Even with teams settled into their February conference-play routines, there are still surprises to be found in our college basketball freshman power rankings. As the big names at the top jockey for position, there’s room left below for some new faces to break into the top 20.
One of those newcomers is Texas point guard Isaiah Taylor. The unheralded Longhorns have surprised pretty much everyone with their climb to No. 15 in the AP poll, and their young floor leader deserves a big share of the credit.
Where does Taylor’s hot streak land him in this week’s rankings? Read on to see where he debuts, along with the rest of the 20 most impressive first-year stars in college hoops.
Dropping out this week: Anthony "Cat" Barber (N.C. State), Devin Williams (West Virginia), Zach LaVine (UCLA)
20. Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina
Grant Halverson/Getty Images
Previous Ranking: Unranked
North Carolina has won four straight since inserting Kennedy Meeks into the starting lineup. The Tar Heels received a pair of double-digit rebounding efforts in return.
Key Stats: 7.6 points and 6.2 rebounds per game
Why He’s Here: At 6’9”, 290 pounds, he’s throwing his considerable weight around to become UNC’s top rebounding force.
Biggest Weakness: Conditioning is a major concern for a player who’s managed just 16.4 minutes per game so far.
19. Jarell Martin, LSU
Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press
Previous Ranking: 20
As LSU heats up in the SEC, Jarell Martin continues to carve out his niche in the Tigers frontcourt with performances like his 15-point, five-rebound showing in a win over Arkansas.
Key Stats: 9.1 points and 4.1 rebounds per game, .382 three-point shooting
Why He’s Here: The mobile combo forward has shown explosive potential.
Biggest Weakness: Despite improvements, he’s still a weak link on a tough defense.
18. Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina
Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports
Previous Ranking: Unranked
The Gamecocks' benighted SEC campaign continues, but shooting guard Sindarius Thornwell has been lighting up scoreboards (26 points against Georgia and 24 against Ole Miss, both losses).
Key Stats: 13.4 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game, .390 three-point shooting
Why He’s Here: This one-man gang is about all Frank Martin’s team has going for it in 2013-14.
Biggest Weakness: Forced to do too much on many occasions, he’s taken a hit in his shooting percentage (.431 for the year despite a recent hot streak).
17. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
Previous Ranking: 17
Already Arizona’s toughest defender, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is starting to make an offensive impact with a pair of 10-point, seven-rebound games.
Key Stats: 8.0 points and 5.4 rebounds per game
Why He’s Here: The Wildcats’ defensive stopper is one of the most valuable sixth men in the country.
Biggest Weakness: He’s best suited to the small forward spot, but he has no three-point shot at all.
16. Andrew Harrison, Kentucky
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Previous Ranking: 15
Andrew Harrison has done a solid job at the point lately, even if his weakest recent performance (eight points, one assist) came in an ugly loss at LSU.
Key Stats: 11.0 points and 3.5 assists per game, .385 three-point shooting
Why He’s Here: The shoot-first floor general has gotten more comfortable in a potent Kentucky offense.
Biggest Weakness: Defensively, he’s still a foul-prone nonentity.
15. Eric Mika, BYU
Jessica Hill/Associated Press
Previous Ranking: 14
Much like his BYU team, Eric Mika has been experiencing highs (20 points, eight boards against Pacific) and lows (four and four against Portland) in close proximity.
Key Stats: 12.9 points and 6.4 rebounds per game
Why He’s Here: One of the most polished post players in the class, he’s also the lone effective inside presence on a solid Cougars squad.
Biggest Weakness: His shot-blocking efforts, already mediocre, have dipped further in WCC play.
14. Isaiah Taylor, Texas
Cooper Neill/Getty Images
Previous Ranking: Unranked
Texas has been the surprise of the Big 12, with freshman floor leader Isaiah Taylor keying a string of upsets behind showings like the 27 points and three assists he piled up in a win at Baylor.
Key Stats: 12.1 points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game
Why He’s Here: He’s been a solid point guard in addition to his explosive scoring potential.
Biggest Weakness: A subpar jump-shooter, he’s connecting on just 41.3 percent of his field goals.
13. Bobby Portis, Arkansas
Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports
Previous Ranking: 12
After a disastrous showing in a loss at Tennessee, Bobby Portis has rallied with some fine scoring efforts, including 18 points and nine boards while trouncing Auburn.
Key Stats: 12.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game
Why He’s Here: The high-flying forward has been playing more defense to go with his scoring punch.
Biggest Weakness: His nonexistent three-point shooting does him no favors in the quick-firing Razorbacks offense.
12. Aaron Harrison, Kentucky
Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports
Previous Ranking: 10
Although Aaron Harrison did light up Missouri for 21 points, he’s been a less effective passer lately, and he suffered through one of his worst scoring nights (six points on 1-of-5 from the floor) against Texas A&M.
Key Stats: 14.2 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game
Why He’s Here: The productive 2-guard has shown welcome versatility for the talent-rich Wildcats.
Biggest Weakness: He’s still bricking far too many three-point tries at .318 on the year.
11. Marcus Foster, Kansas State
LM Otero/Associated Press
Previous Ranking: 13
Marcus Foster has provided steady backcourt rebounding, even as his scoring—two points against Texas Tech, 23 against West Virginia—has been erratic.
Key Stats: 13.9 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game, .357 three-point shooting.
