To say that this year's list top freshman, as rated by the comprehensive system developed by the team at the Freshman Haze headquarters, was surprising would be an understatement. Usually, there are one or two Tier 2 and 3 players who slip in with the big boys. This makes sense since the big schools spend much more money on recruiting and generally get the best players. However, this year, the incoming class was not terrific and some small school players got big opportunities and took advantage. The aforementioned rating system does not factor in competition (but neither do most fantasy leagues).
7. Siyanyi Chambers, guard, Harvard Crimson
The Crimson came into the season with huge questions after forward Kyle Casey and guard Brandyn Curry left school due to his participation in a cheating scandal. After back-to-back regular season Ivy League championships, things looked unclear. Chambers, a 6-foot freshman from Golden Valley, Minn., stepped in and took charge. He has provided 13.0 points, a conference-leading 5.9 assists and 1.6 steals. Since the Ivy doesn't have a conference tournament, Harvard's 1.5-game lead with four to play may hold up and the Crimson, led by Chambers, may make their second consecutive NCAA Tournaments after not making the Big Dance since 1946.
6. Tim Williams, forward, Samford Bulldogs
Speaking of the Big Dance, Samford has not made a postseason appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2000. With Davidson ruling the SoCon, it may be another year before the Bulldogs taste a bit of glory as a double-digit seed. If Williams continues to produce at a high level, next year may be the one for the squad. The 6-8 Chicago native averaged 14.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.2 blocks. He was only held to single digits twice, but the Bulldogs won both of those games. Williams opened the season with back-to-back double-doubles and, through Sunday, had five, including a 13-point, 13-rebound performance against Furman on Feb. 16.
5. Malcolm Miller, guard, Southern Jaguars
Here's a little secret: despite being listed as a freshman by both Yahoo and ESPN, the 6-6 guard is actually a junior. Information coming from the SWAC can be sketchy, but you'd think that the two sources of college basketball stats that I most frequently use would get things updated after the season starts. Nevertheless, we'll include Miller who transferred from South Plains College. He has come off the bench all season and really heated up when conference play started. Miller scored in the 20s in five of his first six SWAC games. The junior (who shouldn't be here, but what's done is done) is a volume 3-point shooter who has made 46.7 percent of his long-range shots. Miller's averages include 16.3 points, 2.8 3-pointers, 5.8 rebounds and 1.3 steals.
4. Venky Jois, forward, Eastern Washington Eagles
Australia has been a fine pipeline of good players for small schools. Jois is following in the footsteps of Andrew Gaze and Andrew Bogut, among others. The pipeline seems to have been well used by schools west of the Rockies (i.e. St. Mary's) and Jois is the latest. The 6-7 freshman is a strong rebounder and shot blocker who scores enough to keep other teams honest. He has nine double-doubles and averages of 12.7 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.5 blocks. Despite being a high-energy player, he has only fouled out of two games and should be a good keeper in fantasy leagues.
3. Marcus Smart, guard, Oklahoma State Cowboys
Finally, we get back to Tier 1 and a player that you may have seen, even recently. Smart, a 6-4, 225, guard, has been a steady presence for the Cowboys and has helped the team to the top half of the Big 12. While he seems to be likely headed to the NBA next year, he has plenty of highlights during his year in Stillwater. Smart has scored 20 or more points seven times and has two double-doubles. With averages of 15.0 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.9 steals, he has helped many fantasy teams into the late stages of tournaments.
2. Ben McLemore, guard, Kansas Jayhawks
The Big 12 is home to the two best freshmen in Tier 1. This is a good reminder that before Kentucky took over recruiting, the Big 12 had players like Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin and Michael Beasley. With Nerlens Noel out, McLemore is being mentioned as the top pick in this year's NBA draft. The 6-5 guard has led the Jayhawks in scoring with 16.2 points and can hit 3-pointers from the wing en masse (42.6 percent from long range). He is also very athletic and a fine defender, so there's a lot to like from McLemore.
1. R.J. Hunter, guard, Georgia State Panthers
And here is the biggest surprise of all. The top freshman in the land, according to the Haze's spreadsheet (which I'll gladly send to anyone who wants it - firstname.lastname@example.org) is Hunter. The coach's son was in the top 10 of freshmen for minutes, 3-pointers made, steals and points. He broke out for 38 points, including 10 3-pointers, on Feb. 2 against Old Dominion. Hunter followed that game with his second contest of six 3-pointers in a loss to UNC-Wilmington. Hunter leads the Panthers in scoring (17.1 points), 3-pointers made (2.4) and steals (1.7) as well as 5.2 rebounds and 1.8 assists. As long as Ron Hunter stays as the Panther coach, Hunter the Younger should have the green light to keep shooting. Congrats, R.J.