NCAA Basketball March Madness

15 Best Freshmen of the 2014 NCAA Tournament

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Ranking the 15 Best Freshmen

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All eyes have been focused on the 2014 NBA Draft from the moment -- then Deputy Commissioner -- Adam Silver announced Latvia's Janis Timma as last year's 60th pick.

Draft boards have been drawn up nearly a year in advance, teams have been tanking and first-round picks have been hoarded. And it's not because of the NCAA's, likely, college player of the year award-winner Doug McDermott (Creighton) or foreign sensations Dante Exum (Australia) or Dario Saric (Croatia).

The sports world has been abuzz because of this year's crop of freshman superstars -- some of which who have excelled, while others are struggling to exceed the heightened expectations. That’s the main reason why CBS Sports’ Jeff Borzello predicted the youngsters’ season would go like this:

“Of course, there are going to be some growing pains, and some people will be quick to anoint former five-star prospects as 'busts' by Christmas. On the other hand, there will be surprises. It's not an exact science.”

And he was right.

But that's the joy of tournament time. A loss renders each school one and done like the players who coaches recruit every year. And in turn, the freshmen phenoms have to step up and prove their worth to the big league GMs who are watching them. So we’re bound to see a few new faces who weren’t able to live in the media spotlight alongside the Andrew Wiggins’, Jabari Parkers and Julius Randles of the league.

To see how the top 15 freshmen stack up, please flip through the next few slides.

Richard Nurse is a columnist for Follow him on Twitter @blackirishpr or add him to your network on Google.

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15. Dakari Johnson

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The 7-foot center was unexpectedly thrust into Kentucky’s starting lineup when coach John Calipari tired of some of Willie Cauley-Stein’s actions. However Dakari Johnson’s 4.5-point and 3.4-rebound averages show that he was not ready.

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14. Andrew Harrison

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Andrew Harrison was expected to be a top pick in the 2014 draft, but his stock has dropped due to a slow start and early injuries.

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13. Aaron Harrison

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No, you’re not seeing double. Kentucky’s other twin (Aaron Harrison) has been surprisingly good at proving that he could be more than a spot-up shooter.

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12. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

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With Brandon Ashley sidelined, Arizona’s Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has been averaging 13 points and seven rebounds. That’s up from his 8.5 points and 5.6 rebounds per game.

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11. Wayne Selden

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As one of Kansas’ fabulous freshman, Wayne Selden has been just as streaky as the rest of the crew, however, he’s usually the one who shows up the most when no one else wants to.

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10. Chris Walker

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After being suspended for the first half of the season, Florida’s 6-foot-9 human pogo stick -- Chris Walker -- is guaranteed to supply the tournament with highlight moments.

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9. Zach LaVine

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UCLA’s Zach LaVine could use his lankiness to quietly breakout in the tournament -- especially if the 6-foot-5 point guard improves on his 43 percent shooting from the three-point line.

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8. James Young

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James Young’s ability to attack the rim could be detrimental to defenders, but so can his three-point sharpshooting.

The lefty could be Kentucky’s x-factor if the jumper is dropping.

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7. Noah Vonleh

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Indiana power forward Noah Vonleh is quietly creeping his way to becoming a household name with his 11.6 points per game, 9.5 rebounds and pertinence for steals.

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6. Aaron Gordon

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Aaron Gordon’s shooting has been off this season, but his energy and mini-Blake Griffin-like leaping ability has kept him close to averaging a double-double. And let’s not discount what his defense has done for the Arizona attack.

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5. Tyler Ennis

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Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis has not only carried the Orangemen with his clutch point guard play, but his skill for gaining steals and dishing out assists may have vaulted him over fellow draft prospect Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State).

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4. Julius Randle

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This 6-foot-9 power man is a double-double machine (averaging 16 points, 10 rebounds), a la a slightly more athletic Zach Randolph.

Kentucky will only go as far as Julius Randle can take them.

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3. Jabari Parker

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Although Jabari Parker may not be a natural athlete like the rest of his class, the Duke star possesses the all-around game and pure stroke to have him penciled in as a consistent NBA All-Star.

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2. Andrew Wiggins

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Kansas' Andrew Wiggins has been the most-hyped player coming out of high school since LeBron James, but his lack of aggression has cooled some of the buzz. However, his defense and fastbreak potential could be the talk of the tournament.

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1. Joel Embiid

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The NCAA's new it-boy -- Joel Embiid -- is a raw 7-footer who's footwork and shot-blocking reminds people of a young Hakeem Olajuwon.

Kansas has a gem with this one.