College Basketball

College Basketball Freshman Power Rankings: Week 18 Edition

Thad NovakCorrespondent IMarch 5, 2014

College Basketball Freshman Power Rankings: Week 18 Edition

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    Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

    With conference tournament action almost here, it’s time for one more regular-season round of our college basketball freshman power rankings. With 20-plus games behind them, some of the nation’s elite first-year talents are starting to show how much they’ve learned from their first taste of Division I hoops.

    One of the most improved of the bunch is Jarell Martin, whose season got off to a delayed start thanks to an injured ankle. Now that he’s found his footing, he’s starting to play like the would-be scoring star who helped elevate Johnny Jones’ recruiting class to the national top 10.

    Herein, a closer look at Martin’s hot streak and the rest of the 20 most impressive freshmen from around the country this season. As always, the most recent games carry a little extra weight here as the tension ratchets up in conference play.

    Dropping out this week: Eric Mika, BYU; Andrew Harrison, Kentucky

20. Austin Nichols, Memphis

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    Lance Murphey/Associated Press

    Previous Ranking: Unranked

    As Memphis enters the stretch run in the AAC, Austin Nichols has been blazing hot, with his season-high streak of four double-digit scoring nights highlighted by 17 points, 12 boards and seven blocks against Temple.

    Key Stats: 8.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game

    Why He’s Here: The Tigers’ most adroit interior scorer has shot a searing .672 from the field since February 1.

    Biggest Weakness: He’s still not an elite rebounder, in spite of his 6’8” length.

19. Wayne Selden Jr., Kansas

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    Cooper Neill/Getty Images

    Previous Ranking: Unranked

    When Kansas needed a boost in a tough home battle with Oklahoma, Wayne Selden Jr. was there to provide 15 points, just two days after piling up six rebounds and seven assists in a rout of Texas.

    Key Stats: 10.4 points and 2.6 assists per game, .358 three-point shooting

    Why He’s Here: Largely hidden by the long shadows of classmates Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, he’s quietly become one of the most dependable freshman scorers around.

    Biggest Weakness: Although he’s improving as a defensive playmaker, he’s still not nearly as developed on that end of the floor as he is with the ball in his hands.

18. Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    Previous Ranking: 19

    Kennedy Meeks doesn’t get asked to do very much scoring, but he did light up Wake Forest for 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting while continuing his usual dominance on the glass.

    Key Stats: 7.6 points and 6.2 rebounds per game

    Why He’s Here: Even 325-pound freshman rival BeeJay Anya of N.C. State couldn’t shut down the Tar Heels’ behemoth center.

    Biggest Weakness: The 290-pounder is still struggling to stay on the court for as much as 20 minutes a night.

17. Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina

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    Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

    Previous Ranking: 15

    Sindarius Thornwell has adapted impressively to a playmaking role, handing out four assists or better in all but one of his games since February 1, but his scoring has taken a hit in the process.

    Key Stats: 13.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.1 steals per game, .337 three-point shooting

    Why He’s Here: Despite a couple of recent off nights (four points on 2-of-13 shooting at Auburn), he’s the only Gamecock who can scare opposing defenses.

    Biggest Weakness: A high-volume shooter, he’s hitting a meager 37.7 percent of his field-goal tries.

16. Jarell Martin, LSU

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    James Crisp/Associated Press

    Previous Ranking: 20

    LSU has become increasingly reliant on Jarell Martin’s offensive punch: The combo forward has scored 20 points in each of his team’s two wins since February 8.

    Key Stats: 10.3 points and 4.6 rebounds per game, .361 three-point shooting

    Why He’s Here: At a mobile 6’9”, 241 pounds, he’s becoming an impact rebounder (six boards against mighty Florida) in addition to his versatile scoring.

    Biggest Weakness: On a physical Tigers front line, he hasn’t been able to stack up to his teammates’ defensive performance.

15. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona

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    Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

    Previous Ranking: 16

    Although he managed his second career double-double against Cal, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson really showed what he’s made of in a rout of Stanford, where he piled up eight points, three rebounds, four assists and three blocks.

