Top Five NCAA Basketball Freshmen of the Year Candidates

October 9, 2012

College Basketball, Features

Editor’s Note: Frank Woodford is a writer for; a part of the Yahoo! Sports Network, specializing in Southwest high school Basketball. Follow Frank on Twitter @FrankWoodford34

Alex Poythress: 6-7/215 Small Forward – Kentucky

Alex Poythress is the ideal college small forward; he is long and lanky with great athleticism. He was a five-star prospect out of high school and could very well continue the Kentucky trend of one and dones. The small forward is big enough to defend multiple positions, but quick enough to be a difficult guard for most forwards. He is extremely athletic, and plays hard on both ends of the court. With the departure of Kentucky’s entire starting unit, Poythress will have the minutes and touches to lead Kentucky in scoring.  He is an early favorite for SEC Freshman of the Year, and potentially even bigger accolades. Poythress must continue to work on his outside shooting and his dribbling, the two biggest weaknesses in his game. Kentucky will do a good job of hiding these areas however, so look for Poythress to have an outstanding season in Lexington and play a major factor in Kentucky’s attempt to defend its title.


Shabazz Muhammad: 6-6/225 Shooting Guard – UCLA

Muhammad was the top ranked player for a majority of his senior season in high school. The lefty is a strong, athletic guard who can maneuver around any defender in the country. Muhammad has battled NCAA sanctions and injury problems this offseason, but if the wing finds his way onto the court this year UCLA will have one of the best scoring guards in college. What makes Muhammad special is his play on both ends of the court. He attacks the basket relentlessly, but also checks the opposing team’s best wing. Shabazz has the ideal size and build for the shooting guard position.

At six-foot-six and over 220lbs, Muhammad is too large for many guards to defend efficiently, but is also much too quick for opposing forwards to handle. Muhammad was already a lock for minutes, but the recent injury to junior guard Tyler Lamb only increases Muhammad’s role with UCLA. Muhammad must continue to fine-tune his shooting, and shot selection to complement his teammates and maximize his efficency as a player. Ultimately all that matters is that Muhammad is eligible and healthy to play for the Bruins this season.  If/when Muhammad puts on a UCLA jersey the school will have one of the better freshman guards in the college game in years.


Nerlens Noel: 6-10/220 Center – Kentucky

Noel comes to Kentucky as the top ranked player in high school basketball. He also comes to Kentucky with the hopes of filling some pretty big shoes. The freshman will be asked to replace one of the best freshmen centers in college basketball history, Anthony Davis. Noel is a beast on the defensive end of the court; many scouts have compared him to Davis in this regard.

Noel will block shots, rebound and wreak havoc as Kentucky’s anchor in the middle. Offensively, Noel is limited, only able to  step out ten feet or so to shoot the ball, but many of his buckets will come off guard penetrations and dishes.

Noel is not on everybody’s list of freshman of the year watchlist because of his offensive struggles.  However, Noel could go down as one of the best freshman big men in recent years. Because of the departure of Anthony Davis to the NBA Nerlens Noel will have the opportunity to play major minutes right away. He will also have the chance to make mistakes and grow as the season progresses. Noel may not be the best freshman in the country in December, but by March the sky is the limit.



Marcus Smart: 6-4/220 Point Guard – Oklahoma State

Marcus Smart could have the best freshman season out of any player on this list. Like the other players he will have the chance to play a major role right away. But, unlike most of the others Smart will have the ball in his hands and the command of his team’s offense. Smart has great size and build for the point guard position; he is a good athlete and finishes strong at the rim. The point guard is limited by poor outside shooting, but very few guards will be able to muscle up on Smart, let alone stay in front of him. Smart spent his summer playing for the USA U18 team and head coach Billy Donovan had glowing things to say about the then future Oklahoma State Cowboy.

Smart will be taking over for the graduated Keiton Page, a sharp-shooting fan favorite during his time at Oklahoma State. Smart was the number one ranked point guard in high school last year, and for good reason. He is quick, strong, athletic, and has great court vision. His time with the Cowboys could end quickly if he has the kind of year he is capable of.


