10 best freshmen in college basketball
We’ve reached the point in the college basketball season where freshmen are no longer brand new on the scene. At season’s open, true freshmen are fresh-faced first-timers out of high school and onto a new scene. It can take time for coaches to find the right fit and right situation for their players. Now that we have seen half a season of every freshman in college basketball, it’s easier to gauge who will be a factor in March and who can help push their team to a Final Four run. These 10 freshmen have put themselves above the competition and made a name for themselves in 2017-2018.
10. Lindell Wigginton, Iowa State
During a season that has been filled with talk of the Big XII featuring America’s best basketball, Iowa State has been largely left out of the conversation. The Cyclones have been one of the Big XII’s best programs over the last half decade, finishing conference play with a winning record and top 5 finish every year since 2011. This season is a re-focusing year of sorts for Iowa State, but Lindell Wigginton has been a source of hope. The 6-foot-2 Canadian guard has been surprisingly excellent to date, totaling 16.2 points and 4.0 rebounds per game. His hot shooting, to the tune of 43 percent outside the arc, has helped Iowa State in conference play. In the Cyclones’ last five games, Wigginton is sinking 47 percent of his threes and posting 20 points per game, including a 30-point outing versus Baylor.
9. Wendell Carter Jr., Duke
So much of the attention at Duke has not just been focused on the spectacular freshman class, but on Marvin Bagley III. Though we’ll touch on Bagley later, Carter deserves a moment of recognition for his work this season. His 14 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game have helped Duke win games this season. Carter has posted nine double-doubles already this year, which is no easy feat when playing next to another dominant rebounder like Bagley. When Duke has struggled, it has been in part due to teams keying on Carter. He hasn’t topped 11 points or 6 rebounds in a Duke loss yet this season.
8. Brandon McCoy, UNLV
No player posting stat lines like McCoy has flown as far under the radar as the UNLV first-year center. McCoy is scoring 17 points and nabbing 9.9 rebounds per game for a surprisingly competitive Runnin’ Rebels club this season. In his first collegiate basketball game, McCoy hauled in 9 offensive rebounds. His activity on the glass has been a sight to see, as he leads the Mountain West in rebounding percentage. He’s finished 34 putback baskets, giving his team tons of extra possessions and points on the board.
7. Gary Trent Jr., Duke
Duke’s big men have attracted most of the attention in Durham, though Trent deserves an extra look given how he’s played of late. After an up-and-down start at Duke, Trent is scoring 18 points per contest on 54 percent outside shooting in his last 10 games. His ability to stretch the floor with his shooting stroke opens up driving lanes for other guards and post-up space for bigs. Trent has gotten better as Duke’s competition has gotten even more difficult. If he stays hot, Duke’s ceiling is among the highest in the nation.
6. Collin Sexton, Alabama
The lightning-quick point guard has been one of the most difficult players to guard in all of college basketball. Sexton draws the 8th most fouls per 40 minutes in the nation, getting his team into the bonus early in each half and racking up points at the free throw line. He’s posted the highest usage rate in the SEC, with the entire Crimson Tide offense flowing through him. With former NBA player and coach Avery Johnson on his sideline, Sexton has been given the road map to success in college and beyond.
5. Mo Bamba, Texas
Texas’ freshman center is one of the most eye-popping physical marvels in college basketball. He’s built like a rubber band with an enormous wingspan and standing reach. He uses his length to control the paint, grabbing 10.7 rebounds and 4.3 blocks per game. He leads the nation in total blocks and is tops in the Big XII in defensive efficiency. Any shot that he can’t block with his monstrous reach is heavily altered, needing to be launched sky-high to have a chance. His ability to supplement his defensive dominance with effective scoring makes him one of America’s most valuable centers.
4. Jaren Jackson Jr., Michigan State
Despite trying playing alongside a stacked frontcourt, Jackson has found a way to carve a niche for himself in East Lansing. His combination of inside and outside prowess makes him one of the most versatile 7-footers in college hoops. To date this season, Jackson is the only player in America averaging 3 blocks per game and shooting better than 44 percent from 3-point land. With teams also needing to match the athleticism of Miles Bridges and the size of Nick Ward, Jackson makes for an impossible match-up for nearly every opponent.
3. Deandre Ayton, Arizona
The Arizona big man has snuck to the top, or just shy of the top, of every single NBA Draft ranking after a hot first half of the season. At 7-foot-1 and solid, Ayton is built like a young Shaquille O’Neal, though the native of the Bahamas moves swiftly on his feet and has an unexpectedly deft touch around the rim. In Arizona’s first six conference games, Ayton shot 67 percent from the field. If there’s a way to make things difficult for Deandre Ayton, no team in the Pac-12 has found the blueprint yet.
2. Marvin Bagley III, Duke
Bagley’s domination of college basketball has been swift and destructive. Not only is he more physically gifted than every player who may try to guard him (save for maybe Ayton, should we be treated to that match-up in March), but Bagley has a high motor and the skills to take advantage of every opening he finds. His 21.6 points and 11.5 rebounds per game have to strike fear into the hearts of opposing coaches. Bagley dropped 32 points and 21 rebounds on Florida State in what may have been the best performance by a big man all season long.
1. Trae Young, Oklahoma
The Oklahoma point guard has been the story of the college basketball season, to the point that each piece of praise he receives is now matched by a piece of backlash about his shortcomings. In two losses last week, the freshman phenom shot a combined 10 for 30 on three-point shots and notched 19 turnovers. Those are extraordinarily high negative numbers, but Young also leads the nation in usage and assist rates. With the ball in his hands that often and so much of the Sooners’ production tied to his decision making, problems can snowball. On the other hand, when Trae Young is in the zone, there’s no player in college basketball more intriguing to watch. Once he gets rolling, whether with jump shots or magic passes, throw away your television remote and settle in for a show.
Shane McNichol covers college basketball and the NBA for Larry Brown Sports. He also blogs about basketball at Palestra Back and has contributed to Rush The Court, ESPN.com, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain.