We spent the months leading into last season fawning over one of the deepest freshman classes ever. Expectations for this year’s group of incoming freshmen should be more measured. The 2014 class is lighter on star power, with no obvious franchise NBA franchise-altering force. Yet there are a host of players who should make large contributions right away. SI.com will examine what you can expect from the top 25 recruits in Rivals.com’s final 2014 player rankings. We've broken down Nos. 25-21. Here is Nos. 20-16.
(Editor's note: Because of Emmanuel Mudiay's decision to play overseas, every player before Mudiay's No. 2 ranking has been moved up one position.)
20. Tyler Ulis, Kentucky
A different point guard has started for coach John Calipari the past seven seasons. Most of them were big, strong scoring guards (Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall) who went on to be first-round picks after making single-season cameos in Lexington. Ulis is different. The 5-foot-9, 145-pound floor general isn’t considered a one-and-done player and prefers passing over scoring. “I love to get my teammates involved first,” Ulis told SI.com in April. “That’s what I like to do, is pass.” As recently as a few months ago, it appeared he had a shot at earning Kentucky’s starting point guard spot. That changed when Andrew Harrison announced he would return for his sophomore season. What, then, should we expect from Ulis? Harrison’s return means the Chicago native probably won’t be starting in his first season. But he does offer a different set of skills than Harrison, which could make Ulis a valuable change-of-pace guard off the bench. With his superb court vision and pinpoint passing, Ulis can make Kentucky’s offense hum.
19. Devin Robinson, Florida
The Gators lose four senior starters (Patric Young, Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather, Will Yeguete) from a team that dominated the SEC and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament before falling to eventual national champion UConn in the Final Four. Robinson, a 6-8 forward out of Christchurch, Va., who turned down offers from Indiana, Michigan, Oklahoma State, Notre Dame and others, will help ensure coach Billy Donovan keeps the Gators among the nation's elite. Robinson is athletic and skilled enough to earn starter’s minutes right away, but he’ll need to add some muscle to his 180-pound frame to do his part defensively. He could be slotted in at small forward, where his range and perimeter skills will cause matchup problems and complement possible starters Kasey Hill, Chris Walker, Dorian Finney-Smith and Michael Frazier. It is tempting to assume that Kentucky, given coach John Calipari's recruiting pedigree, will have the SEC's top freshman every year. For 2014-15, Robinson's potential is cause for pause.
18. Chris McCullough, Syracuse
McCullough enrolled at IMG Academy in Florida after being dismissed from Brewster Academy in New Hampshire last fall for violating school rules. There was some concern he wouldn’t be academically eligible, which would have been a huge blow for the Orange (The Post-Standard reported in May that he has qualified). Syracuse lost three key starters (C.J. Fair, Tyler Ennis and Jerami Grant) from last year, and returning big man DaJuan Coleman has a history of knee trouble. At 6-10, 220 pounds, McCullough is an explosive athlete who runs the floor, rebounds effectively and finishes well around the rim. He'll need seasoning, but he could push himself onto the Lottery radar for the 2015 draft. In an interview with The Post-Standard, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said he thinks McCullough has “unlimited potential.” The Orange will need McCullough to counter elite ACC big men like Jahlil Okafor at Duke and Montrezl Harrell at Louisville.
17. D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State
When Ohio State’s freshmen arrived on campus last month to start summer classes, Russell was not among them. At issue were his high school grades, which the NCAA Eligibility Center had yet to clear. Alas, it appears Russell has enrolled. Which is good news for a Buckeyes team that was hard to watch on the offensive end last season, ranking 128th nationally in points scored per possession. Making Russell's arrival even more welcome is the loss of last season's top three scorers – LaQuinton Ross, Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Aaron Craft. A skilled combo guard with above-average athleticism and deep range, Russell could instantly become one of Ohio State’s top perimeter threats. The Montverde Academy (Fla.) product can also handle the ball well and is a precise passer. While Russell will need to add muscle to cope with the physicality of Big Ten play, the Buckeyes will appreciate his versatility and shooting.
16. Theo Pinson, North Carolina
We know at least one thing about Pinson: He will not fail to entertain. Pinson took a selfie while throwing down a one-handed jam at the McDonald’s All-American dunk contest. (He also dunked over former Duke star Jay Williams, so he already is making UNC fans happy.) The 6-6, 185-pound Pinson is an elite athlete who could be a force on the defensive end. While his jump shot needs work, Pinson has the athletic tools to develop into a good scorer. It’s a testament to the Heels’ depth that Pinson may not even crack the starting lineup as a freshman, with fellow freshman Justin Jackson (No. 11 in Rivals’ rankings) and senior J.P. Tokoto also vying for minutes on the wing. Still, Pinson is too talented and athletically gifted to keep off the court. Even if he's not shouldering a large share of UNC’s scoring output, Pinson’s potential as a lockdown defender could make him valuable at the end of games. With Tokoto and Pinson roaming the perimeter, opposing offenses will struggle to find quality looks.