One evident trend in various preseason rankings is the impact of incoming freshman classes, but is this justified? In our view, the emphasis of any preseason ranking should be on what’s known, especially in the current era. Every year, there are numerous overhyped players and those who shouldn’t receive the rankings they do even with in a high school top 100. This discrepancy is a driving force behind the frequent player transfers in both up and down the levels in college basketball. Evaluators often misjudge talent, even in the NBA draft when the players are older and hundreds of millions are on the line. After a player builds a college resume, their previous ranking from a recruiting service 2 or 3 years ago becomes almost irrelevant in our opinion. Yet, fans and others continue to value these past rankings highly and overvalue the top 100 freshmen in general relative to older college players.
Covid Super Senior Era
We’re in the midst of the Covid Super Senior era, making college basketball older than it’s ever been. There are players like DeAndre Williams and Seth Townes, who are 26 or 27 years old, applying for waivers. While Townes started his college journey in 2016 and these players might be exceptions, it’s common to see 5th and 6th-year players who will be 23 or 24 years old in the season. Many of these players, given an extra year or two to develop, have significantly improved their skills compared to the past. As a result, the quality of college basketball is at an all-time high.
The introduction of Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) rights has also influenced player decisions, retaining more borderline NBA prospects in college. Last season saw players like Drew Timmie and Oscar Tshiebwe, who might have previously transitioned to the NBA, stay in college. These players, often post players, are less valued by the NBA, have shown they can dominate the college scene. Consequently, college basketball is now flush with exceptional talent, especially at the center position. This creates a challenging environment for freshmen, as 18 or 19-year-olds find it tougher to compete physically with their 23 or 24-year-old counterparts.
The last 3 years
We now possess three years of data from the Covid Super Senior era. The 2020-2021 season stands out as less relevant since players competed in empty arenas. Such an environment possibly provided incoming freshmen with a comfort zone, eliminating the intimidation of playing in front of large crowds during high-pressure away games many may not have been used to. Additionally, the absence of spectators potentially made for better shooting backdrops.
More importantly the season witnessed numerous players either missing games due to Covid-19 or facing game cancellations, disrupting the season’s rhythm and practice schedules. Thus, let’s narrow our focus to the subsequent seasons that had a semblance of normality. The 2020-2021 season was indeed anomalous, with players like Cameron Thomas and Sharife Cooper taking center stage. Such outliers can emerge in a season if you only play 12 games like Cooper for example. Considering the number of missed games across college basketball, it might be prudent to exclude this season from typical analysis.
This is the list of one and dones from the 2021 class that that were ranked in the top 100 Recruiting Services Consensus Index (RSCI) and averaged over 10ppg game.
Holmgren, Banchero, Smith, and Chandler showcased impressive efficiency and stood out as stars as freshmen. While Washington and Branham made significant impacts as well, most of the others played supportive roles. Players like McGowens, Mohammed, or Baldwin struggled when tasked with leading their respective teams generally struggled.
For perspective there are only 29 players total including the one and dones out of the top 100 that even have career double digit averages today. Here are the rest of them even with their 2nd year included..
Full Career Averages
As mentioned, Holmgren, Banchero, and Smith excelled from the outset. Banchero was well build by freshman standards and Holmgren is unique. However, consider someone like Brandin Podziemski. Despite ranking third in this group that has stayed too years, he played only 69 minutes as a freshman at Ohio State, leading him to transfer to a lower level conference. In reality, he was deemed too ineffective to play as a freshman by his coaching staff. Similarly, many other players, such as Jordan Hawkins, didn’t hit their stride until their second year. Hawkins averaged 5.8 points per game as a freshman but improved to 16.2 as a sophomore. Wesley Cardet had to transfer to Chicago State to make this list after averaging 8.1 points per game at Samford. Notably, even this compilation includes players who, for the most part, were reserves during their freshman year. A significant portion of this list consists of players who may still be seen as inefficient shot chuckers, as reflected in their EFG% and truely positive players on top 25 level teams.
Here is the entire Consensus Top 100 class of 2022 that averaged 10ppg+ their freshmen last year.
That’s 18 out of 100.
While there were undoubtedly impact players that bolstered certain teams, only a select few truly drove significant Top 25 level teams. Brandon Miller was one such player. However, it’s worth noting that at 20 years old, he wasn’t of the typical freshman age. Additionally, Miller was ranked outside the top 10 of his class. Kyle Filipowski and Gradey Dick were the others. One could argue Keyonte George but I wouldn’t include him on that tier with a .524 true shooting percentage. He filled a high usage role but wasn’t particularly efficient and didn’t do others things at a high level. like Filipowski.
The two highest-ranked players in this class, Whitehead and Lively, only averaged 8ppg and 5ppg respectively on the 18th ranked Duke team. Therefore, it’s never a guarantee that a highly anticipated player will end up being among those few who make a significant impact.
Justin Edwards, who will turn 20 years old this coming December, stands out as the most probable impact freshman for the year, and Kentucky is banking on him. However, is it realistic to expect him to fill the shoes of Oscar Tshiebwe, who was a top player in the nation? Tshiebwe boasted averages of 16 points and 14 rebounds with a 31 PER and a +32 net rating. Despite this, Kentucky didn’t make it to the final top 25 on the Kenpom team rankings. Justin Edwards averaged 17.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game while shooting 57.8 percent from the field. The challenge remains: can Edwards, along with Wagner and the duo of Bradshaw/Mitchell, not only emulate but also surpass the combined contributions of Tshiebwe, Toppin, and Wallace? Count me as very skeptical he brings anywhere near that value. Aaron Bradshaw 12.1 points and 9.4 rebounds per game as a senior. These are two of the frontline guys tasked with replacing Tshiebwe and Toppin.
Isaiah Collier is the next freshman on the radar to potentially shine. However, sharing the court with Boogie Ellis, a guard who loves having the ball, might somewhat temper Collier’s initial impact. Another player to watch is Ja’Kobe Walter. His EYBL performance—22.9ppg, 4.2rpg, 2.9apg, 92% from the FT line, and 37% from beyond the arc—signals promise. If there’s anyone outside the aforementioned duo poised to make a mark, my bet would be on Walter. Baylor, especially, could use his skills, given their recent perimeter losses. However, banking on him as the primary star is risky. Just look at George’s moderate success last year, even though he had more help than this projected Baylor lineup.
2023 Consensus Top 15 Recruits and Our Stats Projections
|5||D.J. Wagner Jr.||13.3||3.3||3.1||14.5|
|12||Kwame “KJ” Evans Jr.||7.5||4.6||1.3||14.5|
No in the top 100 but who I believe will make some impact Aday Mara.
International players can struggle a little, but UCLA needs talent and he’s played at a high level in Europe posting a 19.2 PER in the ACB in 11 minutes a game. I’d project something like 10ppg 6rpg, 2bpg if he and play some beside of Bona.
This class is generally perceived as below par compared to standard draft classes. While unexpected standouts from outside the top 15 are almost certain to emerge, recent history in the covid era suggests only about 3 players will truly rise to stardom. About five will have a significant impact, while the majority will likely be relegated to more secondary roles, often grappling with efficiency issues. Given this backdrop, and the anticipated weaker class, my reservations grow when considering the high rankings of programs like Kentucky or UCLA that will lean heavily on freshmen. These incoming freshmen do not project like a Banchero or Holmgren.