Road to The Final Four: 10 Teams Relying Heavily on Freshmen
One single freshman can catapult a team from the NIT deep into the NCAA Tournament. Sometimes, just one freshman is the final piece to a Final Four team. Other times, an entire starting lineup of first year players makes a team elite.
In the end, those teams all have something in common- they've relied on freshmen heavily to make a run at college basketball's promise land- the Final Four.
In the age of one-and-done freshmen, the top prospects have rejuvenated and returned programs back to the top tier.
Kansas State's Michael Beasley, Texas's Kevin Durant, Memphis's Derrick Rose, and Syracuse's Carmelo Anthony are the prime examples of the impact freshmen their teams relied heavily upon to reach elite status.
Putting that much trust into freshmen isn't a novel idea. Michigan's Fab Five in the early 90's revolutionized college basketball.
The teams who's success will depend significantly on incoming players (freshmen, transfers, or red-shirts) have been broken up into three categories: Dangerous now, Will develop to be dangerous, and may never be dangerous. The teams profiled are squads that have a significant chance of playing deep into March or at least making the tournament.
The closest reincarnation of the Fab Five has found a home in the Bluegrass State. Coach John Calipari has a group of six newcomers that may be the greatest single recruiting class in the history of the game.
Though they lack a popular nickname for now (Scintillating or Super Sextet, Big Blue Babies, and Kentucky's Kids are the suggestion's I'm throwing out there), Kentucky's young guns are going to be almost impossible to stop from day one.
John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins are arguably the two best freshmen in the country and Eric Bledsoe, Daniel Orton, and Jon Hood aren't too far behind. Also, small forward Darnell Dodson is one of the best JUCO transfers in the country.
Together, they form a new League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, err...I mean a top five team (in my defense, Big Blue Nation is acting like Calipari is the second-coming of Jesus and his recruits are his disciples).
It's pretty simple for Roy Williams. He doesn't rebuild, he reloads. After losing the majority of his National Championship team, Williams will replace his stars with future stars.
Only Kentucky has a better recruiting class than the Tar Heels and UNC's recruits will fill a multitude of different roles. With a handful of top 100 recruits and a skilled defender returning from a medical red-shirt, the Heels will rely heavily upon newcomers to return to the Final Four.
John Henson, David and Travis Wear will fill out the frontcourt to give UNC terrific depth. Leslie McDonald and Dexter Strickland are no John Wall/Eric Bledsoe combination, but they'll contribute immediately to UNC's backcourt.
Marcus Ginyard will be Roy Williams x-factor. He's a defensive stopper and an average offensive player. As the veteran member of the backcourt, he'll be responsible for leading his unit and developing chemistry among his young colleagues.
The Yellow Jackets return several very talented players, but Georgia Tech's lethal sting will come from the youngest bees in the hive.
Center Derrick Favors is as skilled as any other freshman in the nation and should rule both ends of the floor.
Tech already lost one of its stud freshmen, Kammeon Holsey to a season knee injury, but there's honeycombs full of eager newcomers waiting to take his place.
D'Andre Bell isn't a newbie, but missed all of last season because of a spinal problem. He's a team leader ready to whip all the young guns into shape.
The Yellow Jackets have a perfect mix of young stars and grizzled veterans to make them a prevailing force in the nest they call home.
Will Develop to be Dangerous
The Orange could eventually be as good as last year's Sweet 16 team as Jim Boeheim begins reloading after major personnel losses. Boeheim will replace Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf, and Paul Harris with a freshman, red-shirt player, and a transfer.
Brandon Triche will likely start as the team's floor general; while red-shirt sophomore Scoop Jardine will be a combo-guard; and back-up Triche and returning starter Andy Rautins. Wesley Johnson's is the nation's top transfer and fill will the role of Paul Harris as the team's athletic freak.
Syracuse could struggle early and might come away from a trip to New York City with multiple losses to ranked teams. But as the season progresses, Boeheim's bunch could turn into one of the best teams in the Big East.
Freshman Devin Booker is an athletic freak of nature that will some day rock the rims of Littlejohn Coliseum.
