Best college freshman basketball players

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College basketball's most likely impact freshmen for 2021-22

ByTravis Branham

The final class of 2021 basketball rankings received its final update from 247Sports and only eight of the 150 prospects remain on the board. With this class set to graduate and begin their next chapters, some teams will be looking to them for another crack at a tournament run while others will be looking to their talents for redemption for the 2021-22 season.

Here is a look at ten prospects who will be needed to have an instant impact when they step foot on campus next season.

It was a historical year for Gonzaga falling just short of perfection, losing in the National Championship to Baylor. The Bulldogs are likely to lose three key pieces to the NBA Draft in Joel Ayayi, Jalen Suggs and Corey Kispert - Kispert being the only one to retain his eligibility.

Gonzaga is still likely to return some big time players in Drew Timme and Andrew Nembhard but Mark Few will be looking to have another crack at the title and Jalen Suggs lifelong teammate - Chet Holmgren - can help them do just that.

Holmgren is a true unicorn prospect standing seven-feet tall, with incredible length, mobility and an elite skillset for the position. He is an elite rim protector and can switch on the perimeter on defense while on offense being able to handle the ball like a guard, pull-up for jumpers with range, pass and punish mismatches around the rim.

Few and his staff already have historically impactful offensive system and plugging Holmgren into that and utilizing him in the vastly creative ways they can, they will be looking to Holmgren to help get them over the hump and bring the title to Spokane.

Duke is coming off a rocky 13-11 season which had an abrupt ending due to a covid pause just as things were clicking for the Blue Devils in the ACC Tournament. Regardless, next year Duke will be looking to lock a spot in the NCAA Tournament without the need of an ACC Tournament Championship and will look to the services of Paolo Banchero to do so.

Banchero's body and game is built to have an immediate at the next collegiate level. He's big, strong, physical, athletic, skilled and intelligent. He's a great rebounder and an efficient and effective offensive weapon with a budding perimeter skillset.

Banchero - who ranks as the No. 2 overall prospect exiting high school - produces and gets the job done. Him, alongside Mark Williams and AJ Griffin will be one stout front court but will also be looking to Trevor Keels to further help the Duke program on the perimeter.

Bruce Pearl and the Auburn Tigers are coming off a self-imposed post season ban and are going to be looking to get back to the postseason in 2021-22. Their best prospect and talent headed to campus next fall, Jabari Smith, will be relied on to help pave the path back to the NCAA Tournament.

Smith is an outstanding talent and exits high school ranked as the No. 4 overall prospect in the class. He possesses great size, length and athleticism to go along with a budding frame that will quickly tack on weight as he gets settled on campus.

Smith is skilled and smart and impacts the game in a variety of ways. He is a high level rebounder, versatile defender and a capable rim protector on the defensive end of the floor. On the offensive end, he runs the floor, can score on the block, has a face-up game, has continued to expand his shooting ability from beyond the stripe and is a good passer for the position.

Smith will prove to be a very reliable player next year and truly is a terrific prospect in his own right.

Tennessee entered the season with the No. 5 overall class in the country and found themselves with an early first round exit this year following a loss to the No. 12 seed Oregon State. Again, they find themselves entering next season with another top five class - ranking No. 3 in the Team Rankings this time - but are hopeful for a tournament run.

In order to do so, Kennedy Chandler will be looked upon to lead the charge. Chandler - the No. 8 overall prospect in the 2021 class - is a dynamic playmaking guard coming out an outstanding season playing with Wichita (Kan.) Sunrise Christian.

While undersized, he is strong, tough, athletic, skilled and has a great feel and IQ for the game. He has made major improvement in his jumper and will be looked upon to lead this top five recruiting class on a run - after all it is a guard's game.

Kentucky is coming off a dreadful 9-16 season and are in need of a rebound next year. Right now, the Wildcats stand without a point guard and are in need of a talent to step in and get the ball rolling for them next season - ready or not.

Entering next season, Daimion Collins is the best prospect on the Kentucky roster at this point and while Kentucky is front court heavy they will be needing his length, athleticism and motor to bring life and excitement out on the floor.

Collins is a great athlete who plays with a high motor. He is a tremendous rim protector, rebounder, defender and is making rapid improvement in his offensive skillset.

On the offensive end, his floor as a prospect starts with his rim-running and lob-catching but is also showing promising improvement in his ball skills and ability to make shots from mid-range out to three.

The Wildcats are in strange territory entering May as they currently do not have a point guard - although that is unexpected to be the case entering the season. If they had one right now, they would likely find themselves on this list.

It was a very challenging season for Stanford given their Covid-19 protocols. They finished with a record of 14-13 without an NCAA Tournament appearance but will be looking for redemption under - hopefully - normal circumstances in the 2021-22 season.

Harrison Ingram exits high school ranked as the No. 15 overall prospect in the 2021 Class and is their third highest ranked commitment since the start of online ranking recruiting services. The 6-foot-7, 210-pound forward will be needed to bring them back to where they hoped to be this past year, in the NCAA Tournament.

Ingram is a Swiss Army knife of a prospect. He is versatile and does some of everything out on the floor. He can dribble, pass and is a capable shooter. He also rebounds and can defend multiple positions at the collegiate level.

He possesses a high floor as a prospect and the Cardinal will be needing him to make a big impact to get back to the postseason.

The Mike Woodson era in Indiana is off to a strong start. The new head coach has hired a great staff, re-secured his roster and added some instant impact players both out of the portal and the high school ranks.

Compared to his peers on this list, the pressure to perform instantly will be lesser for Tamar Bates given those returning and coming to campus next season but will still be relied on to make a splash in Woodson's first season at the helm.

Bates was a breakout star at IMG Academy this season. He's a skilled three-level scorer with size who can go get his own bucket. His biggest strength is in his ability to make shots off the catch and pull from three and will make a for scoring punch in Bloomington next season.

Mike White and the Florida Gators are losing some key pieces from the 2020-21 season in Tre Mann and Scottie Lewis to the NBA Draft as well as Noah Locke to transfer. Colin Castleton also declared but is retaining his eligibility while Keyontae Johnson is gearing back up for a big comeback season - and a very welcome return to the floor.

Johnson, Tyree Appleby and Castleton (if he returns) form a solid core for the Gators and have one very talented high school prospect headed to campus in Kowacie Reeves. Reeves exits high school ranked as the No. 27 overall prospect in the class.

He's got size, length and more than enough athleticism to compete in the SEC. He's a confident and aggressive scorer who can put points on the board in a hurry with his jumper.

Reeves can provide a big spark for the Gators on both sides of the ball and will be needed to make a return to their first Sweet 16 since 2017.

Buzz Williams and his staff are entering their third season at Texas A&M and will be looking to make their first NCAA Tournament appearance since taking over. The Aggies have lost a handful of players to the portal this off-season but have six new additions headed to campus this fall - none more highly ranked or talented than Manny Obaseki.

Obaseki ranks as the No. 33 overall player in the 2021 final rankings and will be relied heavily upon to bounce back next season. Obaseki is naturally gifted with good positional size, very long arms, a strong frame and plus-athleticism.

He can function both on and off the ball, is an improving three-level scorer and has the potential to be a premier defender in the collegiate ranks.

Obaseki will need to improve his overall aggressiveness and engagement on the floor but with Buzz Williams at the helm, you know he is going to have his players competing and playing hard.

It's a new era at Iowa State with TJ Otzelberger taking the reins and good news for him is he has Tyrese Hunter headed to campus to help get the ball rolling in Ames. Hunter, while undersized, is built to make an instant impact for the Cyclones in the Big 12.

Hunter is a dog of a competitor with long arms and explosive athleticism. He can break guys down off the bounce, blow by his man with his outstanding quickness and speed, creates for his teammates and can go get his own bucket.

The Wisconsin native also makes one of the best on-ball defenders in the class and coupled with his ability to put tremendous pressure on the defense with the ball in his hands, he will not only be needed but will also make for an instant impact on day one for Otzelberger.

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CBS Sports' top 10 college basketball freshmen

ByClint Buckley

It’s been a college basketball season unlike any other so far and more changes are coming. After COVID-19 wiped out both the conference tournaments and March Madness last spring, officials are hopeful there will be a college hoops postseason without major interruptions this time around.

Selection Sunday for the NCAA Tournament is a little more than a month away, but with the second half of conference season remaining, there is plenty to be settled before the field of 68 is revealed.

The usual suspects like Kentucky, Duke and North Carolina have struggled with consistency this season, which has opened the door for new blood to crash the March Madness party in 2021. One of the issues hurting the sport’s signature programs have been the lack of a normal offseason, which may have stunted the development of their freshman classes, which usually do a lot of the heavy lifting for the so-called “one-and-done” programs.

That’s not to say all freshmen have struggled. There are dozens of first-year players all across the country that have made significant impacts on their respective programs this season. And for a few of the teams, the rookies have established themselves as the go-to players.

With that in mind, CBS Sports’ Kyle Boone and David Cobb released their rankings update for the top 10 freshmen in college basketball earlier this week.

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Scroll up to see this week’s rankings of the 10 best freshmen in college hoops.

It’s been a struggle for Duke, which enters Saturday’s showdown with rival North Carolina unranked and just 7-6 on the year (5-4 in the ACC). The Blue Devils are coming off an ugly loss at lowly Miami on Monday, which followed Duke’s most complete win of the season, a 26-point rout of Clemson.

CBS: It appears the foot injury that forced Jalen Johnson to miss more than a month of action is in his rearview. He's been sensational in his return the last few weeks, and his confidence and contributions continue to rise. This week he went 16-of-30 shooting in three games while averaging seven rebounds and three assists. Duke needs the best version of Johnson to continue his ascension into stardom with it currently on the outside looking in for NCAA Tournament projections. Last week: NR

Brown is in a pretty good situation at Texas. The highly touted freshman is surrounded by experienced players in the backcourt with the likes of Matt Coleman, Andrew Jones and Courtney Ramey in addition to frontcourt teammates Jericho Sims and Kai Jones. Brown doesn’t necessarily have to dominate in order for the Longhorns to be successful, but when the freshman is on, Texas is among the nation’s most difficult teams to beat.

