2023 Men's College Basketball: Early Report Card Grades for Top Freshmen

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesFeatured Columnist IVNovember 23, 2022

2023 Men's College Basketball: Early Report Card Grades for Top Freshmen

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    Duke's Kyle Filipowski
    AP Photo/Ben McKeown

    Many of the top freshmen in the 2022 men's college basketball recruiting class have gotten out to a great start to what may well be their only season in the NCAA. Kyle Filipowski (Duke), Cason Wallace (Kentucky) and Gradey Dick (Kansas) are thriving at blue-blood programs, and Keyonte George (Baylor) has his squad in good early position for a third consecutive No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

    Other highly touted freshmen haven't been nearly as successful (or healthy), but it's still early. At this time one year ago, AJ Griffin, TyTy Washington Jr., Caleb Houstan and JD Davison were all struggling before turning a corner and going one-and-done.

    While not everyone gets an "A" for their first two weeks of college hoops, by no means are we writing off any of the players who received lower grades.

    We've assigned grades to each of the 26 players who received a 5-star rating from 247Sports' composite rankings.

    Grades range from A through D and will be presented in that order. No pluses or minuses on this curve. No failing grades either, though we do have a few "incompletes" who are either working their way back from an injury or otherwise haven't played much.

    To some extent, a player's recruiting ranking factors into the grade. If No. 1 overall recruit Nick Smith Jr. and No. 26 overall recruit Jaden Bradley were putting up identical numbers, the latter would surely grade higher than the former. (Of course, that would require Smith to have played a game.)

    Within each grade, players are listed in descending order of their recruiting ranking.

Grade: A

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    Alabama's Brandon Miller
    AP Photo/Vasha Hunt

    Kyle Filipowski, Duke (247Sports Rank: 4)
    15.6 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.4 BPG, 8-of-22 3PT

    Filipowski wasn't supposed to be Duke's brightest star, but with both Dereck Lively II and Dariq Whitehead injured to start the season, this 7'0" stretch 4 has risen to the occasion.

    Filipowski has scored in double figures in each of Duke's five games, including going for 17 points and 14 rebounds (six offensive) in the Champions Classic against Kansas. He would have been the MVP of that marquee event if Jalen Wilson and Gradey Dick hadn't stolen the show for a Jayhawks come-from-behind victory.

    It's fitting that in Jon Scheyer's first season as a head coach, he ended up with a taller, better version of his best teammate at Duke: Kyle Singler.

    GG Jackson II, South Carolina (247Sports Rank: 6)
    16.2 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 7-of-19 3PT

    Jackson reclassified from the 2023 class to 2022 in July and was the lone 5-star recruit in this year's cycle who chose a school that is unlikely to make this year's NCAA tournament.

    That means he's only 17 (until mid-December) and he'll shoulder a heavy workload as the focal point for opposing defenses. It also means efficiency will not be his strong suit, as evidenced by his early field-goal percentage (43.8) and turnover rate (3.0 per game).

    Still, Jackson has scored at least a dozen points and grabbed at least six rebounds in each of his five games. Once the game slows down for him and the mid-range jumpers start falling, he could have a great season. (For a team that might lose 23 games in spite of him.)

    Keyonte George, Baylor (247Sports Rank: 8)
    14.4 PPG, 5.0 APG, 4.0 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 12-of-37 3PT

    We knew George would be a scorer. He was a walking bucket in high school, and Baylor had to replace four of its top six scorers from last season. Suffice it to say, his 7.4 three-point attempts per game are no surprise.

    What's impressive and unexpected, though, are the assists and steals, as he and Adam Flagler have done a fine impression of 2020-21 Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell.

    George had a rough game against UCLA on Sunday, but he entered that one averaging 17.0 points, 5.5 assists and 1.8 steals per contest while shooting 38.7 percent from distance. Watch him while you can, because he's a surefire lottery pick in a few months' time.

    Cason Wallace, Kentucky (247Sports Rank: 10)
    12.6 PPG, 4.6 APG, 4.0 RPG, 3.4 SPG, 8-of-15 3PT

    The Kentucky Wildcats haven't been the title contender we expected, but Wallace has been every bit as impactful as advertised.

    He darn near messed around and had a triple-double in his collegiate debut against Howard (15 points, nine assists, eight rebounds). In the double-overtime loss to Michigan State, he again stuffed the stat sheet, finishing with 14 points, eight steals, five rebounds and five assists. Even in the blowout loss to Gonzaga, the two-way star went for 14 points and four steals.

