Our 2013-14 season preview continues with the Dagger's list of freshmen capable of making the biggest impact for their new teams next season. Check back every morning for the next six weeks for more college hoops preview content.
1. Andrew Wiggins, F, Kansas (Rivals Ranking: 1)
In the months leading up to his long-awaited college debut, Andrew Wiggins has appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, done a photoshoot with GQ and attracted so many fans to Kansas' Midnight Madness event that 9,000 had to be turned away. Once the season begins next month, Wiggins will finally have the chance to prove on the floor that he's worthy of all the hype and hoopla. Anyone who has watched Wiggins play seldom questions whether he has the talent to be the No. 1 pick in next year's NBA draft. An explosive athlete and gifted scorer with ideal size and length for the small forward position, Wiggins is capable of easing the burden on the rest of his young teammates by carrying Kansas for long stretches. The only knock on Wiggins is he sometimes coasts and doesn't always play relentlessly on every possession. That's understandable considering his youth and his ability, but solving that could be what helps Wiggins make the leap from being supremely gifted to becoming a truly great college player.
2. Andrew Harrison, G, Kentucky (Rivals Ranking: 5)
It remains to be seen which of Kentucky's stable of freshmen emerges as the best player this season, but there's little doubt who the most important is. Whereas Kentucky has other options at forward if Julius Randle endures some growing pains or at center if Dakari Johnson struggles, Andrew Harrison is really the only player capable of starting at point guard. He'll likely play at least 30 minutes per game since Kentucky's options behind him consist of senior Jarrod Polson, less heralded freshman Dominique Hawkins and in a pinch, Andrew's twin brother Aaron. The good news is Harrison has every chance to flourish because his size, slashing and passing ability make him the prototypical point guard for John Calipari's dribble-drive system. The 6-foot-5 Harrison isn't quite as deadly a shooter as Aaron, but he can overpower opposing point guards with his size and can frustrate them on the other end with his length and quickness.
3. Jabari Parker, F, Duke (Rivals Ranking: 4)
Having finally fully recovered from the foot injury he suffered the summer before his senior year at Chicago's Simeon High School, Parker has regained the quickness and bounce he previously had. He'll have every chance to showcase it as a freshman because Mike Krzyzewski has declared that Parker and Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood will be the focal points of Duke's perimeter-oriented attack. Parker isn't quite the athlete Andrew Wiggins or Julius Randle are, but the skilled forward brings high basketball IQ, impressive versatility, deft passing skills and an ability to knock down outside shots or create off the dribble. The 6-foot-8 freshman will be an extremely difficult matchup for opposing power forwards this season since he is big and strong enough to defend them in the paint yet too quick and agile for them to guard him on the perimeter.
4. Tyler Ennis, G Syracuse (Rivals Ranking: 22)
As soon as Michael Carter-Williams revealed he was turning pro last April, Tyler Ennis became perhaps the most critical guy on Syracuse's roster for the 2013-14 season. Ennis is the lone true point guard the Orange have and he'll be asked to replace Carter-Williams, to provide some perimeter scoring punch and to distribute the ball to C.J. Fair, Jerami Grant and the rest of the team's scoring threats. Known primarily for his court vision and outside shooting in high school, Ennis flashed some impressive scoring potential playing for Canada at the U-19 World Championships this past summer. He averaged 20.7 points in nine games, though he struggled with turnovers and required a lot of shots to put up those numbers. Syracuse would probably be satisfied if he scored half as many points but cut down his mistakes as a freshman.
If Andrew Harrison is the most important of Kentucky's freshmen, then Randle may be the biggest can't-miss prospect. Not only is he big, extremely strong and ultra-athletic, he has drawn comparisons from John Calipari to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist because both possess the same competitiveness and relentlessly high motor. A prototypical power forward both in college and at the NBA level, Randle will almost certainly start immediately for Kentucky alongside either Willie Cauley-Stein or Dakari Johnson in the frontcourt. He has the ability to score with his back-to-the-basket, to face up and knock down a mid-range jump shot or attack the offensive glass. What Kentucky needs more than anything is for Randle's effort and energy to wear off on his young teammates the way Kidd-Gilchrist's did two years ago. If that happens, Kentucky's season could end in a similar manner -- with a jubilant mid-court celebration as confetti falls from the ceiling.