CBS: Texas has played just two game the last two weeks -- and in one of them Texas was shorthanded at home without Shaka Smart. But Brown showed no rust in that outing, contributing 14 points and eight rebounds before eventually fouling out. Last week: No. 9

It’s been a very disappointing season for Bobby Hurley’s Sun Devils, who enter the weekend ninth in the Pac-12 with just a 3-5 league record. Arizona State’s games this week against Utah and Colorado were postponed, but the Sun Devils are expected to return to the floor Sunday at Utah.

CBS: Elite company in the Pac-12 rookie race continues to be a two-man show between the aforementioned Mobley and Christopher, the top two frosh scorers in the league. Christopher this week tied for a season-high with three made 3s in a tight win over Stanford as the Sun Devils, one of the more disappointing teams in the Pac-12, quietly went 2-0 on the week. ASU's six-game skid prior to that means it has a ton of work left to be in the NCAA Tournament conversation, but Christopher's finding new confidence and the upcoming slate over the next two weeks lends itself to serious opportunities to get back into the groove ahead of postseason play. Last week: NR

Everyone in the SEC is chasing Alabama, but Arkansas (14-5, 6-4) is in position to make the NCAA Tournament, entering this weekend tied for third in the conference. The Razorbacks have won four of their last five, but Saturday’s game against Texas A&M was postponed. Up next for Arkansas is a clash with Kentucky on Tuesday.

CBS: After playing a season-low 19 minutes against Ole Miss and tying a season-low with five points, Moody responded in a big spot with 17 points pitted against Oklahoma State and potential No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham. 11 of those 17 came in the second half after a sluggish start, as he finished the game 5-of-6 shooting in the final 20 minutes. It wasn't enough to get Arkansas the road win in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, but it's a momentum boost for him as he launches with confidence back into the grind of the SEC schedule this week. Last week: No. 7

LSU (11-6, 6-4) is also in the logjam behind league-leading Alabama, and if Thomas can continue stepping up the way he has lately, the Tigers figure to be a tough out once the SEC Tournament rolls around. Saturday’s game against Florida, however, has been postponed, which means Thomas’ next game comes Wednesday at Mississippi State.

CBS: A week in which he dropped 28 points on Texas A&M followed by 25 on No. 10 Texas Tech has Thomas, one of this season's biggest surprises among freshmen, back on top as the SEC scoring leader and the leader among all freshmen in scoring. He's been nothing short of sensational as the Tigers' go-to bucket-getter. His efficiency has waned a bit of late -- he went 3-of-13 from 3 against A&M and 3-of-9 from 3 against Texas Tech -- but his ability to create and take tough shots has kept LSU in the NCAA Tournament discussion despite three losses in its last four games. Last week: No. 6

It’s been a while since Dickinson and Michigan have been on the floor; Jan. 22 to be exact. The entire Michigan athletics program was put on pause for at least two weeks because of a coronavirus outbreak, but officials are hopeful the Wolverines can return to action Feb. 11 at home against Illinois.

CBS: Dickinson reached double figures in Michigan's first 11 games as the Wolverines started 11-0, but he appeared to be hitting a freshman wall before the program went on a COVID-19-related pause expected to last until at least Feb. 11. The 7-footer is averaging just 6.7 points and 4.7 rebounds over his last three games. Still, his contributions are a significant factor in why the Wolverines are ranked No. 4 nationally and sitting alone atop the Big Ten standings as they wait for their season to resume. Last week: No. 5

Suggs entered with high expectations and he has definitely lived up to them, spear-heading No. 1 Gonzaga’s 18-0 start to the season. The Zags got a scare Thursday against Pacific before pulling away in the second half for yet another double-digit victory. Saturday’s game with Santa Clara has been postponed, making BYU next on the Gonzaga schedule on Monday night.

CBS: Suggs is neck and neck with Sharife Cooper for the title of top freshman point guard, but it's hard to compare the two due to their vastly different circumstances. Cooper is tasked with playing the starring role for a rebuilding team at Auburn while Suggs is cast as more of a key role player for the No. 1 team in the country. The former five-star prospect had a quiet game in Gonzaga's win over Pepperdine on Saturday, but he appeared to regain his 3-point shooting touch on Thursday with a 3-of-4 night from behind the arc in a win over San Diego. Suggs remains the most electric player on this list, and it will be a thrill watching a player with his knack for highlight-reel plays take the spotlight as the Bulldogs make a title run. Last week: No. 3

Cooper wasn’t cleared by the NCAA to join Auburn until mid-January, but the Tigers star has arguably been the nation’s top freshman over the last month. The numbers have been there, but Auburn is just 4-4 with Cooper in the lineup. He’ll get his first look at Ole Miss on Saturday. Auburn fell to Ole Miss, 72-61, on Jan. 6, which was the game before Cooper was cleared to participate.

CBS: No. 2 Baylor bottled Cooper up as well as anyone has this season in a win over Auburn on Saturday, but the Tigers' star point guard still finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and five assists. What Cooper has been able to do in less than a month since getting cleared is unbelievable, and not just from an individual statistical perspective. Though his production jumps off the page, his mere presence on the court raises Auburn's ceiling significantly and makes the Tigers a team to watch in the season's second half. Auburn is going through a self-imposed postseason ban this year, but the Tigers might spoil some other teams' NCAA Tournament hopes with Cooper at point guard. Last week: No. 4

Mobley poured in a double-double with 23 points and 11 rebounds in USC’s rout of Stanford earlier this week. Up next is crosstown rival No. 21 UCLA on Saturday in a game that could have Pac-12 regular-season championship implications.

CBS: USC is entering a new week alone in second place in the Pac-12 standings thanks to Mobley's steady dominance. The 7-footer is a double-double machine and an imposing rim protector who's joined forces with his brother Isaiah to turn the Trojans from a fringe NCAA Tournament team into one of the best squads on the west coast. Games against Stanford and UCLA this week may be Mobley's toughest league tests to date, but his track record is solid enough at this point to suggest he'll be the best player on the court in both games. Last week: No. 2

Six of the Big 12’s 10 teams are ranked in the top 25, a list that does not include Oklahoma State. However, with Cunningham, the Cowboys are a team that no one wants to face in the postseason. The likely No. 1 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft will get his second shot at Texas on Saturday. In their first meeting on Dec. 11, Oklahoma State suffered a 77-74 loss in Austin, but Cunningham dropped 25 points keep the Cowboys close.

CBS: After missing a couple of games due to COVID-19 protocols, Cunningham returned with a strong outing in the Cowboys' win over Arkansas on Saturday. He came off the bench in his first game in nearly three weeks but played 31 minutes, finishing with 21 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three steals. Oklahoma State has won four of its last five, and with Cunningham back in the lineup, look for the Cowboys to solidify their NCAA Tournament resume over the coming weeks. Then we'll just have to hope that the program's appeal of its postseason ban works out so that the country can see Cunningham in action during the Big Dance. Last week: No. 1

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50 Best Freshmen in College Basketball History

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    Early entry into the NBA has allowed younger and younger players to dominate college basketball, but the game-changing freshman is far from a new phenomenon. From the first season freshmen were allowed on varsity teams in 1972-73, the best first-year players have been turning in top-flight performances.

    Few college debuts in history have been as impressive as Kevin Durant’s arrival at Texas. He left no doubt about his NBA future after winning both the Wooden and Naismith awards in his only season in Austin.

    Read on for a closer look at Durant and the rest of the best freshmen ever to appear on a collegiate court.

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    Providing the inside presence to complement Randolph Childress’ outside game, Rodney Rogers helped lead Wake Forest to its first NCAA bid in seven years (and start a string of seven straight seasons in the tournament).

    The 6’7” Rogers averaged 16.3 points and 7.9 rebounds a game in his freshman campaign.

    As a pro, Rogers became more of a combo forward, hitting 34.7 percent from three-point range in his career. Mostly a reserve in the NBA, Rogers averaged 15.1 points and 5.6 rebounds a game in his best season with the Clippers.

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    Charged with the unenviable task of replacing Derrick Rose at Memphis, Tyreke Evans proved that he was an outstanding player in his own right. Evans averaged 17.1 points, 2.1 steals and 3.9 assists a game in his lone season with the Tigers.

    Evans has done his best to turn the undermanned Kings into a viable NBA team. He’s averaging 19 points and 5.5 assists a game for his young pro career.

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    Mike Krzyzewski’s first big star recruit at Duke, Johnny Dawkins got a quick start on a career that saw him set a Blue Devil record (since broken) for career points.

    The 6’2” combo guard averaged 18.1 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.8 assists a game in his first season in Durham.

    Never the scorer as a pro that he’d been at Duke, Dawkins was still an outstanding point guard. He averaged seven assists a game for two years as a Spur and one more with Philly before an ACL tear short-circuited his career.

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    Tyler Hansbrough burst on the scene at North Carolina as the new star of a draft-depleted squad following the 2005 title run.

    He averaged 18.9 points and 7.8 rebounds a game that year to kick off a career that would end with the 12th-highest point total in NCAA history.

    Hansbrough established himself as a valuable reserve for the Pacers last season. He’s continued his fine work off the bench this year, averaging 11.7 points and 6.2 rebounds a game.

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    The engine of Dean Smith’s best Four Corners offenses, Phil Ford got off to a fast start as a Tar Heel. He led UNC to a surprise NCAA Tournament berth (its first in three seasons) while averaging 16.4 points and 5.2 assists a night.

    Ford’s NBA career had a similarly auspicious opening as he averaged at least 15.9 points and 7.4 assists a game in each of his first three years with the Kings. He faded quickly, though, and was out of the league at 29.

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    Already 7’4” as a Virginia freshman, Ralph Sampson parlayed his extraordinary size into 14.9 points and 11.2 rebounds a game. He led the Cavaliers to the 1980 NIT title, a prelude to a sensational career that would see him win a record three Wooden Awards.

