Top 10 X-Factor Freshmen In College Basketball

Every year in college basketball, there's freshmen who are very important to their team's success for different reasons. Everyone knows the five-star names and the top prospects in the country and expects them to have big impacts, but below, we take a look at 10 guys who could play a pivotal role in raising their team's ceiling and floor come conference play and the tournament while playing secondary roles.


1. Dennis Evans, Louisville

Coming off of a program-worst 4-28 season a year ago, the Louisville Cardinals are looking to turn things around this winter. They reeled in one of the best 2023 recruiting classes in the country, but one freshman, Dennis Evans, is more important to their success than the rest. The Cardinals averages a measly 2.8 blocks per game last season, good enough for 228th nationally. With the addition of Evans, they've added a 7'1" prospect with a 7'7" wingspan that is arguably the top shot blocker out of all freshmen nationally. Kenny Payne is part of the John Calipari coaching tree, and historically, Calipari's best teams have had elite rim protection. Having Evans patrolling the paint gives Louisville's defense a weapon that it didn't have a season ago.

2. Jaland Lowe, Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh finished third in the ACC last season following a 24-12 record due mostly to perimeter and guard play. Fast forward to this season and three of the top four perimeter options are no longer on the roster. Blake Hinson, a 6'7" wing, returns as the team's leading scorer, but Jamarius Burton, Nelly Cummings, and Greg Elliott are all gone. There was also added attrition with the dismissal of former high school standout Dior Johnson within recent weeks. The Panthers did add Rhode Island transfer and scoring threat, Ishmael Leggett, who averaged 16.4 points in the A-10 a season ago. The former four-star Lowe will have the opportunity to make an early impact, and his team will need it.

3. Elmarko Jackson, Kansas

Everyone knows about Kansas' upperclassmen on this year's roster. Dajuan Harris has been a mainstay in the backcourt for a few seasons now as a floor general, uper senior Kevin McCullar averaged over 10 points a game last season after transferring from Texas Tech, KJ Adams had a breakout sophomore season for the Jayhawks, averaging over 10 points himself. Bill Self also added two of the top transfers in the country in Towson guard Nicolas Timberlake, who averaged 17.7 points a year ago, and in Michigan's Hunter Dickinson, a former All-American and 3x All-Big Ten Selection. However, Jackson can figure in as the X-Factor on this loaded roster of veterans. He's the best pro prospect on the team who will surely carve out major minutes for himself. He gives the Jayhawks explosion and scoring at the guard position, and also someone who can run the show alongside Harris. With the recent dismissal of Arterio Morris, there's even more minutes for the taking in the backcourt.

4. Sean Stewart, Duke

When looking at this Duke roster, it's easy to overlook a player like Stewart. The Blue Devils return potential NPOY candidate Kyle Filipowski down low, one of the most talented players in the country who excelled in Durham already last season. They also return a backcourt of senior Jeremy Roach, who has started the majority of his games the last three seasons at Duke, and Tyrese Proctor, a sophomore from Australia who started to find his footing in conference play and is flying up draft boards heading into this season. Mark Mitchell, a former five-star that came into his own in February in March, also returns. Jared McCain, a sharpshooting five-star freshman headlines the freshman class for the Blue Devils. However, Stewart is going to be a big key in Duke's potential success this season. He's a low-maintenance, garbage pail type of forward who is going to make key plays on both ends of the court throughout the year, able to serve a multitude of roles defensively and athletically for whatever his team needs.

5. Gavin Griffiths, Rutgers

Steve Pikiell has done a good job of turning around the Rutgers program since he's arrived, however they've gotten to the hump but have yet to get over it. What better way to help get over the hump than signing the highest-ranked recruit in recent program history? Because that's what Pikiell did this off-season with the addition of four-star wing Gavin Griffiths. Griffiths provides the Scarlet Knights with outside shooting ability from day one and a wing that's skilled and can impact the game in a couple of different ways as he's also an underrated defender. Last year, Rutgers ranked 296th nationally in three-point percentage, and the addition of Griffiths should help make them a more reliable threat from the outside.

