Top 30 freshmen

by | College Basketball Recruiting Blogger

Jeff Borzello says Nerlens Noel will be the top freshman in America. (US Presswire)  
Jeff Borzello says Nerlens Noel will be the top freshman in America. (US Presswire)  

Freshmen. They're the cause of such optimism for many fan bases throughout the country, although in some cases those high hopes could be mistaken for delusion. For now, though, it's impossible to tell the difference. No one can truly predict what a freshman will do right off the bat in college. The sky is the limit for all newcomers; people can place all the expectations they want on afreshman. He's done nothing to prove otherwise - until he plays a game.

Once a freshman officially suits up, though, all bets are off. There are going to be growing pains for even the most elite of prospects, leading people to anoint former five-star recruits as "busts" before conference play begins. Connecticut's Andre Drummond didn't fulfill his promise during his one season in Storrs - and he was still a lottery pick and could start as an NBA rookie. On the other hand, there are likely to be several surprises among the fresh faces. Last season, Michigan's Trey Burke came into the season as a borderline top-100 recruit - and he finished third in our Freshman of the Year rankings.

The following rankings are not simply a regurgitation of our top-100 high school senior rankings for the class of 2012. It's based on more than just talent and high school performance; it accounts primarily for the impact a player will have on his team as a freshman. For example, Syracuse's DaJuan Coleman and Duke's Amile Jefferson were five-star recruits, but I don't envision either player winning a starting spot. For these rankings, opportunity to make an impact is more important than pro potential.

Here they are: the 30 players most likely to make an impact as a freshman.

