College Basketball

Pass-Fail Marks for College Basketball's Top Incoming Freshmen in 2014-15

Brian PedersenFeatured ColumnistJuly 17, 2014

Pass-Fail Marks for College Basketball's Top Incoming Freshmen in 2014-15

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    Justise Winslow, Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones are all headed to Duke. What do each of these 5-star recruits need to do as freshmen to be considered a success?
    Justise Winslow, Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones are all headed to Duke. What do each of these 5-star recruits need to do as freshmen to be considered a success?Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    Earlier this year, a proposal sent out by school presidents from the Pac-12 Conference included a suggestion that college basketball return to the era of freshman ineligibility as a way of dealing with players leaving school after one year to turn pro.

    Then earlier this week, one of the nation's most highly touted incoming freshman players, SMU signee Emmanuel Mudiay, announced he was forgoing college hoops altogether and would play professionally overseas for one year until he was eligible for the NBA draft.

    Freshmen are the youngest and least experienced players on any college team, no matter the sport. Yet in basketball, they tend to get more attention than all other classes combined. The combination of pre-college hype and future NBA potential (sometimes just a year away) makes this group more scrutinized than a candidate for the U.S. Supreme Court.

    We're not about to start vetting these players' voting history—and not just because many of them aren't old enough to vote yet—or asking their opinions on hot-button social issues, but we have come up with some criteria that each needs to meet in order to have their first season of college ball be considered a successful one. With that in mind, here's our pass/fail benchmarks for the 21 players rated as a 5-star prospect in 247Sports' composite rankings.

Devin Booker, Kentucky

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    Andrew Nelles/Associated Press

    Position: Shooting guard

    Height, Weight: 6'6", 205 lbs

    What He Needs To Do For a Passing Grade: 6.5 points per game, 42 percent three-point shooting

    There's not going to be much confusion as to what Devin Booker will be on the court to do whenever he manages to get time in Kentucky's rotation: to shoot, and shoot well he should. Whether defenders can keep him from getting his shot off remains to be seen.

    Booker's only chance to start will be if Alex Poythress doesn't develop into the small forward role Kentucky has been hoping he'd adjust to since his freshman year. More likely Booker will be Aaron Harrison's backup at the two, but he will be much more of a spot-up shooter than his contemporary.

Chris McCullough, Syracuse

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    Position: Power forward

    Height, Weight: 6'8", 198 lbs

    What He Needs To Do For a Passing Grade: 13.5 points per game, 7.5 rebounds per game, 50 percent field-goal shooting

    Chris McCullough is yet another one of those long, lean players that Jim Boeheim loves having as part of his zone defense. But this 5-star recruit will also be asked to contribute offensively in the way that C.J. Fair did during his career, but to do so like Fair did as a junior and senior, not as a newcomer.

    The Orange lost all of its wing production from last season's team, so aside from expecting Rakeem Christmas to suddenly become an offensive juggernaut in the paint, there will be a lot of pressure on McCullough to score efficiently. The backcourt isn't as talented as last year, either, so McCullough may end up being the most prolific freshman scorer for Syracuse since some guy named Carmelo Anthony.

James Blackmon Jr., Indiana

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position: Shooting guard

    Height, Weight: 6'3", 180 lbs

    What He Needs To Do For a Passing Grade: 14.0 points per game, 45 percent field-goal shooting, 40 percent three-point shooting

    James Blackmon Jr. is very likely to have a green light to shoot from the opening tip of Indiana's season opener, but whether he'll be able to get off shots will depend on how the Hoosiers operate as a group on offense. Last year ball movement was a disaster for this team, and this year it doesn't look like there will be much of an inside threat to keep defenses from sticking on the guards like glue.

    Still, with Yogi Ferrell running the offense, Blackmon stands a good chance of getting plenty of scoring chances off screens and other set plays to give him space to heave it, and heave it he will. Ferrell took a team-high 12.8 shots per game in 2013-14, but Blackmon is likely to easily surpass that average.

