid, for one, took on Georgetown’s 6’10”, 350-pound Joshua Smith and New Mexico’s 7’0”, 245-pound Alex Kirk in his last two games. Neither junior could do anything to stop the Jayhawks’ seven-foot frosh from turning in two of his best games of the season.
Read on to see where Embiid now stands among the ranks of the 20 most impressive first-year stars around the country.
Previous Ranking: Unranked
Sindarius Thornwell climbs back into these rankings after helping the Gamecocks knock Saint Mary’s from the ranks of the unbeaten at the Diamond Head Classic.
Key Stats: 12.1 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.0 steals per game
Why He’s Here: Dangerous scorer is even better than the numbers he’s put up on Frank Martin’s defense-first squad.
Biggest Weakness: Streakiness and double-teams have him shooting an atrocious .367 from the floor.
Previous Ranking: Unranked
Towering Mamadou Ndiaye returns to the top 20 thanks to a shot-blocking rampage (13 in three games) and improved scoring (three double-digit games in his last four).
Key Stats: 8.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game
Why He’s Here: 7’6”, 290-pound Goliath makes underdog Anteaters a threat to surprise more-heralded foes.
Biggest Weakness: Shooting range is roughly the length of his (admittedly oversized) arms.
Previous Ranking: 14
In the worst game of Nigel Williams-Goss’ young career, he got blown away by senior superstar Shabazz Napier as UConn stomped Washington on its home floor.
Key Stats: 12.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.4 steals per game
Why He’s Here: Smooth point guard fills up stat sheets, even if he can’t overcome Huskies’ lack of frontcourt production.
Biggest Weakness: At .318, not nearly the three-point shooter you’d like a Pac-12 perimeter starter to be.
Previous Ranking: Unranked
Marcus Foster has been as hot as his surprising Wildcats (winners of six in a row), leaping into the team scoring lead with performances like his 14-point, six-board effort in an upset of Gonzaga.
Key Stats: 14.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.0 steals per game
Why He’s Here: Star of Bruce Weber’s first real recruiting class in Manhattan is thriving in coach’s motion offense.
Biggest Weakness: With no true point guard in the lineup, K-State could use more than 1.8 assists per game from its offensive leader.
Previous Ranking: 17
After two subpar games (including a painful near upset of Gonzaga), Devin Williams bounced back in a big way with his best performance of the year: 20 points and 12 boards against 7-footer A.J. Hammons and Purdue.
Key Stats: 10.1 points and 7.9 rebounds per game
Why He’s Here: 6’9”, 255-pound bruiser, and Cincinnati native, is cut from the same cloth as many of coach Bob Huggins’ old Bearcats forwards.
Biggest Weakness: Despite size and physicality, has done almost nothing as a shot-blocker.
Previous Ranking: 18
Bobby Portis’ first career double-double against Savannah State helped cement him as the Razorbacks’ second-leading scorer.
Key Stats: 12 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game
Why He’s Here: Sweet-shooting power forward has speed and agility to shine in Mike Anderson’s uptempo schemes.
Biggest Weakness: Arkansas’ top rebounder still isn’t getting that many boards by SEC standards.
Previous Ranking: 15
Anthony “Cat” Barber continues to be wildly streaky, but when he’s on—16 points and eight assists against East Carolina—he’s a force to be reckoned with.
Key Stats: 12.4 points and 4.3 assists per game
Why He’s Here: Top perimeter scorer for Wolfpack has also surpassed Tyler Lewis as their best distributor.
Biggest Weakness: Defense still needs a lot of work.
Previous Ranking: 12
Steve Alford’s secret weapon is battling his first slump: Zach LaVine has two consecutive single-digit scoring games and counting, including seven points on 3-of-12 shooting in a blowout loss to Duke.
Key Stats: 12.8 points, 2.0 assists and 1.0 steals per game; .429 three-point shooting
Why He’s Here: One of the most dangerous sixth men in the nation, he’s putting up more points than plenty of Pac-12 starters.
Biggest Weakness: Settles for an awful lot of jump shots: 49 three-point attempts against just 20 free-throw tries.
Previous Ranking: 11
Like many Tigers, Jordan Mickey struggled in a narrow win over Texas Tech, but he made up for a lot with a sensational 25-point, nine-rebound, five-block showcase against Louisiana-Monroe.
Key Stats: 13.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.6 blocks per game
Why He’s Here: No other shot-blocker in the country protects the rim as well while still providing a legitimate scoring punch.
Biggest Weakness: At 6’8”, 220 pounds, he’s not built for SEC lanes.
Previous Ranking: 6
Jabari Bird would already have been underachieving if he’d scored 10 points against each of Fresno State and Creighton, but the freshman combined for 10 in those two games to send his scoring average into a tailspin.
