The rigors of conference play are taking a major toll on the stars in these college basketball freshman power rankings. Most of the top first-year players are experiencing much tougher sledding against experienced, athletic league opposition.
One young standout who has bucked that trend is Indiana’s Noah Vonleh. His Hoosiers are scuffling in Big Ten action, but Vonleh has been just as impressive against the likes of Wisconsin and Illinois as he was against Samford and North Florida.
Read on to find out where he lands in our latest assessment of the nation’s best first-year talents. Although season-long performance does still play a primary role in these rankings, a player’s recent production is weighted to account for the tougher competition.
Previous Ranking: Unranked
An ankle injury slowed his acclimation to the college game, but Jarell Martin has found a groove. He's posted three straight big games in the SEC, including putting up 18 points, six boards and five steals at South Carolina.
Key Stats: 9.1 points and 4.0 rebounds per game
Why He’s Here: The mobile combo forward is carving out a niche in the deep Tigers frontcourt.
Biggest Weakness: Weak shot-blocking numbers belie his 6’9”, 241-pound frame.
Previous Ranking: 14
NC State’s three-game skid in ACC action had a lot to do with Barber’s offensive struggles, especially a three-point, one-assist nightmare against Virginia.
Key Stats: 11.4 points and 4.2 assists per game
Why He’s Here: He's still learning to put the pieces together, but he’s shown the scoring, passing and defensive potential to be a terrific ACC point guard.
Biggest Weakness: He can’t shoot the three-pointer, though at least he has the sense to limit his attempts (8-of-32).
Previous Ranking: 18
Although Devin Williams put on a show against Oklahoma State (12 points and 13 boards), he followed it up with a disappearing act against physical Texas (two points without a single rebound).
Key Stats: 9.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game
Why He’s Here: The punishing power forward has been the Mountaineers’ only meaningful interior presence.
Biggest Weakness: His playing style gets him to the free-throw line, but a lack of shooting touch keeps him from converting (.549).
Previous Ranking: Unranked
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has been the class of a deep bench for top-ranked Arizona, providing reliable rebounding and defending multiple positions.
Key Stats: 7.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game
Why He’s Here: The Wildcats’ top defensive stopper is starting to make more visible contributions in the box score.
Biggest Weakness: His similarities to his brother—ex-Temple forward Rahlir—include an ugly jump shot.
Previous Ranking: 15
Zach LaVine has been on a roller coaster in Pac-12 play, alternating big scoring nights (19 points against Arizona State) and unimpressive ones (nine points in his next game at Colorado).
Key Stats: 12.6 points and 2.2 assists per game; .451 three-point shooting
Why He’s Here: The long-range gunner has been a top-notch sixth man for a thin Bruins backcourt.
Biggest Weakness: He has better playmaking potential than any guard on the roster, but hasn’t quite found his groove as a distributor yet.
Previous Ranking: 20
Andrew Harrison’s passing is still a work in progress, but he turned heads on Saturday by lighting up Tennessee for 26 points in a big Wildcats win.
Key Stats: 11.5 points and 3.5 assists per game; .385 three-point shooting
Why He’s Here: The less that Kentucky’s nominal point guard worries about playing a pass-first game, the better his offensive production has become.
Biggest Weakness: Defense has been a season-long issue, and he hasn’t even seen the SEC’s best point guards yet.
Previous Ranking: 9
After missing two games with an injured hip, Eric Mika has yet to return to top form for the streaking Cougars. He had 11 points and four rebounds against San Francisco.
Key Stats: 13.5 points and 6.2 rebounds per game
Why He’s Here: The smooth low-post scorer helps balance BYU’s guard-focused attack.
Biggest Weakness: His lackluster defense has included plenty of fouls (3.2 per game).
Previous Ranking: 19
Stifled in a blowout loss at Kansas, a banged-up Marcus Foster bounced back strong with an 18-point, five-assist showcase in a win over Oklahoma.
Key Stats: 14.0 points and 3.7 rebounds per game; .377 three-point shooting
Why He’s Here: The improving long-range shooter has provided badly needed scoring for the Wildcats.
Biggest Weakness: At 6’2”, he’s far from an ideal matchup to stop opposing shooting guards.
Previous Ranking: 12
Rebounding ace Bobby Portis has held up admirably against stiff SEC competition from the likes of Julius Randle and Will Yeguete.
Key Stats: 12.1 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game
Why He’s Here: The mobile power forward has anchored the undersized Razorbacks inside.
Biggest Weakness: Tough conference defenses have wreaked havoc on his shooting accuracy (and, to a lesser extent, his scoring).
Previous Ranking: 10
Although Jordan Mickey has largely kept up his point production against SEC foes, his rebounding is a shadow of what it was during LSU’s nonconference schedule.
Key Stats: 13.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.6 blocks per game
Why He’s Here: The high-flying forward has done first-rate scoring work to go with his shot-blocking.
Biggest Weakness: A lack of bulk (220 pounds) is becoming a serious problem in conference play.
