In the one-and-done era in college basketball, freshmen have increasingly played larger roles not just as spark plugs, but often as stars or co-stars for contenders. Zion Williamson. John Wall. Chet Holmgren. Eighteen and 19-year-old newbies can now routinely step in and instantly impact winning at the highest level of the sport.
That trend should continue into the 2022-23 season with a loaded incoming freshmen class heavy on guards and wings with pro potential. But who will this year's class be comprised of? Where do the top young talents in the game play this season? And in what type of roles should we expect them to walk into?
We set out to answer those questions and more in our annual ranking of the top 10 freshmen in college hoops. Let's hop to it for this year's list.
1. Keyonte George | Baylor | SG
The best freshman in college basketball resides in Waco, America. George is my pick for Big 12 Player of the Year, and my crystal ball says the likelihood of him also being the most productive freshman in the entire sport is about 52.375%. He's a gunner with a zest of swag to his game that's intoxicatingly aesthetic. George is a microwave-type scorer who will be asked to do a lot in Baylor's guard-friendly offense. Under coach Scott Drew, he's going to hold the keys to the car from Day One, and we've already seen him do big numbers against high-level competition.
2. Nick Smith | Arkansas | SG
Arkansas lost 87% of its scoring, 78% of its assists and 84% of its rebounding production from last season's team that went 28-9 and advanced to the Elite Eight. The kingdom will likely be handed straight away to superstar freshman recruit Nick Smith, an Arkansas product who finished as the No. 1 recruit in his class. He's a smooth do-it-all guard who will walk into 15 points and a couple assists per game on an Arkansas team that opens the season ranked inside the top 10.
3. Cason Wallace | Kentucky | PG
Kentucky is my preseason No. 1 team and Wallace is a massive reason for that. He's a dynamic defender whose impact really shows up on that end. But his offense and comfort with which he scores it has vastly improved over the last year, too. Kentucky desperately needed to add a combo guard who can defend, shoot and add as a creator, and Wallace checks all the boxes on a Calipari-coached team set to make a leap from last season.
4. Cam Whitmore | Villanova | SF
Whitmore underwent surgery recently after sustaining a thumb injury and he could wind up missing part of the early portion of Villanova's season. But say it with me now: BUY. THE. DIP. Whitmore is a stud. He was hilariously good as a producer this offseason on the FIBA circuit and is generating top-10 pick buzz for 2023. When he gets right he's going to be a force for first-year coach Kyle Neptune in a way we rarely see from Nova newbies.
5. Amari Bailey | UCLA | SG
UCLA landed a stud five-star recruit a year ago in Peyton Watson which didn't really amount to much – he made no starts, wasn't in the rotation and averaged just over 3 points per game – but don't let that influence your thinking on its newest five-star signee. Bailey is a crafty combo guard with a smooth left-handed jumper who can put the ball on the floor and create while easily getting his own production as well. He has the wiggle that reminds of a young D'Angelo Russell and his two-way talents will be put to good use on a UCLA team that lost Johnny Juzang and Jules Bernard.
6. Dariq Whitehead | Duke | SG
A foot fracture suffered in August might have set Whitehead back a bit – Duke seemed non-committal about a timeline for a return, saying only that he planned to play this fall – but he's a no-doubt-about-it difference-maker if and when he gets back to full strength. Whitehead is a powerful athlete who can really get downhill and has a nice, comfortable shooting stroke to boot.
High-level shot-making display from top-five recruit Dariq Whitehead with 31 points against IMG. The two-time high school national champion Whitehead, headed to Duke next year, is a coach's dream with the way he defends, passes, and does all the little things to impact winning. pic.twitter.com/K5772MMJxX— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) January 10, 2022
7. Dereck Lively II | Duke | C
The No. 1 prospect in the 247Sports Composite for the 2022 cycle, Lively II walks into the unenviable position of trying to replace No. 1 pick Paolo Banchero and No. 15 pick Mark Williams in Duke's frontcourt for 2022-23. Lively has the size teams covet at 7-foot-1 and should be plug-and-play for Jon Scheyer as a starter.
8. Anthony Black | Arkansas | PG
The talent Eric Musselman has assembled at Arkansas this season is jarring. Black may not be the focal point for the Hogs this season with Nick Smith incoming, but he will absolutely be a factor. 247Sports' Eric Bossi has likened his game to Cade Cunningham with his long, rangy body and ability to run the point, and guards in Arkansas' system the last few years have managed to produce in a big way. There's enough room for Black and Smith to both be top-10 freshmen this season.
9. Skyy Clark | Illinois | PG
More than a year removed from a partially torn ACL, Clark should be at 100% for Illinois and positioned to take Illinois to the tippy top of the Big Ten. The former Kentucky commit could be a starter right away with Andre Curbelo, Trent Frazier and Alfonso Plummer all gone. Brad Underwood hasn't had a guard this talented and versatile since Ayo Dosunmu.
10. GG Jackson | South Carolina | PF
The former No. 1 recruit in the 2023 class (and a former UNC commit), Jackson reclassified to 2022 and signed with his hometown school at South Carolina. The Gamecocks are undergoing a major rebuild but Jackson is going to be a monster producer whose energy and rebounding ability will keep him as one of the top newbies in the game.