    Before injuries ruined his mobility, Sampson made four All-Star teams as a Rocket. In his prime, he averaged as many as 22.1 points and 11.1 rebounds a game in the NBA.

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    Marvin Williams’ individual stats—11.3 points and 6.6 rebounds a game—suffered from playing on the nation’s best team. Williams’ length and raw athleticism made him a valuable contributor to UNC’s 2005 national championship.

    Williams has given little indication of living up to his status as a No. 2 overall draft pick, but he’s held down a starting job for six of his seven NBA seasons. He’s averaging 11.7 points and 5.3 rebounds a game for his Hawks career.

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    Jared Sullinger’s arrival turned a very good Ohio State team into an outstanding one.

    Sullinger’s 17.4 points and 10.2 rebounds per game led the Buckeyes to a 24-0 start and a No. 1 seed, though Kentucky and its slew of freshman stars took them down in the Sweet 16.

    Sullinger is putting up virtually identical numbers so far this season, and the No. 6 Buckeyes are off to another impressive start as a team.

    Only time will tell, though, if he can lead Ohio State to its first national title since 1960.

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    Although Adrian Dantley put up impressive stats as a freshman—including averages of 18.3 points and 9.1 rebounds a game—the legacy of his first year in South Bend is concentrated in one game.

    He played a key role in Notre Dame’s legendary 71-70 victory that ended UCLA’s record 88-game winning streak.

    Dantley won a pair of scoring titles in a Hall of Fame career with the Jazz. Over 15 NBA seasons, he averaged 24.3 points and 5.7 rebounds a game.

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    Like Kenny Anderson six years earlier, Stephon Marbury brought New York City swagger to Georgia Tech. He led the Yellow Jackets to the Sweet 16 while averaging 18.9 points and 4.5 assists a game.

    To all appearances, Marbury’s roller-coaster career in the NBA is over after 13 years.

    Despite his reputation as an overrated locker-room cancer, he averaged 20-plus points and eight-plus assists a game in six different seasons with Minnesota, New Jersey, Phoenix and New York.

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    The prohibitive favorite for this season’s national Freshman of the Year honors, Anthony Davis has been the best of several sensational first-year Wildcats. The 6’10” Davis is averaging 13.1 points and a team-high 10.2 rebounds a game for No. 2 Kentucky.

    Davis’ most impressive credential, though, are the 4.6 blocks he’s averaging to lead the nation. If he maintains that pace, he’ll be the first Kentucky player of any age to lead the nation in rejections.

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    With plenty of help from outstanding classmates like Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr. turned in one of the best performances in history for a freshman point guard.

    He averaged 11.3 points and 6.1 assists a night as the Buckeyes made it all the way to the NCAA title game.

    Conley has improved his numbers every year of his NBA career, averaging 13.7 points and 6.5 assists a game for the Grizzlies last season.

    He’s even become a dangerous three-point shooting threat, knocking down 37.8 percent of his treys.

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    A precocious athlete who averaged 10.5 rebounds a game at all of 6’6”, Quentin Richardson was a bigger factor as a scorer as a DePaul freshman. He poured in 18.9 points a night, including 34.6 percent shooting from beyond the arc.

    Although Richardson’s defensive inadequacies have prevented him from being more than a role player as a pro, his extraordinary shooting touch has kept him on NBA rosters.

    He drained 100 three-pointers in a season as recently as 2009-10, though the Magic haven’t given him much playing time in the last couple of years.

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    A spindly 7’6”, Shawn Bradley was a solid all-around center who averaged 14.8 points and 7.7 rebounds a game in his lone season at BYU.

    What took him to another level was the 177 shots he blocked at a rate of 5.21 a game—the second-best total (and fourth-best average) for any freshman ever.

    Though he was a disastrous bust as a No. 2 overall pick, Bradley wasn’t a terrible NBA player.

    He blocked more than three shots a game in each of his first six seasons (split among Philly, New Jersey and Dallas) and averaged as many as 13.2 points and 8.4 rebounds a night as a pro.

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    Revered by Syracuse fans for the half-court buzzer-beater that knocked off No. 16 Boston College at the Carrier Dome, Dwayne “Pearl” Washington was a New York City streetball legend who proved to be a brilliant college point guard.

    His showtime moves and soft shooting touch helped him set a school record for points by a freshman (averaging 14.4 a night) and dish out 6.2 assists a night, becoming—in 1983-84—the first frosh ever to lead the Big East in that category.

    Washington’s college success came in spite of his subpar athleticism, but that weakness caught up with him as a pro. A lottery pick of the Nets, he lasted just three seasons in the NBA with a career average of only 3.8 assists per game.

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    After missing the NCAA tournament for six years in a row, Maryland fought its way to the Sweet 16 behind freshman star Joe Smith.

    He put up nearly identical numbers to the ones that won him the Naismith Award the next season, averaging 19.4 points and 10.7 rebounds per game.

    Smith never lived up to his No. 1 overall position in the 1995 draft, but he was a solid NBA power forward.

    At his best, he averaged 18.7 points and 8.7 rebounds a game with the Warriors, though he also turned in effective seasons with Minnesota and Milwaukee in a 16-year career.

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    The best pure distributor of John Calipari’s extraordinary string of freshman point guards, John Wall averaged 6.5 assists a night for Kentucky. He could score a little too, contributing 16.6 points a game while leading an Elite Eight run for the Wildcats.

    With 16.4 points and 8.3 assists a night, it’s hard to imagine Wall wouldn’t have been Rookie of the Year if he hadn’t been competing with fellow No. 1 overall pick Blake Griffin.

    He’s putting up impressive numbers again this season, but he still can’t get the 1-11 Wizards out of the Southeast cellar.

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    A standout for Israel’s junior national team, Nadav Henefeld made his lone season of college ball count. His average of 3.7 steals per game is a UConn record, and his 138 total steals are a national record for a freshman.

    Henefeld turned out to be an early one-and-done star, opting to turn pro not in the NBA but with Maccabi Tel Aviv. He spent his entire 12-year career with the team.

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    Although he had to wait for his sophomore year to become a national champion, Isiah Thomas was sensational in his Indiana debut. The first freshman ever named first-team All-Big Ten in 1979-80, Thomas averaged 14.6 points, 5.5 assists and 2.1 steals a game.

    Thomas became an NBA superstar as the leader of Detroit’s Bad Boys teams. His Hall of Fame career featured two championships and 9,061 assists (the seventh-most in league history).

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    The Marshall Thundering Herd don’t get to recruit a lot of one-and-done talent, but Hassan Whiteside bucked that trend. Whiteside blocked a national freshman record 182 shots, the fourth-highest total in NCAA history.

    The seven-footer hasn’t yet figured out the transition to the pros, having played sparingly for the D-League’s Reno Bighorns. In seven games this season with the team, he’s blocking 3.3 shots a game but pulling down a disappointing 6.7 boards a night.

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    A year before leading the best NCAA tournament run in Davidson history, Stephen Curry established himself as one of the great pure shooters ever to play college ball.

    Curry scored 21.5 points a game while setting a freshman record with 122 three-pointers made.

    Curry’s sensational shooting has carried over to the NBA, much to the satisfaction of Golden State. He shot .442 from long range and led the league in free-throw accuracy (.934) while averaging 18.6 points and 5.8 assists a night last season.

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    An agile 6’10” power forward, Eddie Griffin arrived at Seton Hall with plenty of hype. He made good on his publicity, averaging 17.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 4.4 blocks a game in his lone season with the Pirates.

    A lottery bust of epic proportions, Griffin was a competent rebounder with an appalling shot, dogged by a reputation for selfishness and immaturity.

    His pro career ended with his release from Minnesota during his fifth NBA season, just months before the tragic car crash that took his life.

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    With Larry Hughes leading the offense, the Saint Louis Billikens recorded just the third NCAA tournament victory in their history in 1998. Hughes averaged 20.9 points a game, while also piling up 5.1 rebounds and 2.2 steals a night.

    Hughes has battled injuries throughout his pro career, but when healthy he’s an effective scorer and devastating defender who once averaged a league-leading 2.9 steals a game for the Wizards.

    He’s barely gotten off the bench for the Magic this season, playing a mere 8.7 minutes a night over three games.

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    Although his offensive game was still a work in progress in his first collegiate season, Alonzo Mourning was an immediate force in the paint.

    Along with 13.1 points and 7.3 rebounds a night, he blocked 169 shots to become the first freshman to lead the nation in that category in 1988-89.

    Mourning would go on to lead the NBA in blocks twice in his brilliant career. He averaged 17.1 points and 8.5 rebounds a game over 15 pro seasons.

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    For all of Allen Iverson’s well-earned reputation as an offensive force, he was also a sensational defender who averaged 2.9 steals a game as a Georgetown freshman.

    Of course, he also provided plenty of offense for the Hoyas’ Sweet 16 run, averaging 20.4 points and 4.5 assists a game on the season.

    Iverson’s superlative NBA career is probably over (he hasn’t played since 2009-10), starting the clock on a sure-fire Hall of Fame induction.

    He led the league in scoring four times and steals three times, earning MVP honors while leading the 2000-01 76ers to the NBA Finals.

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    Unheralded when he joined the Ramblers, 6’9” center Kenny Miller made sure he didn’t stay anonymous very long. With an average of 13.6 boards per game (fifth-best for a freshman all-time), Miller became the first frosh to lead the nation in rebounding in 1987-88.

    After his brilliant start, though, academic troubles wrecked Miller’s college career. He played only the one season at Loyola and never made it to the NBA.

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    Although he arrived at Texas as an exceptionally poor scorer, T.J. Ford still made the Longhorns one of the nation’s most dangerous offenses.

    His 8.3 assists a game in 2001-02 were the second-best mark all-time for a freshman and made him the first (and still only) first-year player to lead the country in that category.

    After three fine seasons as a Pacers reserve, Ford signed with San Antonio last month. He hasn’t seen a ton of action behind Tony Parker, but he is averaging 3.8 assists a game off the bench.

