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January 6, 2010
The Nation's Top 25 Freshmen
So Far

by John Gasaway

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Basketball Prospectus welcomes you to our second annual January look at the nation's top freshmen. Yes, it's early. Yes, this list will look much different when the season's over. Nevertheless, we've now seen enough hoops to reach some tentative conclusions on this freshman class.

Based on performance to date, these are the best 25 freshmen I've seen:

25. Eshaunte Jones, Nebraska
Is it a stretch to include a player here who's a pure three-point specialist averaging just 18 minutes a game? Maybe. But when the three-point specialist in question makes 52 percent of his treys, I make room.

24. Danny Nieman, Coastal Carolina
Nieman's a pass-first point guard who comes off the bench for the Chanticleers. Mark me down as advocating more minutes and more shots for the highly-efficient young lad. Show him the love, Coach Ellis!

23. Bilal Dixon, Providence
A surprisingly good shot-blocker for someone listed at just 6-8, the foul-prone Dixon also makes 55 percent of his twos in a supporting role for the Friars.

22. Luke Hancock, George Mason
He's listed as a forward but Hancock functions more like a big (6-5) point guard, one who admittedly commits too many turnovers. Still, let the record show that Hancock is currently making a notably robust 58 percent of his twos.

21. Reggie Johnson, Miami
Yes it's a reach to include a player who averages so few minutes (11), but Johnson enters the game with the impact of an earthquake. (Besides, he's been getting more minutes lately. I think Frank Haith is sensing what he has here.) He's actually a hair better than Dwayne Collins on the offensive glass (which is incredible) and he's almost as good on the defensive boards. When Johnson's in the game the Hurricane offense goes through the freshman. Think of him (oxymoron alert) as a lil' Dexter Pittman.

20. Isaiah Canaan, Murray State
Winner of this list's Most Biblical Name contest in a walk, Canaan's already been named Ohio Valley freshman of the week three times. Perspicacious evaluators of the OVC, I salute you! Speaking of comparable Texas benchmarks, Canaan is a lil' A.J. Abrams: A 5-11 shooting guard who hits his threes while making a Jeremy Lin-like 62 percent of his twos. Coach Billy Kennedy uses a notably egalitarian Dana Altman-style rotation where no Racer averages more than 28 minutes. Still, there has to be more than 20 minutes available for someone this freakishly effective. Show Canaan the love, Coach!

19. Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State
Leonard's efficiency on paper is absolutely hammered by the fact that, inexplicably, he keeps trying to make threes. (And to be sure he was no record-setter last night in the Aztecs' win at home over New Mexico.) But though he's listed at a mere 6-6, Leonard is a force to be reckoned with on the glass at both ends of the floor.

18. Chris Braswell, Charlotte
Braswell is really good at defensive rebounding.

17. Michael Dixon, Missouri
Though just 6-1, Dixon functions as an assist-ready dual-threat wing, one who shoots as often as any Tiger not named Kim English. Dixon's been in and out of Mike Anderson's starting lineup, but I suspect his minutes will be increasing.

16. Alex Marcotullio, Northwestern
The Andre Dawkins of the Big Ten.

15. Alec Burks, Colorado
His efficiency numbers are devastated by the CU mandate to shoot threes that he invariably misses, but the 6-6 Burks is hitting 63 percent of his twos. He also draws a ton of fouls and hits 79 percent from the line as a prominent and fully accredited Amigo alongside Cory Higgins and Marcus Relphorde.

14. Drew Crawford, Northwestern
Bringing new thoroughness to the term "dual-threat wing," the 6-5 Crawford is making 37 percent of his threes and a not-a-typo 70 percent of his twos as the second banana behind John Shurna.

13. Elias Harris, Gonzaga
The 19-16 double-double against Illinois was no mistake: Harris's shots just go in, including the occasional one from beyond the arc. He also draws fouls without committing them, an unbelievably rare talent for a freshman called upon to get defensive boards for his team.

12. John Jenkins, Vanderbilt
Quite possibly the best pure shooter in this freshman class. In a freshman class that includes Andre Dawkins, that's saying something.

