The past two national titlists received big boosts from freshmen, and it could happen again in 2012-13.
Kentucky started three freshmen in winning the national title this past season, including national player of the year Anthony Davis. Connecticut won the national title in 2011 with two freshmen playing key roles, and the Huskies wouldn't have won it all had Jeremy Lamb not blossomed late in the season.
So, which incoming freshmen can be expected to play that type of role next season?
Let's start at Indiana, which needs a point guard. Kevin "Yogi" Ferrell should be the guy, and if he performs up to expectations, the Hoosiers will be one of the favorites to win it all next April.
Kentucky again reeled in a big-time recruiting class, and center Nerlens Noel and power forward Alex Pothyress are expected to play big roles for the Wildcats. And there's UCLA, which has two freshmen, Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson, who should vie for freshman of the year honors.
Here's a look at our preseason All-Freshman team for the 2012-13 season. One thing to note: This isn't the top 12 ranked freshmen; instead, it's the guys we think will fit nicely with surrounding talent and put together big seasons. While these guys might not necessarily help their team win the national title, each will make a big impact right away.
We also looked for a nice mix of frontcourt and backcourt players and picked a starting five that actually could be on the floor together.
We already have unveiled our All-Senior, All-Junior and All-Sophomore teams. And our All-Freshmen team kicks off what we're calling "New Guys" week, as we'll be looking at the top 10 newcomers in each of the Big Six leagues as well as the other leagues as the week progresses.
C Nerlens Noel, Kentucky
Background: 6-10/200; five-star recruit from Tilton (N.H.) The Tilton School
Buzz: The NCAA is investigating Noel's background, specifically his ties with two men from the Boston area, where he grew up. Regardless of the inquiry, Noel is a defensive difference-maker. While he lacks bulk, he is athletic and already has advanced shot-blocking techniques. His offense remains somewhat raw, but his defense and rebounding make up for that. Noel reclassified as a senior during the school year.
F/C Mitch McGary, Michigan
Background: 6-10/250; four-star recruit from Brewster (N.H.) Brewster Academy
Buzz: He is a big, physical player who should provide Michigan with a much-needed inside presence that the Wolverines haven't had in a while. His physical play is a major reason Michigan again will contend for the Big Ten title. McGary's passing skills make him a great fit for what coach John Beilein likes to do on offense, and McGary is a good shooter from 15 feet in.
PG Kevin "Yogi" Ferrell, Indiana
Background: 5-11/165; five-star recruit from Indianapolis Park Tudor School
Buzz: Indiana very well could be the preseason No. 1, and Ferrell's presence would be a reason. Ferrell is a throwback pass-first point guard and should be a steady hand for a team that needs a new point man. Rising sophomore C Cody Zeller's decision to stay in school was a big one for IU, and Zeller should come to appreciate Ferrell's passing skills.
SG Ricardo Ledo, Providence
Background: 6-5/185; five-star recruit from Kent (Conn.) South Kent School
Buzz: Providence hasn't been to the NCAA tourney since 2004, but a sterling freshman class headed by Ledo is expected to change that. Ledo is a big-time scorer; he has excellent range and has advanced offensive skills off the dribble for an incoming freshman. His presence gives coach Ed Cooley a wide variety of offensive weapons, and Ledo and Vincent Council could become the most prolific backcourt in the nation.
G/F Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA
Background: 6-6/220; five-star recruit from Las Vegas Bishop Gorman
Buzz: Muhammad was the No. 1 recruit in the class and was a huge get for UCLA coach Ben Howland. Muhammad is a physical wing player with explosive athletic ability; he can get to the rim and has a well-developed mid-range game. Muhammad also can handle the ball and, when he wants to be, can be a lockdown defender. He almost certainly is a one-and-done player, but he should make a huge impact in his one season in Westwood.
[Roundtable: Decision by George Mason, Ivy League draw mixed reviews]
C Przemek Karnowski, Gonzaga
Background: 7-1/280; unranked prospect from Torun, Poland
Buzz: Karnowski (his name is pronounced Puh-shemick Car-now-ski) signed with the Zags last month, and if he lives up to the hype – he has been compared to Marc Gasol – Gonzaga will be one of the top three teams on the West Coast. As with many European big men, Karnowksi has a high basketball IQ and has a nice all-around game. He has played on the Polish Junior National team and in several European championship tournaments, among them the 2008 U16 European Championship, the 2009 U16 European Championship, the 2010 FIBA U17 World Championship, the 2011 FIBA U19 World Championship and the 2011 FIBA U19 World Championship. This past season, Karnowski played in Poland's top league and averaged 10.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and shot 54 percent from the floor.
F/G Kyle Anderson, UCLA
Background: 6-8/215; five-star prospect from Jersey City (N.J.) St. Anthony
Buzz: Anderson comes from one of the best prep programs in the nation and should be a steadying influence for the Bruins even though he is just a freshman. He can play four positions (all but center) and is a solid passer for a guy his size. He should be the Bruins' main distributor next season, whether it's at point guard or as a sort of point forward. The Bruins could have a starting backcourt of Anderson and Muhammad, which would give them a huge size advantage over every opponent. Anderson also can score and rebound.
PF Alex Pothyress, Kentucky
Background: 6-8/215; five-star prospect from Clarksville (Tenn.) Northeast
Buzz: UK famously lost its top six players from its national title team, meaning Pothyress should slide right into the starting power forward role left vacant by Terrence Jones. He is athletic and runs the floor extremely well for a big man. He handles the ball well, and possesses a solid all-around offensive game; he can hit the 15-footer and also can put the ball on the floor and slash to the rim. He puts his athleticism to good use on the defensive end as well.
SF Winston Shepard, San Diego State
Background: 6-8/206; five-star prospect from Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep
Buzz: Signing Shepard was a coup for coach Steve Fisher, showing that the Aztecs can hang with almost anyone on the recruiting trail. Shepard is an athletic guy who should fit nicely into Fisher's up-tempo offense. SDSU needed a frontcourt player who can score, and that's what they got with Shepard. Shepard also is a good ballhandler and adept passer who will be the frontrunner for Mountain West freshman of the year honors.
PG Marcus Paige, North Carolina
Background: 6-0/160; four-star prospect from Marion (Iowa) Linn-Mar
Buzz: Paige is another pass-first point man who will have ample targets in Chapel Hill. He is an excellent ballhandler and a savvy passer. He is equally adept in an up-tempo attack or directing an offense in the halfcourt. Paige has some work to do on his offensive game and needs to add bulk, but his main value is as a distributor – which is exactly what the Tar Heels need.
SG Rodney Purvis, North Carolina State
Background: 6-4/195; five-star prospect from Raleigh (N.C.) Upper Room Christian Academy
Buzz: Mark Gottfried has had a busy first year as North Carolina State's coach. He took the Wolfpack to the NCAA tourney for the first time since 2006 and also reeled in a top-notch recruiting class headed by Purvis. Purvis was a big get, considering that he is a Raleigh native who spurned some other big-name suitors to remain at home to play college ball. He has advanced offensive skills; he has good range, a solid mid-range game and can get to the rim and finish. He's also a good ballhandler and can be a solid defender, too. He fits nicely into a NCSU team that likely will be favored to win the ACC.
SG Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
Background: 6-4/220; five-star prospect from Flower Mound (Texas) Marcus
Buzz: Smart is a tough perimeter prospect who does a little bit of everything, and does it all well. He has a nice outside stroke; he also possesses the strength to overpower smaller defenders and the quickness to get by taller defenders. Smart also should help add some intangibles Oklahoma State lacked this past season.
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