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June 5, 2012
Ranking the Unranked
Best Freshmen Outside 2011's Top 100

by Drew Cannon

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Yesterday I ranked the seasons of the Class of 2011's top 100 freshmen, but it felt unfair to neglect the many excellent freshman campaigns posted by rookies outside that select group. Today I'll remedy that.

In parentheses next to each player, I've listed the rating that Dave Telep gave them (unavailable on the Internet -- well, until now). The rating style is well known in coaching/scouting circles but it's not particularly mainstream, so here's how it works:

There are nine ratings for Division I prospects. The ratings, in order: HM+ ("high-major plus"), HM, HM-, MM+, MM ("mid-major"), MM-, LM+, LM, LM- ("low-major minus"). I've seen Dave hand out "D2" ratings to some in-state kids he's seen a bunch of times, and LeBron got an "NBA." You'll notice that a lot of kids listed below were unrated; this should be considered unsurprising. It's much more unusual that an LM+ rated player like UCSB's Alan Williams has an excellent freshman season than it is that Kevin Pangos, whom Telep never saw play, did.

If there's a recurring theme to the discussion below, it's "Wow, Mid-Major Team X might be awfully good next year." I noticed myself writing that over and over again. And I fully plan on addressing that more comprehensively at some point before the season starts, just not today.

20. Anthony Collins, USF (LM+)
This probably seems awfully low for Collins, who earned quite a bit of cache in March, as he led the surprising Bulls first to a 12-6 Big East record and NCAA tournament victories over Cal and Temple. Certainly Collins was the best offensive player on a team driven almost entirely by their defense. But, as good a slasher and passer as Collins was, he only made seven three-pointers and his turnover rate was an abominable 32 percent. This ranking is more a reminder of his flaws than a signal of how many quality unknown freshmen there were around the nation.

19. Stephan Hicks, Cal State Northridge (unrated)
Cal State Northridge had a rough season. The Matadors went 7-21, with their most impressive win coming at home against a Cal Poly team that also did not make a postseason tournament. Their defense was the real problem, and the main reason their offense wasn't was the play of freshman wing Hicks. On a team where only three players played at least half of Northridge's minutes, Hicks led all comers in playing time and in usage rate. He was, along with fellow freshman Stephen Maxwell, one of the best rebounders on the team, and he picked up 135 points from the free throw line. The blemish on his resume is his 25 percent three-point shooting.

18. Anthony Drmic, Boise State (unrated)
Drmic's a shooter. He led WAC freshmen with 57 three-pointers made. That said, he's a 6-6 small forward with the skills to match. Drmic fills the lane very effectively and grabs more than a few defensive rebounds. His 60 assists to 38 turnovers are unusually strong showings from a true 3. Boise had a rough inaugural season in the Mountain West, but their future is bright, between team-minutes leader Drmic and freshman guard Derrick Marks.

17. Hugh Greenwood, New Mexico (unrated)
It's rare to see a freshman used as a hyperefficient fifth option, but that was Greenwood's route to this list. He shot 55/34/69, passed well, and threw in an impressive dash of defensive rebounding for a very good New Mexico team.

16. Jarvis Threatt, Delaware (MM-)
Jarvis's distant cousin, Sedale, played more than a decade in the NBA, and his brother, Jay, was an All-MEAC first-teamer last season as a senior at Delaware State. The smart money's on Jarvis becoming a big factor in the CAA, and soon. He led the team in assist rate, rarely turned the ball over, and made 130 free throws despite barely playing half the team's minutes. Delaware was 12-6 in-conference, and they've lost no one. Drexel should be atop the league, but don't be shocked if the Blue Hens start looking like a factor, nationally.

15. Spencer Dinwiddie, Colorado (MM+)
Dinwiddie stepped onto the floor as one of the best shooters in the Pac-12, hitting 82 percent from the line and 44 percent from behind the arc. On the other hand he was probably the fourth option for the Buffaloes, which makes his 38 percent two-point shooting even less forgivable. Dinwiddie's drawing a lot of contact in the lane, so he's getting to the free throw line a lot but having trouble finishing. If he can bulk up a bit and start to power through for buckets, he'll be fantastic.

14. Damion Lee, Drexel (MM)
Lee won the CAA Freshman of the Year award, and he deserved it. He was one of four key offensive options for a 29-7 Drexel team that many felt was kept from its rightful place in the NCAA tournament, shooting percentages of 55/38/77. The Dragons lose senior Samme Givens, but that's it. They could make some noise in 2013.

13. Jerrell Wright, La Salle (MM)
La Salle had four constants and three rotation members, and Wright was one of the latter due to serious foul problems. When in the game, he was likely the Explorers' most effective offensive player. Wright's a big dude, and opponents had a tough time dealing with him on the interior.

12. Juan'ya Green, Niagara (MM)
Green was a known quantity as a prospect, and we knew he could put points on the board in bunches. What scouts didn't expect was that he'd be so ready to lead a team. Personally, I didn't consider him the type of player who would come in and stroke 80 percent of his free throws and 34 percent of his 180 three-pointers.

11. Aaron White, Iowa (MM)
Matt Gatens was Iowa's best player, but per-minute you can argue that title belonged to White. He hit 57 percent of his twos and was the best rebounder on the Hawkeyes. And it's easy to forget that Iowa went 6-1 against Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, and Minnesota. (Even if they did lose to Campbell.)