11. Avery Bradley, Texas
Bradley is plainly an outstanding talent on an elite trajectory and his defense has been no small part of Texas' 14-0 start. Moreover if last night's five-assist 5-of-8 performance at Arkansas is any indication, his accuracy from the field is starting to catch up with the rest of his game. True, Bradley missed a few shots in November and December, and his FT percentage is still worrisome. But his performance is rapidly catching up with his advance billing. He will finish the year much higher on this list.

10. Brandon Triche, Syracuse
Too many turnovers here, but when you make 44 percent of your threes and 61 percent of your twos, I can look past the occasional giveaway. Note however that Triche's jarringly incongruous 62 percent accuracy from the line suggests that over the long haul his shooting from beyond the arc may cool off.

9. Derrick Williams, Arizona
At just 6-7, Williams draws eight fouls for every 40 minutes he plays. Not to curse the young man with praise that could be misconstrued, but that's comparable to what Blake Griffin did last year at Oklahoma. It's not glamorous to watch in real time but even a 66 percent FT shooter like Williams inflicts cumulative and severe damage on the opposing team when fouls occur that frequently.

8. Lance Stephenson, Cincinnati
File under "Avery Bradley." The on-court performance is rapidly catching up to the reputation. Mick Cronin does need to schedule an intervention on the small matter of Stephenson's threes, however.

7. Derrick Favors, Georgia Tech
At first glance Favors' defensive rebounding looks mediocre, but keep in mind we have Gani Lawal to thank for that. This is a freshman who feasts on the offensive glass, makes 60 percent of his twos, and blocks shots. That's a good freshman to have.

6. Tiny Gallon, Oklahoma
Gallon does more than destroy backboards. Throw a stick at the last five years and in two or three of them this would be your most impressive rebounding freshman right here, one who's dominant on both ends. However this season, incredibly, there are not one but two freshmen who are as good if not better on the glass. Read on.

5. Andre Dawkins, Duke
He comes in the game, he makes threes, and then he sits back down. Sure, Dawkins benefits from playing in an offense with the likes of Kyle Singler and Jon Scheyer. Then again those veterans benefit from the presence of a stone-cold perimeter assassin like Dawkins.

4. Hassan Whiteside, Marshall
Whiteside swung and missed on his first chance to make a perceptual splash nationally, recording just seven points in 23 minutes at North Carolina a couple weeks ago. But he's been so ostentatiously dominant against non-UNC opponents that he merits the lofty ranking here. Seven-footer Whiteside is the functional equivalent of Tiny Gallon on both the offensive and defensive glass, yet his block rate this season is higher than Jarvis Varnado's. Keep an eye on him.

3. DeMarcus Cousins, Kentucky
What can I say, he's DeMarcus Cousins. During his very limited minutes he's the best all-around rebounder in the country. Having a player that is this likely to get the offensive rebound means Kentucky can shoot without fear. Misses matter a lot less to this offense than to normal teams subject to the laws of basketball gravity. Cousins may be no Hassan Whiteside when it comes to shot-blocking, but he's way better than anyone who gets this many defensive boards has a right to be. He is of course highly foul-prone, even for a freshman big man, and I still think he shoots way too often for someone who makes 54 percent of his twos and has teammates like Patrick Patterson and a soon to-be-named freshman. But there is no denying that Cousins is quite simply a force of nature.

2. Xavier Henry, Kansas
I expected Henry to be good, of course, but little did I suspect that the freshman would join a team with not one but two preseason All-Americans (Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich) and promptly make himself at home as the team's featured scorer. He is a mechanism for putting points on the board, and he does it largely without free throws or assists. Shots from the field are pretty much the only arrow in his quiver. It's all he needs. Henry is a threat to score from anywhere and, refreshingly, he does it without any help from pre-lobbied star-coddling refs.

1. John Wall, Kentucky
I've had my say on Wall, though I will add here that his impressive steal rate and 79 percent shooting at the line suggest he's more than just the most incredible player ever. He's a laudably well-rounded most incredible player ever.

Who'd I miss?

John is way less hierarchical on Twitter: @JohnGasaway. College Basketball Prospectus 2009-10 is now available on Amazon.

John Gasaway is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact John by clicking here or click here to see John's other articles.

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