2012 Preseason Top 30 freshmen
1. Nerlens Noel, C, Kentucky
So Noel simply has to come in and replace Anthony Davis, the National Player of the Year last season and the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. No big deal. Noel is up to the task - at least defensively. He's a dominant shot-blocker and controls the paint at that end of the floor. His offense is still developing, but he made enormous strides over the last year.
2. Marcus Smart, G, Oklahoma State
From day one, Smart is going to be the starting point guard and team leader for Travis Ford's Cowboys. He is a born winner who loves to compete. He's not a natural point guard, but he can handle the ball and run an offense. Defensively, he can guard multiple positions - and will simply do whatever it takes to win games.
3. Shabazz Muhammad, F, UCLA
If there was a guarantee Muhammad would be cleared for the entire season, there's little doubt he would be No. 1 on this list. He will be the go-to-guy for the Bruins right off the bat, given his tremendous offensive ability. Muhammad can score in so many different ways, and will be more aggressive than the average freshman in Westwood.
4. Kyle Anderson, G, UCLA
Another freshman the NCAA is still yet to clear, Anderson could be arguably the best passer in college basketball. At 6-foot-9. Anderson's ability to see the floor and carve up defenses is unparalleled for someone his size, and he overcomes a lack of foot speed because of his decision-making and knack for getting by his defender.
5. Anthony Bennett, F, UNLV
My pick for National Freshman of the Year, Bennett will get a chance to start immediately for the Runnin' Rebels. He has a versatile offensive game, and is only getting better. Bennett can score inside and out, and he has college-ready strength. There are so many weapons in Vegas, though, so Bennett's scoring numbers might not blow you away.
6. Archie Goodwin, G, Kentucky
Although it was a down class for perimeter players, Goodwin might have been the best scoring guard in the class of 2012. He has tremendous athleticism and knows how to get to the rim on nearly any defender. Goodwin improved his outside shot as his high school career progressed, and he will be ready to make an impact in Lexington.
7. Isaiah Austin, C, Baylor
Because of his 7-foot size and inside-outside skillset, Austin has always had the ability to be a dominant performer. Until his senior season, though, Austin didn't bring effort and focus on a consistent basis. Now, Austin is utilizing his talent in the right ways - and it's been paying off. Austin could be one of the tougher players to guard in the Big 12.
8. Alex Poythress, F, Kentucky
Poythress is a future lottery pick. He's an ultra-talented combo forward who continues to work on his game and fine-tune his weaknesses. He started out as a rebounding power forward, and is now an inside-outside matchup nightmare. Poythress has a great motor and is very aggressive at both ends of the floor.
9. Ben McLemore, G, Kansas
McLemore sat out last season after the NCAA said he couldn't play in games - and he reportedly became a monster offensive player. Bill Self has described him as a future pro, and all signs point to McLemore being the go-to-guy for the Jayhawks. He has great athleticism, and is dynamite in transition. Moreover, his mid-range game is tough to stop.
10. Steven Adams, C, Pittsburgh
Any player who outplays Nerlens Noel in a head-to-head matchup is good enough to be a top-10 impact guy. Adams, a 7-footer from New Zealand, has NBA scouts drooling over his potential. He has a nose for the ball, and is effectively defensively. Adams has a high motor and good hands, plus he's willing to work in order to improve his offensive game.
11. Yogi Ferrell, G, Indiana
The starting point guard on arguably the best team in the country? Ferrell better be ready to make an impact. He is quick with the ball and knows how to get into the lane to create plays for himself or teammates. Additonally, he can run an offense and gets the ball where it needs to be. When you have teammates like Cody Zeller, that's important.
12. Gary Harris, G, Michigan State
Harris has tremendous athleticism, and can score in different ways, whether driving to the lane for a finish or pulling up in the mid-range. When playing for Tom Izzo, though, locking down opponents is key. Fortunately, Harris is a versatile defender who really gets after it on that end of the floor. He is also not afraid to do the dirty work.
13. Rasheed Sulaimon, G, Duke
The Blue Devils struggled on the perimeter defensively last season - and that's where Sulaimon comes in. He's a lockdown defender who can make life very difficult for opponents. Plus, he's a big-time scorer that can knock down shots from the perimeter or go off the bounce. By the time conference play rolls around, he'll be emerging.
14. Rodney Purvis, G, NC State
There's only one starting spot available for the Wolfpack heading into the season, and it looks like Purvis has it wrapped up. He's a scoring guard that loves to attack the rim any chance he gets. Purvis is a very good finisher and can make plays for others. As long as he doesn't try to do too much, Purvis will be a major asset for Mark Gottfried.
15. Brandon Ashley, F, Arizona
Sean Miller brings in three of the best big men from the class of 2012 - and Ashley could be the one most likely to break through early on. He is a naturally-gifted offensively player, one that is able to make plays in transition or in a half-court setting. Ashley runs the floor tremendously well and is capable of dominating a game if he gets going.
16. Glenn Robinson III, F, Michigan
Robinson III came on strong toward the end of his high school career, and he's hitting his stride at the right time. John Beilein needs some scorers in the frontcourt, and Robinson III will provide that. He's unselfish and athletic, and he's very good in transition. Moreover, and this is important in the Michigan offense, he can knock down shots.
17. Marcus Paige, G, North Carolina
It's unclear how Roy Williams is going to sort out the backcourt minutes for North Carolina this season, but we're confident in saying that Paige will have a major impact for the Tar Heels. He's a pure point guard, and he cares more about passing than scoring. He is a very good ball-handler and loves to win. He's not Kendall Marshall, but he's more than capable of starting.
18. Cameron Ridley, C, Texas
A season ago, Texas was very perimeter-oriented, relying heavily on J'Covan Brown to make plays. There was a major void in the low post, and Ridley was brought in to fix that. At 270 pounds, he's a load to handle on the block, and knows how to carve out position. He can overpower smaller defenders, and he's a good finisher and rebounder.
19. Sam Dekker, F, Wisconsin
It was going to be difficult enough keeping Dekker off the floor in Madison, but an injury to returning starter Mike Bruesewitz could force Bo Ryan's hand. Dekker is athletic, versatile and smart - and knows how to do different things in a half-court setting. His defense needs some improvement, but he is going to have an impact immediately for the Badgers.
20. Semaj Christon, G, Xavier
This one is based simply on the fact that someone needs to score for the Musketeers - and Christon was one of the most explosive point guards in the class of 2012. He's extremely athletic and can get to the rim against nearly any defenders, especially in transition. Has good ball-handling ability and one-on-one moves. Will be a consistent scorer.
21. Robert Carter, C, Georgia Tech
Based simply on low-post scoring ability, Carter might have been the best offensive big man in the country last season. He has a variety of post moves that he can utilize effectively, and he knows how to finish if given an opening. Carter is only 6-foot-8, but he gets space and is aggressive in the paint. He'll be a strength for Brian Gregory.
22. Devonta Pollard, Alabama
He didn't commit to the Crimson Tide until early June, but Pollard won't take long to make an impact for Anthony Grant. The left-handed forward is a supreme athlete who does most of his damage going to the rim or in transition. He can play multiple positions and is also an effective offensive rebounder. Perfect replacement for Tony Mitchell.
23. Jahii Carson, G, Arizona State
He sat out last season as an academic casualty, but Carson will have the ball in his hands from the opening tip. He is supremely confident in his ability, and took the extra year to mature and improve on his weaknesses. Carson is extremely quick, has great athleticism and loves getting into the lane to make plays. Fun to watch.
24. Grant Jerrett, F, Arizona
The second Arizona player on this list will be either Jerrett or Kaleb Tarczewski. Both players were rated as five-star prospects coming out of high school, with Tarczewski rated higher. Jerrett, though, has a more versatile offensive skillset, with the ability to step out and knock down shots. Tarczewski is a very good two-way player.
25. Przemek Karnowski, C, Gonzaga
This is a guy who could surprise some people that haven't heard of him. Karnowski, a 7-foot-1 center from Poland, was not ranked by any recruiting websites, but NBA scouts are talking about him as a future first-round pick. He can score either facing up or with his back to the basket, and will get minutes on the inside for Mark Few.
26. D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, G, Georgetown
With Hollis Thompson and Jason Clark gone, John Thompson III needs a perimeter scorer. Smith-Rivera could be that guy. He is a strong combo guard who simply finds ways to get points. He uses his body to draw fouls, but he also has deep shooting range if given space. Smith-Rivera isn't overly quick, but he could be perfect for the Hoyas.
27. Winston Shepard, F, San Diego State
Shepard could immediately emerge as one of the best defenders in the country. He has the length and athleticism to guard multiple positions, and even gave Jabari Parker headaches last season. Offensively, he's tremendous in transition, and consistently improved his mid-range game. With the Aztecs thin inside, Shepard should start.
28. Ronnie Johnson, G, Purdue
Johnson was only ranked No. 85 in the top 100, but he is the only pure point guard on the Boilermakers' roster and will get a chance from day one. He has great vision and knows how to put his teammates in position to score. Johnson is quick with the ball and has a high basketball IQ. Just a really impressive player.
29. Adam Woodbury, C, Iowa
Woodbury blew up at the 2011 NBA Camp, and continued to prove himself as a top-50 prospect. The 6-foot-11 lefty is very good with his back to the basket, and he knows how to score using jump hooks and other post moves. Runs the floor well and is a great passer out of the post. Expect Frank McCaffery to give Woodbury heavy minutes off the bat.
30. Jordan Hare, F, Rhode Island
We'll finish off with another wild-card selection. Hare was a top-100 prospect at one point in his career, but he was MIA during a few AAU periods and sort of fell off the map. With that said, when focused, Hare is as good as big man as anyone out there. Hare runs the floor very well and can make an impact defensively. Could have a huge year for Dan Hurley.

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