Who Are the Top 5 Freshman in College Basketball?
Every year, we see preseason All-American teams and preseason Freshman of the Year projections. This year was no different, and the two had a common thread: Duke freshman, Jahlil Okafor.
Okafor came into this season as the clear favorite to win Freshman of the Year, and most likely take his one-and-done talents to the NBA after dominating the college game. He was also voted to the AP preseason All-American team, where he was the only freshman to appear on the team.
If you polled voters today, things might be different. Okafor might still be the popular pick for best freshman, but he probably wouldn't be the only first-year player to appear on the All-American team.
Now that we're roughly 25 games into the season, Okafor has company -- there are an abundance of great, young talents in this year's freshman class. Some are better than advertised, while others are just flat out superstars.
So let's break down the top five freshman in college basketball, starting with number five and ending with number one.
But first, let's take a quick look at five other youngsters who didn't quite make the cut.
Jakob Poeltl, Utah Utes
Utah's big man is not only averaging 9 points and nearly 8 boards per game, but he's also first on his team in field goal percentage (66.4%), blocks (1.9 per game) and Defensive Rating (81.9). He's a big part of Utah's top-10 defense.
Devin Booker, Kentucky Wildcats
This fantastic freshman is a sharpshooter for his Kentucky Wildcats, averaging 10.7 points per contest on over 50% shooting from the floor, 47% from three and 82% from the free throw line. And that's in Calipari's five-in, five-out rotation, in which he averages just over 21 minutes per game.
Tyus Jones, Duke Blue Devils
If it wasn't for another soon-to-be mentioned freshman, Jones may crack the top five. He's putting up more than respectable numbers in his first year at Duke, leading the Blue Devils in assists (5.0 per game) while scoring 11.1 points per game and shooting nearly 39% from beyond the arc.
James Blackmon, Jr., Indiana Hoosiers
Blackmon is a big reason why the Hoosiers have one of the best offenses in college basketball. He's leading his team in points per game with 16.5 and is shooting over 40% from three. He also grabs 5.2 boards per contest -- as a guard.
Melo Trimble, Maryland Terrapins
Trimble just missed making the top five -- he's among the best freshmen in the country, and for good reason. He leads Maryland in scoring with 15.2 a game, and does a lot more than just score for his team, adding 3.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.5 steals per game.
5. Kevon Looney, UCLA Bruins
Kevon Looney, UCLA's star freshman forward, kicks off the top five freshmen in the nation. With 12.3 points, 10 rebounds and 1 block per contest, Looney has been the highlight of an otherwise poor season for the Bruins. Unlike the rest of the top five, Looney isn't part of a tournament-worthy team -- his Bruins are 14-10 and have just a 15.69% chance of making the tournament, according to our metrics.
Nonetheless, Looney has stood out among the top freshmen in the nation. In addition to leading his team in rebounds, the 6'9" freshman is putting up some impressive advanced statistics. Looney leads his team with a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 22.7 and has contributed a team-high 3.3 win shares in his 32 minutes per game. He's proven himself to be a bright spot on what is otherwise a struggling UCLA team.
4. Stanley Johnson, Arizona Wildcats
Stanley Johnson's another story. He might be the best player on what could be a Final Four bound Arizona team. The 6'6" forward leads the Cats in both scoring (14.6 points/game) and rebounding (6.8 rebounds/game), and he does so with great efficiency. Johnson shoots 46.9% from the field and has a true shooting percentage of 57.6%.
But we all know the Wildcats are built around their defense, and Johnson excels on that end of the floor as well. He has a Defensive Rating of 86.4, and adds 1.5 steals per game for the Wildcats' elite defense. So it comes as no surprise that he leads his team in PER (24.2), win shares (3.9) and win shares per 40 minutes (.232). He has been, and will continue to be, a key in the success of this Arizona team.
3. Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky Wildcats
The Kentucky Wildcats might have some of the best freshmen in the country. But the Wildcats run 10 players deep. As a result, the Wildcats' individual numbers suffer -- none more than Karl-Anthony Towns. In just over 20 minutes per game, Towns is averaging just 9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.3 blocks.
But per 40 minutes, Towns is averaging 17.8 points, 12.4 rebounds and 4.6 blocks. (Wow.) Even more impressive is Towns' efficiency numbers: an Offensive Efficiency Rating of 121.0 and a Defensive Efficiency Rating of 74.0 (the best defensive rating in the nation). His combination of efficient offense and lockdown defense has helped Towns to a PER of 28.2 and .298 win shares per 40 minutes, good fifth best in the nation. Towns is a really big reason why Kentucky has yet to lose a game this season.
2. Jahlil Okafor, Duke Blue Devils
The decision between one and two is a tough one. While you could definitely make an argument for Duke's Jahlil Okafor at number one, the numbers suggest that he's a super close second. The 6'11" center has been dominant for Coach K this year, averaging 18.2 points per game on 65.9% shooting from the floor. The freshman's effective field goal percentage of 65.9% is second in the nation, too. He's a monster in the post and on the boards, grabbing 9.3 boards per game, which leads his Blue Devils.
Not only does Okafor lead his team in rebounding, but he also leads them in win shares (4.5) and win shares per 40 minutes (.257). Now, these numbers aren't quite as impressive as you'd expect them to be, as Okafor averages just over 30 minutes per night. On the other hand, there's no disputing Okafor's PER of 32.5, which is fourth in the entire country. His efficient scoring and ability to take over a game has helped the Dukies to a 20-3 record so far this season.
1. D'Angelo Russell, Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State's D'Angelo Russell might have just made his case last evening for this number-one spot. It definitely didn't hurt his chances. Yesterday at Rutgers, Russell notched a triple double, finishing the game with 23 points on an efficient 8 of 13 from the field, 3 of 7 from three and 4 of 5 from the free throw line. He added 11 assists and 11 rebounds to make Buckeye history as the only freshman to ever capture a triple double.
This is impressive, without a doubt. It doesn't come as a surprise though, as Russell has been great all year. The 6'5" freshman is averaging 19.5 points, 5.4 assists and 5.9 rebounds per game -- all team bests. Even more impressive is Russell's efficiency, shooting 47.8% from the floor, 44.5% from three and 78.7% from the charity stripe. As a product of his efficient scoring, Russell is 16th in the nation in PER (29.3) and 7th in win shares per 40 minutes (.284).
Now, those numbers aren't the reason Russell claims the number one spot over Jahlil Okafor -- these ones are. Russell is first in the entire country in win shares with 5.6. He's also 7th in the nation in points produced (471) and 12th in points produced per game (19.6) as a result of his ridiculous passing skills. The quasi-point guard does so much for his team, as he accounts for nearly 25% of his team's total points. As a result, the Buckeyes have a top-10 offense, a record of 18-6 and are a likely shoo-in for the NCAA tournament.