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    Shaquille O’Neal’s freshman-year averages at LSU—13.9 points, 12 boards and 3.6 blocks per contest—are impressive enough, but they don’t tell the real story of his individual dominance.

    A better indicator might be his first triple-double (of a record-tying six in his career): 20 points, 24 rebounds and 12 blocks against Hank Gathers’ legendary Loyola Marymount team that averaged 122.4 points a game.

    Months after his retirement, the only real question about Shaq is where he ranks among the greatest players of all time.

    He won four championships and placed in the league’s all-time top 10 in field-goal percentage (a record .582), offensive rebounds (4,209), blocked shots (11,252) and points (28,596).

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    Although 6’10” Shawn James didn’t do a lot of scoring for the Huskies, he more than made up for it on the defensive end. James’ 5.44 blocks a game were a national freshman record and the eighth-best figure for any player in Division I history.

    James later transferred to Duquesne, where he was among the victims of a 2006 campus shooting. He went undrafted and never played in the NBA, but is currently playing overseas.

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    With fellow New York transplant Ernie Grunfeld, Bernard King led some of the greatest teams in Vols history. The 6’7” scoring machine averaged 26.4 points and 12.3 rebounds a night in his first season in Knoxville.

    King remained a first-class scorer at the pro level, averaging 22.5 points a game for his career. He made four All-Star teams with Golden State, New York and Washington, winning the 1984-85 scoring title with the Knicks by averaging 32.9 points a night.

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    Luol Deng joined a loaded Duke team and made it even better in his one season in Durham. A key part of the Blue Devils’ 2004 Final Four run, Deng averaged 15.1 points and 6.9 rebounds a game.

    Deng has been a terrific sidekick for Derrick Rose since the latter arrived in Chicago. He’s averaged 16 points and 6.4 rebounds a night in his seven seasons (and counting) as a Bull.

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    A first-team All-American with 17.5 points and 10.6 rebounds a game, Kevin Love led the Bruins to their third straight Final Four appearance. His total of 415 boards on the season is the second-best figure all-time for a freshman.

    Love’s star turn last year with the Timberwolves appears to have been the real deal. A season after leading the league with 15.2 rebounds a game, he’s averaging 14.6 (with a career-high 25 points a night) in the early going in 2011-12.

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    You don’t set the Division I career assists record without a fast start. Bobby Hurley opened his four years at Duke with a national freshman record of 288 assists (7.6 per game).

    After one of the greatest careers in college hoops history, Hurley never got a real chance at the NBA.

    A car accident during his rookie year left him a shell of the player who led Duke to two national titles, and he averaged just 3.3 assists a game over five pro seasons.

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    If only he had been a better free-throw shooter, Derrick Rose might have carried Memphis to the first national championship in school history.

    As it is, he led the Tigers to the title game with averages of 14.9 points and 4.7 assists a night before missed free throws (by him and his teammates) let Kansas force overtime and capture the championship.

    The defending NBA MVP looks to be well on his way to leading another brilliant season for the Bulls. He’s averaging what would be a career best with 8.7 assists a game for a Chicago team that’s jumped out to a 12-3 start in 2011-12.

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    A member of the first class of freshmen eligible for varsity play in 1972-73, Pete Padgett proved he was more than ready for college ball. His average of 17.8 boards a game is still a freshman record (by a margin of 3.6 over second place) 40 years later.

    Despite his impressive performance at Nevada, the 6’8” Padgett was only a sixth-round draft choice of the Hawks. He never played in the NBA.

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    Although the 12.7 points and 7.5 rebounds Patrick Ewing averaged as a freshman paled in comparison to his later numbers, his presence in the middle turned the Hoyas into a national contender.

    Thanks in large measure to Ewing’s shot-blocking—the stat wasn’t official at the time, but he’s credited with 3.2 rejections a game—Georgetown made its first Final Four since 1943, losing to Michael Jordan’s Tar Heels in the national championship.

    Although Ewing’s Knicks never matched the title he won at Georgetown, his individual performance in the NBA was phenomenal. He posted nine consecutive seasons of at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks per game in a 17-year Hall of Fame career.

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    With averages of 11.9 points and a team-leading 8.8 rebounds a game, Derrick Coleman was one of several surprise stars who led the Orangemen (as they were then called) to the 1987 title game.

    Although he missed a key free throw that set up Keith Smart’s buzzer-beater in that contest, it’s hard to fault Coleman for a loss in which he set the school’s tournament record with 19 rebounds in a game.

    While he couldn’t live up to his exceptional collegiate promise, Coleman wasn’t as bad a pro as his reputation suggests.

    His best seasons came with the Nets—who spent a No. 1 overall pick on him—for whom he made an All-Star team and never averaged worse than 18.4 points or 9.5 rebounds a game in five years.

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    One of a long line of homegrown point guards to arrive at St. John’s with ample fanfare, Omar Cook justified the hype.

    In his lone season with the Red Storm, he averaged 15.3 points and 2.3 steals a night while setting a national freshman record with 8.7 assists per game.

    Cook was a failure in the NBA—lasting just 22 games—but he turned out to be a terrific D-League point guard. In four seasons with Fayetteville, he averaged 7.4 assists a contest.

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    In his first season at DePaul, Mark Aguirre led the Blue Demons to the second (and most recent) Final Four appearance in school history in 1979. He previewed his Naismith Award-winning sophomore year with freshman averages of 24 points and 7.6 rebounds a night.

    Aguirre kept right on scoring in the NBA, averaging 20 points a game over his 13 pro seasons. He won two titles as a reserve on the Bad Boys Pistons, but was more effective with the Mavericks, where he made three All-Star teams.

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    If it weren’t for Pete Maravich’s untouchable legacy, Chris Jackson might be remembered as the greatest scorer ever to play for LSU. While also averaging 4.1 assists a game, Jackson set a national freshman record with 30.2 points a night.

    Jackson—who would later change his name to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf—went on to play nine strong NBA seasons with the Nuggets, Kings and Grizzlies.

    He led the league in free-throw shooting twice—including a 95.6 percent figure that ranks second in NBA history—while averaging as many as 19.2 points and 6.8 assists a game.

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    In Jason Kidd’s first season as a Golden Bear, he turned around a largely moribund program and led the team to its first Sweet 16 appearance since 1960.

    That 1992-93 season saw Kidd average an eye-catching 7.7 assists per contest while setting a national freshman record with 3.8 steals a night.

    Coming off his first NBA championship, Kidd has shown that he isn’t quite done yet. Even this year, at age 38, he’s dishing out 4.7 assists a game for the Mavs (though it’s a far cry from the 10.8 assists a night he once averaged for Phoenix).

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    Joining a team loaded with upper-class talent, Kenny Anderson became an immediate star who led the first Final Four run in Georgia Tech history in 1990.

    With scorers like Dennis Scott to feed, Anderson averaged 8.1 assists a game while also scoring 20.6 points a night himself.

    At his best, Anderson was a superb NBA point guard who averaged as many as 18.8 point and 9.6 assists a game.

    He played for eight different teams in a 14-year career, most effectively with New Jersey (where he was drafted No. 2 overall and made his only All-Star appearance).

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    Despite a wrist injury that delayed the start of his season, Greg Oden led Ohio State to the NCAA title game as a freshman. In his only year on campus, the seven-footer averaged 15.7 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.3 blocks a game.

    If Oden could ever stay healthy, he’s got loads of potential as an NBA center. He’s played exactly 82 games in his pro career, averaging 7.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks over that time.

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    As one might expect from the namesake of the Basketball Writers Association’s National Freshman of the Year Award, Wayman Tisdale made quite a splash in his first season in Norman.

    With averages of 24.5 points and 10.3 rebounds a night, the 6’9” Tisdale became the first freshman ever named a first-team All-American by the AP.

    Tisdale was never quite the rebounder as a pro that he’d been at Oklahoma, but he was a fine NBA power forward nonetheless.

    In a dozen pro seasons (mostly with Indiana and Sacramento), he averaged as many as 22.3 points and 7.7 rebounds a game.

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    A year before he led Michigan State to the NCAA championship that turned March Madness into must-see TV, Magic Johnson dominated as a freshman for the Spartans. He averaged 17 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.4 assists per game and carried his team to the Elite Eight.

    Magic’s incomparable NBA career came as no surprise after his college heroics. While leading the Showtime Lakers to five NBA titles, he racked up absurd career averages of 19.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 11.2 assists per game.

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    No discussion of elite freshmen would be complete without a mention of Michigan’s Fab Five, the all-first-year starting lineup that took the Wolverines all the way to the 1992 national championship game.

    The leader of that squad was center Chris Webber, who averaged 15.5 points, 10 rebounds and 2.5 blocks a game.

    Webber became perhaps the best passing big man in NBA history, averaging 4.5 assists a game or better in eight different seasons.

    He had his best years with the Kings, leading the league in rebounding once, while scoring as many as 27.1 points a night.

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    The Big 12 has seen its share of explosive freshmen, but Michael Beasley left no doubt that he belonged with the best of them.

    Beasley averaged 26.2 points and 12.4 rebounds a night in his lone season with the Wildcats, setting a national freshman record with 28 double-doubles.

    Beasley has disappointed so far at the NBA level, averaging just 6.4 rebounds a game in his best season.

    He did break through as a scorer for Minnesota last year with 19.2 points a game, but is unlikely to match it this season while missing time (at this writing) with a sprained foot.

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    Pervis Ellison’s arrival at Louisville provided the final piece to the Cardinals’ national championship puzzle in 1986.

    He won Final Four MOP honors that season—the first freshman to do so in 40 years—and averaged 13.1 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.4 blocks a night on the year.

    The 6’9” Ellison became a valuable NBA center…when he could stay on the court. In one of his few healthy seasons, with Washington in 1991-92, he averaged 20 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.7 blocks a night.

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    In retrospect, it’s kind of astonishing that Kevin Durant couldn’t lead the Longhorns past the second round of the NCAA tournament.

