With conference play beginning in earnest around the country, college basketball's top freshmen are in for another culture shock. As much of an adjustment as they've already had to make for the speed of the college game, they'll have another big hurdle to clear as they’re thrown into the heightened intensity of league games against rivals who face each other every year.
Few young players have experienced the resulting swings of momentum as fully as Noah Vonleh through his first two games. The Indiana monolith played brilliantly in a painful loss to Illinois, then got swallowed up by All-America candidate Adreian Payne as his team got blown out at home by Michigan State.
Read on to see where Vonleh’s ups and downs land him in this week’s ranking of the 20 most impressive first-year stars in college hoops.
Previous Ranking: Unranked
In Andrew Harrison's last three games, he's turned in his two best performances of the season against then-No. 18 North Carolina and then-No. 6 Louisville (a combined 35 points, 10 boards and nine assists).
Key Stats: 11.2 points and 3.4 assists per game
Why He’s Here: Though he's easily lost in the forest of first-year Kentucky stars, he’s still one of the best all-purpose offensive weapons in anyone’s freshman class.
Biggest Weakness: Struggling badly with defending under this year's heightened foul emphasis (3.5 hacks per game).
Previous Ranking: 17
Marcus Foster’s fine effort against Oklahoma State was vital in a K-State upset, but he also turned in one of his worst games of the season against unimpressive Tulane (six points, zero rebounds).
Key Stats: 14 points and 3.9 rebounds per game, .345 three-point shooting
Why He’s Here: Sensational pure scorer is also helping smallish Wildcats on the glass.
Biggest Weakness: High-volume shooter (nearly 12 attempts a game) for someone who’s hitting well south of 40 percent from the floor.
Previous Ranking: 16
Devin Williams, like the rest of the West Virginia starters, left early in a rout of William & Mary, but he bounced back to turn in a pair of solid efforts in the Mountaineers’ 2-0 Big 12 start.
Key Stats: 9.9 points and 7.7 rebounds per game
Why He’s Here: Low-post grinder is as much mountain as Mountaineer at 6’9”, 255 pounds.
Biggest Weakness: Awful shooter no matter how you slice it (zero three-point tries, .426 from the floor, .542 from the foul line).
Previous Ranking: 19
Facing one of his toughest opponents of the season, Mamadou Ndiaye erupted against Arizona State’s Jordan Bachynski, matching his fellow 7-footer blow for blow with 12 points, 12 boards and four blocks on the road.
Key Stats: 9.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game
Why He’s Here: Physical marvel (7’6”, 290 lbs) has some pretty impressive defensive instincts, too.
Biggest Weakness: Extremely raw on offense, where he rarely shoots anything beyond layup range.
Previous Ranking: 11
In the tough competition of this freshman class, to stand still is to lose ground, as Jabari Bird does after missing the Golden Bears’ last two games with a bum ankle.
Key Stats: 11.3 points and 3.2 rebounds per game, .400 three-point shooting
Why He’s Here: Elite all-around scorer has held his own in veteran lineup.
Biggest Weakness: Has struggled to maintain his production when his team falls behind.
Previous Ranking: 13
UCLA super-sub Zach LaVine (with his 16 points, four assists and two steals) was one of many Bruins with reason to celebrate their demolition of USC. He also needed it more than most after three straight disappointing performances.
Key Stats: 12.4 points, 2.2 assists and 1.0 steals per game, .453 three-point shooting
Why He’s Here: On the short list of the nation’s best bench players of any age.
Biggest Weakness: Plays much smaller than his 6’5” height.
Previous Ranking: 14
His Wolfpack have hit a rough patch against some tough competition, but Cat Barber has continued to do a solid job running the offense.
Key Stats: 12 points and 4.7 assists per game
Why He’s Here: Explosive combo guard is gaining confidence by the minute.
Biggest Weakness: Prone to severe shooting slumps, including the one in which he’s currently mired.
Previous Ranking: 18
Nigel Williams-Goss made his Pac-12 debut by overshadowing one of the league’s biggest stars, outplaying Jahii Carson on the latter’s home floor in an upset win over Arizona State.
Key Stats: 12.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.3 steals per game
Why He’s Here: Ultra-versatile point guard doing everything he can to make Washington’s four-guard lineup work.
Biggest Weakness: Although he’s scoring better than expected, his outside shot (.300 from deep) is as unimpressive as advertised.
Previous Ranking: 15
Playing outclassed opponents such as Texas-San Antonio and High Point does wonders for a freshman’s confidence, as Bobby Portis showed with a pair of terrific performances in the run-up to SEC play.
Key Stats: 12.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game
Why He’s Here: After a sluggish start, he’s finding his expected niche as the Razorbacks’ most reliable scorer.
Biggest Weakness: With so little competition from his own team, he should be getting even more rebounds (at 6'10", 242 lbs).
