Top 10 Freshmen in the Country
This year’s class will have a major impact in March.
by David Cassilo / @dcassilo
Ever since the NBA changed it’s draft eligibility rules and banned players from making the jump right from high school, college basketball has seen a substantial increase in its level of talent. Although most of these players are one-and-done, those such as Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley and John Wall have left their legacy in the college ranks.
This year’s class of freshmen is no different, and with the preseason tournaments now behind us, here’s a look at the top first year players in the nation so far:
The 6-0 point guard playing in his hometown has been the engine running a resurgent Memphis offense that is averaging 88.4 ppg. Coach John Pastner uses a deep rotation (nine players average at least 14 mpg and no one averages more than 27.6), and although Jackson is playing just 25 mpg, he is averaging 12 ppg and 3.8 apg, good for second and first on the team, respectively.
The preseason All-American has been anything but so far this season. His struggles have mainly been a result of his poor 35.2 percent shooting from the field. Barnes has been able to haul 6.3 rpg but he will need to find his scoring touch if he or North Carolina are going to live up to expectations.
Despite being just a freshman, Thompson has developed into a workhorse for the Longhorns. Thompson played 40 minutes in back-to-back games against Illinois and Pittsburgh in the 2K Sports Classic. The game against Illinois was his coming out party, as he put up an impressive 20 points, seven rebounds, four assists, three steals and five blocks. Thompson teams up with Jordan Hamilton and Gary Johnson to make an impressive Texas frontcourt.
Zeigler, who chose to play for his father at Central Michigan over UCLA, Michigan State and Michigan, has been as good as advertised so far this season. A guard that has a knack for rebounding, Zeigler leads the team in both categories so far. With a less than stellar supporting cast, Zeigler is being asked to do it all, but the team should be among the favorites in the MAC this season.
Following Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans and Wall, Knight is the latest point guard to flourish on John Calipari. The Florida native has lived up to his reputation as a scorer, putting in 16.2 ppg. However, he still has a lot of work to do to be considered alongside those other point guards. Knight is averaging 4.6 turnovers and just 2.8 assists per game. He will need to flip that ratio around if he is going to lead another talented group of Kentucky freshmen.
The exciting athleticism of Jones has had pro scouts salivating since he hit the AAU circuit. He stands at 6-11 but has many of the skills of an elite guard. Jones hasn’t been spectacular so far, but he only needs to be steady right now for a talented Baylor team. His 12.3 ppg and 8.5 rpg should only rise as the season goes on.
In a season that started with off-the-court turmoil for the Volunteers, Harris has been the consistent frontcourt presence the team desperately needed. Looking more like a senior than freshman with his polished game, Harris leads the team in points and rebounds. Although he has flown relatively under the radar, the emergence of Harris has Tennessee looking like contenders once again in the SEC.
Sullinger burst onto the scene when he dominated the Florida frontcourt for 26 points and 10 rebounds on Nov. 16. Teamed up with senior guard David Lighty, Sullinger makes up half of one of the best inside-outside combos in the country. Now at No. 2 in the country, Ohio State can thank Sullinger for taking the team from Big Ten contender to NCAA title contender.
There’s very little to dislike about Irving’s game. The New Jersey point guard has been everything he was advertised, taking a Duke team that won a national title to even greater heights so far this season. While Irving is content playing the role of floor general, he has the talent to be the team’s leading scorer, were it not for so many other options on offense. The best pro prospect on the country’s best team, Irving has plenty of great moments ahead of him this season.
1. Terrence Jones, Kentucky
The Maui Invitational will be remembered for the breakout performances of two players – Kemba Walker and Jones. While Walker’s team got the best of Jones in the title game, it doesn’t diminish what the freshman forward accomplished at all. Against Oklahoma he amassed 29 points and 13 rebounds. The next day against Washington he exploded for 16 points and 17 rebounds. Then in the final, when the rest of his team looked lost, Jones put up a team-high 24 points. Jones has officially caught everyone’s attention and is the main reason Kentucky’s freshman class is rivaling last year’s.