Down
enlarge shrink
College Basketball Season Preview: Top projected freshman
5:37 | College Basketball
College Basketball Season Preview: Top projected freshman
Dan Hanner & Luke Winn
Wednesday October 15th, 2014

On Tuesday, we released the first batch of data from a college basketball statistical projection system developed by economist Dan Hanner with assistance from SI's Luke Winn. That story included our projected top 100 scorers, top 20 rebounders and top 20 in assists, and it contains a more in-depth description of the statistical model. Today, we unveil our forecast of the top 50 freshmen scorers according to raw points per game.

How can you project the statistics of players who've never appeared in a college game? Forecasting freshman performance is bound to be a less accurate endeavor than forecasting returning players, who already have a statistical body of work. But recruiting rankings, according to Dan Hanner's analysis of more than a decade's worth of player data, have some predictive power over a freshman's immediate performance as well as players' career development curves.

Hanner has created advanced-stat profiles for guards, wings and big men in different tiers of the Recruiting Services Consensus Index (RSCI) top 100 (an aggregate of national recruiting rankings), and for players beyond the top 100, profiles based on aggregate star ratings from VerbalCommits.com. We've then projected raw statistics (points, rebounds and assists per game) by placing players within the context of their teams. The model takes into account what level of minutes and shots are available, and in some cases intel from coaching staffs on how team rotations will be structured.

We ran projections on every true and redshirt freshman from the top 11 conferences -- the football power five plus the Atlantic 10, Big East, AAC, Missouri Valley, Mountain West and West Coast. (Recruiting-service evaluations of players in leagues beyond that cutoff are too limited to project individual-player data with much confidence.) What follows is the statistical model's projection of the top 50 freshmen in raw points per game, along with data on their projected efficiency and usage rates. It's a list based on the convergence of recruiting evaluations and immediate opportunity.

Top projected freshmen: 1-10
 
Rank name pos. team RSCI Rank PPG ORTG POss. (%) RPG APG Mins
1 Jahlil Okafor C Duke 1 16.1 121 24 9.1 1.1 79%
2 Rashad Vaughn SG UNLV 10 16.0 118 23 6.7 2.3 83%
3 Stanley Johnson SG Arizona 3 13.4 115 23 5.6 1.6 75%
4 D'Angelo Russell SG Ohio State 16 13.3 109 24 4.5 2.1 75%
5 Justin Jackson SF North Carolina 9 13.1 117 22 5.7 1.5 70%
6 Isaiah Whitehead SG Seton Hall 14 12.6 109 24 3.9 1.9 70%
7 Isaac Hamilton PG UCLA 19 12.4 112 21 4.6 2.2 78%
8 Tyus Jones PG Duke 7 12.3 117 22 3.6 4.9 74%
9 Myles Turner PF Texas 6 12.3 121 21 8.2 0.9 69%
10 James Blackmon Jr. SG Indiana 21 11.8 108 23 3.9 1.9 68%

Our No. 1 scorer, Jahlil Okafor, is the RSCI's No. 1 overall recruit and also the freshman most likely to be a first team All-America. He's projected to average nearly a double-double with a high rate of efficiency, playing major minutes on a Duke team with plenty of shots available following Jabari Parker's departure to the NBA. D'Angelo Russell is No. 16 in the RSCI but projected as our No. 4 scorer, because he's stepping into perfect situation at offensively challenged Ohio State. The Buckeyes lost their marginally efficient shot-chucker from last season, LaQuinton Ross, and Russell, a 6-foot-4 two-guard, figures be the best (and most frequent) shooter in their starting lineup.

Top projected freshmen: 11-20
 
Rank name pos. team RSCI Rank PPG ORTG POss. (%) RPG APG Mins
11 Cliff Alexander PF Kansas 4 11.7 117 23 6.8 0.8 61%
12 Kelly Oubre SF Kansas 8 10.6 117 23 4.4 1.2 56%
13 Karl-Anthony Towns PF Kentucky 5 10.3 115 23 6.1 0.7 55%
14 Daniel Hamilton SF Connecticut 17 10.3 108 22 4.4 1.8 63%
15 Kevon Looney PF UCLA 11 10.1 112 21 5.9 0.8 64%
16 Justise Winslow SF Duke 13 10.1 112 20 4.3 1.3 64%
17 Kaleb Joseph PG Syracuse 52 10.0 101 20 4.1 3.6 81%
18 Reid Travis PF Stanford 35 10.0 107 19 6.4 0.9 69%
19 Montaque Gill-Ceaser SF Missouri 38 10.0 103 22 4.4 1.3 65%
20 Trevon Bluiett SF Xavier 38 9.6 105 21 4.1 1.3 64%

The first Kentucky super-frosh checks in at No. 13; the model projects Karl-Anthony Towns to score 10.3 points per game while playing 55 percent of available minutes. John Calipari's proposed platoon system for the ultra-deep Wildcats -- in which two five-man shifts could each see around 20 minutes per game -- will keep his players' raw stats low. Syracuse point guard Kaleb Joseph (No. 17) is the highest player on our list who was ranked outside the RSCI top 50. With Tyler Ennis in the NBA at least one season earlier than Orange coaches initially expected, Joseph will have to log big minutes out of necessity, and help backcourt mate Trevor Cooney with the scoring.

