Basketball Prospectus welcomes you to our third annual January look at the nation's top freshmen. Yes, it's early. Yes, this list will look much different when the season's over. Nevertheless, we've now seen enough hoops to reach some tentative conclusions on this freshman class.
First, a word on who's not here:
Kyrie Irving would of course be here if he weren't injured. Josh Selby and, perhaps, Roberto Nelson would be here is they'd played more games. Harrison Barnes has been playing better of late and maybe if this list were done again next week he would be here. Reggie Bullock could well be here if he didn't have to compete with Barnes and his ilk for minutes. Mamadou Seck and Jack Isenbarger might be here if I had more room. (Babatunde Olumuyiwa has already been honored.) And the talented McDonald's-kissed likes of Cory Joseph, C.J. Leslie, Jereme Richmond, et al. are, well, talented and celebrated. You don't need Prospectus to tell you they all have bright futures.
This list is about what we've seen so far on the court. Based on performance to date, these are the best 25 freshmen I've seen:
25. Chad White, South Dakota State
No Prospectus list of top 25 freshmen would be complete without a criminally overlooked jewel of efficiency who's been relegated to coming in off the bench. Meet White, a 6-6 redshirt freshman who's making a Roy Hobbs-like 67 percent of his twos and 48 percent of his threes -- but he's yet to start for the Jackrabbits. Show him the love, Coach Nagy! (BONUS Summit League freshman-of-the-year handicapping! Also excelling at or above the 45th parallel: North Dakota State's Marshall Bjorklund, a 6-8 offensive rebounding monster, albeit a foul-prone one. At least he starts.)
24. Jordan Morgan, Michigan
Who knew that onetime who-dat Morgan would be first among equals in a much-heralded crop of new arrivals in Ann Arbor this season? The young lad redshirted last year, opting to watch DeShawn Sims from the bench while wearing street clothes rather than in the maize and blue. This season the 6-8 Morgan is rebounding 15 percent of the Wolverines' misses during his minutes in a John Beilein system, a figure which might be equivalent to about 30 percent in the world at large.
23. Brian Voelkel, Vermont
The campus of the University of Vermont is a short walk from the birthplace of philosopher John Dewey, who combined long-lasting academic street cred with popular acceptance in a way that's well nigh unimaginable in 2011. Dewey's legacy of deft ambidextrousness lives on today in Burlington in the 6-6 Voelkel, a four-time America East Rookie of the Week honoree who operates as a pass-always point guard on offense and then, bizarrely yet unmistakably, dominates the glass on D. Watching Voelkel morph from Tyshawn Taylor into Markieff Morris on every possession is, as Dewey said of communication, both instrumental and consummatory.
22. Melvin Ejim, Iowa State
The Cyclones' offense this season features heavy doses of Diante Garrett, but in his supporting role Ejim simply makes shots. Ordinarily if I saw a 6-6 player making 64 percent of his twos I'd chalk it up to coaching genius/systemic factors. Does first-year coach Fred Hoiberg merit these accolades, or is Ejim just this good? Keep your attention focused on Ames, Iowa! (BONUS non-Selby Big 12 freshman note! Dig that crazy Andre Roberson at Colorado. Though he has zero starts to his name, his defensive rebounding is Kenneth Faried-like. Roberson also likes to commit steals.)
21. T.J. McConnell, Duquesne
And speaking of steals, check out the regularity of McConnell's pilfering for the Dukes. Better still, ask Jamie Dixon and Bob Huggins about it: McConnell has already recorded five steals apiece in games against Pitt and West Virginia in his young career. He may be physically unprepossessing (6-0, 170) and a tad turnover-prone in per-possession terms, but McConnell sprays assists while draining shots from both sides of the arc with Chad White-like accuracy. Show him the possessions, Coach Everhart!
20. Evan Roquemore, Santa Clara
Functioning as a co-point guard for the Broncos alongside Kevin Foster's scoring point guard shtick, the 6-3 Roquemore drains threes and misses twos. But he's somehow managed to fool opponents into fouling him far too often before he can miss that two, and Roquemore makes 84 percent of his free throws. He's a latter-day Jon Scheyer! ("Roquemore face"?)
19. Travis McKie, Wake Forest
Things are pretty bleak in Winston-Salem this year as the Demon Deacons, well, how can I phrase this? They lost at home to Presbyterian. One bright spot for first-year coach Jeff Bzdelik, however, has been the play of the 6-7 McKie, who's been cleaning the defensive glass, sinking twos, drawing fouls, and hitting 75 percent of his free throws. If McKie would just give up on the threes his offensive rating would set kenpom.com-watching tongues a-wagging.