Booker's brother is none other than current hoop hammerer Trevor Booker. The younger Booker should see some time in his first year because of his god-given talents, which fit right into Oliver Purnell's strangle-by-the-neck defense.
But Booker isn't the freshman that will impact the Tigers the most and send them dancing.
After KC Rivers graduated and Terrence Oglesby left for Europe, Purnell must rely on freshmen to catapult the Tigers back to the tournament.
Noel Johnson is a late signee from USC and should garner some important minutes ahead of little Booker, but it's Milton Jennings that could steal the Tiger spotlight. Jennings has the makings of a star. Key word is makings though.
Behind the freshmen, Clemson may start out slow until they've gotten their feet wet and learned Purnell's unique system. By the end of the season, the Tigers could be an ACC force.
The Sooners are all about deception.
First, they toy with opponents with two Griffin Brothers and now it's with a center nicknamed Tiny Gallon who's really the size of about three barrels. Keith Gallon tips the scales at close to 300 pounds, but he's got the shooting touch of a 180 pound guard.
Gallon's like that guy you see at pickup who lumbers around the court. You expect him to only be able to score because of his behemoth size under the basket. Then, he drifts to the perimeter and you think he's just being lazy, but he then puts up that first shot and swish.
Suddenly, three points are on the board and everyone is hooting and hollering at the big man's touch from deep.
Well, Gallon is a load under the hoop as well and with an array of talented sharp shooters that include another freshman, Tommy Mason-Griffin. He will allow super sophomore Willie Warren to play his more natural position of two-guard.
The Sooner attack will revolve around Warren, Mason-Griffin, and Gallon. With two being freshmen and Warren just a sophomore, Oklahoma could fall victim to a few early upsets.
By the time conference play is in full swing, the Sooners should be turned around and headed full steam ahead for March.
May Never be Dangerous
The Wildcats make the list because like two years ago when Michael Beasley dominated Manhattan, a freshman forward will be a critical Kansas State contributor.
Wally Judge is one of the top five or ten freshmen in the country and should help the Wildcats return to the NCAA Tournament. Without Judge, K-State would have a tremendous backcourt of Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen and that's about it.
Even with Judge, Clemente, and Pullen, Kansas State may not develop into a tournament team as the Wildcats lack significant supporting players.
The Pirates bring in two of the best transfers in the country in New Mexico State's Herb Pope and Missouri's Keon Lawrence. Both averaged double-digits at their former schools and will team with one of the league's best scorers, Jeremy Hazell.
Seton Hall returns its four top scorers from last year and should be ready to compete with the top tier teams in the Big East for the first time in several years.
Bobby Gonzalez's team does have one weakness that not even the transfers may be able to help. His teams have been very porous defensively and if the defense doesn't improve, Seton Hall won't see a large improvement in the win column.
If the Wildcats want to keep their string of 25 consecutive years in the NCAA Tournament, new coach Sean Miller will need to whip a bunch of freshmen into Pac-10 shape quickly.
The one returning difference maker is point guard Nic Wise and he'll need help to push the 'Cats into the tournament.
The support will come in the form of freshman center Kyryl Natyzhko who hopes to score more points per game than awkward consonants in his name. Natyzhko hails from Ukraine, but developed his game at the IMG Academy in Florida.
Natyzhko is already prepared to be one of the most dominant centers in a league currently devoid of imposing big men.
Fellow freshmen Kevin Parro and Lamont Jones bring New York City style to the wild west no longer accustom to high scoring shoot outs.
There's a pretty solid chance Arizona will have to rely on freshmen not ready to compete with the best teams in the Pac-10, but lucky for them, the conference is so down this year, great teams are far and few between.
Stands No Shot to be Dangerous
Dismissing six players from a basketball team typically leaves that team a bit short-handed. Dismissing all the star players from a basketball team leaves that team in the gutter to finish dead last.
That's the problem Binghamton faces after the school kicked six players off the squad for various violations of school policy and the law. Now, Binghamton is left with a roster chalked full of freshmen.
What's worse is Binghamton is holding open tryouts for anyone interested.
Rode the pine for four years in high school? Get your academic transcripts, head to Binghamton and you just might make a Division I roster.
For more updates on college basketball, follow Jameson Fleming on Twitter.
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