Best- and Worst-Case Scenarios for Top Incoming Freshmen in 2014-15 CBB Season
However the 2014-15 college basketball season ends, it’s a sure bet that the performance of the country’s top freshmen will have a lot to say about the outcome. There will be plenty of time after the nets are cut down to wonder about what might have been, but for now, it’s time to look to the future and make some projections for what might yet be when it comes to the elite recruits around the nation.
Rashad Vaughn, for one, is the best shooting guard in the freshman class, but he’s joining a UNLV squad that has almost no veteran talent returning. Will he thrive as the lone offensive star on the Vegas stage, or will the lack of help doom him to a disappointing first season?
Read on for a look at the most encouraging—and the most disheartening—possibilities facing Vaughn, along with imagined outcomes for the rest of the 20 freshmen with the greatest potential in the 2014 recruiting class.
20. Chris McCullough, Syracuse
Best Case: Athletic and active on the boards, Chris McCullough shines as a starter for the graduation-depleted Syracuse Orange. With help from classmate Kaleb Joseph and the postseason magic of the 2-3 zone, his C.J. Fair-esque dunks lead them as far as the Sweet 16.
Worst Case: With few perimeter shooters to distract the defense, McCullough’s lack of back-to-the-basket moves keeps his scoring output low. Unable to hold position against heavier ACC forwards, he can’t prevent the ‘Cuse from limping to a middling seed and a second-round defeat in March.
19. Dwayne Morgan, UNLV
Best Case: Speedy Dwayne Morgan makes good on his scoring potential, which tops anything the Rebels have seen from a forward in a couple of seasons. He and Rashad Vaughn form an inside-outside pairing that leads UNLV to a comfortable at-large bid and a win or two in the Big Dance.
Worst Case: Neither Morgan nor classmate Goodluck Okonoboh can get on track in the half-court offense, leaving Vaughn alone. Even a hard-working defense isn’t enough to keep the Rebels from a second straight year of watching March Madness on TV.
18. Isaac Copeland, Georgetown
Best Case: Isaac Copeland’s point-forward style meshes perfectly with the pass-happy Princeton offense that’s become Georgetown’s signature. He takes care of the dirty work inside, while D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera’s scoring lifts the Hoyas to an at-large berth and maybe even a win in the NCAA Tournament.
Worst Case: Copeland’s lack of pure scorer’s instincts leave Smith-Rivera too short of help. Georgetown’s D isn’t strong enough to overcome a punchless attack, and another NIT trip is the end result.
17. Devin Robinson, Florida
Best Case: Devin Robinson’s 6’8” length and multifaceted offensive game gives rebuilt Florida the boost it needs on the wing. As a sidekick to Chris Walker and Kasey Hill, his playmaking defense helps Florida upset Kentucky in Gainesville before reaching yet another Elite Eight.
Worst Case: Overshadowed by the offensive firepower in the Florida lineup, Robinson winds up as an afterthought on an unremarkable team. With too little big-game experience (or depth) to handle the pressure of March, the Gators fall to a small-conference Cinderella in the second round.
16. Daniel Hamilton, UConn
Best Case: With a smooth jumper and a 6’6” frame, Daniel Hamilton shoots his way into a starting job for the UConn Huskies. Kevin Ollie finds the right rotations to keep all his guards sharp, and the offense nails enough three-pointers to return to the Final Four.
Worst Case: Hamilton’s suspect defense lands him in Ollie’s doghouse—pun slightly intended—and the Huskies’ depth at guard keeps the youngster buried on the bench. Without a viable interior scoring option, the attack falters in the half court, and UConn falls in the round of 32.
15. Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall
Best Case: With talented point guards Sterling Gibbs and Jaren Sina to feed him, Isaiah Whitehead takes the Big East by storm. Classmate Angel Delgado gives the Seton Hall Pirates enough of an inside presence to take advantage of a shaky conference and earn their first Big Dance berth since 2006.