6. Taison Chatman, Ohio State

The Buckeyes look to bounce back from a 16-19 season in 2022-2023. It'll be a tall task considering they lost first round draft pick Brice Sensabaugh, a freshman that really exceeded expectations in year one. For Ohio State to right the ship, they'll need some of their incoming freshmen to exceed expectations this season as well, and a good candidate to do that is Taison Chatman. He led his high school to back-to-back Minnesota state titles the past two seasons, so winning is in his make up. Chatman is a combo guard that has had big impacts both on and off of the ball throughout the years. He's efficient from the floor and can really score the ball in bunches, shooting just under  45% from three in 3SSB play his senior year. Chatman is a guy who will impact the game in different ways than his backcourt counterparts Bruce Thornton and Roddy Gayle, and he's one to look out for come conference play.

7. Cameron Carr, Tennessee

This year's Tennessee squad has a very high floor thanks to their upperclassmen. Junior Jonas Aidoo takes over at the 5 spot, fifth year senior returnees Santiago Vescovi and Josiah-Jordan James are back once again in the backcourt, and fifth year transfer Dalton Knecht from Northern Colorado was one of the best prospects in the transfer portal this off-season. Junior guard Zakai Zeigler also returns, but could still be hampered from his injury. That takes us to the ceiling of the team, and who might be the best pro prospect on the roster? Freshman guard Cameron Carr, a late bloomer with tons of tools and upside. It could take him a few months to get used to the physicality and speed of the college game, but he has the DNA and potential that'll make him a possibility to become a difference maker and ceiling raiser come February.

8. Reed Sheppard, Kentucky

Like a lot of schools across the country, we got an early look at the Kentucky Wildcats this offseason as they represented Team USA at GLOBL JAM this summer. While other freshmen have more nationally notoriety than Sheppard, he was one of the very pleasant surprises for the Wildcats this summer. His high IQ, shot making, and willingness to play defense at all times will reward him with playing time early and often. DJ Wagner definitely projects to be the star of Kentucky's backcourt, but he's a streaky shooter at times and another fellow freshman, Rob Dillingham, could start off slow as he adjusted to the college game while adding weight. Don't be surprised to see Sheppard playing both on and off of the ball throughout the season depending on the situation.

9. Miro Litttle, Baylor

Scott Drew's Baylor Bears success is often predicated on backcourt play. Last year, they had a quality backcourt trio of Keyonte George, Adam Flagler, and LJ Cryer. The problem this year is all three of those guys are gone, with George and Flagler entering the draft and Cryer transferring to Houston. Ja'Kobe Walter is the big name freshman, and everyone expects him to be an immediate impact guy. RayJ Dennis, a transfer from Toledo, averaged just under 20 points per game a year ago as well. When finding that third guard, Miro Little has a higher ceiling than Jayden Nunn, who averaged 9.3 points last season at VCU. Little has FIBA World Cup experience, so he's battle tested at a high level. Little is a high-IQ guard that can excel as a playmaker and can also score the ball. His size and length allow him to guard 1-3.

10. Wesley Yates, Washington

Washington is headlined by the duo of Kentucky transfer seniors Keion Brooks and Sahvir Wheeler, both good players in their own right. Brooks has been a steady presence since he was a sophomore and Wheeler led the SEC in assists twice, once at Georgia and once at Kentucky. While those two will lead the team, freshman wing Wesley Yates is going to be a major key to the Huskies' success. He's a proven winner at the high school level, with multiple state titles under his belt. He's also the best pro prospect currently on the roster, able to impact the game on and off of the ball. He's at his best driving the basketball, but he can also get hot from the outside. The Huskies will need him to be less streaky this season, but he's a player who could raise the ceiling of this team quite a bit, as sources close to that program expect him to be able to contribute right away.

Please Wait... processing