    The only complaint you could make is that he gets careless with the ball, posting multiple turnovers in each game played. But he's averaging more steals than turnovers, so that's still a win.

    Brandon Miller, Alabama (247Sports Rank: 14)
    20.3 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.0 BPG, 15-of-29 3PT

    Can't ask for much better than this. Miller had a double-double in his collegiate debut and has put up at least 19 points, eight rebounds and three assists in each of his last three games, shooting 15-of-23 (65.2 percent) from distance during that stretch.

    The toughest opponent on the ledger was Liberty, so Miller hasn't been flexing his muscles against NBA competition. But that's about to change in a huge way. Alabama will play Michigan State on Thursday before possibly drawing Connecticut and North Carolina on Friday and Sunday, followed by a mid-December eight-day stretch featuring games against Houston, Memphis and Gonzaga.

    If Miller continues to put up numbers like these against those teams, might as well lock him in as a top-five pick in the draft.

    Gradey Dick, Kansas (247Sports Rank: 22)
    16.8 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.3 SPG, 10-of-20 3PT

    For stretches of the Champions Classic game against Duke, it looked like Dick didn't belong on the court. The Blue Devils relentlessly attacked him in transition early in the second half, turning a six-point deficit into a six-point lead.

    In the end, though, Dick delivered the daggers. He scored seven late points in the span of three possessions, shaking off a rough first 15 minutes after the intermission for clutch contributions beyond his years. He also hit a huge three late in the subsequent way-closer-than-anticipated game against Southern Utah.

    Something about his swagger and the way he acrobatically flails around the court makes him special. He's like a slimmer, modern version of Tyler Hansbrough who could have a decade-long run in the NBA.

Grade: B

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    Houston's Jarace Walker
    Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    Kel'el Ware, Oregon (247Sports Rank: 7)
    7.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 2.0 BPG, 1.0 APG, 3-of-8 3PT

    Ware's per-game numbers aren't anything special, but he's playing slightly less than 20 minutes per night in Oregon's deep frontcourt.

    That means he's averaging 15 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks per 40 minutes. And he's doing it efficiently with just one turnover, as well as back-to-back games without committing a foul. That's an uncommon amount of discipline for a 7'0" shot-blocking freshman.

    Jarace Walker, Houston (247Sports Rank: 11)
    12.4 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 5-of-12 3PT

    Walker had a couple of great games against Saint Joseph's and Texas Southern, but he made little impact against Oral Roberts and was outplayed by Oregon's frontcourt (N'Faly Dante, in particular) in his most recent game.

    The flashes of greatness are there, though, and there's little question his game will translate to the next level. He's big, he's athletic, he's tough, he's versatile. He's even a willing passer with eight assists over his past four games.

    Anthony Black, Arkansas (247Sports Rank: 17)
    11.0 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 3.5 APG, 2.8 SPG, 5-of-13 3PT

    One week into the season, Black would've been a solid "D." Through Arkansas' opening games against North Dakota State and Fordham, the starting point guard shot 4-of-15 with three assists against six turnovers.

    In the next two games, however, he went 11-of-14 with 11 assists, six steals and six turnovers. And Black was the star of the blowout win over Louisville in the Razorbacks' Maui Invitational opener.

    The shooting isn't his calling card, though. That would be his active hands on defense and his next-level vision on offense. He'll get a lot of assists and steals, and it's a bonus if he scores 10 points per game.

    Mark Mitchell, Duke (247Sports Rank: 20)
    11.6 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 1.8 APG, 5-of-10 3PT

    I almost gave Mitchell an "A," but he had a rough night in Duke's only game against an opponent worth mentioning. He had seven points (on seven shots) with five rebounds, three turnovers and three fouls in the Champions Classic loss to Kansas.

    In Duke's other four games, though, Mitchell has been a significant asset on both ends of the floor, thriving in a starting role that he likely wouldn't have if Dariq Whitehead wasn't working his way back from a fractured foot. He has been so solid that he'll probably continue to average close to 25 minutes per game, either as the fifth starter or the sixth man.

    Jalen Hood-Schifino, Indiana (247Sports Rank: 23)
    7.5 PPG, 4.5 APG, 4.3 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 3-of-10 3PT

    The shooting hasn't been there for Hood-Schifino. The 30.0 percent mark from three-point range is fine, but 34.8 percent inside the arc and 55.6 percent from the free-throw line leave a lot to be desired.