    The first freshman ever to win the Naismith or Wooden Awards—and he got both—Durant averaged 25.8 points and 11.1 rebounds a game on a Texas team that also boasted current Bobcat standout D.J. Augustin in the backcourt.

    It wouldn’t be any surprise to see Durant win his third straight scoring title this season, but his real interest will be making his first NBA Finals. He’s off to a great start, as the Thunder have opened the 2011-12 season with an 12-2 record.

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    Other freshmen have won national championships, but none have carried a title team like Carmelo Anthony.

    Melo scored 22.2 points and grabbed 10 rebounds a game in a season that saw him earn Final Four MOP honors for the first national champions in Syracuse history.

    After successfully forcing a trade to the Knicks last season, Anthony may want to rethink his plan for NBA domination.

    His individual numbers are brilliant as ever (25.5 points and 4.3 assists a game to lead New York in both categories this year), but the team is a disappointing 6-7 and hardly looking like a viable title contender in the foreseeable future.


Basketball freshman players college best


Prolific Prep6'5''180972PGArlington, TX
Montverde Academy6'7''21597
3CTemecula, CA
Rancho Christian School7'0''20597
4SFElizabeth, NJ
The Patrick School6'7''210975PFWest Palm Beach, FL
Montverde Academy6'7''21096
6PGMinneapolis, MN
Minnehaha Academy6'4''19596
7SFChatsworth, CA
Sierra Canyon High School6'6''17596
8SFChatsworth, CA
Sierra Canyon High School6'8''18095
9PFAustin, TX
Vandegrift High School6'8''20595
10SFWolfeboro, NH
Brewster Academy6'7''19095
11SGLakewood, CA
Mayfair High School6'4''20595
12CWinterville, NC
Montverde Academy6'9''22594
13SFGlendale, WI
Nicolet High School6'8''21094
14CFairburn, GA
Woodward Academy6'11''22094
15PFRichmond, VA
Word of God Christian Academy6'9''2159416CPhoenix, AZ
Hillcrest Prep6'11''23594
17SGCharlotte, NC
IMG Academy6'5''21094
18PGSaint Louis, MO
Christian Brothers College High School6'3''18094
19PGLeesburg, VA
Paul VI High School6'2''18094
20PGPowder Springs, GA
McEachern High School6'0''16094
21PGLas Vegas, NV
Trinity International School6'3''1909422SGChicago, IL
Prolific Prep6'3''19093
23SGChesapeake, VA
Oak Hill Academy6'3''17593
24CMemphis, TN
Lausanne Collegiate School6'11''21092
25SGChicago, IL
Whitney Young High School6'3''16092
25CWest Chester, PA
Westtown School6'10''22080
26PGSanta Ana, CA
Mater Dei High School6'3''21091
27PGEvansville, IN
F.J. Reitz High School6'1''16090
28SFBell Buckle, TN
The Webb School6'4''19090
29SGWashington, OK
Washington High School6'4''16790
30SGChicago, IL
Morgan Park High School6'3''17589
31PFJackson, MS
Huntington Prep6'8''21589
32CNorfolk, VA
IMG Academy7'0''23089
33SFSacramento, CA
Sheldon High School6'7''22089
34PFPontiac, MI
Waterford Mott High School6'8''18589
34PFSomerset, NJ
Rutgers Prep High School6'8''20780
35SFAlbany, NY
The Albany Academy6'6''18088
36SFHouston, TX
Duncanville High School6'7''19588
37SFHyattsville, MD
DeMatha Catholic High School6'6''21588
38SFShort Hills, NJ
Blair Academy6'5''19088
39SGMemphis, TN
IMG Academy6'4''19087
40CMount Pleasant, UT
Wasatch Academy6'8''22587
41CHyattsville, MD
DeMatha Catholic High School7'1''26087
42SFHickory, NC
Moravian Prep6'9''8743PGWhite Plains, NY
Archbishop Stepinac High School6'1''16087
44PGBrookville, NY
Long Island Lutheran High School6'0''15587
45SGLittle Rock, AR
Montverde Academy6'6''18587
46PFCamden, NJ
Camden High School6'8''21587
47SFSeattle, WA
Dream City Christian6'6''1808748CRoebuck, SC
Dorman High School6'9''22087
49PFPrior Lake, MN
Prior Lake High School6'9''21087
50PFNorcross, GA
Norcross High School6'8''19586
51PGBaton Rouge, LA
Scotlandville Magnet High School6'2''86
52PFBrooklyn Park, MN
Park Center High School6'8''23086
52SFJacksonville, FL
Robert E. Lee Senior High School6'5''18580
53CMontclair, NJ
Roselle Catholic High School6'10''23586
54PFRichmond, VA
Trinity Episcopal School6'7''23885
55PGOklahoma City, OK
Putnam City West High School6'3''85
56PFClackamas, OR
Clackamas High School6'7''19580
56SFChattanooga, TN
Hamilton Heights Christian Academy6'7''21085
57PFBradenton, FL
IMG Academy6'6''2108558CElizabeth, NJ
The Patrick School6'9''24085
59SGMurrieta, CA
Rancho Christian School6'4''19085
60SFPhoenix, AZ
Hillcrest Prep6'7''18585
61SFSaint Louis, MO
Vashon High School6'6''19585
61CWolfeboro, NH
Brewster Academy6'10''24080
62SFHenderson, NV
Liberty High School6'6''22085
63SFTempe, AZ
Hillcrest Prep6'6''16084
64PGCoatesville, PA
Huntington Prep6'2''20084
65CLoganville, GA
The Skill Factory Prep School7'1''8466PGKaty, TX
Morton Ranch High School5'10''17084
67COskaloosa, IA
Oskaloosa High School6'10''22584
68PGGreensboro, NC
Greensboro Day School6'1''17084
69PGLoganville, GA
Grayson High School6'0''16584
70SGPutnam, CT
Putnam Science Academy6'3''84
71PFBaltimore, MD
Polytechnic Institute High School6'7''22084
72SFDickinson, TX
Dickinson High School6'6''18084
73PGDecatur, GA
Hargrave Military Academy6'1''18084
74SFLas Vegas, NV
Bishop Gorman High School6'6''19084
75CLas Vegas, NV
Huntington Prep6'9''21084
76SGLoganville, GA
Grayson High School6'3''18084
77SGToledo, OH
Montverde Academy6'3''17083
78SGRichmond, VA
Monacan High School6'4''19583
79PGAlpharetta, GA
St. Francis High School6'2''83
80PFJacksonville, FL
Hargrave Military Academy6'7''21083
81SGNewark, NJ
Roselle Catholic High School6'3''21083
82SFSaint Louis, MO
Christian High School6'6''20580
82PGLittle Rock, AR
Oak Hill Academy5'11''17083
83SGButler, PA
Butler Senior High School6'4''21583
84SGMishawaka, IN
La Lumiere School6'4''19083
85PGGoshen, KY
North Oldham High School6'6''19683
86PFBeverly, MA
Brewster Academy6'6''22082
87PFWashington, DC
Gonzaga College High School6'6''21582
88PGFlint, MI
Beecher High School5'11''16582
89SGJacksonville, AR
Jacksonville High School6'3''16582
90PGIndianapolis, IN
Lawrence Central High School5'10''16582
91SGBrooklyn, NY
Brewster Academy6'5''17582
92PFChatsworth, CA
Sierra Canyon High School6'6''22082
93PFGlendale, WI
Oak Hill Academy6'8''20082
94CFort Smith, AR
Northside High School6'9''82

15 freshmen who could have a big impact on college basketball this season

There is a loaded freshman class ready to make its impact on the 2020-21 college basketball season. 

That's one of the topics on this week's March Madness 365, where Andy Katz and Turner Sports' Chad "March Chadness" Aycock rank 15 freshmen to watch in this upcoming college basketball season. These are not in order of the most talented (though all are talented) but instead the guys who will make the biggest impact.

Two of those freshmen joined the pod this week as Oklahoma State's Cade Cunningham and Howard's Makur Maker talk with Katz about their decisions to attend the schools they chose. Katz also ranks his top 25 contenders for the Karl Malone award headed into the 2020-21 season, and is joined by ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla to preview the Big 12.  

Here the top 15 impact freshman going into the 2020-21 season, according to Katz: 

15. Greg Brown — Texas, Forward

Greg Brown was a McDonald's All-American out of high school and joins a team that brings most of its players back. Katz thinks Texas' depth means Brown doesn't have to be a star right away. He can contribute as an impactful role player, especially in the frontcourt. 

14. Sharife Cooper — Auburn, Guard 

Sharife Cooper could end this season as the freshman who had the largest impact. Bruce Pearl lost his entire starting five after last season, so Cooper has a lot of room to prove himself. 

13. Moussa Cissè — Memphis, Center

Moussa Cissè decided to stay in his hometown and join Penny Hardaway and Memphis after receiving offers from the likes of Florida State, Georgetown and UConn. He's a 6'10" center who can get up and down the court and Katz thinks he will be leaned on heavily by Hardaway right off the bat this season. 

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12. Cliff Omuruyi — Rutgers, Center

With the addition of the 6'10" freshman, the Scarlet Knights will have a chance to finish in the mix of things atop the Big Ten. Omuruyi will have a lot of talent to compete against, not only on his team but in the conference as a whole, as Luka Garza and Kofi Cockburn will be happy to welcome the freshman to one of college basketball's toughest conferences. 

11. Jalen Johnson — Duke, Guard

Jalen Johnson is a 6'8" point guard. That's right, point guard. He began as a playmaker and then hit a late growth spurt. So, with the frame of small forward and the skills of point guard, Johnson will have his hand on the ball quite a bit this season. 

10. Zaire Williams — Stanford, Forward

Katz thinks Stanford will have a solid one-two punch with freshman Zaire Williams and junior Oscar Da Silva. Williams chose to attend Stanford over Southern Cal, Arizona and North Carolina. 