18. Laurent Rivard, Harvard
I am not honoring Rivard simply because he hails from greater Montreal and I myself am currently residing in that same college hoops hotbed on a one-year expat basis. No, I'm honoring him because he's scoring efficiently as a 6-5 freshman even though he's taking fully 28 percent of the Crimson's shots during his minutes. That being said I have a message for the young lad: Bonjour, Laurent! Ca va bien? Let's talk les hoops Americain sometime over smoked-meat club sandwiches at the Dunn's on Boul Sources. A bientot! (BONUS Ivy FOY handicapping! Penn's Miles Cartwright has displayed Rivard-like accuracy from the field along with an occasional assist and steal.)
17. Tristan Thompson, Texas
Behold, our first 2010 McDonald's All-American. The 6-8 Thompson is the alpha and omega of offensive rebounding in Austin. Don't be fooled by that so-so offensive rating he's currently sporting. Well, OK, be fooled by it, but know that it's the product of Thompson being fouled quite often (and in Big 12 play those fouls will surely become even more frequent) but making just half of his free throws.
16. Cleveland Melvin, DePaul
It is a truth universally acknowledged that in college hoops a program's reputation trumps real-world geography. In the real world Chicago is a very big city with tons of media coverage and even its own ESPN website. So how come you haven't heard of Cleveland Melvin? Well, he plays for DePaul. The 6-8 Melvin's almost preposterously foul-prone (seven whistles per 40 minutes) but when he's on the floor he is a two-point machine. Being your team's leading scorer even though you average less than 22 minutes a game is unusual.
15. Javon McCrea, Buffalo
When I make the jump to coaching and I have a freshman who's one of the ten best offensive rebounders in the nation and makes 67 percent of his twos, I will put him in the starting lineup. Call me a bold innovator. McCrea, however, is yet to make his first college start. True, he's a bit foul-prone but before he DQ'd Saturday night against Bowling Green he recorded 18 points and nine boards in 26 minutes. I trust his minutes will continue to go up.
14. Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati
It's tough for a relatively unheralded redshirt freshman to find minutes on a veteran squad that made it to January 9 still undefeated. But Kilpatrick merits the minutes: he gives every indication of being a trusty 6-4 dual-threat wing, having made 52 percent of his twos and 42 percent of his threes while actively seeking out shot opportunities.
13. Terrell Stoglin, Maryland
Stoglin's recently been moved into the starting lineup by Gary Williams, and rightfully so. For a smallish (Stoglin's listed at 6-1) freshman guard to make more than half his twos usually portends good things. (Jonny Flynn and Kemba Walker come to mind.) Also note that Stoglin's aggressive as all get-out, attempting 30 percent of the Terps' shots during his minutes, yet his turnover rate is surprisingly normal. Has Jordan Williams found a worthy collaborator on offense? Could be.
12. Will Barton, Memphis
Rated the No. 1 shooting guard in the nation by some services as a high school senior, the 6-6 Barton has not yet found the range from outside. (Nor, for that matter, has teammate Joe Jackson.) But Barton's already shown he can carry a heavy load on offense as a freshman while making half his twos and taking care of the ball. Also note that the perimeter shooting may yet come around for both Barton and Jackson, if their combined 77 percent shooting at the line is any indication.
11. Ryan Harrow, NC State
Harrow comes off the bench but averages starter's minutes in Sidney Lowe's nine-deep rotation in Raleigh. Usually a 5-11 freshman playing alongside a McDonald's All-American like C.J. Leslie wouldn't be encouraged to take 29 percent of his team's shots during his minutes. But in Harrow's case it's worked out, as he's made 48 percent of his twos and recorded excellent assist and turnover rates. He hasn't shown any perimeter range yet, but Harrow's 92 percent shooting at the line says that could come someday soon.
10. Joshua Smith, UCLA
At 6-10 and a listed weight of 305, Smith is the best offensive rebounder in the country, pulling down 23 percent of the Bruins' misses during his fleeting foul-plagued minutes. I don't mean to minimize the "foul-plagued" part of that equation because, frankly, it looks likely to continue. Smith's picked up at least four fouls in eight of his 14 appearances, and in the Bruins' 74-63 loss at Washington on New Year's Eve he fouled out in 22 minutes. But while Smith's in the game there's no one in the nation who's better at keeping his team's possessions alive.
