2023-24 Best freshmen in college basketball: Ranking the top 10 freshmen

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With the college basketball season five weeks old, this feels like a great opportunity to check in on the new big men on campus. No, we’re not talking about size in this instance, but we’ve got that covered too. 

We’re referring to the freshmen in college basketball. In a sport where there are fifth- and sixth-year seniors still around, it is difficult for 17 and 18-year-old high school recruits to enter the college scene and dominate games. That being said, this class is still filled with headliner names and rising stars with rich upside, as well as others who have sprung onto the scene at smaller-name programs and have been able to make an immediate impact. 

Let’s present some numbers for this year’s freshmen:

According to FOX Sports Research, over 1,000 Division I freshmen have played in at least one game this season. A total of 65 of those freshmen are averaging at least 10.0 PPG, which is less than 7%.

We’re also still in the early part of December, and there’s plenty of time for those rookies who haven’t fully come into their own to make strides as the year goes on. That’s the fun part of a freshman season arc – there’s a level of unpredictability with it. 

With that said, here are our top-10 freshmen thus far in the college hoops season, with a few extra names to watch as well! 

1. Reed Sheppard, Kentucky
Height/Weight: 6-3, 187 pounds
Stats: 13.0 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 3.8 APG 

There isn’t a single freshman who has seen his stock rise more in the first month of the season than Sheppard, who entered college as the 79th-ranked prospect in the 247Sports Composite rankings for the class of 2023. Sheppard was tabbed as a shooter out of high school, but Mr. Kentucky Basketball out of North Laurel High is so much more than that.

Sheppard’s instinct for the game has been really impressive to watch, as he had a five-game stretch from Nov. 17 to Dec. 2 where he tallied at least four assists in every contest. And here’s the thing: Sheppard isn’t just a skilled offensive player. He’s been terrific defensively. In the month of November, he was posting 5.3 steals and 1.7 blocks per 40 minutes. He has a great feel for where to be in the passing lanes on that side of the floor, and his understanding of the right play to make is beyond his years. Sheppard has been as impactful as any player on this Kentucky team. 

2. Isaiah Collier, USC
Height/Weight: 6-5, 210 pounds
Stats: 17.0 PPG, 4.2 APG, 3.0 RPG, 50% FG 

The consensus No. 1 recruit in the country and reigning Naismith High School Player of the Year has been as advertised and looks the part of the potential No. 1 pick in next June’s draft. Collier started his college career with four straight games of at least 18 points, including a career-high 24 against Brown. The 19-year-old guard also has the ability to make plays for others while being able to take contact from a defender and find space to create. Collier has tallied five or more assists in five of the Trojans’ nine games thus far. If there is a lone concern, it’s his perimeter shooting, as he’s gone 3-for-13 from downtown in the last five games. The defensive end of the floor is also an area where he needs to grow, but that’s not really an outlier. The way he embraces physicality makes me believe that his defense can continue to come along. 

The big storyline going forward: USC is 5-4, and it would be a shame if Collier didn’t get to play in the NCAA Tournament. The Trojans could be a bubble team with a NET that sits at 92 after a loss to Long Beach State in Bronny James’ debut. This program has made the last three NCAA Tournaments, and with Boogie Ellis leading them, they should make it again, but there’s work for Collier & Co. to do. 

USC’s Isaiah Collier breaks an Oklahoma defender’s ankles and hits the 3-pointer

USC's Isaiah Collier breaks an Oklahoma defender's ankles and hits the 3-pointer

3. Ja’Kobe Walter, Baylor
Height/Weight: 6-5, 195 pounds
Stats: 14.9 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.0 APG, 42% FG 

Walter is a big reason why Baylor is 9-0 on the season and ranked No. 6 in the country. He is as strong as any shooter in the 2023 class, sporting a 38% clip from 3-point range. The five-star recruit has already had four games this year with four made triples.

Walter’s strengths go beyond just shotmaking, which makes him a perfect fit for Scott Drew because he’s a capable defender who uses his length to be disruptive, possessing a high motor. Walter never stops moving on both ends of the floor, and the impact he has had for an unbeaten Bears team, combined with his three games of 23-plus points this season, is why we’ve got him at No. 3 on this list. He is a freshman who can explode on any given night on the offensive end for his team. 

4. Robert Dillingham, Kentucky
Height/Weight: 6-3, 176 pounds 
Stats: 14.1 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 4.9 APG, 48% FG 

With his speed and elite ball-handling ability, Dillingham is a blur in transition and provides such a burst for a team on the offensive end of the floor. The freshman from Hickory, North Carolina is made for the bright lights. In a matchup against Kansas at the Champions Classic, Dillingham sparked Kentucky back into a game that the Wildcats would have won had Dajuan Harris Jr. not had the best offensive game of his career. After his 18-point performance against the Jayhawks on 4-of-5 from 3-point territory, Dillingham was terrific against Miami with 12 points, nine assists, five rebounds and no turnovers. 

Dillingham’s shot selection could be a little more under control, but then again, I don’t mind the constant green light for a guy who has hit multiple threes in seven of his team’s nine games, including a 3-for-5 mark in Saturday’s 81-66 win over Penn, in which Dillingham ended up with 17 points. The fact that both Dillingham and Sheppard come off the bench makes Kentucky that much more scary, and as Aaron Bradshaw continues to come into his own, he’ll be on this list as well. 