9. Scottie Barnes — Florida State, Forward

Leonard Hamilton has his next big-time recruit in Scottie Barnes, a big-time talent and body to develop for a run in the NCAA tournament.

8. Makur Maker — Howard, Forward

Makur Maker has already made a name for himself off the court — choosing to attend an HBCU over programs like Kentucky and Memphis as a highly-touted recruit. This season he'll have Purdue transfer Nojel Eastern with him to try and take Howard, a four-win team last season, to a MEAC Championship. 

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7. Caleb Love — North Carolina, Guard 

Last season, North Carolina had a star freshman point guard in Cole Anthony. This year the Tar Heels have that in Caleb Love. With Anthony bound for the NBA Draft, Love will step right into the role as the team's lead playmaker. Katz thinks Love will have a better UNC team to play with than Anthony did.

6. Evan Mobley — Southern Cal, Center

Evan Mobley will be the third Mobley to join the Trojans. His brother Isaiah Mobley plays for the team and his dad Eric Mobley is an assistant coach. Evan Mobley stands at 6'11" and Katz thinks a lot of the USC offense will be funneled through him. He will have big shoes to fill as he is expected to step in to Onyeka Okongwu's role this season. Okongwu is expected to be a lottery pick in this year's NBA Draft. 

5. Josh Christopher — Arizona State, Guard

Katz thinks Arizona State might be a Final Four sleeper, but if they are going to make a run to the National Semifinals, they need Josh Christopher to fill a certain role. With the Sun Devils' star Remy Martin likely to get most of the touches on offense, Christopher will have the chance to hone his craft and become a reliable second or third option outside of Martin. 

4. Jalen Suggs — Gonzaga, Guard

Jalen Suggs will be on one of the best teams in the nation as a freshman. Katz thinks the pressure isn't on Suggs to be the best player on the floor because he will be joined by veterans Drew Timme and Corey Kispert.

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3. Terrence Clarke — Kentucky, Guard

Kentucky is going No. 3 and No. 2 with two of their freshmen, Terrence Clarke and B.J. Boston. First is Clarke who is a five-star recruit out of Boston. Katz says he hears both Clarke and B.J. Boston are flourishing for John Calipari in practice thus far.

2. B.J. Boston — Kentucky, Forward

Along with a great amount of skill and talent, Boston and Clarke bring size to Kentucky's backcourt. Boston stands at 6'6" with Clarke being 6'7" making the duo a matchup problem on both ends of the floor.

1. Cade Cunningham — Oklahoma State, Guard

The Cowboys landed one of the most talented players in the country when Cade Cunningham chose Oklahoma State over Kentucky and North Carolina. His size (a 6'7"-6'8" point guard) causes matchup problems for opponents and Katz thinks Cunningham will be able to do a little bit of everything on the offensive end. He is a National Player of the Year candidate.

Spencer Parlier has worked at CNN, Heavy Inc., and WFSU-FM. His writing and production have also appeared on, and Florida Public Radio. Follow him on Twitter @ParlOfWisdom.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NCAA or its member institutions.

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The Top 50 Men's Players of the 2020-21 College Basketball Season

In eight days, the men's 2021 NCAA tournament will kick off with the First Four, and all will be right again in the college basketball world after a year without March Madness. As special as the sport is in March, though, there been an entire season's worth of games that have already happened.

Heading into March Madness, Sports Illustrated has ranked the top 50 men's players of the regular season, a list that was previously headed by the likes of Zion Williamson and Obi Toppin. This year's ranking was determined by SI's Jeremy Woo, Kevin Sweeney and Molly Geary, and took into account everything from statistics, year-to-year growth, importance to team and overall performance.

First, we'll highlight 10 players that just missed the cut for our top 50. Then, the top 50 will count down from No. 50 all the way to No. 1.

SI’s tournament newsletter analyzes everything you need to know about the Big Dance: what just happened and what’s happening next. Sign up for Morning Madness here.

Honorable Mentions: Ochai Agbaji (Kansas), Keve Aluma (Virginia Tech), Scottie Barnes (Florida State), Julian Champagnie (St. John’s), Carlik Jones (Louisville) DeVante’ Jones (Coastal Carolina), John Petty Jr. (Alabama), Terrence Shannon Jr. (Texas Tech), Terry Taylor (Austin Peay), Mark Vital (Baylor)

College Basketball’s Top 50 Men's Players of 2020–21:

50. Max Abmas, Oral Roberts, Sophomore

The nation’s leading scorer isn’t Luka Garza or Ayo Dosunmu. It’s Abmas, a sophomore guard at Oral Roberts who has been a one-man wrecking crew for the Golden Eagles in Summit League play. He closed the regular season on a five-game heater that saw him average 34.8 points per game while shooting a blistering 59% from deep, and did all this while being hounded by opposing defenders night in and night out. He may be a bit undersized, but there are very few shooters and scorers as dynamic as Abmas at any level of basketball. And after he scored 23 as Oral Roberts punched its ticket to the Big Dance Tuesday night, America will get to see him on the big stage.

49. D’Mitrik Trice, Wisconsin, Senior

The strength of Wisconsin is in its experienced ensemble cast, but Trice, its point guard, is the straw that stirs the drink. Rarely off the court for the Badgers, the 6-footer has strengthened his play inside the arc this year to complement his always-solid perimeter shooting. His assist-to-turnover ratio is among the best in the Big Ten, but he isn’t afraid to hunt his own shot, particularly in crunch time (see: his incredible effort late in a near-comeback vs. Illinois).

48. Courtney Ramey, Texas, Junior

Texas is a balanced team with six players who average over 8.5 points per game, but Ramey has emerged as the top dog in a resurgent season for Shaka Smart’s club. The junior has torched the nets from deep, shooting a blistering 45% from beyond the arc after knocking down just 31% from deep last season. He also has continued to take on more distribution responsibilities from starting PG Matt Coleman, forming a three-headed backcourt monster with Coleman and shooter Andrew Jones. Ramey is also a terrific perimeter defender who has made life difficult for multiple star Big 12 guards this season.

47. Matt Mitchell, San Diego State, Senior

A four-year starter for the Aztecs, Mitchell has concluded his collegiate career in style as the leading scorer for a top-25 team. The pro departure of Malachi Flynn this past offseason left a significant scoring void for SDSU and Mitchell has filled it admirably, averaging over 15 points per game and shooting 38% from the field for the 20–4 Aztecs. Mitchell is a menace in transition and one of the most versatile defenders in the country thanks to his bulky 6' 6" frame. He’s definitely a name to know on one of the most dangerous mid-majors in the country this season.

46. Marcus Carr, Minnesota, Junior

The Golden Gophers have fallen off a cliff, losing seven straight to drop themselves out of NCAA tournament at-large contention, but don’t let that take away from Carr’s season. While shouldering a heavy load of minutes, the junior has had to carry the bulk of the Minnesota offense, whether that’s through scoring himself or setting up his teammates. While he hasn’t always done the former efficiently, he’s got super-scorer qualities, like when he dropped 41 points on Nebraska or 30 on Iowa. The best version of Carr involves him being aggressive with dribble penetration and getting to the line to put defenses on their heels.

45. Sharife Cooper, Auburn, Freshman

While it’s been something of a lost season for Auburn—and Cooper has missed most of it—he turned in a productive, exciting 12-game stint, averaging 20 points and eight assists and giving the Tigers a shot in the arm. His shooting splits left something to be desired, but Cooper was nearly impossible to keep out of the paint, drawing fouls at a prodigious rate and making an immediate impact. You wonder how things might have been different had he not lost the first half of the season to an eligibility battle.

44. Aamir Simms, Clemson, Senior

The big man has led Clemson to the cusp of an NCAA tournament berth in his senior campaign. Simms may not put up wild scoring numbers, but he influences the game in a multitude of ways for the 16–6 Tigers, leads his team in points, rebounds, assists and blocks. He’s the anchor of a defense that ranks No. 15 nationally in adjusted efficiency per KenPom, and Simms also plays a key role as a distributor when the Tigers play through the elbows or the post.

43. Matthew Hurt, Duke, Sophomore

Team-wise, this hasn’t been the season Hurt envisioned when he came back to Durham for a sophomore year, but he’s done his best to keep a young Blue Devils roster afloat. The 6' 9" forward has improved his three-point game to 43.7% this year, but it’s his ability inside the arc (65.2% shooting) that may be the true difference-maker. Hurt still does most of his damage on the offensive end, but there’s no questioning his production there.

42. McKinley Wright IV, Colorado, Senior

Wright became the first men’s player in Pac-12 history to tally at least 1,600 points, 600 rebounds and 600 assists in his career, a tremendous accomplishment for one of the nation’s best stat-sheet stuffers. Wright has led the way for a Colorado team in the midst of a third consecutive 20-win season, and the Buffaloes are a lock to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2016 thanks to his high-level play at the point.

41. Marcus Zegarowski, Creighton, Senior

Creighton’s star point guard hasn’t quite emerged into the All-America candidate some predicted in the preseason, but Zegarowski remains one of the best floor-generals in the country and will lead a top-25 team into the NCAA tournament. Zegarowski is a smooth operator in space and thrives creating shots for a Creighton offense loaded with versatile wings who can score. For Creighton to make a deep run in the Big Dance, it will need elite play from its point guard to lead the way.

40. Ron Harper Jr., Rutgers, Junior

Harper appeared to be on an All-America trajectory early this season before going into a long shooting slump for much of Big Ten play. Still, he’s the best player and leading scorer on a Rutgers team that will likely reach the NCAA tournament for the first time in 30 years. Harper should pass 1,000 career points sometime during the Scarlet Knights’ run in Indianapolis. And if he can turn around the poor shooting that has seen him knock down just 14% from beyond the arc in his last 10 games, Rutgers will be very dangerous this month.

