Men's College Basketball: Early Report Cards for Top Freshmen

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystNovember 18, 2021

Men's College Basketball: Early Report Cards for Top Freshmen

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    Memphis' Jalen Duren (2) and Emoni Bates (1)
    Memphis' Jalen Duren (2) and Emoni Bates (1)Karen Pulfer Focht/Associated Press

    Nine days into a four-month college basketball season is, admittedly, a way-too-early juncture for trying to decide whether each member of this year's batch of 5-star freshmen was worthy of the recruiting hype.

    Then again, it seemed like everyone was jumping to boom-or-bust conclusions about Trevor Keels, TyTy Washington Jr. and Max Christie based on nothing more than the Champions Classic, so we might actually be a little late to the game in this overreactionary world.

    Either way, we've assigned grades to each of the 24 players who received a 5-star rating from 247Sports' composite rankings and are playing this season. (There are 28 in total, but three went the G League route, and Shaedon Sharpe doesn't count because he just reclassified from 2022 to 2021 earlier this month and won't play this season.)

    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 Chet Holmgren and No. 28 overall recruit Nate Bittle were putting up identical numbers, the latter would surely grade higher than the former.

    To paraphrase something James Spader said as Robert California on The Office: But I just met you all. Life is long, opinions change. (A's), prove me right. (D's), prove me wrong.

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

Grade: A

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    Gonzaga's Chet Holmgren
    Gonzaga's Chet HolmgrenYoung Kwak/Associated Press

    Chet Holmgren, Gonzaga (247Sports Rank: 1)

    9.0 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 4.0 BPG, 3.7 APG

    Compared to the volume of points that the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft usually puts up, maybe you're a little disappointed by lack oflet's call it "alpha dog-ness"that Holmgren has shown on the offensive end.

    But I've been extremely impressed by his defensive instincts and his willingness to defer to Drew Timme, Julian Strawther and Rasir Bolton, whether by directly setting up those guys for buckets or by simply staying out of the way and letting them do their thing.

    Even in the game against Texas in which Holmgren merely put up two points and five rebounds, his overall impact was undeniable. His shot-blocking presence kept the Longhorns from driving the lane, and simply by being on the floor as a threat, he made it impossible for Texas to keep Timme out of the paint. Holmgren won't average 20 points per game, but he's exactly what the Zags need to reach their ceiling.


    Emoni Bates, Memphis (247Sports Rank: 5)

    16.0 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.3 APG, 50.0% 3PT, 3.0 TOV

    The one knock on Bates (and Memphis as a whole) is a little too much sloppiness on offense. The Tigers love to push the tempo, but maybe dialing it back a little from time to time would help cut down on the 20 turnovers they're committing per game.

    However, Bates is just so smooth and has such good handles that it rarely feels like he's forcing the issue. If anything, it feels like the 6'9" wing who is 9-of-18 from three-point range through three games isn't being aggressive enough. He could probably score close to 30 per night if he wanted to, but he has been content with sharing the spotlight, playing within an offense that's averaging just under 90 points per game.

    Let's see what happens next month when Memphis faces Alabama and Tennessee in back-to-back games. That might be where he fully embraces his role as a go-to scorer.


    Jalen Duren, Memphis (247Sports Rank: 6)

    12.7 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 4.7 BPG

    Duren's offensive efficiency is off the charts. After shooting 7-of-10 from the field in the season opener, he went 3-of-3 against both NC Central and Saint Louis. Thanks to a good number of free-throw attempts, the big man has scored 38 points on just 16 field-goal attempts.

    As great as he has been, here's hoping he eventually becomes Hungry Like the Wolf. Yeah, that's a Duran Duran reference for Duren. Get used to them. But the 6'11" freshman should be getting up way more than 5.3 shots per game.

    Even more impressive than the scoring, though, is the rim protection. Duren already has 14 blocks through three games, and opponents are shooting just 37.8 percent from inside the arc against the Tigers.


    Jabari Smith, Auburn (247Sports Rank: 7)

    15.5 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 3.5 SPG, 2.5 APG, 3.5 SPG, 62.5% 3PT

    The competition (Morehead State and Louisiana-Monroe) hasn't been anything worth writing home about, but Smith has been filling up the stat sheet all the same. That was particularly true in his second game, against the Warhawks, finishing with 23 points (on 12 field-goal attempts), 10 rebounds and four steals.

    Auburn was actually trailing at halftime of that one, but his defense early in the second half played a big part in the Tigers' blowing the game wide open. It's almost not fair for this 6'10" forward to have such active hands on D as well as a lethal three-point stroke. Can't wait to see what this phenom does in next week's Battle 4 Atlantis.