Tyler Ulis, Kentucky

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    Andrew Nelles/Associated Press

    Position: Point guard

    Height, Weight: 5'9", 150 lbs

    What He Needs To Do For a Passing Grade: 4.5 points per game, 3.5 assists per game, 1.5 steals per game, 40 percent three-point shooting

    If not for the return of the Harrison twins for another season, Tyler Ulis may very well have been John Calipari's smallest starting point guard in his long coaching history. That will probably be the case in 2015-16, but for now, Ulis' role will be as a change of pace.

    Andrew Harrison will remain the starter, but he won't be out there all of the time. Ulis will spell him, and after dealing with a bigger-than-normal guy at the point, the presence of the tiny and speedy Ulis will often make Kentucky's second unit run quicker than the first group.

Devin Robinson, Florida

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    Position: Small forward

    Height, Weight: 6'8", 169 lbs

    What He Needs To Do For a Passing Grade: 7.0 points per game, 4.5 rebounds per game, 45 percent field-goal shooting

    With as much talent and experience as Florida lost from last year's Final Four team, the one place it wasn't in need of help right away is on the wing. That didn't stop them from signing one of the best prospects in the country at that position in Devin Robinson, but it also means the 5-star recruit won't be relied upon to do much in his first year.

    Dorian Finney-Smith is likely to grab most of the minutes at this spot, and Robinson would need to bulk up immensely to compete with the likes of Chris Walker, Alex Murphy and Michigan transfer Jon Horford to play at power forward. The guard spots seem locked up, too, with Kasey Hill and Michael Frazier II, so coach Billy Donovan should have the luxury of bringing Robinson along slowly in 2014-15.

Daniel Hamilton, Connecticut

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    Position: Shooting guard

    Height, Weight: 6'8", 178 lbs

    What He Needs To Do For a Passing Grade: 7.0 points per game, 5.5 rebounds per game, 45 percent field-goal shooting, 37 percent three-point shooting

    Daniel Hamilton has the usual kind of hype that comes with being a 5-star recruit, but unlike most of his highly touted brethren, he's walking into a situation where he won't be expected to do much. That will lead to a lot less pressure for the newcomer, but also fewer opportunities to thrive early.

    Because Connecticut has North Carolina State transfer Rodney Purvis becoming eligible, along with returning guards Terrence Samuel and Ryan Boatright, Hamilton is more likely to get time at small forward as a pseudo replacement for DeAndre Daniels. He lacks the defensive presence of Daniels, though, so his involvement may be limited to just some off-the-bench scoring punch at first.

D'Angelo Russell, Ohio State

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position: Shooting guard

    Height, Weight: 6'5", 174 lbs

    What He Needs To Do For a Passing Grade: 14.5 points per game, 47 percent field-goal shooting, 42 percent three-point shooting

    After it looked briefly like his eligibility was going to be an issue, D'Angelo Russell enrolled at Ohio State in late June as the crown jewel of the Buckeyes' 2014 recruiting class. That's a very big deal, because the rebuilding Buckeyes are likely to be very reliant on the 5-star guard's ability to create offensively this season.

    OSU was very sluggish on offense last season, with very little of a transition game to speak of. Russell aims to fix that, and with no Buckeyes who scored more than 7.9 points per game returning, he'll be the primary focus when it comes to generating offense.

Theo Pinson, North Carolina

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Position: Small forward

    Height, Weight: 6'6", 180 lbs

    What He Needs To Do For a Passing Grade: 7.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 48 percent field-goal shooting

    Theo Pinson will have trouble cracking North Carolina's lineup as a freshman because of the presence of fellow first-year small forward Justin Jackson and the presence of too many guards ahead of him to get into the 2 spot. But Pinson will get minutes, because the athleticism he's shown in transition and in getting to the basket are hard to keep on the bench.

    Pinson will likely be an instant-offense kind of reserve, asked to come in for Jackson, Marcus Paige or when Carolina goes smaller up front. Whatever the situation, he'll be a highlight maker who will often outjump the rest of the players on the floor.