    Key Stats: 8.7 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game.

    Why He’s Here: The lockdown defender has proven a worthy replacement for injured starter Brandon Ashley.

    Biggest Weakness: His lack of a jump shot limits his offensive value.

14. Isaiah Taylor, Texas

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    Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    Previous Ranking: 12

    With three losses in four games having deflated Texas’ Big 12 hot streak, floor leader Isaiah Taylor (five points on 1-of-14 shooting at Kansas) has come in for his share of the blame.

    Key Stats: 12.7 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.1 steals per game

    Why He’s Here: Though his Longhorns are no longer in the Top 25, his individual production (including 26 points, seven boards and eight assists at Iowa State) has still been awfully strong.

    Biggest Weakness: The dismal shooter has limped to a 4-of-17 performance from beyond the arc this year.

13. Bobby Portis, Arkansas

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    Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

    Previous Ranking: 11

    Bobby Portis has hit a rough patch as a scorer, but he’s still making an impact with rebounding (eight boards against Georgia) and defense (five blocks against South Carolina).

    Key Stats: 12.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and 1.1 steals per game

    Why He’s Here: Arkansas’ most productive defender also uses his athleticism to provide much-needed interior scoring.

    Biggest Weakness: More consistency would make all of the difference for a multi-talented player who still posts no-shows like two points on 1-of-6 shooting (also against the Bulldogs).

12. Aaron Harrison, Kentucky

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    Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

    Previous Ranking: 14

    Attacking the basket more often has paid dividends for Aaron Harrison, who has 17 points or more in three of Kentucky’s last four games (thanks in part to draining 24 of his last 25 foul shots).

    Key Stats: 13.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.2 steals per game

    Why He’s Here: Twin brother Andrew is having some trouble with his floor leader’s role, but Aaron Harrison has provided high-level scoring from Kentucky's SG spot.

    Biggest Weakness: Even with a mild improvement in February, he’s still a disappointing three-point shooter at .313.

11. Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Previous Ranking: 13

    Nigel Williams-Goss has continued to lead an overachieving season for the Huskies, including a 17-point, 12-rebound effort in a rout of archrival Washington State.

    Key Stats: 13.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.1 steals per game, .350 three-point shooting

    Why He’s Here: With his first-ever 10-assist game against Oregon State, Washington’s versatile PG keeps getting better on offense.

    Biggest Weakness: He’s really struggled to keep up his top-flight defensive production against Pac-12 ball-handlers.

10. Noah Vonleh, Indiana

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    Doug McSchooler/Associated Press

    Previous Ranking: 8

    Even before an injured foot kept him out of a showdown with Ohio State, Noah Vonleh had metaphorically limped to a four-point, five-rebound showing in the Hoosiers’ upset of Iowa.

    Key Stats: 11.6 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game

    Why He’s Here: The Big Ten’s top rebounder has been the only meaningful inside presence for undersized Indiana.

    Biggest Weakness: He passes so infrequently that he has nearly as many three-pointers (15) as assists (16) for the season.

9. James Young, Kentucky

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    Mary Ann Chastain/Associated Press

    Previous Ranking: 10

    Streak-shooting James Young is finally staying hot, having scored in double figures for 11 of his last 12 games (including 20 points in a thriller against LSU).

    Key Stats: 14.6 points and 4.1 rebounds per game, .341 three-point shooting

    Why He’s Here: The high-flying small forward is rapidly becoming Kentucky’s go-to scorer.

    Biggest Weakness: He’s prone to “hero ball,” trying to win games by himself when the Wildcats are struggling—hence (in large measure) his .407 field-goal percentage.

8. Aaron Gordon, Arizona

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    Brennan Linsley/Associated Press

    Previous Ranking: 9

    There have been highs and lows in abundance for Aaron Gordon lately, who’s looked irrelevant (three points and three rebounds in 20 foul-plagued minutes at Utah) and invincible (19 points and 15 boards in a romp over Stanford) by turns.

    Key Stats: 12.2 points and 8.0 rebounds per game

    Why He’s Here: Even in a stacked Wildcats frontcourt, he’s the top rebounder and the most explosive scorer.