    Kennedy Chandler, Tennessee (247Sports Rank: 9)

    18.0 PPG, 5.0 APG, 3.0 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 85.7% 3PT

    I didn't catch any of Tennessee's opener against UT-Martin, but Chandler was sensational in the Sunday afternoon game against East Tennessee State. He had 16 points in that one, all in the first half, showing off his shooting range, his ability to finish in traffic and his next-level court vision.

    The three-point percentage will come crashing back to earth, but it looks like he'll create a ton of high-percentage shots, both for himself and for his fellow Volunteers.


    Kendall Brown, Baylor (247Sports Rank: 14)

    15.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 4.0 APG, 1.7 SPG

    Brown is the first 5-star recruit Baylor has signed since getting Isaiah Austin in 2012, and he has hit the ground running for the reigning national champions.

    Brown came ever so close to a triple-double (13 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds) against Nicholls State in the second game of his college career. He put up 13 in each of his first two contests, shooting 11-of-15 from the field. And while there's no replacing Davion Mitchell's impact on defense, Brown is contributing on that end of the floor with three steals and a pair of blocks.


    Harrison Ingram, Stanford (247Sports Rank: 19)

    14.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 3.5 APG

    It's not likely to be a great season for Stanford. The Cardinal have already been blown out by Santa Clara and had to rally from halftime deficits at home against both Tarleton State and San Jose State. It's a little early in the year to write any team off, but Ingram is one of the few 5-star freshmen you should probably try to watch before the NCAA tournament.

    And as an individual, he has been great, leading the Cardinal in scoring in each of his first three games. During that time, he also shot 50 percent from three-point range, pulled down 24 rebounds and averaged better than two assists per turnover. The longer he remains Mr. Everything for Stanford, the more likely it is that he proves the way-too-early mock draft community wrong for pretty much unanimously neglecting him.


    Trevor Keels, Duke (247Sports Rank: 23)

    14.8 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 2.8 APG, 2.5 SPG

    Keels has been the relatively unexpected early MVP for the Blue Devils. He had a bunch of huge buckets in the Champions Classic victory over Kentucky, was a defensive menace with six steals in the subsequent game against Army and went for 18 points (on nine shots), seven rebounds and four assists in Tuesday night's blowout of Gardner-Webb.

    Perhaps most impressive is that he has committed just four fouls and three turnovers through 126 minutes. It's tough enough for opposing teams that Keels is built like a tank, but it's rare to see a strong freshman guard play this well within himself to avoid those common mistakes.

Grade: B

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    Duke's Paolo Banchero
    Duke's Paolo BancheroChris Seward/Associated Press

    Paolo Banchero, Duke (247Sports Rank: 2)

    17.0 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 1.5 SPG

    Before we dive into the B grades with the potential No. 1 pick in the 2022 draft, let me remind you that this is still an above-average grade. To that end, this tier is primarily populated with guys who are clearly capable of taking over a game but who have some areas where they could and should improve as the season progresses.

    In Banchero's case, he has been great in the paint. He's making short-range buckets at a strong rate, grabbing a bunch of defensive rebounds and both getting to the free-throw line often and converting at an 85 percent clip from the stripe. It seems there will be lengthy stretches in just about every game this season during which the opposing team/coaching staff becomes visibly deflated in the quest to slow this guy down.

    However, he is 1-of-8 from three-point range and has tallied just three assists while committing 11 turnovers. The "old-school big man" numbers have been impressive, but we were promised a combo forward, stretch 4, modern-day PF, whatever you prefer to call it. It's almost a win for the defense if Banchero ventures out to the perimeter.

    And while not a factor in the grade, it bears mentioning that Banchero was cited for aiding and abetting DWI on Sunday, though he played for Duke on Tuesday, and it doesn't appear as though he will be suspended. 


    Patrick Baldwin Jr., Milwaukee (247Sports Rank: 8)

    20.0 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 2.5 APG, 38.2% FG

    The volume of points and rebounds is no surprise for the potential Horizon League Player of the Year. "PBJ" is the greatest player Milwaukee has ever had on its roster, and the 6'9" multitalented coach's son will have the permanent green light while playing as many minutes as he can handle.

    Will he improve in the efficiency department, though? Twenty points per game looks great at first glance, until you notice it's taking him 17 field-goal attempts per game (and 2.5 turnovers) to get there.

    Regardless, I can't wait to see what he does against Florida on Thursday.


    Matthew Cleveland, Florida State (247Sports Rank: 25)

    8.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.7 APG

    Making a legitimate impact out of the gate as a freshman at Florida State is not an easy task, as the Seminoles always seem to have a rotation of at least 10 super-athletic juniors and seniors. Last year's one-and-done star, Scottie Barnes, was held to single digits in each of his first two games. The previous year, Patrick Williams scored just nine points between his first two games.

    So for Cleveland to put up 11 points while serving as one of the few 'Noles who didn't play poorly in the 71-55 loss to Florida was mighty impressive. He has a long way to go before we consider naming him to a freshman All-American team, but he has started better than expected.