Justise Winslow, Duke

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    Andrew Nelles/Associated Press

    Position: Small forward

    Height, Weight: 6'6", 220 lbs

    What He Needs To Do For a Passing Grade: 12.0 points per game, 7.0 rebounds per game, 2.0 steals per game, 48 percent field-goal shooting

    If the scouting reports are accurate, Justise Winslow's contribution to Duke's success in 2014-15 will be most noticed in the team's defensive stats. Considered the best defender among the 2014 class' top freshmen, according to ESPN.com's Paul Biancardi (subscription required), Winslow has the kind of length that will enable him to guard players ranging from point guard to power forward with the same amount of impact. That frame should enable him to reach out and poke away balls, helping set up transition opportunities.

    On the offensive end, Winslow looks to be the best slasher on the Blue Devils this year. He's not to the level of Jabari Parker, but this team isn't going to be as one-dimensional on the scoring end as in 2013-14. Winslow's athleticism should also help him be a great rebounder, someone who can get into the lane for a missed shot quicker than others.

Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position: Shooting guard

    Height, Weight: 6'4", 195 lbs

    What He Needs To Do For a Passing Grade: 17.0 points per game, 42 percent field-goal shooting, 37 percent three-point shooting

    If there's one team that's betting heavily on the exploits of a new player this season, it's Seton Hall with Isaiah Whitehead. As the only 5-star recruit from the 2014 class signed to play in the Big East this season—a sobering statistic that points out how far this once-proud league has fallen—Whitehead joins the Pirates with the expectations of being the program's savior.

    While that might not happen, especially if he has to do it mostly alone, at least we know he's going to be getting a lot of chances to score. Look for Whitehead to take more shots than any other two Seton Hall players combined, though that will also mean he's not always getting the best looks if he's the primary concern for defenders.

Kevon Looney, UCLA

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Position: Power forward

    Height, Weight: 6'9", 208 lbs

    What He Needs To Do For a Passing Grade: 14.0 points per game, 9.5 rebounds per game, 53 percent field-goal shooting

    Kevon Looney is either jumping into a great situation or a tough one, depending on your viewpoint. He's almost guaranteed to be a starter right away, as UCLA doesn't have a lot of experience or production coming back at the power forward spot, but at the same time, the Bruins became such a perimeter-oriented team last season he might not fit in initially.

    Odds are, though, that Looney will cause Steve Alford to adjust UCLA's offensive setup, even if it does go with a three-guard backcourt. That will just mean Looney will become more of a primary weapon inside, where he should be able to excel as long as he keeps getting stronger.

Rashad Vaughn, UNLV

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position: Shooting guard

    Height, Weight: 6'5", 203 lbs

    What He Needs To Do For a Passing Grade: 16.5 points per game, 42 percent field-goal shooting, 37 percent three-point shooting

    With UNLV replacing all five starters from last season thanks to a combination of graduation, transfer and early NBA departure, there's plenty of scoring opportunities available for its highly ranked freshman class. Look for Rashad Vaughn to get the bulk of those chances, as he's apt to be one of the most prolific first-year scorers in the nation.

    The Runnin' Rebels had five players who averaged seven or more shots per game last season, but none took more than 10.3 per contest. All five of those guys are gone, meaning Vaughn will basically have carte blanche to do what he wants offensively. Only a lack of frontcourt experience will likely keep Vaughn from scoring even higher, as he'll be the primary concern defensively for opponents.

Trey Lyles, Kentucky

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    Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    Position: Power forward

    Height, Weight: 6'9", 241 lbs

    What He Needs To Do For a Passing Grade: 8.0 points per game, 6.0 rebounds per game, 2.0 assists per game, 48 percent field-goal shooting

    From a strictly technical standpoint, Trey Lyles replaces Julius Randle on Kentucky's roster, as both played power forward and had similar height and weight dimensions. But that's where the comparisons should end, as should the expectations that Lyles will be the type of player Randle was in 2013-14.