Isaiah Austin: 7-0/210 Center – Baylor

Isaiah Austin is Mr. Versatility. He is a legitimate seven-footer that played a good deal of point guard in high school. Austin is an extremely mobile, athletic center who quickly gets up and down the court. The five-start prospect is extremely lanky, but has a soft jumper. Unlike most post players Austin will be able to stretch the defense by moving to the perimeter and shooting from deep. Isaiah Austin is a great player and will have a strong freshman season, but he was also very lucky in one regard: Baylor lost 6’8” Quincy Acy, 6’11” Perry Jones III and 6’10” Quincy Miller to the NBA, allowing Austin to have all the minutes and touches he can handle this season at Baylor.

With Baylor’s focus on pounding the ball in the paint, and the minutes he’s expected to see, Isaiah Austin could work his way into the freshman of the year debate. Defensively Austin will be a human eraser, blocking shots and rebounding with the best post men in the country. All together, Isaiah Austin is a strong candidate for many freshman accolades. Austin must continue to gain strength and put weight onto his seven-foot frame however. Now that he is in college he will have to bang in the paint against other large bodies, if he stays injury free Austin will have a huge year for the Baylor Bears.

The next four:  

Kyle Anderson: 6-9/220  Point Guard – UCLA. Anderson has many strengths on the basketball court. His height gives him an advantage over a majority of the players he will see in the Pac-12. He has elite court vision and is a good rebounder for his position.

Anderson is limited by his outside shot however, and moves slow laterally. He will have some difficulty staying in front of quicker, smaller guards.  Also, the apparent reemergence of former North Carolina PG Larry Drew II may limit Anderson’s playing time and opportunities. Finally, fellow freshman star Shabazz Muhammad will need the ball in his hands to assure his own success. This will help Anderson at times, but may also hurt his ability to run the offense.

Kaleb Tarczewski: 7-0/ 230 Center – Arizona. Tarczewski has great size and build for playing in the post at the collegiate level. He is a good athlete, but not great, but makes up for it with great hands and an ability to run the floor. The reason Tarczewski finds himself on the outside of the top five is fairly simple: Arizona head coach Sean Miller has recruited so many talented post players that they will all be fighting for minutes in the rotation.

Tarczewski is joined by fellow ESPN 100 bigs power forward Brandon Ashley (6’8” 215lbs) and power forward Grant Jerrett (6’10” 220lbs). Additionally Arizona is returning promising 6’9” sophomore center Angelo Chol.

Yogi Ferrell: 6-0/180 Point Guard – Indiana. I am personally a huge Yogi Ferrell fan. He is lightning quick, has great ball handling and is a solid athlete for his size. His court vision is good and will only get better as he becomes accustomed to the speed of college basketball. Ferrell’s lack of size can be concerning, but he is skilled enough to overcome that.

Ferrell finds himself on the outside for the same reason as Tarczewski at Arizona: he will be on one of the deepest teams in the country. Indiana is returning starting point guard and senior Jordan Hulls, junior Victor Oladipo at the other guard and fellow junior Maurice Creek is returning from injury. This is all without mentioning preseason All-American candidate, sophomore center Cody Zeller, who will command touches in the post. All in all Yogi Ferrell should have a solid freshman season, but it appears his minutes and opportunities may be limited this season in Indiana.

Ben McLemore: 6-5/200lbs Shooting Guard – Kansas. McLemore very nearly made the top five. He is a red shirt freshman who never became eligible last season. McLemore was a four-star prospect coming out of high school, and instead of playing right away he was able to spend the year gaining strength and learning from current NBA players Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor.

McLemore should be able to step in right away and help seniors Jeff Whithey and Elijah Johnson shoulder Kansas’ offense load. He has an opportunity to play big minutes right away; with a year of practice under his belt he should have an advantage over other freshman that are just learning their team’s respective systems.  His outside shooting needs improvement and he must make defense a priority, but if he does he should have an outstanding season.

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About frankwoodford34

My name is Frank Woodford and I work as a high school basketball beat writer for; I also work as a private basketball trainer and volunteer with several local high school boys’ basketball programs. I enjoy enjoy the world of recruiting and writing, but my ultimate goal is to become a men's college basketball coach.

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24 Comments on “Top Five NCAA Basketball Freshmen of the Year Candidates”

  1. frankwoodford34 Says:

    I am just saying… CBS Sports new article has a lot of the same names as my article!