    The good news is he's making a big impact in other areas, averaging 10 combined rebounds, assists and steals per game. He also has a 2-to-1 or better assist-to-turnover ratio in each game. Indiana could be frighteningly good if and when his shots start falling.

    Jaden Bradley, Alabama (247Sports Rank: 26)
    8.8 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.0 SPG

    On a loaded Alabama team that got even deeper with the return of Jahvon Quinerly to the lineup last week, Bradley has averaged a little under 22 minutes per game off the bench. But he is making good use of his time on the court, shooting 60.0 percent with a solid assist and steal rate.

    Bradley had 10 points, three dimes and two steals against Liberty, and his fingerprints were all over the stat sheet in the Crimson Tide's latest game against Jacksonville State. He went for seven points, six rebounds, five assists and a steal in 20 minutes played in that blowout victory.

Grade: C

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    Texas' Dillon Mitchell
    AP Photo/Eric Gay

    Dillon Mitchell, Texas (247Sports Rank: 5)
    7.3 PPG, 7.5 RPG

    Bit of a harsh grade for a guy who had eight points and nine rebounds in Texas' statement win over Gonzaga, but we expected to see more from the No. 5 overall recruit with hops that make Tigger look like an amateur bouncer.

    Mitchell is making an impact on the glass (eight offensive rebounds vs. Houston Christian), and he's a solid, versatile defender, though that hasn't shown up in the form of blocks or steals. We'd like to see him more involved in the offense than as just a transition dunker, though. And he better improve from the free-throw line (3-of-10) before opponents start intentionally sending him there.

    Adem Bona, UCLA (247Sports Rank: 18)
    6.3 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1.3 BPG, 1.3 APG

    Bona missed UCLA's opener against Sacramento State for NCAA eligibility reasons before making a positive impact against Long Beach State and Norfolk State. He scored 18 points and grabbed eight offensive rebounds between those two games.

    Unfortunately, when the competition level increased, he vanished. Against Illinois and Baylor in the Continental Tire Main Event, Bona had a combined seven points and five rebounds in 35 minutes. He did block three shots in Las Vegas, but the Bruins will need more than that from their starting center to be taken seriously as a contender.

    Jordan Walsh, Arkansas (247Sports Rank: 19)
    8.3 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.0 SPG, 4-of-11 3PT

    If Walsh was supposed to be the cream of Arkansas' recruiting crop, these early returns would be disappointing.

    But for the third-best recruit in the Razorbacks class who will likely slide into a sixth-man role once Nick Smith Jr. is healthy, Walsh has been a solid non-negative in the starting mix. He doesn't force bad shots or passes, he's an asset on defense and it looks like he'll be a key contributor for a very good squad.

    JJ Starling, Notre Dame (247Sports Rank: 21)
    11.8 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 6-of-15 3PT

    Starling has looked the part of a first-year player in what is otherwise a veteran starting five. He's scoring at a respectable clip, but he's shooting 41.9 percent and isn't contributing much else in the box score with two assists, two steals and seven turnovers].

    The competition hasn't been worth remembering either, so we're more or less withholding judgment until the back-to-back games against Michigan State and Syracuse as November crosses into December.

Grade: D

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    UCLA's Amari Bailey
    Michael Owens/Getty Images

    Amari Bailey, UCLA (247Sports Rank: 9)
    8.2 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.2 SPG, 2-of-8 3PT

    Through five games, Bailey has 41 field-goal attempts and has scored 41 points. That's not a great ratio, and he's not having the impact elsewhere in the box score that we anticipated.

    Billed as a possible second coming of D'Angelo Russell, it was surprising and concerning to see Bailey play 49 minutes last weekend against Illinois and Baylor with a total of six points (on 10 shots), eight rebounds, three assists and three steals.

    We're optimistic he'll figure it out soon, but it's worth remembering that last year's 5-star recruit at UCLA, Peyton Watson, never came close to reaching his ceiling with the Bruins (yet was still a first-round draft pick).

    Chris Livingston, Kentucky (247Sports Rank: 12)
    5.6 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 3-of-9 3PT

    It seems like every year, John Calipari puts together an incredible recruiting class at Kentucky and then ends up barely playing one of his 5-star freshmen. It was Daimion Collins last year, Kahlil Whitney in 2019-20, EJ Montgomery for much of 2018-19, Jarred Vanderbilt in 2017-18...and it looks like it's Livingston's turn.