Worst Case: Defenses focus all their efforts on the heavily hyped freshman, and Whitehead turns in an offensive performance that’s merely OK. With minimal help from the forwards, he can’t carry SHU any higher than last year’s eighth-place finish in the league.
14. Justise Winslow, Duke
Best Case: Shane Battier clone Justise Winslow gives the Duke Blue Devils the same lockdown defense as the original version, plus a legitimate three-point shooting presence. His two-way play impresses NBA scouts as he helps Duke earn its fifth national title.
Worst Case: An early shooting slump wrecks Winslow’s confidence, and he fades into the background on offense. Overly dependent on Jahlil Okafor for scoring, Duke is upset in the Sweet 16.
13. Theo Pinson, North Carolina
Best Case: Hyper-athletic Theo Pinson impresses Roy Williams with his energy and toughness, beating out classmate Justin Jackson for the starting spot at small forward. Led by Wooden Award winner Marcus Paige, Pinson and the speedy North Carolina Tar Heels run and shoot their way to a national title.
Worst Case: Pinson’s uncertain jump shot keeps him on the bench in crunch time, and a brutal ACC schedule leaves UNC with a weak seed in March. One bad shooting night sends the Heels home in the round of 32.
12. D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State
Best Case: A combo guard in the best sense of the term, D’Angelo Russell combines scoring and passing as Aaron Craft never managed to do. With his leadership on offense, Ohio State upsets Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament and battles its way to the Elite Eight.
Worst Case: Russell’s three-point shot isn’t reliable enough to keep defenses from packing the paint against the scoring-poor Buckeyes. He and Sam Thompson generate a few highlights, but OSU gets bounced in its Big Dance opener again.
11. Kevon Looney, UCLA
Best Case: Kevon Looney plays like the second coming of Kevin Love, snapping up every rebound in sight and providing a meaningful offensive presence inside. With Isaac Hamilton serving as primary scorer, Looney plays sidekick for an explosive offense that barrels into the Elite Eight.
Worst Case: Looney’s jumper doesn’t make the grade, and his only scoring comes on putbacks. Neither Hamilton nor Bryce Alford can find a rhythm at point guard, leaving UCLA’s offense high and dry (and stuck in the First Four, where the green Bruins get shocked by a senior-heavy mid-major).
10. Rashad Vaughn, UNLV
Best Case: With a well-rounded game and big-time scoring punch, Rashad Vaughn becomes the centerpiece of a rebuilt UNLV roster. He grabs Mountain West Player of the Year honors while leading the Rebels back to the NCAA tournament (and earning them a couple of wins there).
Worst Case: With no other half-court scorers to help him, Vaughn slogs through a mediocre debut season. Although he and his classmates (especially Goodluck Okonoboh) play tough defense, they can’t put up enough points to keep up with power-conference foes or to secure an at-large bid to the Big Dance.
9. Justin Jackson, North Carolina
Best Case: The jump shot that earned Justin Jackson co-MVP honors at the McDonald’s All-America Game helps him claim UNC’s starting small forward job. As Marcus Paige’s right-hand man, he gives the deep Tar Heels enough half-court firepower to bring home a national title.
Worst Case: Jackson loses the starter role to classmate Theo Pinson and his superior defense. Lacking enough touches to make an impact on offense, Jackson can’t keep UNC from limping to an opening-weekend exit in March Madness.
8. Trey Lyles, Kentucky
Best Case: Trey Lyles picks right up where Julius Randle left off, using size and skill to dominate at the power forward spot for Kentucky. With Lyles headlining the offense (and earning serious Wooden Award consideration), the experienced Wildcats cruise to a national championship.
Worst Case: The freshman’s post-oriented game has him fighting for position with his own teammates—especially Dakari Johnson—all season. Despite their immense size and talent reserves, the ‘Cats fail to reignite last year’s postseason chemistry, falling in the Elite Eight.