    Efton Reid, LSU (247Sports Rank: 27)

    10.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 1.0 BPG, 1.0 SPG, 60.9% FG

    In 58 minutes on the court, Reid has already committed 11 fouls, four of which were of the offensive variety. Learning how to control that 6'11", 238-pound body around the officials will be a big part of his maturation process over the next few months.

    Aside from the fouls, though, he has been solid. Reid went for 16 points in the opener against Louisiana-Monroe, scored 13 in the most recent game against Liberty and has grabbed multiple offensive rebounds in each of LSU's three games. He's also contributing nicely on defense and will make the Tigers a legitimate threat to reach the second weekend of the tournament if he plays this well once the schedule toughens up.

Grade: C

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    Kentucky's Daimion Collins
    Kentucky's Daimion CollinsJames Crisp/Associated Press

    Daimion Collins, Kentucky (247Sports Rank: 16)

    5.3 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 1.7 BPG

    Collins put up big numbers in 21 minutes off the bench in the 100-60 win over Robert Morris. He made all seven of his two-point attempts, including a pair of mammoth dunks late in the second half, finishing with 14 points, six rebounds, four blocks and three assists.

    But he followed it up with just two points and two defensive rebounds in 15 minutes on the floor against Mount St. Mary's. And he was a non-factor in two minutes played in the opener against Duke.

    The ceiling is sky high for this otherworldly athlete, but one dud and one near-DNP through three games isn't a great start. It's safe to assume head coach John Calipari will use these next five home games against Ohio, Albany, North Florida, Central Michigan and Southern to stretch Collins out and determine how much he'll factor into the rotation behind Oscar Tshiebwe and Keion Brooks Jr. against the tougher opponents.


    Max Christie, Michigan State (247Sports Rank: 20)

    11.0 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 40.7% FG

    Five years ago, Joshua Langford was a 5-star shooting guard who started slowly for Michigan State. Through his first three games, he scored just 13 points on 13 shots.

    Fittingly, his replacement in the starting lineup has faced similar initial woes. Christie needed 18 field-goal attempts to score 15 points between his first two games. But even before he went off for 18 points on nine shots against Butler, we assumed it would be a brief adjustment period, since the ability to consistently hit mid-range and three-point jumpers is supposed to be what gets him to the NBA sooner rather than later.


    Aminu Mohammed, Georgetown (247Sports Rank: 24)

    15.5 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.5 SPG, 3.5 TOV

    Say this much for Mohammed: He is already clearly Georgetown's go-to guy. He led the Hoyas in scoring in each of their first two games and has been used on 29.1 percent of possessions while on the court. (Next-closest teammate is Dante Harris at 21.6.)

    However, he has been a bit turnover prone and isn't an efficient scorer. It has taken 26 field-goal attempts for him to score 31 points, and he's just 4-of-9 from the free-throw line. And in the season opener against Dartmouth, Mohammed led the Hoyas to an awful home loss.

    This is a young team, though, with five freshmen in the primary 10-man rotation, so growing pains were to be expected. Let's call it par for the course and check back in on Mohammed for that Thanksgiving game against San Diego State.


    Brandon Huntley-Hatfield, Tennessee (247Sports Rank: 26)

    5.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 1.0 BPG

    I'll be curious to see how much Huntley-Hatfield actually plays. He got a good amount of run in the opener against UT-Martin with John Fulkerson out because of a broken thumb, and he was more than serviceable in those 19 minutes (seven points, six rebounds, two steals, two blocks). With Fulkerson back, though, and Olivier Nkamhoua looking like a breakout star through two games (17.0 PPG, 11.0 RPG), BHH might be the odd man out of the frontcourt rotation.

    But he has been solid on the glass and should be a good source of physicality for however many minutes he gets on a nightly basis.

Grade: D

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    UCLA's Peyton Watson
    UCLA's Peyton WatsonAshley Landis/Associated Press

    Caleb Houstan, Michigan (247Sports Rank: 11)

    9.3 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 1.7 APG

    Houstan got out to a respectable start, scoring in double figures in each of his first two games against Buffalo and Prairie View A&M. He shot 5-of-12 from downtown between those two contests, quickly establishing himself as a go-to perimeter weapon.

    When Michigan needed something from him against Seton Hall, though, he was nowhere to be found. He played almost the entire game (39 minutes), but he shot just 1-of-9 from the field (0-of-4 from distance) with four points and two rebounds in the loss.

    It's hard to fathom how a likely lottery pick could put together that much of a disappearing act.


    Peyton Watson, UCLA (247Sports Rank: 12)

    3.3 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 2.0 TOV, 1.2 BPG

    Joining a veteran rotation in which everyone returned from a team that made last year's Final Four was never going to be easy for Watson, and that path to playing time got tougher when Rutgers transfer Myles Johnson decided to bring his defensive prowess to the Bruins frontcourt.

