This marks the fourth year that I've taken time out in January to name the top 25 freshmen in the nation, and I'm sure you're wondering: Why do this in January?
We have now seen enough college basketball to draw some conclusions about not only the highly hyped recruits we all heard about coming into the season, but also the guys who arrived on campus without much, or even any, fanfare. Who's lived up to their advance billing? Who did the recruiting services miss? We now have some answers.
Last point: This is a performance-based list, where performance is defined rather ruthlessly as what you've done between November and now. You don't need me to tell you that 2011 McDonald's All-Americans like Le'Bryan Nash or Myck Kabongo will be heard from in the very near future, or that North Carolina again has stellar freshmen whose ability far exceeds their minutes. This is about the players who have gotten the opportunities to step on the court and show what they can do.
So much for the preliminaries. Time to count down the nation's top 25 freshmen:
25. Eric Moreland, Oregon State Beavers
There were many options to choose from in the category of Surprising and Unheralded Freshman Who Is a Rebounding Fool at Both Ends of the Floor (I see you, Seth Tuttle and Jerrell Wright!), but in the end Moreland's amazing perseverance won the day. This kid originally signed at UTEP in January 2010, but when head coach Tony Barbee left the Miners to take the job at Auburn, Moreland transferred to Oregon State -- only to suffer a season-ending shoulder injury in his fourth game. Now he's on the floor at last, and in calendar year 2012, Craig Robinson has even inserted his 6-10 "freshman" into the starting lineup, putting him at the top of the Beaver 1-3-1. That should deflate what was previously one of the nation's finest defensive rebounding percentages, but remember this: Moreland can hit the boards.
24. Spencer Dinwiddie, Colorado Buffaloes
Let's keep this in the Pac-12, shall we? Time to give that much-maligned conference some much-deserved freshman love. Meet Dinwiddie, an excellent example of that most devastating of cross-category weapons: a 3-point shooter who also draws fouls. In his Pac-12 debut, the 6-5 freshman scored 19 points on 4 of 7 shooting from beyond the arc against Utah.
23. Marquis Teague, Kentucky Wildcats
Where do you rank a McDonald's All-American like Teague on a list like this? I say No. 23, and rising. Teague may suffer in comparison with his predecessors at the point under John Calipari (who wouldn't?), but as a freshman he's been the starter since Day 1 for a team that will get a No. 1 seed come March. This weekend he scored 17 points on 6 of 10 shooting with four assists and two turnovers against South Carolina. Calipari's exactly right: "The kid has done fine."