10. Alan Williams, UC Santa Barbara (LM+)
Per-possession, Williams' performance ranks with anyone on this list, but he only played 17 minutes a game for a team that lost in the first round of the CIT. Even so, he led the nation in offensive rebounding percentage (23) and ranked in the top 200 in defensive rebounding rate (21 percent). Williams also finished in the top 50 in turnover rate (10 percent, 20 total on the year) and just missed in block percentage (8). He is a big to keep an eye on. The Gauchos are rebuilding after losing star Orlando Johnson and second banana James Nunnally (among others) to graduation, so Williams will definitely get his chance. My expectations are high.

9. Brad Waldow, Saint Mary's (unrated)
The sixth man on a 27-6 SMC squad, Waldow made a stunning 67 percent of his field goal attempts while using 20 percent of the Gaels' possessions. He blocked a few shots, grabbed a few rebounds, and never turned the ball over. Waldow will slide into a starting frontcourt left open by the graduations of Rob Jones and Clint Steindl.

8. Royce O'Neale, Denver (unrated)
Denver was underrated for many reasons. They didn't make the NCAA tournament, and Middle Tennessee was in their conference so they weren't even the favorite. The Pioneers play achingly slow basketball, so their players' counting stats don't pop. But this is a team that took down Middle Tennessee, Wyoming, Southern Miss, and Saint Mary's while ranking third in the country in two-point percentage and ninth in three-point percentage. Every single player on the team posted assist rates above ten percent. That's insane. O'Neale shot 59/39/87, posted a 17 percent assist rate, and led the Sun Belt in defensive rebounding percentage. Put Denver on your teams-to-watch list: O'Neale wasn't even their best player, and the guy who was, Chris Udofia, is back for 2013.

7. Anton Grady, Cleveland State (MM+)
A Cleveland product who stayed home, Grady led the Horizon league in defensive rebounding rate and was an effective scorer in the post. He ranked in the top 10 nationally in block rate among freshmen. Foul problems kept him from demonstrating it in the counting stats, but he was as good a scorer as the Vikings had (no small accomplishment) and he crashed the glass and played great interior defense.

6. LaDontae Henton, Providence (MM+)
Henton played an incredible 37 minutes per game for the Friars (and, even more incredibly, finished third on the team in minutes behind Vincent Council and Bryce Cotton). He was an efficient fourth scoring option, and he was also an effective defensive rebounder. Henton ranks here largely because, in a sea of mid-major reserves, Henton never left the floor for a major-conference team. That sounds like a knock, but it's not -- he had a very nice season for the Friars.

5. Seth Tuttle, Northern Iowa (MM+)
There aren't 50 players in the country who were as effective as Seth Tuttle was on offense this past season. He shot 66 percent from the floor while using 22 percent of the Panthers' possessions. He grabbed 12 percent of available offensive rebounds, picked up 85 points at the line (impressive because UNI played slow and he only spent half the time on the floor), and turned the ball over on just 15 percent of his possessions. Northern Iowa is yet another mid-major program that looks to be in excellent shape for 2013.

4. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame (MM+)
Although was often called a sophomore due to Notre Dame's academics-based class listing, last year was Grant's first season in college basketball. He stroked threes (35 percent) and free throws (82 percent) and took plenty of both but, more impressively, he posted 169 assists against just 62 turnovers. Notre Dame's offense was better than expected, and Grant was as big a reason for that as anyone.

3. Ricky Tarrant, Tulane (MM-)
A first-team All-Conference-USA selection, Tarrant was the number one option for a Tulane team that really had no other viable options once star Kendall Timmons went down midway through the season. Tarrant was a perfectly acceptable scorer, as a slasher and as a shooter, and he put up decent assist numbers that are artificially deflated by the ineptitude of his teammates.

2. Tony Mitchell, North Texas (No. 18, 2010)
This isn't really fair, since Mitchell was ranked so highly two years ago. But this list was created more to recognize the best freshmen in the country than to hold up the best unknown quantities, so here we are. Mitchell wasn't eligible until his first semester grades came through before the Jackson State game on December 18, but he made his 23 games count. He shot 60/44/74, using 25 percent of the Mean Green's possessions, and finished fourth nationally in defensive rebound rate and 15th in block rate. With a full season, it would've been tough to keep him off the top spot. Next season, North Texas could be excellent, if fellow freshmen Chris Jones and Jordan Williams are eligible. Former top-100 recruit Roger Franklin will be on board, and Grambling transfer Justin Patton will be eligible. Those are five really good basketball players.

1. Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga (unrated)
Pangos was outstanding as a freshman. He buried threes, scored in the paint, got to the free throw line, and ran the team. International kids who don't play summer ball in the U.S. can slip by evaluators for simple geographical reasons -- look no further than Pangos, the pride of greater Toronto. And there's reason to believe that the Zags may have done it again with Polish big man Przemek Karnowski. I'd honestly be surprised if Karnowski doesn't find himself on this list a year from now. Also, in case you hadn't noticed, Gonzaga's loaded next year.

Drew Cannon is a regular contributor to Basketball Prospectus. Click here to see Drew's other articles. Follow him on Twitter at @DrewCannon1.

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Drew Cannon is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Drew by clicking here or click here to see Drew's other articles.

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