    Lyles will play more away from the basket than Randle would, not just because of the overabundance of post players Kentucky has but also because he's capable of making shots from mid-range and beyond. He'll also contribute extensively on the defensive end, as he'll be able to guard more than just big men. Of the Wildcats' four 5-star freshmen coming in, Lyles expects to contribute the most.

Justin Jackson, North Carolina

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    Position: Small forward

    Height, Weight: 6'8", 189 lbs

    What He Needs To Do For a Passing Grade: 13.5 points per game, 6.5 rebounds per game, 47 percent field-goal shooting

    Justin Jackson may very well be the piece that North Carolina was missing last season. The scoring punch he showed during the McDonald's All-American Game has given the Tar Heels an idea of what they're getting from this talented wing player, who will take a lot of pressure off of Marcus Paige to be the dominant scorer.

    On the thin side at under 190 pounds, Jackson fits better starting out on the perimeter and then slashing to the basket, as his speed will be tough for similar-sized defenders to deal with. He made 11 of 14 shots in the McDonald's game for 23 points, showing a blend of jumpers, drives and putbacks that will fit perfectly into UNC's lineup.

Tyus Jones, Duke

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    Andrew Nelles/Associated Press

    Position: Point guard

    Height, Weight: 6'1", 180 lbs

    What He Needs To Do For a Passing Grade: 10.0 points per game, 5.5 assists per game, 3.5 rebounds per game, 40 percent three-point shooting

    Most of the best Duke teams have had a dedicated point guard, someone whose role is to facilitate the scoring opportunities of the rest of the Blue Devils on the court. Duke didn't have that last year, with Quinn Cook's assist output dropping from 5.3 in 2012-13 to 4.4 last year.

    Tyus Jones can score, and he can shoot well from outside, but those will be secondary to him being the main ball-handler. He needs to bring the ball forward on most possessions, starting transition and finding the open man for the best available shot. With an improved front line, he'll have an option that Cook didn't have, but Jones will also need to be crisp with his passes because this Duke team doesn't have a slasher on the level of what Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood were last season.

Kelly Oubre, Kansas

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    Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    Position: Shooting guard

    Height, Weight: 6'7", 200 lbs

    What He Needs To Do For a Passing Grade: 13.5 points per game, 6.5 rebounds per game, 3.0 assists per game, 45 percent field-goal shooting, 38 percent three-point shooting

    Kelly Oubre is sometimes listed as a shooting guard, sometimes as a small forward. This isn't as much because he doesn't have a natural position as due to his ability to fit into different roles based on the need. Kansas will need his help in both areas, especially when it comes to creating on the offensive end the way No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins did last season.

    Oubre has shown off his ability to attack the basket during the circuit of all-star games and other showcases since high school ball ended, highlighted by this poster-worthy dunk over former Oregon player Mike Moser during practice for the Nike Hoop Summit. While fellow freshman Cliff Alexander will provide the muscle and fundamentals inside for Kansas, Oubre will be the flash-and-dash portion of the young duo.

Myles Turner, Texas

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    Andrew Nelles/Associated Press

    Position: Center

    Height, Weight: 6'10", 223 lbs

    What He Needs To Do For a Passing Grade: 14.0 points per game, 8.0 rebounds per game, 2.0 blocks per game, 1.5 steals per game, 55 percent field-goal shooting

    Myles Turner isn't expected to replace the production of departed players, a blessing for a Texas team that brings back its entire starting lineup from last year's NCAA tournament appearance. Instead, Turner and his varied skill set will help enhance what the Longhorns do inside, making them a very legitimate threat to unseat Kansas as the Big 12 champions.

    Turner will be Texas' tallest player, but not its biggest. That distinction goes to Cameron Ridley, a junior-to-be who sports 285 pounds of girth on his 6'9" frame. Combine that with Jonathan Holmes (6'8", 240 lbs) and Texas may have the thickest frontcourt in the nation, and those other big men will enable Turner to create more on offense away from the basket while still providing defensive pressure with his length and athleticism.