    In Kentucky's two losses to Michigan State and Gonzaga, Livingston played a combined 20 minutes, grabbed five rebounds and scored one point (0-of-4 from the field). The young man from Akron, Ohio, likely has a future in the pros, but he doesn't appear to be on that one-and-done superhighway from Lexington to the NBA.

    Julian Phillips, Tennessee (247Sports Rank: 15)
    8.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.7 APG, 0-of-7 3PT

    Maybe we should put Phillips in the "Incomplete" category since Tennessee has only played three games, but he gets a "D" for his lackluster early production.

    In Tennessee's bad loss to Colorado, Phillips picked up two early fouls and never recovered. He shot 1-of-6, finishing with five points and one rebound. But even against lesser competition (Tennessee Tech and Florida Gulf Coast), the young man who was billed as possibly the best 3-and-D wing in this year's class has delivered no threes and modest impact on defense.

    It's clear from his leaping ability and athleticism that he could be a star in short order, though.

    Arterio Morris, Texas (247Sports Rank: 16)
    6.5 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 1.3 APG, 3-of-17 3PT

    Perhaps Monday's game against Northern Arizona was the beginning of something for Morris. He entered that one averaging 5.0 points, shooting 1-of-13 from downtown and 0-of-2 from the free-throw line, but he scored 11 against the Lumberjacks, shooting 2-of-4 from distance and making all three of his free-throw attempts.

    On the whole, though, a brutal start for the shooting guard from Dallas. Texas annihilated Gonzaga, but he was a non-factor. Meanwhile, guards Tyrese Hunter, Marcus Carr and Sir'Jabari Rice have gotten out to solid starts for the Longhorns and might bury Morris on the depth chart once the schedule heats up.

    Yohan Traore, Auburn (247Sports Rank: 24)
    5.5 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 2-of-10 3PT

    On Friday against Texas Southern, Traore played 12 minutes off the bench. He didn't score, grabbed one rebound and committed three turnovers and four fouls.

    Not a performance for this 6'10" stretch 4 to hang in the Louvre, but he wasn't out to a sizzling start prior to that game either. He seems intent on proving that he has three-point range, except those shots aren't falling.

Grade: Incomplete

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    Duke's Dereck Lively II
    Lance King/Getty Images

    Nick Smith Jr., Arkansas (247Sports Rank: 1)

    Cam Whitmore, Villanova (247Sports Rank: 13)

    Vince Iwuchukwu, USC (247Sports Rank: 25)

    We're waiting on these 5-star freshmen to make their collegiate debuts.

    Hopefully, both Whitmore (thumb) and Smith (knee) will play before the end of the month, though we haven't been given a definitive timetable for either one. It has been a day-to-day situation for two candidates to be taken top-five in the 2023 NBA draft.

    Iwuchukwu presumably won't be back anytime soon, though. He suffered cardiac arrest this summer, and USC has given no updates on his status in well over a month. Rivals' Ryan Young spoke in early October with USC head coach Andy Enfield, who said he was optimistic Iwuchukwu might play this season.

    Dariq Whitehead, Duke (247Sports Rank: 2)
    4.0 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 1.0 SPG

    Whitehead suffered a fractured foot in August. He missed Duke's first three games before coming off the bench and making little impact against Delaware and Bellarmine.

    It wouldn't be fair to grade him based on what we have seen.

    Of course, that begs the question: When will he be up to full speed and able to be graded?

    I don't have a great answer, other than to note that back in 2016-17, Jayson Tatum missed the first eight games and Harry Giles missed the first 11. The former looked like an All-American by his second game. The latter never got there. Duke fans will hope Whitehead starts living up to his potential this weekend in the Phil Knight Legacy.

    Dereck Lively II, Duke (247Sports Rank: 3)
    3.8 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.3 BPG

    Lively missed Duke's opener with a calf injury, didn't appear in the starting lineup until Game No. 4 and is not operating at full strength and conditioning.

    He averaged 14.0 points, 14.0 rebounds and 4.5 blocks per game his senior year of high school, and that Anthony Davis-level difference-maker at both ends of the floor hasn't surfaced yet. Heck, he's only averaging 2.5 field-goal attempts per game.

    Because of the injury, we'll give him an "Incomplete" instead of a "D." But this big man who spent a lot of time as the No. 1 overall recruit in this class better make an impact soon if he wants to avoid inevitable (and unflattering) comparisons to Skal Labissière.

    Statistics current through the start of play Tuesday, Nov. 22.