Splashes, Dunks & Dimes - The Top 25 Men's Freshmen Basketball Players - The Top 5

By: Connor Cagley
October 10, 2022

Connor Cagley, Big Sports Radio Basketball Writer

October 10, 2022

It's time to take a look at my national rankings for incoming freshmen. The only "negative" about these rankings for Big Ten fans is there are only 2 of the top 25 players attending Big Ten schools.

Cam Whitmore courtesy Villanova Athletics

#5 – Tie – Cam Whitmore, Villanova - Small Forward, 6’7” 230 pounds

Cam Whitmore unfortunately will be dealing with a thumb surgery in the coming weeks leading up to the season. So, there’s reason to expect a slower start for him as he gets back in shape and into the flow of the game.  When he gets back to full speed, look for him to be one of the most dynamic players in this class. He’s an electric athlete and a serious lob threat. He is also polishing up his skills as an all-around scorer from all three levels. Stylistically he plays a lot like Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler.

To go along with his budding skills, an area that needs no development is his competitive nature. At 6’7” he can guard the one through four reliably at the college level and he will probably give centers a tougher matchup than expected if he’s asked to guard the five position. As far as wings go in this class, he may be the most dangerous player in transition and the best shot blocker. The area he needs to prove to scouts is his reliability from the three. That said, he’s made strides in that area. Expect that trend to continue.

Anthony Black courtesy Arkansas Athletics

#5 – Tie – Anthony Black, Arkansas - Point Forward, 6’7” 200 pounds

Due to the number of pieces Arkansas picked up in the offseason, Anthony Black will be tougher to predict than some. That said, it will be tough to keep him on the bench. Whether or not he facilitates the offense remains to be seen. Nevertheless, that is his biggest strength at this point in his career. At 6’7”, Black can look over the top of most defenders and that makes him dangerous as a passer, especially in transition. Similar to Whitmore, he is a player that plays with tenacity and a hatred for losing.

He’s listed as a guard, but he’s able to rebound the ball like a forward and is able to defend one through four depending on the matchups. He needs to improve as a jump shooter, but his ability to play with pace and keep his dribble allows him to get where he’s more comfortable at the rim. Overall, all the Arkansas freshmen will have a learning curve as they figure out their roles on the team.

Nick Smith courtesy Arkansas Athletics

#4 – Nick Smith, Arkansas - Point Guard/Shooting Guard, 6’5” 190 pounds

Nick Smith is another who will likely start in the Arkansas back court. Unlike the prior two players, Smith is very polished from the three point range. His scoring ability is his biggest asset to the team. He isn’t a true point guard, but with the evolution of the position focusing on scoring ability he fits the new style of point guard to a T.

When they do decide to move him off the ball, he should slot in perfectly as he has advanced footwork and knows how to use screens effectively. Smith’s style of play is reminiscent of former Florida Gator Bradley Beal – the namesake of Smith’s former AAU organization.

For him to keep his stock this high for draft boards, he has to prove himself to be no less than an average defender. His offensive prowess will land him a pick, but a strong defense may get him in the top five.

Dereck Lively II courtesy Duke Athletics

#3 – Dereck Lively II, Duke - Center, 7’1” 215 pounds

Dereck Lively is one of the tougher players to rank in this class simply due to the fact that he isn’t going to be an offensive monster or a player they force feed the ball for Duke. His impact will come mainly on the defensive end and on the glass.

At 7’1”, he’s able to switch onto guards much like Evan Mobley and Anthony Davis were able to. Similar to those two, he’s a work in progress offensively, but he’s shown good form on his jumper as well as a willingness to shoot the three which is rare for someone of his stature.

An area he needs to work on is scoring in the post. Currently, he’s good as a lob threat, a jump shooter, and a second chance scorer. If he can develop a couple of back to the basket moves, it would solidify him as a likely top five pick for next year’s draft.

Keyonte George courtesy Baylor Athletics

#2 – Keyonte George, Baylor - Shooting Guard, 6’4” 190 pounds

Keyonte George is arguably the most polished scorer in this entire class. He is going to be and plug-and-play option into the Baylor Bears starting backcourt. While they are returning two of their guards from last season, Coach Scott Drew has had success with three guard lineups. As a freshman it wouldn’t be surprising to see him shoot well over 40% from the three and even challenge for leading scorer.

Like Nick Smith, his progression as a defender will determine how high he goes in next year’s draft. George has the body and quickness to be a plus defender, but to this point, it’s never been an area where he needs to focus because he added so much value on offense.

Dariq Whitehead courtesy Duke Athletics

#1 – Dariq Whitehead, Duke - Shooting Guard/Small Forward, 6’6” 220 pounds

Dariq Whitehead is not the best offensive nor the best defensive player in this class. What he is is the best balance of the two. His ability to score the ball at all levels including vicious dunks at the rim will make him a tough cover for anyone in man to man. On the other end of the court, he uses his dynamic athleticism to lock up his man as well as to be a force on the defensive glass.

Similar to former Duke player RJ Barrett expect him to have impressive production as a freshman. Whitehead has even more upside than Barrett did, mostly due to his comfort in shooting the ball from deep – the only thing that Barrett really lacked.

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