Karl-Anthony Towns Jr., Kentucky

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    Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    Position: Center

    Height, Weight: 7'0", 250 lbs

    What He Needs To Do For a Passing Grade: 4.5 points per game, 5.5 rebounds per game, 1.5 blocks per game, 55 percent field-goal shooting

    Karl-Anthony Towns Jr.'s status as a McDonald's All-American would be much more of a big deal anywhere other than Kentucky, where not only do the Wildcats sport eight other players with the same note on their resumes, but they also already have a 7-footer from the All-American crop on the roster. And that player, Dakari Johnson, managed to get just 14 minutes a game of action because of his team's loaded frontcourt.

    The saving grace for Towns is that junior Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky's other 7-footer, had offseason ankle surgery and likely won't make the trip to the Bahamas in August for preseason competition. That will enable Towns to get more work alongside the Wildcats' bevy of other big men, but for this first season, he's looking at being no more than a rotation player. With that in mind, he just needs to maximize his minutes, similar to how Marcus Lee exploded onto the scene during his limited opportunities in the NCAA tournament.

Stanley Johnson, Arizona

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    Position: Shooting guard

    Height, Weight: 6'6", 225 lbs

    What He Needs To Do For a Passing Grade: 13.5 points per game, 7.5 rebounds per game, 2.5 assists per game, 45 percent shooting

    Stanley Johnson might be the most NBA-ready player among the 2014 class' top freshmen, which is only fitting because he's going to be asked by Arizona to replace what two recently departed NBA draft picks contributed to last season's Elite Eight team. Though not as long as Aaron Gordon, Johnson has the same kind of tenaciousness and strength that Gordon used to produce on both ends of the floor during his one season with the Wildcats, while Johnson also has the floor presence that Nick Johnson displayed over three years in college.

    Thanks to the presence of senior point guard T.J. McConnell, Johnson will have plenty of opportunities to move without the ball and get into position for monster dunks and other highlight-reel plays. As the top-rated player in California, something that Arizona seems to bring in every year, Johnson also comes in with a winning history that helped lead his high school to four state titles.

Cliff Alexander, Kansas

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position: Power forward

    Height, Weight: 6'9", 240 lbs

    What He Needs To Do For a Passing Grade: 15.0 points per game, 9.5 rebounds per game, 1.5 blocks per game, 58 percent field-goal shooting

    Cliff Alexander might have some of the biggest expectations of the top freshmen, simply because he's stepping into a spot that was occupied by two players who both went in the top three spots of the 2014 NBA draft. But Alexander isn't expected to do everything that Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins did, just a little of each.

    He'll need to score more than Embiid did to make up for Wiggins' production, while also being more of a dedicated rebounder on both ends of the court. He figures to play more minutes than Embiid (23 per game in 2013-14), and thus will put up better numbers in that area. The block baseline is on the low end, but that's because Alexander is expected to contribute defensively as much with altering shots as with swatting them away.

Jahlil Okafor, Duke

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position: Center

    Height, Weight: 7'0", 265 lbs

    What He Needs To Do For a Passing Grade: 14.5 points per game, 8.5 rebounds per game, 1.5 blocks per game, 55.0 percent field-goal shooting

    Jahlil Okafor comes to Duke not just with the hype of being the No. 1 overall player in the 2014 recruiting class, but also with the expectation that he'll be able to solve most (if not all) of the Blue Devils' interior and defensive issues. Throw in the fact he's part of a group trying to replace the loss of Jabari Parker's production, and he must have a major impact right away.

    Duke will have plenty of scoring weapons, so Okafor doesn't need to be a 20-point scorer. But he does need to be a reliable weapon inside. He also must clean up the glass and provide the kind of defensive help that will keep opponents from being able to score at will in the paint.

     

    All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.com.

    Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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