6. Aaron Gordon, F, Arizona (Rivals Ranking: 3)
Gordon arrives in Tucson with as much hype as any prospect since the Lute Olson era. He earned California Mr. Basketball honors twice, took home the MVP trophy at the McDonald's All-American game and was named MVP of the U-19 World Championships this past summer even though he was only 17 during the tournament. A Pac-12 player of the year candidate as a freshman, Gordon will likely start at small forward for Arizona but also spell Brandon Ashley at power forward some as well. Power forward is Gordon's more natural position as a result of his explosive athleticism, relentlessness on the glass and ability to finish at the rim. The 6-foot-8 forward has worked diligently to improve his perimeter skills in preparation for playing more wing at Arizona and as a professional, but it remains to be seen how much more consistent his ball handling and 3-point shot have gotten.
7. Derrick Walton, G Michigan (Rivals Ranking: 37)
The last time Michigan had to replace an NBA-bound point guard with a freshman, some kid named Trey Burke turned out to be halfway decent. The Wolverines can now hope that the transition from Burke to Walton is as seamless this season as it was from Darius Morris to Burke during the 2011-12 campaign. A speedy and athletic 6-foot point guard best known for his court vision and ability to set up his teammates, Walton will be given every chance to win the starting point guard job from day one. The Detroit native's primary competition is sophomore Spike Albrecht, a reserve who scored 17 first-half points in the national title game last year but averaged just eight minutes per game behind Burke over the course of the season.
8. Eric Mika, F, BYU (Rivals Ranking: 49)
Since Brandon Davies has graduated and most of BYU's other big men are better on the perimeter than in the post, coach Dave Rose needs a player comfortable scoring and rebounding around the rim. Enter Eric Mika, a highly touted freshman from nearby Lone Peak High School who will immediately inherit Davies' role as the team's go-to interior scorer. Tough and physical in the post yet athletic enough to finish around the rim, Mika is a load for opposing big men to handle even as a freshman. The 6-foot-9 forward needs to get stronger and to develop a face-up game, but his competitiveness, rebounding and footwork in the post will all be assets for BYU.
9. Noah Vonleh, F, Indiana (Rivals Ranking: 8)
Even though the departure of Cody Zeller and Christian Watford depleted Indiana's frontcourt, the Hoosiers are hopeful some of their talented young big men can help replace some of that production. The player counted on most to contribute at both ends of the floor is probably McDonald's All-American Noah Vonleh. A 6-foot-10 forward with a 7-foot-4 inch wingspan, Vonleh has all the tools to one day become one of college basketball's best big men. He also has added 15-20 pounds of muscle to his wiry frame since arriving at Indiana, giving him a better chance of not being pushed around on the block as a freshman. Vonleh's size and length will enable him to defend and rebound right away, but he'll have to be more assertive than he was in prep school to make the impact Indiana needs him to on offense. Though he has some post moves and an ability to knock down a mid-range jump shot, he's still figuring out the spots on the floor where he can be most effective.
10. Nigel Williams-Goss, G, Washington (Rivals Ranking: 33)
Abdul Gaddy arrived at Washington with high expectations, but he plateaued over the course of his college career. His graduation enables Washington to turn elsewhere at point guard, and the player best suited to the job is McDonald's All-American Nigel Williams-Goss. More experienced than the average freshman after playing four years for powerhouse Findlay Prep and this past summer for the U.S. U-19 World Championship team, Goss arrives in Seattle already battle-tested. He isn't a top-level athlete or an elite outside shooter, but he has good size and length, a knack for getting into the lane and an ability to either find an open teammate or finish at the rim. Plus, his effort and leadership skills draw rave reviews from those who have played with him or coached him. Williams-Goss isn't certain to start right away as a result of the presence of promising combo guard Andrew Andrews, but the bet here is he will. Given Lorenzo Romar's history of playing two point guards, look for both Andrews and Williams-Goss to start alongside one-another with Williams-Goss playing point guard on offense but defending shooting guards.
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- Andrew Wiggins
- Julius Randle