Key Stats: 11.3 points and 3.2 rebounds per game, .400 three-point shooting, .857 free-throw shooting
Why He’s Here: Outstanding three-point threat has also done plenty of damage with his finishing ability.
Biggest Weakness: Unimpressive defender will get lit up in Pac-12 play.
Previous Ranking: 9
While most of his Wildcats teammates rang up huge numbers in a shootout win over Belmont, James Young slogged through one of his worst nights, recording just six points and one rebound.
Key Stats: 13.4 points and 3.8 rebounds per game, .333 three-point shooting
Why He’s Here: Top three-point threat for ‘Cats also does plenty of scoring at the rim with his acrobatic dunks.
Biggest Weakness: Streaky shot has left him with an ugly .397 field-goal percentage.
Previous Ranking: 13
A monster game against Belmont (23 points, six boards and seven assists) highlights Aaron Harrison’s ascension to the post of Julius Randle’s right-hand man at Kentucky.
Key Stats: 15.1 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.1 steals per game
Why He’s Here: Emerging as best all-purpose 2-guard in the class.
Biggest Weakness: Still needs to pick up .308 three-point shooting.
Previous Ranking: 10
BYU wasn’t up to the challenge of facing back-to-back Pac-12 foes, but Eric Mika certainly did his part, combining for 25 points and 18 boards against Utah and Oregon.
Key Stats: 14 points and 6.5 rebounds per game
Why He’s Here: Improving rebounding complements a streak of 12 straight double-figure scoring nights.
Biggest Weakness: Not an impact defender, and Cougars could really use one of those.
Previous Ranking: 3
Foul woes (12 in his last three games) have contributed to a disappointing stretch for Noah Vonleh, who’s now gone three games in a row without reaching 10 rebounds.
Key Stats: 12 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game
Why He’s Here: Athletic rebounding ace has some scoring pop as well.
Biggest Weakness: A little too unselfish on offense, especially considering that the passes he's making don't amount to much (0.7 assists a night).
Previous Ranking: 8
Joel Embiid exploded for his two biggest scoring performances in consecutive games, hammering New Mexico and Georgetown for a combined 35 points (not to mention 14 boards and five blocks).
Key Stats: 10.5 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and 1.2 steals per game
Why He’s Here: Agile 7-footer is adding more scoring and defense to his reliable rebounding.
Biggest Weakness: Rebounding has been his most consistent area of production, but he’s still barely leading his own team (Perry Ellis is right behind him at 6.3 boards a night).
Previous Ranking: 4
He did turn in his best defensive game in a month with three steals against Georgetown, but Andrew Wiggins has been quiet lately on offense (23 points combined in the two games since his 26-point outburst against Florida).
Key Stats: 15.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game
Why He’s Here: Even on an off-night, versatile scorer can make things happen on offense.
Biggest Weakness: Must learn to curtail shooting slumps before they turn into 3-of-11 games (as against New Mexico).
Previous Ranking: 5
Even in a disappointing showing against Northern Arizona, Aaron Gordon kept hitting the glass, and when he gets in an offensive rhythm (21 points on 8-of-11 shooting against Southern), he’s something to see.
Key Stats: 12.5 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game
Why He’s Here: Wrecking ball of a combo forward shows flashes of shooting touch to go with his steady rebounding and fearsome athletic ability.
Biggest Weakness: Even while everything else was falling against the Jaguars, still couldn’t make free throws (.452 on the year).
Previous Ranking: 7
Dominating lowly High Point is one thing, but lighting up the athletic St. John’s defense for 21 points and six assists showed how explosive Tyler Ennis can be.
Key Stats: 12.1 points, 3.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 2.8 steals per game; .435 three-point shooting
Why He’s Here: While other freshman point guards have faded fast, he’s still sizzling at the helm of the undefeated Orange.
Biggest Weakness: Wildly inconsistent scoring output can put a lot of pressure on his teammates when he’s not hitting his shots.
Previous Ranking: 2
Perhaps motivated by a comparatively weak game against North Carolina, Julius Randle torched a gutty Belmont team for 29 points (on 8-of-10 shooting) to set a new career high.
Key Stats: 18.2 points and 11.3 rebounds per game
Why He’s Here: Double-teamed at every turn, but still provides top-notch offense and rebounding on a nightly basis.
Biggest Weakness: His work on the glass is a big help to Kentucky’s D, but otherwise, he’s unremarkable on that end of the floor.
Previous Ranking: 1
It was another two weeks at the office for the likely ACC Player of the Year, as Jabari Parker racked up two more monotonously brilliant performances (including 23 points, 10 boards and five assists against high-powered UCLA).
Key Stats: 22.1 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and 1.0 steals per game; .475 three-point shooting
Why He’s Here: Elite defender has vastly outperformed his recruiting classmates (and most of the country) as an offensive weapon.
Biggest Weakness: Despite fine showing against Bruins, not as productive a passer as many great Duke forwards have been.