    Even with big man Cody Riley out indefinitely with a sprained MCL, Watson is barely seeing the court, and he's struggling when he does get out there. Through his first three games, Watson was 2-of-12 from the field with six turnovers in 34 minutes played. Even in a more productive fourth game against North Florida, it still took Watson 11 shots to score six points and he committed multiple turnovers for the third time.

    If that doesn't change in a hurry and in a big way, he might slip out of the rotation altogether if and when Riley returns.


    JD Davison, Alabama (247Sports Rank: 13)

    6.7 PPG, 4.3 APG, 4.3 RPG, 2.3 TOV, 14.3% 3PT

    Davison was mighty impressive off the bench in the season opener against Louisiana Tech, going for 12 points (on four field-goal attempts), six rebounds and six assists with two turnovers. It looked like it wouldn't be long before he forced his way into the starting lineup.

    In two games since then, however, Davison has eight points (on 10 field-goal attempts), seven rebounds, seven assists and five turnovers. He was especially disappointing in Tuesday night's close call against South Alabama, though he did get to throw down what amounted to the game-sealing dunk in the final minute of that one.

    The bounce he showed on that dunk is a big reason there's so much excitement about his potential. But just four years after Collin Sexton racked up 76 points in the first three games of his college career, Davison's 20 points have been a letdown.


    TyTy Washington Jr., Kentucky (247Sports Rank: 15)

    11.7 PPG, 3.0 APG, 2.7 RPG, 2.0 TOV, 41.7% FG

    Washington is in a weird spot in Kentucky's unusually veteran-heavy starting five.

    Georgia transfer Sahvir Wheeler is the primary ball-handler, averaging 10 assists per game. Davidson transfer Kellan Grady is the primary shooter, already 9-of-16 from three-point range. And the Wildcats still have Creighton transfer and sixth-year guard Davion Mintz, who is still a major factor off the bench.

    As a result, this super-talented freshman guard is kind of left fighting for scraps and has been forcing the issue a bit when he does get touches.

    Washington was just 3-of-14 in the opener against Duke, and a lot of those were low-percentage, mid-range tries. But at least he was turnover-free in that game. He had two giveaways against Robert Morris and four on Tuesday against Mount St. Mary's, somewhat negating an otherwise good night with 16 points on 12 field-goal attempts.

    Once he has a more well-defined role, maybe he'll turn a corner.


    Hunter Sallis, Gonzaga (247Sports Rank: 21)

    8.3 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 1.3 SPG

    Sallis probably belongs in the incomplete section instead of the below-average section, considering he played four minutes in Gonzaga's only game of note (Texas).

    However, he has played 42 minutes without tallying a single assist and without making either of his two three-point attempts. He is shooting 62.5 percent from inside the arc, but Gonzaga's reserve combo guard has shown neither of the primary skills expected from a point guard or a shooting guard.

Grade: Incomplete

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    Duke's AJ Griffin
    Duke's AJ GriffinAssociated Press

    Moussa Diabate, Michigan (247Sports Rank: 17)

    4.7 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 1.3 BPG

    In due time, Diabate will likely replace Brandon Johns Jr. in the starting lineup. And that's not a knock on the senior power forward, but rather an acknowledgement of Diabate's potential as well as his positional flexibility.

    We haven't seen him in more than short bursts, but he has been an excellent rebounder and a plus defender in his limited playing time. It'd be a surprise if he becomes as much of a scorer this season as Franz Wagner was for Michigan last season (12.5 PPG), but Diabate could give the Wolverines the defensive presence they're missing with Wagner gone.


    AJ Griffin, Duke (247Sports Rank: 18)

    3.0 PPG, 2.5 RPG

    Griffin suffered a minor injury to his right knee in mid-October, and Duke has been slowly bringing along the young man who also suffered a dislocated left knee in January 2020. He's only averaging 10.8 minutes per game, but considering he was heralded as a likely lottery pick before the season began, we expect that playing time to increase considerably once both he and Duke's medical staff feels comfortable setting him loose.


    Nate Bittle, Oregon (247Sports Rank: 28)

    14 minutes played, 5 fouls, 1 block

    Bittle gets an incomplete, and that may be his grade for the entire season. The 7'0" freshman has barely seen the floor, and that will only get worse with 6'11" junior N'Faly Dante back after he missed the first two games while recovering from last year's torn ACL. 6'11" sophomore Franck Kepnang also appears to be ahead of Bittle on the depth chart for a team that has no one taller than 6'8" as part of its starting lineup.

    If he does eventually get a chance to play, though, get ready for him to stretch the floor like Chris Boucher and Bol Bol used to do.


    Statistics via Sports Reference and unless otherwise noted.