The 2013 high school senior class was promised to be one of the deepest and most talented crop of college basketball freshman in the history of the game. We’re talking about a class that could even rival the recent 2008 (Derrick Rose, Michael Beasley, Kevin Love, Eric Gordon and company) class who were incredibly impactful through the final buzzer of the season.
Odds are you’re not here to read about the Rodney Elliot’s (UMBC) or Andrew Rowsey’s (UNC-Asheville) of the college basketball world (yet), so here’s my first look at how the more heralded freshman in the country are performing this season, and how I’d rank them through the first quarter or so of conference action.
1. Jabari Parker, Duke Blue Devils
Although the Blue Devils haven’t been the most impressive team in the nation by any stretch so far this season, they’ve certainly had the most impressive freshman in the country in Jabari Parker. Number’s apparently don’t lie. and Parker’s averaging nearly 20 points and 7 boards a game, shooting 49% percent from the field, 41% from three, and grabbing nearly a block and a steal a game. Regardless of the stats, Parker’s by far been Duke’s best player, and has the awareness and maturity on the court to be a natural leader. Duke’s playing small ball this year, and Parker has been the perfect point-stretch-forward for them. Right now he’s looking like the best freshman in basketball, and could contend for National Player of the Year.
2. Julius Randle, Kentucky Wildcats
A freshman class like this was supposed to have multiple National Player of the Year candidates in it, and Randle is right behind Parker as far as freshmen go. John Calipari probably has more talented freshmen on his team than the entire nation combined (not exactly hyperbole), and Randle has separated himself from the pack, emerging as a leader for the young ‘Cats. Randle leads all freshmen in rebounding, and is averaging an efficient 16.7 points per game on 55% shooting, really scoring from anywhere he wants on the court. Once this Kentucky team finally gels and hits stride, we’re going to be hearing Randle’s name more for sure.
3. Aaron Gordon, Arizona Wildcats
Aaron Gordon might not be Arizona’s most important player – then again he might be – but there’s something to be said for being amongst the more important players on the No. 1 team in the nation as a freshman. Gordon’s 12.4 points and 7.8 rebounds per game make him one of the more productive bigs in the Pac-12, but his activity on the defensive end helps one of the best transition teams in the country set the pace that they play so comfortably at, and Gordon is unmistakably their best finisher. Chew on this for a second: Gordon might be the best perimeter defender in the nation, and he’s a 6-foot-9 power forward.
4. Tyler Ennis, Syracuse Orange
Every couple of years it seems there’s a freshman point guard who plays with the savvy and composure of a 13-year NBA vet, this year that special freshman has been Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis. Per Pickin’ Splinter’s Paul Gotham: “Ennis plays more than 33 minutes a game and his assist to turnover rate is a staggering 4.1:1.” Ennis is also averaging 11.9 points and 3.2 rebounds per game, while shooting over 40% from three, but most importantly, he’s the perfect floor general for an Orange team that’s undefeated through their first 18 games.
5. James Young, Kentucky Wildcats
No shade to Andrew and Aaron Harrison, but after Randle it’s been James Young who has had the biggest impact for the No. 14 Wildcats, averaging 14.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. Young has shown the ability to breakout, going for 18+ points in seven of the teams first 18 games, but has also gotten lost in the shuffle a few games, having scored single-digits in six games. Like I said with Randle, it’s going to be scary when Kentucky gets it together, because Young has all the talent in the world to be let out when this team learns how to play as a cohesive unit instead of a collection of talent.
6. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas Jayhawks
This might be a little low for a player averaging 15 points and 6 rebounds per game, but I’m going to lay the hammer on Andrew Wiggins for going for 3 and 2 against No. 11 Oklahoma State this past weekend. In his defense, Wiggins has played against seven ranked teams so far this season, and he’s faired pretty well, specifically in giving Iowa State 17 points and 19 boards, and going back to December when he posted a career-best 26 points and 11 rebounds in a loss to Florida. Wiggins is definitely a gamer, but he plays on a very talented team and hasn’t been the difference maker he was expected to be coming out of high school. Blame it on high expectations, but Wiggins has some progress to make still to climb my power rankings
7. Joel Embiid, Kansas Jayhawks
Much like his teammate Wiggins, I’m ranking Joel Embiid lower than most probably have him because I feel there’s room and time for him to improve. If this ranking was based solely on the last couple of weeks it’d be pretty hard to argue that the seven-footer hasn’t been the best freshman in the country, but his averages of 11.1 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game have helped give one of the most well-rounded teams in the country a difference maker in the paint. Embiid seemingly gets better by the game, so look for him to continue to ascend on this list.
8. Noah Vonleh, Indiana Hoosiers
It hasn’t exactly been easy for the Hoosiers dealing with the losses of Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo to the NBA, but freshman Noah Vonleh has given Tom Crean quite the pleasant distraction. Averaging 12.4 points and a Big Ten best 9.4 rebounds, Vonleh has won six Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors, the third-highest total since the award began in 2010. A double-double machine, Vonleh and sophomore Yogi Ferrell have been one of the best combo’s in the country, and if he can get his scoring up he could challenge the bigger names for Freshman of the Year.
9. John Severe, Fordham Rams
Alright, I lied, I have an underdog on my list. Not only is John Severe leading all freshman in scoring (20.9 points per game!), but he…alright that’s all I got. Fordham’s terrible, I represent Queens he was raised out in Brooklyn, but 21 points per game for a freshman is still 21 points per game out of a first year college player. Kudos.
10. Zach LaVine, UCLA Bruins
Scoring in double-digits in 12 of UCLA’s 18 games has freshman Zach LaVine on my first edition of the Freshman Watch. Although LaVine has tailed off a bit as of late, he’s been one of the best scorer’s off of the bench in the nation, and complements the Jordan Adams/Kyle Anderson backcourt perfectly with his ability to knock down open shots from the perimeter. LaVine is averaging more points and minutes than starter Norman Powell, which begs the question if he’ll dethrone the junior of his starting spot.
Stay tuned as I will provide bi-weekly updates on the most important freshman ranking system on the internet.
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