Top projected freshmen: 21-30
 
Rank name pos. team RSCI Rank PPG ORTG POss. (%) RPG APG Mins
21 Romelo Trimble PG Maryland 34 9.5 104 20 3.6 3.8 72%
22 Kameron Chatman SF Michigan 27 9.4 106 21 4.3 1.3 64%
23 Dwayne Morgan SF UNLV 22 9.4 108 20 5.2 1.3 62%
24 Shelton Mitchell PG Vanderbilt 81 9.4 103 19 4.0 3.3 75%
25 Chris McCullough PF Syracuse 19 9.3 108 23 5.4 0.8 57%
26 Jordan McLaughlin PG USC 41 9.1 106 20 2.5 3.4 63%
27 Angel Delgado PF Seton Hall 42 9.1 109 18 5.9 0.9 66%
28 Travyon Reed C Auburn 89 9.0 107 18 5.6 0.7 38%
29 Ahmed Hill SG Virginia Tech 61 8.8 104 19 4.0 1.6 62%
30 Michal Cekovsky PF Maryland 97 8.7 101 19 5.6 0.7 65%

This group includes two point guards who should play major minutes almost by default: Romelo Trimble (21), whose arrival at previously point-guard-less Maryland will allow Dez Wells to play his more natural off-ball position; and Shelton Mitchell (24), a four-star floor general who joins a Vanderbilt roster that was gutted by transfers and suspensions. Trimble and Mitchell are arriving at opportune times, as is the UNLV trio of Rashad Vaughn (2), Dwayne Morgan (23) and Goodluck Okonoboh (38), who join a Rebels team that lost nearly all of its offense from a year ago.

Top projected freshmen: 31-40
 
Rank name pos. team RSCI Rank PPG ORTG POss. (%) RPG APG Mins
31 Elijah Stewart SG USC 71 8.7 104 19 3.8 1.5 60%
32 Domantas Sabonis PF Gonzaga 92 8.6 108 18 8.1 0.7 62%
33 Devin Robinson PF Florida 20 8.6 112 20 4.2 1.2 56%
34 Thomas Welch C UCLA 33 8.5 107 20 5.6 0.8 60%
35 Jakeenan Grant PF Missouri 50 8.5 103 22 5.4 0.1 56%
36 Theo Pinson SF North Carolina 15 8.5 112 19 3.8 1.1 53%
37 Terry Larrier SF VCU 40 8.2 107 20 4.3 1.1 54%
38 Goodluck Okonoboh C UNLV 32 8.2 108 20 5.9 0.7 54%
39 Robert Johnson SG Indiana 47 8.1 109 19 3.0 1.5 56%
40 Namon Wright SG Missouri 93 8.1 101 20 3.4 1.5 57%

Of the players in the RSCI top 15, Theo Pinson (36) may be among the most "blocked" as a freshman, in that North Carolina is likely to have multiple wings -- J.P. Tokoto and Justin Jackson -- ahead of him on the depth chart, giving Pinson a single-digit ceiling. We had to make adjustments to the model for Gonzaga freshman Domantas Sabonis; a majority of the RSCI's recruiting services left him unranked because he played for Unicaja Malaga in Spain, rather than a U.S. high school, but scouts believe him to be (at minimum) a four-star recruit, and his rebounding numbers in European U18 competitions suggest he'll be strong on the boards while also scrapping for interior points.

Top projected freshmen: 41-50
 
Rank name pos. team RSCI Rank PPG ORTG POss. (%) RPG APG Mins
41 Malik Marquetti SF USC 100 8.0 104 19 4.1 1.0 55%
42 Isaac Copeland PF Georgetown 28 8.0 107 19 5.3 0.8 60%
43 Justin Bibbs SG Virginia Tech 87 8.0 104 19 3.7 1.5 57%
44 Deandre Burnett SG Miami (Fla.) 4 stars 8.0 103 20 2.7 1.5 61%
45 Xavier Rathan-Mayes SG Florida State 43 8.0 102 20 3.0 1.5 55%
46 Elbert Robinson C LSU 56 7.9 103 18% 5.3 0.6 57%
47 Trey Kell SG San Diego State 77 7.9 106 19 3.7 1.6 62%
48 Abdul-Malik Abu PF North Carolina State 45 7.8 105 20 5.2 0.7 55%
49 Gary Clark PF Cincinnati 4 stars 7.7 102 20 5.0 0.6 56%
50 Vic Law SF Northwestern 91 7.7 103 18 4.2 1.2 62%

Here we have two shooting guards who were supposed to open their careers in '13-14. DeAndre Burnett, who shined in fall 2013 scrimmages for Miami before missing the entire season with a broken left wrist, is projected to emerge as a solid complementary scorer to Sheldon McClellan. And Florida State's Xavier Rathan-Mayes, who was academically ineligible in '13-14, should be one of the Seminoles' top three scorers now that he's enrolled and on the team. The first player to miss the top-50 cut, we should mention, is point guard Tyler Ulis, who will pilot one of Kentucky's platoons and likely provide more value as a distributor than he will as a scorer.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.