    Biggest Weakness: Hack-an-Aaron is a viable strategy for opponents looking to contain the .434 foul shooter.

7. Marcus Foster, Kansas State

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    Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

    Previous Ranking: 7

    With Kansas State in need of both a scorer and a distributor, Marcus Foster has provided some of each (four assists at Oklahoma State, 21 points at Oklahoma) but has yet to put them together.

    Key Stats: 14.9 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game, .382 three-point shooting

    Why He’s Here: K-State’s one big-time offensive weapon has spearheaded a surprising 10-win performance in Big 12 play.

    Biggest Weakness: Perennially double-teamed, he’s shooting a dreadful .438 on his two-point tries.

6. Jordan Mickey, LSU

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    Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports

    Previous Ranking: 6

    Even with his typical inconsistent scoring, Jordan Mickey continues to be a force for the Tigers thanks to terrific rebounding (10 boards against a hulking Florida front line) and first-rate defense (five blocks against Texas A&M)

    Key Stats: 13.4 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game

    Why He’s Here: He merges supreme athleticism with exceptional timing on the defensive end.

    Biggest Weakness: His offense is still fluctuating all over the place (19 points vs. Mississippi State, eight against the Aggies).

5. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas

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    Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

    Previous Ranking: 4

    Andrew Wiggins has finally settled in as Kansas’ primary offensive option, posting at least 14 points in every game since February 8.

    Key Stats: 16.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.0 steals per game, .343 three-point shooting

    Why He’s Here: The NBA-ready athlete has developed into an increasingly reliable scorer.

    Biggest Weakness: At .441 from the floor, he’s nothing special as a shooter.

4. Julius Randle, Kentucky

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    Mary Ann Chastain/Associated Press

    Previous Ranking: 5

    He may not be dominating in the points column these days, but Julius Randle has five double-doubles in six games to go with his game-winning bucket in OT against LSU.

    Key Stats: 15.5 points and 10.4 rebounds per game

    Why He’s Here: The leading rebounder in any power conference commands double-teams on every offensive chance.

    Biggest Weakness: He’s still nondescript as a defender, especially compared to Willie Cauley-Stein and other recent big men for Big Blue.

3. Tyler Ennis, Syracuse

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    Rich Barnes/Getty Images

    Previous Ranking: 1

    Syracuse has fallen hard from the ranks of the unbeatens, dropping three of four in a skid that hasn’t exactly helped Tyler Ennis’ reputation as a late-game miracle worker.

    Key Stats: 12.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 2.0 steals per game, .365 three-point shooting

    Why He’s Here: The ultra-versatile PG has been putting up impressive numbers even in defeat (14 points, eight boards and six assists in the humiliating loss to Boston College).

    Biggest Weakness: A streaky shooter like many freshmen, he’s been cold often enough to land at .412 from the field on the season.

2. Jabari Parker, Duke

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    Previous Ranking: 2

    Four straight double-doubles are nothing noteworthy if you’re Jabari Parker, whose devastating recent games include 19 points and 10 boards in a crucial win over Syracuse.

    Key Stats: 18.8 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and 1.1 steals per game

    Why He’s Here: He’s the best player in almost every phase of the game for a fourth-ranked Duke squad.

    Biggest Weakness: Although he’s a decent passer (1.3 assists a night), that’s about the only area where he hasn’t developed into a bona fide weapon.

1. Joel Embiid, Kansas

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    Ed Zurga/Getty Images

    Previous Ranking: 3

    Although he’s now sidelined until the postseason with back trouble, Joel Embiid went out in style, racking up six blocks against Texas before recording double-doubles in his last two regular-season games.

    Key Stats: 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game, .626 field-goal shooting

    Why He’s Here: The agile shot-blocking ace has (unlike Jabari Parker) outdone his own high standards since sitting out the Jayhawks’ rout of TCU.

    Biggest Weakness: His gaudy field-goal accuracy is a product of a steady diet of dunks and layups, not of much actual shooting touch.

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