39. Collin Gillespie, Villanova, Senior

Gillespie’s season ended in heartbreak as he tore his MCL on senior night, a brutal blow to a Villanova team that had title aspirations. The senior had put together another fine year as the engine of the Wildcats’ offense, with his deft ability to weave through opposing defenses, draw the attention and then find his teammates when he wasn’t calling his own number. To understand Gillespie’s value, look no further than the 0.83 points per possession ’Nova put up in its first full game without him—a season low for Jay Wright’s group.

38. Neemias Queta, Utah State, Junior

The junior center from Portugal has shined this season after dealing with multiple knee injuries that slowed him down in 2019–20. With the graduation of superstar guard Sam Merrill, head coach Craig Smith redesigned the offense to flow through Queta in the post and the big man has continued to raise his game. Not only is Queta an excellent scorer and rebounder, but he also affects the game heavily with his ability to block shots. He ranks in the top five nationally in blocks per game at 3.0 per contest. Plus, Queta has raised his game down the stretch, averaging 21.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game in the season’s final six games.

37. Jose Alvarado, Georgia Tech, Senior

The quiet, driving force behind a sneaky good Georgia Tech team, Alvarado has put together a remarkable season, posting elite shooting splits (59.2% from two, 40.6% from three, 88.1% on free throws) and ranking fourth among all Division I players in steals per game. He’s proven himself as one of the toughest players and competitors in college hoops and memorably led an upset of Florida State in January. Alvarado has never enjoyed the same fanfare as many of his peers on this list, but he’s been every bit as good.

36. Bones Hyland, VCU, Sophomore

Beyond having one of the coolest names anywhere, Hyland has had a breakout sophomore campaign to become one of the best guards in the country. He stepped into a lead guard role this season after multiple graduations from last year’s group and has shined, leading the Atlantic 10 in scoring and helping VCU to a bounce-back season. The Rams are in line for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament and Hyland is the biggest reason why, keying an improved offensive attack while also being a ball hawk on the defensive end. With two more years of eligibility left, Hyland is on the verge of becoming one of college hoops’ biggest stars if he doesn’t depart early for the pro ranks.

35. Moses Moody, Arkansas, Freshman

Arkansas’s surprising emergence as one of the SEC’s best teams has been driven in part by Moody’s steady sharpshooting. Though not a finished product, he’s proven himself as one of the most college-ready players in this freshman class, shooting 48.1% from two and 38.6% from three and leading an otherwise guard-driven team in scoring and minutes played. Not many 18-year-olds are capable of stepping into a lineup in that fashion, and Moody has established himself as a projected one-and-done first-rounder in the process.

34. Jay Huff, Virginia, Senior

Huff is crucial to this Virginia team, serving as the defensive anchor in the paint for the Cavaliers’ pack line and helping mask some of the issues that keep this Virginia defense from being a vintage one. Plus, how many 7' 1" centers in college do you see shooting 40% from three? Huff is a true stretch five, and shooting 81.1% at the rim to boot. His presence—not to mention his screening ability on the perimeter—unlocks many options for the Virginia offense and its myriad shooters, and it's no surprise that Huff’s on/off splits show a significant advantage to the Hoos when he’s on the floor.

33. Moses Wright, Georgia Tech, Senior

Wright’s meteoric rise from being force-fed minutes and shooting 31% from the field as a freshman to the ACC Player of the Year has been nothing short of remarkable. The Raleigh native has blossomed into one of college basketball’s best power forwards, a menace on the offensive glass who blocks shots and can stretch the floor. Wright also raised his game when it mattered most, averaging 23 points, 10 rebounds and three assists per game in the Yellow Jackets’ six-game winning streak to close the regular season. His outstanding senior campaign is a huge reason why Georgia Tech is likely to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2010.

32. Austin Reaves, Oklahoma, Senior

Oklahoma’s stint near the top of the national rankings may have been short-lived, but Reaves has quietly been among the Big 12’s best players. Serving as the Sooners’ chief scorer, rebounder and playmaker, he’s admirably played a taxing, do-it-all role, lifting his team from off the early radar and into the tournament picture. Apart from streaky three-point shooting, Reaves has put together a memorable senior year, completing his evolution from shooting specialist at Wichita State to full-time lead guard.

31. Joe Wieskamp, Iowa, Junior

The Hawkeyes have a litany of offensive weapons, and Luka Garza of course gets the headlines, but don't overlook Wieskamp’s importance to Iowa’s success. The junior is shooting a deadly 48.9% from deep on 135 attempts, the highest percentage of anyone nationally who has attempted at least 75 threes. He uses his 6' 6" frame well in his ability to shoot over defenders, and he gets plenty of opportunities in a Hawkeyes offense that ranks sixth nationally in assist rate.

30. Trevion Williams, Purdue, Junior

The 6' 10", 265-pound center took another step forward as a junior, maintaining his absurd rebounding rate while shouldering the offensive load for a young Boilermakers team and turning into one of the country’s top big men. Only two players nationally take more of their team’s shots when on the floor than Williams, and he leads all major conference players. While he still remains a liability at the free throw line (51%), Williams is a force inside that few teams can match, whether in the Big Ten or elsewhere.

29. Oscar da Silva, Stanford, Senior

Da Silva has been among the most indispensable players in the Pac-12 and a major matchup problem for defenses, as a quality passer and scorer who can quietly dominate a given game. The Cardinal have lost momentum as a bubble team—dropping three straight games with da Silva out injured—but his productive year merits recognition, and he’ll finish among the conference’s leading scorers (and its most efficient). His versatility and consistency, particularly on a team that’s dealt with a host of injuries and absences, has shone through.

28. Charles Bassey, Western Kentucky, Junior

After a knee injury ended his sophomore year after nine games, Bassey got healthy and returned better than before, leading the Hilltoppers to a strong season on the strength of his rebounding and rim protection. He’s been a force in the paint, averaging 17.6 points and 11.8 rebounds and shooting 63% from the field, and memorably spurring a December upset of Alabama. If WKU can make it into the tournament, Bassey will be a load for any higher seed to contend with.

27. Kofi Cockburn, Illinois, Sophomore

One of college basketball’s most intimidating interior forces, Cockburn has raised his game as a sophomore and turned into one of the best big men in the country. While teammate Ayo Dosunmu gets most of the attention for the No. 3 Illini, the Jamaican post player ranks in the top 10 of KenPom’s Player of the Year rankings. A major area Cockburn has improved this year is his efficiency around the rim: He’s shooting 67% from the field this season after just 53% last year. Cockburn has scored in double figures in all but two games this season, and if the Illini get back to the Final Four for the first time since 2005 he’ll be a huge reason why.

26. Miles McBride, West Virginia, Sophomore

West Virginia’s transformation into a high-powered offensive team coincided with McBride’s emergence as a potent scorer, breaking out as a dangerous three-point shooter (41.2%) and capable closer. Also a tough-minded defender and solid playmaker, McBride has been among the best players in a conference stacked with quality guards, coming up especially big in wins over Kansas and Texas Tech. He can be streaky, but his knack for making difficult shots off the bounce makes the Mountaineers a legitimate close-game threat and a team capable of making noise in March.

25. Herbert Jones, Alabama, Senior

The Crimson Tide have been one of the surprises of the season, and the do-it-all senior has been a major part of that. Jones isn't going to blow anybody away with his offensive ability or stats, but his value goes well beyond the box score as the perfect glue guy for Nate Oats's system. He rebounds, blocks shots, gets to the free throw line and has even developed a reliable outside shot as a senior after making just one of his 14 perimeter attempts a season ago. He's also one of the SEC's best defenders.

24. Cameron Krutwig, Loyola Chicago, Senior

Krutwig is college basketball’s Nikola Jokić, a hefty big man who wows much more with finesse and passing ability than he does with athleticism. The Algonquin, Ill., native won MVC Player of the Year honors this season and is one of just four players in conference history with at least 1,500 career points, 800 rebounds and 300 assists. The others? Larry Bird, Oscar Robertson and Hersey Hawkins. Krutwig has been essential in the growth of Loyola Chicago into a mid-major power, starting at center as a freshman on the Rambler team that made the Final Four and now leading the way for a team that might be even better than that one.

23. Cameron Thomas, LSU, Freshman

Say what you want about Thomas’s shot selection, but LSU has needed every bucket, and there have been many. It’s rare to find a true freshman capable of shouldering a scoring load in the way he has, and he’s been one of the best when it comes to drawing fouls—converting free throws at an 87.6% clip. That skill has helped cover for his streaky long-distance shooting. Thomas isn’t a perfect player, but he’s advanced when it comes to the things he does well, and the Tigers might not be a tourney-caliber team without him.

22. Joel Ayayi, Gonzaga, Junior

The fact that Ayayi is generally recognized as his team’s fourth-best player tells you plenty as to why the Zags have been so utterly dominant. He excels at making quick-decisions, moving the ball and generally filling in the gaps, operating in a perfect role that plays to his strengths. Ayayi is arguably the best rebounding guard in the country, a capable shooter and premier off-ball cutter, hardly ever forcing a bad shot and playing with a strong understanding of his capabilities. Gonzaga would still be good without him, but he’s a major reason why that team is great.

21. Isaiah Livers, Michigan, Senior

Livers’s continued improvement throughout his college career has been fun to watch. As a freshman, he was a key rotation player and shooter for a Wolverines team that reached the national championship game. He has incrementally added to his game every year since, improving this season both as a shooter and facilitator to help key the Wolverines to a terrific season. Livers has also been lauded for his leadership with this team, helping mesh together a team that features talented freshmen, transfers and returning talent all in one. Livers will likely surpass 1,000 career points early in the Big Ten tournament.

20. Sandro Mamukelashvili, Seton Hall, Senior

Mamukelashvili is the definition of a point forward, a 6-foot-11 big guy who can handle the ball, pass and shoot. With Seton Hall PG Bryce Aiken on the shelf for much of the year due to multiple injuries, Mamukelashvili has had a larger role in creating offense for the Pirates and has thrived. He opened his season with 22 points and 10 rebounds at Louisville and hasn’t looked back since, scoring 20 or more 11 times, including a career-high 32 against rival St. John’s. Mamukelashvili is the type of player who can single-handedly win you a game in March, and his decision this summer to return to Seton Hall after testing the NBA waters turned out to be season-changing for the Pirates.