  2. claytoncrowe Says:

    You’re going to regret not having Rodney Purvis on this list come March.


  3. frankwoodford34 Says:

    On a side note: Nerlens Noel was completely cleared by the NCAA today.


  4. Anonymous Says:

    Why are high profile players such as Shabaz Muhammad, Nerlens Noel and Kyle Anderson dealing with NCAA eligability issues still? Meaning, with all of the issues over the last few years, how are they not aware enough not to committ possible violations? They only have to be eligable for a year, then go pro, but they put themselves in jeopardy with little simple mistakes. How does this still happen?


    • frankwoodford34 Says:

      Awesome question! The answer is simple and complex. The simple answer, players and especially parents do not know they are breaking rules most often. In the case of Shabazz Muhammad the NCAA is checking to see if a “family friend” that paid for his plane rides to visit Duke and UNC was really that. In this case, the family might have thought they did no wrong, an old friends offered to help their son travel. OR they knew it was wrong and hoped the NCAA didn’t find out. These cases are still happening because of the nature of basketball. Most sophomore’s in high school have no idea if they will get big time offers, so the accept things from benefactors because it might be the only thing free they receive. A plane ticket, free shoes things like that, but when they do make it big (Shabazz) the NCAA comes looking. So since almost no two cases are the same, this is still a problem.


  5. Matthew Milko Says:

    Shabazz Muhammad is now my favorite player of all time. Love that name.


  6. big dog Says:

    Would Andrew Wiggins be in the article if he came out right now?


    • frankwoodford34 Says:

      Absolutely, if Wiggins was about to be a college freshman he would be in the top five. The national consensus on Wiggins is that he could skip college all together.


  7. Stefan Jagot Says:

    The spelling police have been informed, thank you.


  8. Anonymous Says:

    While Noel may have some pretty “heavy shoes” to fill and is weak because of “his *offensive (spellcheck) struggles,” size is not everything. Both Michigan State SPARTANS Denzel Valentine and Gary Harris will prove that they can handle the ball, all the while contributing to assist centers Nix and Payne in the paint making each basket count. Also, I belive that Amile Jefferson for the devils will show off his skills this season for the devils, along with 6’8 Sulaimon “the most dangerous freshman shooter.”


    • frankwoodford34 Says:

      Gary Harris will be a very nice player for Michigan State. I also think Adien Payne could have a break out year.

      Duke’s Jefferson will play, but is completing for minutes with several players. Rasheed Suliamon is no where near 6’8″ but should have a terrific season.

      Thank you for commenting in the article!


  9. big dog Says:

    So Frank, in regards to McGary you say that there will basically be too many cooks in the kitchen at Michigan. Would it be safe to say you would project his efficiency to be kind of like a Brad Beal at Florida? Beal came into a loaded backcourt and never averaged what he was supposed to. He finally found his stroke very late in the season.


    • frankwoodford34 Says:

      I think the Beal comparison is fair. McGary is a stud, and will have a good season, he has the size and strength to play right away. But, Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr and Glenn Robinson Jr. will do a majority of the scoring. Then you have Jordan Morgan who played a good deal last year, and Jon Horford returning. The reason he did not make this list was not that he isn’t as good as these other players, just that he is on a very talented team. You have reason to be excited about Michigan!


  10. frankwoodford34 Says:

    Still working on understanding the sight haha Hopefully I have it down now!


  11. big dog Says:

    shabazz, I meant, being eligible


  12. big dog Says:

    Is Mcgary off the list because he got abused by Noel when they went head to head? And UCLA has got to be the odds on fave to win this year of Noel is declared eligible, right?


    • Anonymous Says:

      Haha, Noel did rough up McGary a bit. But Mitch will be a stud. UCLA is not in the top ten until BOTH Shabazz and Kyle Anderson get cleared by the NCAA.

      Frank Woodford


  13. Stefan Jagot Says:

    As a huge Michigan fan, I need to know how you feel about Mitch McGary.


    • Anonymous Says:

      Love Mitch McGary. Was a huge comitt for Michigan. He would have made this list if not for the return of PF Jordan Morgan, PF Jon Horford & SF Tim Hardaway Jr. Plus the addition of Glenn Robinson III, there is just not enough ball to go around. I think he will have a good year though, reason to be excited!



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