Freshmen become sophomores, and sophomores become basketball players. But the rare freshman arrives ready to contribute. It’s typically due to a tremendous talent advantage, but there are also the rare kids who develop polished games in high school and the summer leagues. This list doesn’t attempt to separate. This isn’t an NBA draft list. These are the most impactful freshmen in the nation.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky (Freshman of the Year)
Kidd-Gilchrist was the consensus #3 recruit coming out of St Patrick’s High in New Jersey. He kicked off the season with a 15 point, 7 rebound effort against Marist, but it was the 2nd game of the season when he really caught people’s attention. It wasn’t so much the statline (12 points, 9 boards, 4 assists, 3 blocks, 5 turnovers) as the opponent: Kansas. Since then Kidd-Gilchrist has saved his best games for the best opponents. Kentucky has played four top-25 teams from the Pomeroys, and in those games Kidd-Gilchrist has averaged 17.8 points and 12 rebounds. For the season he’s made 57% of his 2s, 36% of his 3s, and 75% of his FTs, his offensive and defensive rebound rates only trail Anthony Davis, and he draws fouls at a higher rate than anyone else on the roster.
Anthony Davis, Kentucky
I hate when organizations that give out awards cop out and announce “co-recipients.” Just have some balls and pick one. That being said, I’d have no problem swallowing my pride and voting for both Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis. They’re both that good. Anthony Davis has had 9 double-doubles, including five in a row. He’s going to shatter every block record Kentucky has. He blocks 15% of the opponents shots while he’s on the floor, which is 5th in the nation. He’s shooting 66% on 2s and 66% from the line. His one downfall is that he’s a very raw player in the post. He wouldn’t be averaging 12.7 ppg if he wasn’t surrounded by a bunch of 1st round picks. Still, he was the consensus #1 recruit in the nation for a reason, and it’s hard to argue with his impact.
Rodney Hood, Mississippi State
Hood chose to stay in-state with his commitment, and the only thing that could have made Mississippi State fans happier would be if they were allowed to bring their cowbells indoors. Hood has the highest offensive rating and the lowest turnover rate on the team. The 6’8 wing has made 55% of his 2s and 43% of his 3s. He’s only had one game all season in which he didn’t make at least one 3-pointer, and in that game (Tennessee Martin) he didn’t even attempt one. If the Bulldogs make the Tourney after their two-year absence, look to Hood as a major reason why.
Trey Freeman, Campbell
Robbie Laing’s Campbell teams haven’t finished with an offense ranked in the top-200. Ever. But blessed with a couple of talented upper classmen and the addition of Trey Freeman at point, Campbell’s offense is currently ranked 110th. Freeman has made 49% of his 2s, 35% of his 3s and 84% of his FTs. But most importantly he’s been a distributor who drives the offense. He was handed the ball the moment he stepped on campus, and has not disappointed. He’s got a great handle and an advanced understanding of the position. He’s the only freshman in the country averaging over 15 points and 4 assists.
Cody Zeller, Indiana
Not only does Zeller #3 have the highest ceiling of the brothers, but he’s already got the most polished game. Zeller is making a ridiculous 66% of his 2s and has demonstrated great footwork in the post to get deep position, and an array of moves once he gets the ball. He can run the floor. He can pass out of the post. His offensive rating is north of 128, and he’s the primary difference between this year’s IU team (14-1) and last year’s (12-20). Only twice all season has he failed to make at least half his shots from the floor. And he leads the team in scoring, rebounds and blocks. Indiana hasn’t been to the Tourney since 2008. Right now they’re in the hunt for a 1-seed.