9. Ray McCallum, Detroit
Like Smith, McCallum was a 2010 McDonald's All-American. Unlike Smith, he logs a ton of minutes. McCallum has stepped effortlessly into the scoring point guard role for the Titans, sporting a high assist rate for a team that doesn't often do assists. He's also recorded a low turnover rate for a team that commits a lot of turnovers. McCallum poses little threat from the perimeter but he's getting the most out of what he brings to the table for his father, coach Ray McCallum, Sr.
8. Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State
Thomas operates in something of a perceptual shadow in Columbus, one created not merely by fellow freshman Jared Sullinger but perhaps more importantly by the four veteran starters alongside Sullinger. Indeed a glance at Thomas' stats all but foreordains a misunderstanding. Surely a freshman reserve with an offensive rebounding percentage this good (16.4) is your standard-issue shot of adrenalin off the bench, a player who achieves great tempo-free stats because he's been told his fouls don't matter. But Thomas isn't foul-prone. There's every indication he could extend the rebounding, the 59 percent two-point shooting, and the starring role in the offense (no Buckeye, not even William Buford, is more likely to attempt a shot) across more minutes. It's just that Thad Matta has no minutes to give. His team's 16-0.
7. Kendall Williams, New Mexico
Williams has teamed with senior Dairese Gary in Albuquerque to form a backcourt that has two of everything: two point guards, two penetrators, and two proven scorers inside the arc. The 6-3 Williams is making half his twos and 57 percent of his threes. He draws almost six fouls for every 40 minutes he plays, yet takes very good care of the ball. Basically Williams is a junior point guard trapped in a freshman's body.
6. Tobias Harris, Tennessee
Recording a 17-13 double-double against Memphis in just 21 minutes gave the nation some indication of what Harris is capable of doing. At 6-8, Harris has functioned as the Volunteers' co-featured scorer along with Scotty Hopson, and shoots 74 percent at the line. He visits there often.
5. Brandon Knight, Kentucky
Knight's shots simply go in, which is good for UK since the 6-3 freshman takes 26 percent of the team's shots during his minutes. For all of the considerable success that John Calipari has had in bringing amazing freshmen to Lexington, Knight is arguably his first featured scorer that poses an equal threat to opposing defenses from both sides of the arc.
4. Perry Jones, Baylor
Jones will either be the top overall pick of next summer's NBA draft or very close to it. The league likes what Jones could become someday, of course -- meantime he cleans the glass on D and makes 54 percent of his twos for the Bears. He also takes care of the ball and stays away from foul trouble, two more very good signs from a freshman big man.
3. Doron Lamb, Kentucky
See No. 5, above: I just finished saying Brandon Knight is Calipari's first featured scorer in Lexington who poses an equal threat from either side of the arc. The weasel term there is "featured scorer," because goodness knows Doron Lamb is effective from both sides of the three-point line in support of Knight and Terrence Jones. But so what if he's a supporting player? Supporting players who make more than half their threes are handy to have around. Calipari would have liked to have had one of those last March in the Carrier Dome.
2. Terrence Jones, Kentucky
Jones said what needs to be said about his potential when he recorded a 27-17 double-double in a 72-58 UK win over Notre Dame on December 8. Any 6-8 freshman who can score with the efficiency Jones has displayed (not amazing, but suitable) while taking 31 percent of his team's shots during his minutes and hauling down 23 percent of the other team's misses is, almost by definition, ready for the NBA. Apparently the NBA agrees: Jones is currently projected as a top-five pick in next summer's draft. Back in Seattle, Lorenzo Romar's Washington team is pretty good as is, but does he ever wonder what might have been had he landed both Portland product Jones and Kent, Washington, native Joshua Smith (see No. 10)? Yes. Yes, he does.
1. Jared Sullinger, Ohio State
Last year in this space I said that John Wall was the top freshman in the country, but I could have very easily talked myself into putting DeMarcus Cousins at No. 1. This year, at least after Kyrie Irving went down, I had no such internal debates. Sullinger is the top freshman in the country and it's not even close. The numbers are simply ridiculous across the board, whether it's the 29 percent defensive rebounding rate, the 62 percent two-point shooting, the microscopic turnover rate, the Blake Griffin-like number for fouls drawn....And those are just stats. In reality Sullinger's so dominant he moves opposing defenses around without doing anything the box score can describe. At this point the only question is whether the Ohio State program is about to claim its second consecutive national player of the year award.
Who'd I miss?
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