5. Malik Mack, Harvard 
Height/Weight: 6-1, 170 pounds
Stats: 20.1 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 4.4 APG, 47% FG 

He was a three-star recruit out of high school and was the 50th-ranked point guard by 247Sports.com. Forget all of that, because Mack is the top scoring freshman in the country for a 7-3 Crimson team. The 2022-23 Gatorade Player of the Year out of St. John’s College High School, Mack is also in the top four among all freshmen in college hoops with 4.4 assists per game. This kid is more than just a stat-sheet stuffer, as he has terrific instincts to create for his teammates.

Mack won the Ivy League Rookie of the Week honor in each of the first four weeks of the season, shooting a whopping 25-for-53 from downtown to start the season. 

6. Carlton Carrington, Pittsburgh
Height/Weight: 6-5, 190 pounds
Stats: 14.9 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 6.1 APG 

The two-time ACC Freshman of the Week is one of the most intriguing players in this class. Carrington has outstanding passing ability for someone his age and an aggressiveness on defense that sticks out. 

Although his efficiency has been a bit of a question mark in terms of shotmaking, Carrington combined to shoot 13-of-29 from the floor in a pair of wins this past week with 14 assists, including a 16-point, nine-assist game in a win at West Virginia. His upside at 6-5 is really special, and his instincts to pass really jump out on tape. 

7. Josh Hubbard, Mississippi State 
Height/Weight: 5-10, 185 pounds 
Stats: 16.7 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 1.8 APG, 45% FG 

The state of Mississippi’s high school all-time leading scorer at 4,367 career points, Hubbard has come into Starkville and lit it up offensively. His 150 points through the first nine games of the season are the most by a Bulldogs freshman since Rickey Brown in the 1976-77 season. Included in his bucket-getting performances was a 29-point showing on 9-of-14 from the floor to win the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off over Northwestern. 

Hubbard is not forcing up shots, but rather taking what the defense gives him and really flowing in Mississippi State’s offense. And, he’s been OK doing it by backing up lead guard Dashawn Davis and coming off the bench. For a Bulldogs program that ranks third in the country in defensive efficiency, having this high-end scorer in their offense is a major coup. 

8. Myles Rice, Washington State 
Height/Weight: 6-3, 180 pounds 
Stats: 16.0 PPG, 3.1 APG, 2.6 RPG, 50% FG 

This is one of the most powerful stories in college basketball. Rice underwent treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma last year, battling through it until it went into remission, allowing him to suit up and get back to the hardwood this season. 

This year, he’s the leading scorer on an 8-1 Washington State team and has won back-to-back Pac-12 Freshman of the Week honors. Keep in mind, he plays in the same conference that Collier resides in. Rice has not only averaged 16 points and over three assists per game, but on Sunday in a win over Grambling, he tallied seven steals, one off the program record, along with seven dishes and 14 points. 

9. Aden Holloway, Auburn 
Height/Weight: 6-1, 178 pounds 
Stats: 12.3 PPG, 3.1 APG, 36% FG 

The five-star guard out of Prolific Prep has come into Bruce Pearl’s program and produced big offensive performances. In his college debut, he posted 19 points on 4-of-8 from 3-point land, and added six assists against a top-10 Baylor team. 

After some ups and downs, including a scoreless outing against Virginia Tech, Holloway capitalized on Indiana giving him shots and made them pay in a 104-76 rout over the Hoosiers. He delivered a career-high 24 points on 7-of-11 from the floor, 5-of-8 from 3 and two assists. Holloway has 25 assists to just nine turnovers on the season, helping to lead a Tigers team that I believe could be an SEC dark horse with a top-20 KenPom offense and defense. 

10. Milan Momcilovic, Iowa State 
Height/Weight: 6-8, 210 pounds 
Stats: 13.2 PPG, 3.5 APG, 47% FG 

The KenPom comparison for Momcilovic is Boston Celtics forward Sam Hauser, and for good reason. A four-star recruit ranked in the top 40 in the 2023 class, Momcilovic is a knockdown shooter who ranks second in the Big 12 at 46% from downtown. 

His finest hour in college came in Orlando when he posted 21 points against Virginia Tech, going an efficient 7-of-10 from the floor. With his length and footwork at his size, there’s pro upside with the Cyclones standout. Will he be able to show an ability to guard? He’s playing for a coach in T.J. Otzelberger, who is a great defensive coach. 

Here are some other freshmen to watch as the season goes on: 

Cody Williams, Colorado (14.0 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 62% FG)

Darren Buchanan Jr., George Washington (14.0 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 61% FG) 

Mason Falslev, Utah State (12.8 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 3.4 APG, 65% FG) 

PJ Haggerty, Tulsa (15.9 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 2.9 APG, 39% FG) 

Sebastian Mack, UCLA (13.6 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 2.1 APG, 38% FG) 

Stephon Castle, UConn (9.8 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 3.0 APG, 55% FG) *four games played due to injury*

Baye Ndongo, Georgia Tech (8.2 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.6 APG, 44% FG) 

Tyler Perkins, Penn (15.6 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 2.3 APG, 41% FG) 

Xzayvier Brown, Saint Joseph’s (11.9 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 3.0 APG, 53% FG)

Markus Burton, Notre Dame (15.7 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 3.7 APG, 42% FG)

John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.

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