- John Gasaway, ESPN Insider
For the past few seasons, I've been coming up with a performance-based ranking of the nation's top 25 freshmen every January -- and then leaving it at that. This season I've decided to do something a little different. This first ranking is just the start of a series where I'll be asking the question anew: Who are the nation's top 25 freshmen right now?
First, a word about these rankings. This is not a mock draft, and these players aren't ranked according to their projected ability to perform in the NBA. In fact my Nos. 16 and 19 are currently listed as Nos. 1 and 2 atop a lot of mock draft boards, and that's fine. I'm interested in college performances to date, as opposed to pro potential.
The problem with ranking a mere 25 freshmen, of course, is that you miss a horde of outstanding players. Just to touch on a few easy honorable mentions: Chris Obekpa of St. John's is an extraordinary shot-blocker, and D.J. Johnson (Kansas State), Charles Mitchell (Maryland) and Shaq Goodwin (Memphis) are amazing offensive rebounders. Kentucky's Archie Goodwin would be on this list if he didn't have to play out of position at point guard, and North Carolina's Brice Johnson might have been on this list if he'd simply picked a team where he got more minutes.
Oh, and yes, there's Stony Brook's Jameel Warney. I could go on (Texas A&M's Alex Caruso, Georgia State's R.J. Hunter) and on (Gonzaga's Przemek Karnowski, Pitt's James Robinson) and on (Georgia Tech's Marcus Georges-Hunt, Harvard's Siyani Chambers).
But there's no need. I'll be revisiting these rankings throughout the season. For now, as early as it is, here are the nation's top 25 freshmen:
(Who did I miss? Let me know on Twitter @JohnGasaway.)
1. Anthony Bennett, F, UNLV Rebels
What are the chances that the one recruit John Calipari doesn't get turns out to be the best freshman in the country? That's pretty much what has taken place. Bennett had Kentucky in his final three (along with Oregon), but in the end he chose to play for Dave Rice at UNLV.
This list is fairly brimming with elite talents who are off to amazing starts, but Bennett is the only player here who has put up numbers so good, they wouldn't be out of place coming from a national player of the year. At 6-foot-8, he's shown he can score whether he's in the post or facing the basket, and before it's over, he may prove he can make 3s as well. (He's 6-of-17 so far.) Whether it's because he has ceded the defensive rebounding entirely to Mike Moser, or he simply lacks that particular focus, but at the other end of the floor, Bennett is already a monster on the offensive glass. He also blocks shots and has done so with zero foul trouble (he's yet to pick up a fourth foul in a game).
If we're not careful, Bennett has the potential to sow rampant categorical confusion. You'll hear accurate praise pinned to his athleticism, but while he may be a freak, he's at least a fundamentally sound one. Bennett draws an incredible eight fouls per 40 minutes and is shooting 76 percent at the free throw line.
Even among the most elite recruits, it's surprisingly rare to see a freshman be physically dominant from the very start of the season the way, say, Michael Beasley was. Bennett may add another case history to this file before he's finished. It's early, but right now he's overpowering people.
2. Jordan Adams, G, UCLA Bruins
It's insufficient to say merely that Adams was the "fourth-ranked" recruit in this year's class of amazing UCLA freshmen. Adams was not only rated below Shabazz Muhammad (No. 2 in the ESPN 100), Kyle Anderson (No. 5), and Tony Parker (No. 26), he was rated far below those first two guys, at No. 41. And look what happened. As a team, the Bruins have disappointed many observers, but if every UCLA player outperformed expectations the way Adams has, I'd bet on these guys to beat the Lakers in a showdown for L.A. supremacy.