Originally posted on Larry Brown Sports
By Shane McNichol | Last updated 2/3/21
This might be the most difficult year for a freshman to assimilate into the college basketball environment. Teams are stopping and starting with COVID concerns. Games are being postponed and rescheduled. Everything has become uncertain and unidentifiable.
Despite that, there is a crop of freshmen succeeding across Division I, in a variety of roles. Some of those players will be one-and-done prospects off to the NBA, while others are building a foundation for a fantastic college career.
These five names have jumped out as the best first year performers in college hoops this season.
Jan 23, 2021; USC Trojans forward Evan Mobley (4) reacts after scoring against the California Golden Bears during the first half at Haas Pavilion. Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
5. Evan Mobley, USC
No freshman has been more hot-and-cold that USC’s Evan Mobley. On some nights, the seven-footer looks like a future NBA All-Star and one of college basketball’s most mind-blowing talents. That was on full display in a 19-point, 13-rebound, six-block night at Arizona State. That wasn’t his only six-block game or his only 13-rebound outing, either. On some nights, he pops off the screen.
In other games, he disappears. In a home game against Utah, Mobley didn’t attempt a shot from the floor in 31 minutes. He shot 5-14 with 5 turnovers against Colorado. He had just 11 points against a Cal Baptist team he should have dominated and managed only 3 rebounds in 30 minutes against Washington State.
If the Trojan coaching staff can kick Mobley’s motor on for the month of March, he could make USC a tough out in the NCAA Tournament.
Dec 13, 2020; Michigan center Hunter Dickinson (1) goes to the basket as Penn State forward Trent Buttrick (15) defends during the first half at Crisler Center. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
4. Hunter Dickinson, Michigan
There may not be a more efficient player in the nation than Michigan’s freshman center. The seven-foot Maryland native leads the Big Ten in field goal percentage, true shooting percentage, effective field goal percentage, and two-point shooting percentage. He’s making 70% of his looks inside the arc, on nearly nine such attempts per game.
While the Wolverines are still on pause due to a school wide athletics shutdown, they remain in the hunt for the Big Ten title and a top seed in March. Dickinson has been the steadiest piece of Juwan Howard’s roster and gives Michigan a real chance to fight its way to the Final Four.
Dec 5, 2020; Oklahoma State Cowboys guard Cade Cunningham (2) during the game against the Oakland Golden Grizzlies at Gallagher-Iba Arena. Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports
3. Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State
There’s really no competition in the race to be the top pick in June’s NBA Draft. It’s Cunningham’s spot to lose, no matter which team is pulling the trigger with the first selection. The 6-foot-8 freshman functionally acts as Oklahoma State’s point guard and runs the entire Cowboy offense. He is averaging 18.2 points, 3.8 assists and 6.2 rebounds this season, shooting 47% from the field, and 39% from long range.
Cunningham is the most difficult matchup in the nation, too tall to be stopped by a guard, and far too quick and agile for a big man to stop.
Jan 23, 2021; Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Jalen Suggs (1) brings the ball down court against the Pacific Tigers in the second half at McCarthey Athletic Center. James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
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