Jahlil Okafor leads college basketball's top 10 freshmen for 2014-15
The freshman class of 2013-14 thrived but did not meet the breathless expectations thrust upon it. Duke's Jabari Parker was a first-team All-America. Kansas' Andrew Wiggins and Kentucky's Julius Randle earned second- and third-team All-America honors, respectively. Other freshmen contributed vitally to No. 1 teams, like Syracuse's Tyler Ennis and Arizona's Aaron Gordon.
Still, the season just past did not wind up being the Year of the Freshman, at least not in the thorough manner many anticipated. A senior, Doug McDermott, swept the national player of the year awards. Several first-year stars, like Parker, Ennis and Wiggins, bowed out of the NCAA tournament during the first weekend. Kentucky came close to making history as the first all-freshman starting lineup to win a title, but lost in the national championship game to a Connecticut team that started two seniors and two juniors.
No one will mistake the freshmen of 2014-15 for the group that preceded them. Complete and historic dominance is not even in the conversation. But the group will have an impact. Here's a look at the top 10 as ranked by RSCIhoops.com – a composite of the various recruiting service rankings such as Rivals, Scout and ESPN – and how they might impact their teams.
1. Jahlil Okafor, Duke, C
The 6-foot-11, 270-pound Okafor follows Parker as a Chicagoan with the potential to fuel a Final Four run immediately upon reaching campus. He's a classic center, polished in the post and active on the glass. Duke should be able to create a formidable inside-out game with the perimeter players surrounding Okafor, when defenses inevitably collapse in the lane.
At 6-5 and nearly 200 pounds, Mudiay already is a nightmare mismatch at point guard. Recruiting analysts wonder how consistent his shooting is, but chances are SMU coach Larry Brown won't fret as much. The Mustangs, who lost in the NIT final, retain their top two scorers in 5-9 guard Nic Moore and 6-9 forward Markus Kennedy, so Mudiay becomes a piece that can push the program to national contender status.
3. Cliff Alexander, Kansas, F
He doesn't have the length that predecessor Joel Embiid does, but the 6-8, 240-pound Alexander offers some of the same qualities: A low-post scoring presence who can anchor the rebounding effort but won't be much of a threat, at least initially, anywhere except the block. Alexander won't protect the rim as much for Kansas, but he should be able to ensure that the frontcourt dropoff is not as pronounced as it might be with the loss of the 7-foot Embiid.
4. Stanley Johnson, Arizona, F
At 6-7, 220 pounds, Johnson has an almost NBA-ready body. He also has the mentality to use it to get what he wants offensively. In some ways he might be an upgrade over the departing Gordon, at least because of his more polished scoring ability. He helps the Wildcats replace one explosive freshman starter with another.
5. Tyus Jones, Duke, G
Jones will be a true point guard for the Blue Devils, maybe not physically dominant at 6-1, 171 pounds but more than capable of managing the offense and delivering the ball to Okafor. The two long ago firmed up their chemistry as a package recruiting deal for Duke. He should be able to play alongside the returning Quinn Cook, or provide depth and starter's minutes off the bench.
6. Myles Turner, Undecided, C
The Euless, Texas, native alone could alter the course of a program for at least a year. He has a 6-11, 255-pound frame, a burgeoning face-up game and the ability to change shots at the rim. But Turner combined with, say, the Kansas freshman class or the Duke freshman class or Mudiay at SMU would supercharge the aspirations of a deep March run.
7. Justin Jackson, North Carolina, F
The Tar Heels rescued their 2013-14 season thanks to defense, but an offensive infusion would be welcome in Chapel Hill. Enter the 6-7, 180-pound Jackson, who by all accounts has a nicely well-rounded game on that end while also being able to hold his own defensively. He should offer a nice complement to guard Marcus Paige and improving forwards Brice Johnson and J.P. Tokoto.
8. Karl Towns, Kentucky, C
Whatever impact Towns has as a 6-11, 240-pound first-year center probably depends on which Wildcats vacate Lexington before he gets there. He'll offer instant offense and doesn't need to be anchored on the block to provide it. But he could be an off-the-bench guy if undecided frontcourt players like Dakari Johnson and Alex Poythress bypass the NBA draft.
9. Rashad Vaughn, UNLV, G
Well, the 6-5, 200-pounder scores. And scores and scores and scores some more. As a senior at Findlay Prep in Nevada, he shot 43 percent from three-point range and set a school record with 74 three-pointers, per the school's website, while averaging 19.9 points per game. Vaughn will be tasked to produce with leading scorer Bryce Dejean-Jones transferring out and coach Dave Rice needing to deliver.
10. Kelly Oubre, Kansas, F Another rangy 6-7 wing player who can score it? No shocker that Kansas sought out a reasonable facsimile of Wiggins knowing full well that he wouldn't be around for more than one season. Oubre averaged 22 points per game for Findlay Prep, according to the school's website, setting a new single-season record for highest scoring average. Given that the super-hyped Wiggins was really good but not consistently so, Oubre might be a more even trade than first imagined,