19. Quentin Grimes, Houston, Junior

After a disappointing freshman season at Kansas, Grimes has turned his career around at Houston and blossomed into one of college basketball’s most prolific scorers. Grimes’s biggest area of improvement this season has been as a shooter: He is the only high-major player in the country shooting at least 39% from deep on three or more makes per game. Add in backcourt mates Marcus Sasser (14.0 ppg) and DeJon Jarreau (10.5 ppg, 4.1 apg), and the Cougars have a three-headed monster capable of getting buckets against anyone in college basketball.

18. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Villanova, Sophomore

Robinson-Earl has become an unusual offensive fulcrum for Villanova—something short of a true post player, not quite a perimeter threat, but effective nonetheless. His reliable work on the glass, intelligent passing and defensive positioning have been a stabilizing force the past two seasons, and he emerged as the Wildcats’ leading scorer this season while improving his overall efficiency. His impact doesn’t always manifest in his box score stats, but Robinson-Earl remains among the most versatile bigs in the game and a unique advantage for his team.

17. Sam Hauser, Virginia, Senior

There was good reason the elder Hauser brother looked like an excellent fit for Tony Bennett's offense when he transferred in two years ago. After sitting out a year, the 6’ 8” senior has played a crucial role for the Cavaliers as expected, remaining as efficient a shooter as ever while canning 59.4% of his twos and 44.4% of his threes and rarely being forced into errors. Hauser is a major reason why Virginia’s offense has bounced back so effectively in 2020–21 after its dismal showing last season.

16. E.J. Liddell, Ohio State, Sophomore

If you have to pinpoint one player driving a surprisingly good Ohio State team, it’s Liddell, whose impact is often subtle but always meaningful. At 6’ 7”, 240 pounds, he’s not dominating with pure skill or physicality, but he’s been remarkably effective at making the simple plays, and after a quiet freshman year has turned himself into a dangerous jump shooter. His work on the defensive glass and ability to defend taller players has been a valuable catch-all for a team that lacks size. Liddell’s efficiency and embrace of critical tasks has made all the difference for what’s become a hyper-efficient offensive team. He should be more of a household name before long.

15. Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana, Sophomore

The brilliance of Jackson-Davis has been overshadowed by an underwhelming season in Bloomington, but the sophomore big man is the first Hoosier in more than 25 years to average at least 19 points and nine rebounds per game. Jackson-Davis is one of the nation’s most productive post players, an old-school big who hasn’t attempted a three all season but wears you down with his ability to outwork you on the inside. Perhaps the best news for Indiana fans is that his throwback game doesn’t make him as appealing an NBA player, so there’s a good chance he returns to school and wrecks Big Ten frontcourts for at least one more year.

14. Justin Champagnie, Pitt, Sophomore

Pitt’s season nosedived in late January, but Champagnie has been an irrepressibly productive force all season, emerging as an elite rebounder and a player who can do a lot of damage without needing his number called. His motor and instincts in the paint led to big numbers across the board, and his effort on both ends kept the Panthers competitive, even in a string of narrow February losses. He’s been an automatic double double all season (18.4 ppg, 11.1 rpg), and while circumstance has limited his time in the spotlight, he’s quite arguably been the ACC’s best player.

13. James Bouknight, UConn, Sophomore

Although Bouknight missed a large chunk of the season with an elbow injury, he’s more than proven himself as one of the most dangerous scorers around and a player who demands constant attention from the opposition. He’s tough, athletic, and capable of scoring from anywhere on the floor. A healthy Bouknight makes UConn a dangerous team, and he excels at reading defenses, taking the correct shot and finishing with acrobatic flair. He’ll be in the NBA before long, but if he’s all the way back to full strength, the Huskies could make noise in March.

12. Davion Mitchell, Baylor, Junior

It’s hard to say that anyone should have seen Mitchell’s leap from defensive pest to offensive catalyst coming, but he’s blossomed into an excellent two-way player and a tone-setting player for the Bears, pairing with Jared Butler to form arguably the best backcourt in the country. In addition to hounding opposing ballhandlers, Mitchell evolved into a consistent, dangerous shooter off the dribble and a quality distributor, taking on a bigger offensive role comfortably and molding himself into an NBA prospect. He’s a difference-maker who probably deserves more credit in the grand scheme of Baylor’s success.

11. Hunter Dickinson, Michigan, Freshman

It didn't take long for Dickinson to out-play his four-star recruiting ranking in his first year in Ann Arbor, and he currently stands as the highest-ranked freshman on KenPom's Player of the Year ratings. The 7' 1" big man has been a critical piece of the Wolverines' immense success this season, wearing down opposing teams down low while shooting 60.8% from two and proving to be one of the Big Ten's best rebounders. While he does have a tendency to disappear at times offensively, any Michigan path to the national title will likely require him being an interior threat more often than not.

10. Chris Duarte, Oregon, Senior

Duarte is one of the oldest players in the college game, but he plays like it, amassing some ridiculous shooting splits (62.3% from two, 44.0% from three, 80.6% on free throws) and elite block and steal rates and winning a number of games for an Oregon team that entered the year with major backcourt concerns. He’s been truly elite from an efficiency standpoint without ever hijacking the Ducks’ offense, and has done it at both ends of the floor on a regular basis. From an individual perspective, Duarte’s remarkable, under-the-radar season holds up especially well.

9. Franz Wagner, Michigan, Sophomore

Wagner’s sophomore leap has been a driving factor behind Michigan’s success, bolstering the team on both ends of the floor and requiring only a modest diet of shots. The strides he’s made as a playmaker and legitimately versatile defender turned him into the Wolverines’ most essential piece, capable of guarding three positions, knocking down shots and finding open teammates in a pinch. Wagner has shouldered a critical role on a team primarily geared to score by committee, rarely taking a bad shot and displaying a strong understanding of the floor around him. It’s gotten harder and harder to nitpick his game.

8. Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga, Freshman

It’s difficult to separate Gonzaga’s three stars from one another—they’re all impactful in different ways—but it’s Suggs’s relentless guard play that makes the Zags such a dangerous transition team. His athletic gifts and aggressive drives to the paint make him a load for opponents to handle, and a near-impossible cover in open space, where his playmaking skills really shine. On the defensive end, Suggs’s embrace of tough assignments has set the tone for his entire team. He’s been as reliable as any freshman star and a steady engine for the best team in the country.

7. Drew Timme, Gonzaga, Sophomore

As the heir apparent in the long line of standout Gonzaga big men, Timme looked primed for a breakout at the beginning of the season, and he's more than realized that potential as a sophomore. Featuring excellent footwork in the paint, a soft touch and the ability to run the floor, he's been frustrating defenses all season while averaging 18.9 points and 7.1 rebounds, all while shooting a ridiculous 67.6% on two-point shots. Plus, have you seen his mustache celebration?

6. Evan Mobley, USC, Freshman

Mobley has been the nation’s premier defensive anchor and one of its most valuable players on whole, taking a USC team that returned just two rotation players and keeping them atop the Pac-12 with his unique skill set. Gifted with immense length and timing as a shot blocker, Mobley wipes away huge chunks of the floor by simply being present. He’s also been a good offensive focal point for the Trojans, with inside-out game and strong passing skills. Mobley’s all-around impact on winning as a true freshman has been wildly impressive.

5. Corey Kispert, Gonzaga, Senior

Kispert is a true modern college basketball success story: someone who stayed all four years and improved each season as he took on more and more responsibility, eventually blossoming into a genuine star as a senior. A sniper from deep who has become equally deadly inside the arc this year, Kispert is one of the most efficient players in the nation. And on a juggernaut Gonzaga team filled with capable weapons, don't be surprised if the senior is the one the Zags would turn to with the game on the line in March—though our No. 8, Suggs, might have something to say about that.

4. Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois, Junior

Dosunmu came back to Champaign to finish what he started at Illinois, and he'll lead the Illini to not only their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2013, but also very likely a No. 1 seed. The 6' 5" guard has turned himself into a National Player of the Year candidate thanks to an improved outside shot and a well-earned reputation as the most clutch player in college basketball. When Illinois needs a bucket, Dosunmu always seems to come through, and not even a late-season broken nose could keep him down long. He's made the most of an improved supporting cast to produce his strongest individual season yet.

3. Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State, Freshman

After entering the season with considerable hype as the top freshman in the country, Cunningham has worn the mantle well. The proof lies more in Oklahoma State’s surprising team success than in his stats (19.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 3.5 apg)—which, apart from a few too many turnovers, are nothing to sneeze at. It’s Cunningham’s unflinching cool, supreme patience and feel for the flow of the game that makes him great. There are no real holes in his skill set, and he’s not someone you want to see at the end of a close game. Cunningham’s ingenuity and consistency set him apart, and the Cowboys wouldn’t be close to the tournament picture, much less a favorable seed, without him.

2. Jared Butler, Baylor, Junior

Baylor’s overwhelming success has been a group effort, but Butler, already the team’s leader, has elevated his play across the board, upping his shooting percentages on twos (54.9%) and threes (44.4%), as well as his assist and steal rates. He’s the Bears’ most creative player, their go-to guy when buckets are scarce, and one of the most reliable players anywhere. Butler’s impact on both ends of the floor is irreplaceable, and Baylor wouldn’t be at the forefront of the title conversation without him. He’s become quite arguably the best true point guard in college hoops.

1. Luka Garza, Iowa, Senior

Garza will finish his career as the most immovable force in college basketball, anchoring Iowa with his post play and a perfected blend of physicality and finesse around the basket. After netting a host of major awards as a junior, Garza returned to school with an improved jumper (43% from three) and turned in a second prolific season, blending productivity and efficiency in a manner seldom seen. The Hawkeyes hitched their wagon to him and never looked back. On most nights, their potent offense covers for what they lack as a group defensively, simply because Garza is so effective. He’s the most dominant player in the sport on a nightly basis.


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