Previous Ranking: 11
Aaron Harrison has been a reliable scorer who’s providing just enough in other areas—two steals against Tennessee, three assists against Mississippi State—to stand out on an improving Kentucky squad.
Key Stats: 14.1 points, 2.1 assists and 1.1 steals per game
Why He’s Here: The high-powered slasher is starting to get the most out of his 6’6” length.
Biggest Weakness: It’s awfully tough to be a starting 2-guard in a major conference while shooting .300 from beyond the arc.
Previous Ranking: 13
Nigel Williams-Goss' best performance of the conference season—17 points, seven boards and six assists—came in a tough loss at Stanford. Nevertheless, he has led his Huskies to a surprising 3-3 start in the Pac-12.
Key Stats: 12.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.3 steals per game
Why He’s Here: The do-it-all point guard has turned undermanned Washington into a dangerous wild card.
Biggest Weakness: He would love to use three-pointers to keep defenders honest, but he only hits at a .293 clip.
Previous Ranking: 8
James Young’s biggest games of his young career—including 26 points, 10 rebounds and five assists against Mississippi State—have been offset by a pair of no-shows against Tennessee and Vanderbilt.
Key Stats: 14.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game
Why He’s Here: The explosive swingman has demonstrated a willingness to crash the boards.
Biggest Weakness: He is still taking more three-pointers than his performance from long range (.325) justifies.
Previous Ranking: 6
Kansas, as a team, has been far more impressive in the Big 12 than erstwhile star Andrew Wiggins. The top-ranked recruit had one brilliant game (17 points and 19 rebounds at Iowa State) but a pair of crummy ones (including three points and two boards against Oklahoma State) on his recent ledger.
Key Stats: 15.2 points and 6.1 rebounds per game
Why He’s Here: The all-purpose scoring threat is also racking up rebounds against Big 12 foes.
Biggest Weakness: With his athletic ability, he’d be better served to force the issue more often on offense, as he did in earning 12 free-throw tries against Baylor.
Previous Ranking: 4
Aaron Gordon has been as solid as ever during Pac-12 play. He only loses ground here because a stat line of 12 points and eight rebounds (in a blowout at USC) is typical rather than impressive for him.
Key Stats: 12.4 points and 7.8 rebounds per game
Why He’s Here: The highlight-reel dunker has been the best of many imposing rebounders on top-ranked Arizona.
Biggest Weakness: He is still shooting better from the field (.506) than the free-throw line (an ugly .459).
Previous Ranking: 7
Noah Vonleh has turned in some of his best offensive performances against Big Ten foes, including the lone strong showing from any Hoosier (17 points, 12 boards) in an embarrassing home loss to Northwestern.
Key Stats: 12.4 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game
Why He’s Here: The overpowering rebounder—and IU’s toughest defender—is taking on a bigger role in the offense.
Biggest Weakness: The struggling team needs even more scoring from him than he’s ready to provide.
Previous Ranking: 2
Julius Randle is finally coming down to earth after his phenomenal start, enduring back-to-back games of single-digit scoring (his first two of the year) against Vanderbilt and Mississippi State.
Key Stats: 16.9 points and 10.5 rebounds per game
Why He’s Here: The top rebounder in any power conference has dominated as a scorer for most of the year.
Biggest Weakness: He commits far more turnovers (3.3 per night) than the Wildcats’ slump-prone offense can afford.
Previous Ranking: 1
Duke has sputtered early on in ACC play. Not coincidentally, so has star Jabari Parker, whose scoring has plummeted against the league’s tougher defenses.
Key Stats: 19.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game; .409 three-point shooting
Why He’s Here: Even his recent downturn has only dropped him from “untouchable” to “great” as a scorer, and he’s still a devastating defender.
Biggest Weakness: A tremendous athlete at 6’8”, 235 pounds, he’s still not built for trading body blows with the ACC’s 250- and 260-pound big men.
Previous Ranking: 3
Not only has Tyler Ennis kept his Orange perfect in the win column, but he’s kept up his impressive numbers against top competition with 16 points and three assists against Pitt.
Key Stats: 11.9 points, 5.5 assists and 2.7 steals per game; .400 three-point shooting
Why He’s Here: Lapping the field of first-year point guards, he would be a serious Bob Cousy Award candidate with just a bit more scoring.
Biggest Weakness: He hasn’t yet faced a top-tier hostile crowd, so it’s fair to ask how he’ll fare in Chapel Hill or Durham.
Previous Ranking: 5
Joel Embiid is undergoing a fast-forward version of the traditional raw prospect’s metamorphosis. He’s gone from sixth man in November to near-triple-double performances (13 points, 11 rebounds, eight blocks against Oklahoma State) in January.
Key Stats: 11.1 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game
Why He’s Here: He combines a true center’s body (7’0”, 250 pounds) with the agility and skill of this freshman class’ most athletic power forwards.
Biggest Weakness: Kansas needs him to be more dependable, not languishing on the bench with foul problems (3.5 hacks per game).