Outperformers: college basketball freshmen exceeding their high school rankings

Top newcomers that have outplayed expectations during the season to date.

As the season progresses into conference play, many of college basketball’s top freshmen have now exceeded 10 games played and will no doubt face a more difficult slate of opponents going forward. With that in mind, it’s a great time to examine which freshmen are outperforming what was expected by national recruiting experts in the pre-season.

Rankings referred to within the top 100 come from the RSCIHoops.com final 2020 rankings, and rankings outside of the top 100 derive from the 247Sports composite. Players are listed in order of their final ranking. All stats listed are through Thursday, January 7, 2021.

No. 22, Cameron Thomas | 6-4 | G | LSU

It isn’t as if Thomas’ scoring proclivities weren’t well known before he signed with LSU, and his relatively high national ranking was certainly fairly attained. But as currently the No. 5 leading scorer in the nation (24.8 ppg) it’s safe to say Thomas’ scoring has even exceeded the pop it was thought he could bring to the Tigers. Thomas had a college-ready body coming in at 210 pounds on his 6-4 frame, and is shooting almost 44% from the field, 33% from 3-point range, and 91% from the charity stripe.

No. 37, Hunter Dickinson | 7-1 | C | Michigan

Whether or not it was the continued devaluing of post players that led to Dickinson being ranked lower than he should have been, his near double-double production so far this season has been nothing short of highly impressive. Through 10 games, of which Dickinson has started 5, he’s put up 18 points per game (73% from the field) and pulled 8 rebounds per game. Dickinson has also converted free throws when he’s had the chance, putting in almost 74% of attempts.

No. 40, Moses Moody | 6-6 | G | Arkansas

Stepping in as a touted prospect, Moody has greatly out-played his status as a top 50 recruit in the class. As the top scorer on a 9-2 team, Moody has been very productive off the bat. To date, Moody is averaging 15.9 points per game, to go with 5.7 rebounds. Moody has been effective from 3-point range, pouring in 3-pointers at almost a 41 percent clip. Like Thomas, Moody has a fairly mature body for an incoming freshman, and his overall game is paying off in a huge way.

No. 174, Mike Miles | 6-1 | G | TCU

The Horned Frogs kept Miles close to home in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area, and it’s been very beneficial to their roster. Miles has earned a start in 8 of 12 games, and while he struggled mightily earlier this week against Kansas, he’s been a steady overall factor, and played particularly well against other high-major foes. Miles has played heavy minutes for the majority of the season, and has been a reliable factor distributing assists and even grabbing rebounds as a guard. Miles is currently averaging 13.6 points, 3.4 assists, and 3.2 rebounds per game to date.

No. 179, Justin Powell | 6-6 | G | Auburn

Auburn expected blue chip (No. 19) Sharife Cooper to be their immediate star in the backcourt. Cooper has yet to play a game due to NCAA requirements, and Powell has been the greatest beneficiary of Cooper’s absence. A bright spot on a team that’s struggled so far, Powell can now be found on NBA draft boards, which he wasn’t prior to the start of the season. Powell is currently averaging 11.7 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game. Powell has been solid from the perimeter, making long range shots at a 44.2% clip.

Unranked, Marcus Williams | 6-2 | G | Wyoming

Perhaps overshadowed by teammate Tramon Mark (a freshman at Houston) on a terrific Dickinson (TX) high school squad, Williams originally signed with head coach Jeff Linder to attend Northern Colorado. Needless to say, Williams may have dominated the Big Sky. Williams followed Linder to Wyoming and the Mountain West, and has been the leading scorer and second-leading assist man on a 7-2 squad. Williams is averaging 17.6 points, 4.1 assists, and 3.8 rebounds presently at Wyoming.

Unranked, Efe Abogidi | 6-10 | C | Washington State

A product of the NBA Global Academy developmental pipeline, Abogidi has been a near-double double performer (10.6 points and 9 rebounds per game) on a surprisingly feisty Cougars’ squad (currently 9-1). Hailing from Nigeria, the 225 pound center is holding down the interior for Washington State, and sending back 2 shots per game. In limited attempts, his 81% free throw clip is also promising for sure.

Blue chip talents hit transfer market

Two proven college players hit the transfer market this week, and both are notable as they are arguably equivalent to five-star talents in this recruiting cycle. Guard Caleb Mills departed Houston, while big man Oscar Tshiebwe turned leaving West Virginia for personal reasons into entering the transfer portal in recent days.

After a terrific freshman season, Mills was appointed the pre-season player of the year in the American prior to this season. Mills has only played in 4 games due to an injury this year, and decided to transfer as well. Mills announced he rather play closer to his North Carolina home, and presumably will have no shortage of ACC and SEC suitors for his services. As a freshman, Mills put up 13.2 points and 2.6 rebounds per game for the Cougars, but Houston’s depth in the backcourt has allowed for strong guard play while he was injured.

Tshiebwe was a borderline top 25 recruit in the class of 2019, and averaged greater than 11 points and 9 rebounds per game as a freshman. During the 2020-21 season, however, Tshiebwe seemed to regress (while fellow West Virginia post Derek Culver has been quite good), as he put up 8.5 points and 7.8 rebounds in 10 games of action. At his best he can be a physically dominant insider, who can defend and finish. It seems likely many blue bloods will jump into the recruitment of Tshiebwe, especially those who will lose their interior talent to the NBA Draft after this season.

Washington, Rutgers land mid-season signees

While Washington and Rutgers each seem to be on opposite trajectories during the 2020-2021 season, they did share a commonality this week, as each program added a mid-season recruit as an early enrollee.

For Washington, who is currently undergoing a disastrous season (1-9), the addition of unranked three-star prospect 6-2 point guard Dominiq Penn is a bit of positive news. Penn is the son of former college basketball All-American Scoonie Penn, and averaged 11.2 points and 4.5 assists per game at Hamilton Heights Christian (TN) as a senior, prior to transferring to Sunrise Christian (KS) for a post-grad year. With three other point guards on the roster for the Huskies, it’s not clear there’s any minutes to be had for Penn, but some time on campus can’t hurt in giving him a jump on his college basketball career.

Rutgers is looking quite strong currently, and will only get better with early enrollee Jaden Jones, a 6-8 wing who signed with the program as a member of the 2021 class in November’s early signing period. Jones played six high school games this year at Dasche (TX), averaging 26.8 points, 8 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game. At the time Jones signed with Rutgers in November, head coach Steve Pikiell described Jones as,"…a multi-position, versatile player that is a talented scorer who can really shoot the basketball and score at all three levels.”