Evaluating how the top 25 freshmen will fit in with their new teams

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 NBA franchise-altering force. Yet there are a host of players who should make large contributions right away. Over the last few weeks, SI.com has examined what you can expect from the top 25 recruits in Rivals.com’s final 2014 player rankings.

Click on the links below to read our player-by-player breakdowns.

(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.)

Top 25 freshmen
    Spotlight on No. 23: JaQuan Lyle, Oregon
    After a tumultuous offseason in which three players were dismissed amid rape allegations, Oregon will hope its batch of newcomers catches on quickly. Lyle, who initially committed to Louisville, only to back out three months later in favor of the Ducks, is the most promising player in the six-man class, which is ranked 15th in the nation by Rivals.com. At 6-5 and 215 pounds, Lyle can muscle his way past defenders, attack the basket and dish to open shooters or cutters. He’s a strong bet to play major minutes right away alongside Joseph Young, one of the top returning scorers in the country. Lyle and Young should instantly form one of the better guard duos in the Pac-12; at the very least, they can offset the impact of roster losses like Dominic Artis. Though the Ducks will be in far worse position to contend for a conference championship than expected a few months ago, Lyle can help keep them in contention for an NCAA tournament bid.

    Spotlight on No. 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, 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.

    Spotlight on No. 15: Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall
    Whitehead’s commitment to Seton Hall last year reignited a years-old debate about package deals in recruiting. Whatever coach Kevin Willard and his staff did to convince Whitehead to pick Seton Hall – and whether the whole thing appeared unsavory – the payoff could be immense. Whitehead was tabbed for stardom at a young age, a supreme talent who could follow in the footsteps of fellow Abraham Lincoln High School grads Stephon Marbury, Sebastian Telfair and Lance Stephenson. He chose the Pirates over offers from Arizona, Kentucky, Kansas, Florida and Indiana, among other programs. Whitehead is one of the best pure scorers in this class and has the potential, alongside leading returning scorer Sterling Gibbs, to push Seton Hall into contention for a postseason birth. “He makes everyone on the court better,” Willard told NorthJersey.com. “He’s one of the most unselfish top players I’ve ever seen.”

    Spotlight on No. 6: Tyus Jones, Duke
    Jones announced his college decision on the same day as Duke teammate and No. 1 recruit Jahlil Okafor, with whom he was considered a so-called package deal. The 6-1, 180-pound Jones is often praised for his poise and good decision-making, but do not underestimate his athleticism. Even if he does not start -- Quinn Cook has one more year of eligibility remaining -- Jones’ polished game will help him earn major minutes right away. While he may not be viewed in quite the same light as teammates Winslow and Okafor among NBA scouts, Jones has the potential to be just as successful at the college level. Given his developed skills and high basketball IQ, it seems unlikely Jones will require a long adjustment period. The same can be said, of course, for Okafor, and there may be no duo of incoming freshmen that makes a bigger impact on their respective teams this season. There will be more hype surrounding Okafor – projected NBA draft No. 1 picks, no matter how early in the process, tend to get noticed – but the less heralded component of The Great Package Deal of 2014 figures to draw plenty of attention.

    Spotlight on No. 3: Cliff Alexander, Kansas
    If Towns is renowned for wielding a wide range of skills, Alexander is known for doing a few things really well: dunking, rebounding and blocking shots. In high school and on the AAU circuit, Alexander was able to dominate thanks to his athleticism and physicality. That may not work as well in the Big 12, where Alexander (6-9, 240 pounds) will find bigger, more athletic forwards and more clever defenses geared to stop him (but still bet on at least a couple of these this winter). Even if his offensive game could use some refinement, Alexander should put up elite rebounding numbers right away. Here is what Rivals recruiting analyst Eric Bossi wrote about Alexander’s glass-crashing. “Perhaps his biggest strength is his rebounding. Alexander grabs rebound above the rim and often snatches them away from opponents.” The Jayhawks lost Joel Embiid to the NBA this offseason, but with Alexander (a projected lottery pick in 2015) and second-leading scorer Perry Ellis returning, they should have the edge in the frontcourt on most nights. Texas forwards Myles Turner and Cameron Ridley will present a stern challenge, though.

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