Why He’s Here: The surprise scoring leader for a dangerous K-State team has added physicality to the backcourt.
Biggest Weakness: His hot-and-cold scoring has a lot to do with his unreliable shooting stroke (.401 from the floor).
10. Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington
Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports
Previous Ranking: 9
Although Nigel Williams-Goss managed a career day against Oregon State (32 points, five boards, three assists), he’s making fewer plays on D and couldn’t avert an upset loss at archrival Washington State.
Key Stats: 12.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.2 steals per game, .346 three-point shooting
Why He’s Here: A multi-threat point guard, Williams-Goss has shown impressive leadership for the undermanned Huskies.
Biggest Weakness: Now that he’s salvaged his three-point percentage, he needs to do the same at the foul line (.689).
9. Aaron Gordon, Arizona
Previous Ranking: 6
Although Aaron Gordon has been putting up respectable performances lately—witness his 10 points and 12 boards against Utah—his lack of a monster game and his team’s fall from the unbeaten ranks both hurt his standing here.
Key Stats: 11.8 points and 8.1 rebounds per game
Why He’s Here: Arizona’s dunking machine has been a beast on the glass, too.
Biggest Weakness: He doesn’t hit many shots outside of dunking range, especially given his .449 free-throw performance.
8. Jordan Mickey, LSU
Previous Ranking: 11
Facing a gauntlet of other high-level freshman bigs, Jordan Mickey came through with flying colors: 14 points, six rebounds and five blocks against Julius Randle and Kentucky, followed by 22, 11 and six against Bobby Portis’ Razorbacks.
Key Stats: 13.6 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.8 blocks per game
Why He’s Here: The hyper-athletic power forward is showing he can handle the bulkier post presences of the SEC.
Biggest Weakness: His passing (1.1 assists per game) is lagging behind the rest of his well-balanced portfolio.
7. James Young, Kentucky
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Previous Ranking: 8
As Julius Randle’s scoring has fallen off, James Young has picked up the slack for Kentucky, pouring in 15 points or better in three of the Wildcats’ last five games.
Key Stats: 14.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game, .338 three-point shooting
Why He’s Here: An improved long-range shot has meant big-time point production for Kentucky’s perimeter standout.
Biggest Weakness: A risk-taker on defense, he hasn’t gotten much of a payoff (0.9 steals per game).
6. Noah Vonleh, Indiana
Darron Cummings/Associated Press
Previous Ranking: 5
A rare off night for ultra-reliable Noah Vonleh (seven points, three boards) torpedoed his Hoosiers in a loss at Nebraska.
Key Stats: 11.7 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game
Why He’s Here: The Big Ten’s top rebounder—of any age—can score a little, too.
Biggest Weakness: A lack of offensive aggression has kept the .717 free-throw shooter off the line (three attempts in his last four games).
5. Julius Randle, Kentucky
Stacy Revere/Getty Images
Previous Ranking: 4
He’s no longer the unstoppable scorer of the first couple of weeks of the season (LSU held him to six points in Baton Rouge), but Julius Randle is still a potent offensive force as well as a fearsome rebounder.
Key Stats: 16.0 points and 9.9 rebounds per game
Why He’s Here: The nation’s top freshman rebounder carries the bulk of Kentucky’s offense.
Biggest Weakness: He’s among the nation’s most turnover-prone forwards.
4. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Previous Ranking: 7
An attack-first offensive approach has helped Andrew Wiggins post some monster scoring nights lately, including 29 points (with seven rebounds) in a win over Iowa State.
Key Stats: 15.9 points and 6.0 rebounds per game, .382 three-point shooting
Why He’s Here: KU’s dynamic scoring leader has athleticism to spare.
Biggest Weakness: He struggles to finish against bigger defenders, as in his 2-of-12 shooting night against Texas.
3. Jabari Parker, Duke
Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports
Previous Ranking: 3
Jabari Parker has been giving Duke what it needs most lately, racking up at least nine rebounds in four of his last five games even as his scoring has dropped from transcendent to merely great.
Key Stats: 18.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game, .372 three-point shooting
Why He’s Here: Not just an elite defender, he’s still the most reliable offensive force in the freshman class.
Biggest Weakness: With Duke’s three-point offense shifting focus to Rodney Hood, Parker has slumped from long range (2-of-12 in his last five games).
2. Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
Rich Barnes/Getty Images
Previous Ranking: 2
With just two unbeaten teams left, point guard Tyler Ennis has left no doubt about his winning ability—or, with 14 points and nine assists against Duke, his individual talent.
Key Stats: 12.1 points, 3.3 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 2.3 steals per game, .391 three-point shooting
Why He’s Here: The versatile floor general has pushed all of the right buttons for the undefeated Orange.
Biggest Weakness: His big-play defensive performance has slipped lately (just four steals in his last five games).
1. Joel Embiid, Kansas
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Previous Ranking: 1
One of the few Jayhawks who played tough at Texas, Joel Embiid managed eight points, 10 rebounds and two blocks despite giving up 35 pounds in the matchup with Cameron Ridley.
Key Stats: 10.9 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game, .616 field-goal shooting
Why He’s Here: The agile 7-footer is growing in offensive confidence by the day while still blocking shots with regularity.
Biggest Weakness: His foul shooting (.663) is a work in progress, though he has shown promise lately.