7. Kelly Oubre Jr., Kansas
Best Case: At 6’7”, Kelly Oubre Jr. proves to be the most complete freshman in the country, able to score inside and out while defending multiple positions. He outplays classmate Cliff Alexander for Big 12 Player of the Year recognition, then provides the clutch shooting that carries the Kansas Jayhawks to the national title.
Worst Case: With Alexander monopolizing the ball, Oubre never finds his groove offensively. Devonte Graham doesn’t click as the new point guard in Lawrence, and the Jayhawks (Big 12 runners-up for the first time in a decade) fall in the Sweet 16.
6. Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky
Best Case: Karl-Anthony Towns, who combines offense and defense better than any of Kentucky’s many other centers, takes over as the starter by the time SEC play opens. The sweet-shooting 7-footer can’t quite match Anthony Davis’ Wooden Award, but he does equal the former Wildcat’s success as a national-title-winning freshman.
Worst Case: A faltering Big Blue defense needs major minutes from Willie Cauley-Stein, leaving Towns to battle Dakari Johnson for second-unit playing time. Without Towns’ jump-shooting to help space the floor, the lumbering Wildcats can’t quite make it back to the Final Four.
5. Tyus Jones, Duke
Best Case: Few schools have seen as many pass-first point guards—Bobby Hurley, Chris Duhon, William Avery—enjoy as much success as Duke. Tyus Jones does that lineage proud, using great passing and defense (plus an occasional clutch basket) to run the offense for another national champion in Durham.
Worst Case: Jones doesn't hit enough jumpers to keep defenses honest, losing the starting job to veteran Quinn Cook. From the bench, he can’t develop chemistry with his high-scoring classmates, leaving him to watch as Duke crashes and burns in the Sweet 16.
4. Myles Turner, Texas
Best Case: A wealth of experience around him lets Myles Turner become an instant success for the Texas Longhorns. The high-scoring 7-footer leads UT to a Big 12 title and a Final Four spot, capturing the Wooden Award with his three-point touch and defensive instincts.
Worst Case: Veteran Cameron Ridley plays too well to leave on the bench, and Rick Barnes can’t find a rotation that keeps both centers at the top of their games. Turner hits a wall late in the Big 12 schedule, turning in a lackluster postseason as the Longhorns fall in the opening weekend of the Big Dance.
3. Stanley Johnson, Arizona
Best Case: Although he can’t quite match Aaron Gordon’s size, Stanley Johnson equals the ex-Wildcat’s impact as a highlight-reel fixture in Tucson. The defensive stopper overachieves on offense, powering his way to Pac-12 Player of the Year recognition as a deep Arizona front line outmuscles Kentucky for the national title.
Worst Case: Johnson’s erratic jump shot invites opponents to load up in the paint against Arizona’s size. The half-court offense sputters, and even an ironclad D can’t save the Wildcats from yet another Elite Eight exit.
2. Cliff Alexander, Kansas
Best Case: Cliff Alexander turns into the second coming of Blake Griffin, slamming and swatting his way to instant stardom. The Jayhawks get just enough perimeter offense to keep defenders honest, and Alexander (the Big 12 Player of the Year) is unstoppable during a national-title push.
Worst Case: Alexander and Perry Ellis struggle to coexist on the front line, hurting both players’ offensive stats. With the backcourt unable to pick up the slack, Kansas fails to win the Big 12 and (deprived of its usual top seed in March) exits in the Sweet 16.
1. Jahlil Okafor, Duke
Best Case: Massive Jahlil Okafor lives up to his potential as the best pure center in Duke history. His dominance on the low block—offensive and defensive—earns him Wooden Award recognition and headlines a national-title run by the Blue Devils.
Worst Case: Never a top-notch shot-blocker, Okafor struggles with foul trouble against other elite centers. Unable to secure a top seed after a tightly contested ACC season, Duke hits a bad matchup in the Sweet 16 and squanders its immense potential.