Previous Ranking: 9
Aaron Harrison was one of the only Wildcats who disappointed in a well-deserved win over Louisville, as he was held to just 10 points and a single assist.
Key Stats: 14.7 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.0 steals per game
Why He’s Here: Potent scoring weapon provides plenty of other contributions from his shooting guard spot.
Biggest Weakness: Three-point shot can only be called a liability at .291 accuracy.
Previous Ranking: 12
LSU suffered a massive upset in losing at home to Rhode Island, but Jordan Mickey nearly saved the Tigers with 21 points, four blocks and three steals.
Key Stats: 14.1 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.6 blocks per game
Why He’s Here: High-flying shot-blocker is heating up on offense.
Biggest Weakness: At 6’8”, 220 pounds, he’s none too big for SEC lanes.
Previous Ranking: 8
Neither Eric Mika nor his BYU team is off to a great start in WCC play, with the Cougars squandering Mika’s brilliant game at Loyola Marymount and the youngster fouling out after scoring just 10 points in another loss at Pepperdine.
Key Stats: 13.9 points and 6.4 rebounds per game
Why He’s Here: Surprisingly polished post scorer can do some damage on the glass, too.
Biggest Weakness: Improving as a shot-blocker, but still has a long way to go.
Previous Ranking: 10
James Young was the surprise hero of Kentucky’s win over Louisville, lighting up the Cards for 18 points, 10 boards and four assists.
Key Stats: 13.8 points and 4.2 rebounds per game, .337 three-point shooting
Why He’s Here: Kentucky’s top long-range threat is finally starting to show his athleticism on the glass.
Biggest Weakness: Defensive instincts haven’t yet caught up to the college game.
Previous Ranking: 7
Noah Vonleh learned a lot about his place in the pecking order of Big Ten big men last week, dominating Illinois in defeat (16 points, nine rebounds, four blocks) before being held to a mere five points by Adreian Payne in a blowout loss to Michigan State.
Key Stats: 11.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.1 blocks and 1.1 steals per game
Why He’s Here: One-man gang on the glass has picked up the pace defensively.
Biggest Weakness: Not an aggressive scorer—he’s fourth on his own team in field-goal attempts.
Previous Ranking: 5
It’s been business as usual for Andrew Wiggins, who continues to score brilliantly but not to keep Kansas from losing to top-level competition (witness his team-high 14 points in the home defeat against San Diego State).
Key Stats: 15.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.0 steals per game
Why He’s Here: Sensational athlete has some defensive chops to go with his big-time point production.
Biggest Weakness: On a team with a leadership void, he’s the obvious candidate but hasn't stepped in to fill it.
Previous Ranking: 6
Not only has Joel Embiid notched back-to-back double-doubles (in a win over Toledo and a loss to San Diego State), but he’s tallied eight blocks and five assists between the two games.
Key Stats: 10.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 1.0 steals per game
Why He’s Here: Agile defensive standout is starting to find a groove offensively.
Biggest Weakness: Even his already impressive shot-blocking doesn't approach the potential of his athleticism and 7’0” frame.
Previous Ranking: 4
After faltering in his Pac-12 debut—five points against lowly Washington State—Aaron Gordon rebounded in more ways than one, racking up 18 points and 11 boards in holding off a surprising Washington squad.
Key Stats: 12.4 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game
Why He’s Here: Athletic rebounder is also top interior scorer for nation’s top team.
Biggest Weakness: Mind-bogglingly awful from free-throw line (.449 on 69 attempts so far).
Previous Ranking: 3
It’s hard to argue with Tyler Ennis’ performance running the point for the undefeated Orange, especially when he also has the scoring potential to light up high-powered Villanova for 20 points.
Key Stats: 11.6 points, 3.3 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 2.7 steals per game
Why He’s Here: Best point guard in the class by leaps and bounds has a terrific all-around game.
Biggest Weakness: Despite a fine shooting stroke, he’s hitting just 41.7 percent of his field-goal tries.
Previous Ranking: 2
Julius Randle only played half a game against Louisville due to leg cramps, but he still scored 17 points to help propel the Wildcats' biggest win of the season.
Key Stats: 18.1 points and 10.6 rebounds per game
Why He’s Here: SEC's top rebounder has been one of the most dominant low-post scorers in the country.
Biggest Weakness: Among the nation’s worst players for holding onto the ball (3.2 turnovers per game).
Previous Ranking: 1
Jabari Parker would've had to work hard to play any worse in his ACC debut—seven points and four boards in a loss to Notre Dame—but he’s still turning in the best season of any freshman (and one of the best of any player in the conference).
Key Stats: 20.4 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 1.0 steals per game, .429 three-point shooting
Why He’s Here: Lethal and efficient scorer has done nearly as much for Duke with his smothering defense.
Biggest Weakness: Hasn't yet found an answer for situations where he’s outmatched physically (as he was by ND’s 6’11”, 255-lb Garrick Sherman).