As Andy Dufresne said in the Shawshank Redemption, "Hope springs eternal." Despite not having a kind and gentle African American man to guide it through the trials and tribulations of being imprisoned for a crime it didn’t commit, college basketball is no different.
Nothing in the college game offers hope like blue-chip high school prospects that have the potential to come in and carry a program to a Final Four or even a championship.
Who can forget freshman Chris Jackson captivating the college basketball world with his explosive scoring at LSU, or Greg Oden putting Ohio State on his 40-year-old back for an exciting Final Four run?
For freshman-led championships, it doesn’t get any better than “Never Nervous" Purvis Ellison and Carmelo Anthony.
Examples like these are the reasons why fans get excited about the new blood coming into their program.
So which players in this class are going to have that kind of effect next season? At the risk of adding fuel to the fire of these hopes, here are the top 10 incoming freshmen as ranked by March to March.
Keep in mind, we’re ranking these players based on talent as it relates to the college game, and also how these prospects fit in with the team they’ll be joining in the fall.
We’re not projecting NBA futures or stats. It’s all about the impact these players are going to have on their team’s march to March.
Let’s get to steppin’.
1. Harrison Barnes (UNC)
Harrison has talent on par with the top players coming out in years past—Wall, Evans, Rose, and Durant. He can get his shot whenever he wants against whomever he wants, and he plays with the quiet demeanor of an elite competitor. He is similar to Evan Turner in terms of body language, but he’s much more athletic than Turner.
Barnes will be a boon to guys like Drew and Strickland because he can be a playmaker and a facilitator with the ball in his hands from the 3 position. North Carolina would do well to surround him with shooters and then go to work. Harrison can make the Tar Heels elite if the other options like Henson, Strickland, and Drew come to play.
If not, fellow elite freshman deep-shooter Reggie Bullock might be the answer to finding finishers for Barnes' playmaking.
2. Jared Sullinger (Ohio State)
His abilities have been well chronicled on this site. There’s also some honest disagreement here as to whether or not he’s the best big man in this class.
He’s not as tall or athletic as Kanter, but his face up skills and footwork combined with his uniquely wide body more than make up for those deficiencies.
What can’t be disputed is Sullinger being the perfect fit with the personnel already on Ohio State’s campus. Coach Matta will surround this dynamic interior scoring monster with talented and experienced perimeter players that will make the youngster’s learning curve as accelerated as it comes.
For this Buckeye squad, Sullinger will only be asked to do what he does best. Catch and finish.
3. Kyrie Irving (Duke)
Kyire is a point guard who can score in bunches. He gives the Blue Devils their first elite blow-by guy since Jason Williams.
Like Williams, Irving is a winner who has a tremendous floor game and court awareness. He is much more than just a scorer.
Irving will fit right in for Duke as he’ll be the isolation guard when possessions get deep in the shot clock after sets or when Duke’s motion gets mucked up. It’s an element that the defending champions lacked last season: a pure creator off the dribble. Let that sink in.
Irving’s presence on the floor should help Nolan Smith expend more energy on the defensive end pressuring the basketball, which will allow Coach K to go back to Duke’s traditional extended perimeter pressure scheme.
So Irving helps on both ends. Scary, huh?
Look, I love Jon Scheyer, but Irving makes the Devils a better basketball team going into next season. If you’re not sunk already, let that sink in.
4. Brandon Knight (Kentucky)
He is an explosive scoring point guard with terrific speed on the dribble, which will be perfect for Kentucky’s up tempo attack. He's a hard worker who will guard you.
Knight should come right in and pick up where John Wall, Tyreke Evans, and Derrick Rose left off for Coach Cal. He should be a perfect fit with fellow frosh phenom Enes Kanter who runs the floor at an elite level for a big.
Look for Calipari to try to run more this season than he has in years past to showcase Knight and, to an extent, Kanter.
5. Josh Selby (Kansas)
He is a fearless competitor who will fight you for 40 minutes and a combo guard that does it all—scores, defends, defers, rebounds, whatever you need.
Selby can step right in and be a factor in Coach Self’s motion attack because he’s comfortable working without the ball. He’ll thrive using off the ball screens to find offense. But he’ll keep the Morris twins and the rest of Jayhawk upperclassmen happy because he’s a team-oriented guy who doesn’t need to be on the ball to impact the game.
Defensively, he’s KU caliber already because of his willingness to guard, which is rare for top flight talent.
Those are the first five of the top 10 impact freshmen. Look for the second five to come shortly.
Kevin Berger writes the leading college hoops blog March To March.
Follow him on Twitter: @MarchToMarch