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Freshman Haze: Looking Toward the Tourney

Perry Missner

Perry Missner

Missner covers the NBA, college football and college basketball for RotoWire. A veteran fantasy sports writer, Missner also serves as treasurer for the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

The past few years, freshmen have dominated the college basketball landscape. This year, the freshman class is not as good as in past years (as shown by RotoWire collegue Jesse Siegel's excellent Top-100 players list) and they will not have quite as much influence on the NCAA tournament. There are still plenty of good first-year players, but many will not be one-and-done (which generally marks the elite players). Still, this is the Freshman Haze, so I wanted to write about a number of freshmen who should have a large influence on the NCAA tournament. Since I wrote about Marcus Smart and Ben McLemore two weeks ago, I omitted them from this week's list. If your fantasy tournament league requires freshmen (and I, of course, think it should), then here are some players to consider.

Shabazz Muhammad, guard/forward, UCLA Bruins

I've written before that I think Muhammad may be the best player to come out of this year's draft class (and it looks like he is unsurprisingly headed to the NBA after one year). I think the 6-foot-6, 225, Las Vegas native will be able to score in the NBA, and I am not sure anyone else in this class can. In his one year in Westwood, Muhammad has been very steady with an 18.3-point scoring average. He gets to the line 5.6 times per game and makes 71.5 percent of his freebies. Muhammad may lead the Bruins to some surprising wins in the Big Dance.

Gary Harris, guard, Michigan State Spartans

Harris has been plagued by a shoulder injury that may have limited his production in his first year in East Lansing. The 6-4 guard is still a productive player for a winning team in the best conference in the nation. Like Muhammad, Harris hits better than 40 percent of 3-pointers. He has also scored at least 11 points in 10 of his 11 games. The Spartans have a more diversified offense than the Bruins, so Harris won't crack 20 points in most games, but he should be a solid scorer on a team that has been known to make runs late into March.

Yogi Ferrell, guard, Indiana Hoosiers

Ferrell also does not have a lead role on his team, but he contributes to a winning organization. Last year, the Hoosiers were solid but needed someone to run the show. In 2012-13, Ferrell has been that guy. He facilitates the offense (4.3 assists) and can be a pest defensively (nearly a steal a game). The 6-0 Indianapolis native is not an efficient shooter, but he has made 50 percent of his shots (11-of-22) over the last three games. If your NCAA Tournament league adds bonuses for players on teams that advance to the Final Four, Ferrell could be a player to look at.

Sam Dekker, forward, Wisconsin Badgers

Oh, those Badgers - when will they have a losing season? Every year they lose what appears to be their best player, but other guys step up. Coach Bo Ryan doesn't usually give freshmen the time of day, but Dekker forced his way into the lineup with his ability to make buckets. The 6-7 native of Sheboygan has improved his 9.7 scoring average in seven of his last eight games. Like all Wisconsin players, he is able to hit 3-pointers (42.7 percent). Wisconsin generally plays up to its seed, and Dekker could continue to provide points.

Anthony Bennett, forward, UNLV Runnin' Rebels

Bennett is one of the most highly regarded freshmen in the country, but his season has been on a downward trend since Mountain West play began. He has been limited by injuries, including shoulder problems that have sent him to the bench the last three games. In his last four games, he has only played 16.3 minutes. Bennett has only scored more than eight points twice in his last six games. If he can get healthy in the next 10 days, then he could be a nice late-round sleeper pick.

D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, guard, Georgetown Hoyas

While Bennett has slowed, things didn't start heating up for Smith-Rivera until the turn of the calendar. The 6-3 guard opened the season with a 19-point outing against Duquesne, then went quiet for the majority of the non-conference schedule. When Greg Whittington was suspended, Smith-Rivera was afforded more shots, and he made the most of his opportunity. He had 33 points in the Feb. 20 win over DePaul and has scored in double digits in 10 of his last 15 games.

Kellen Dunham, guard, Butler Bulldogs

It appears Butler's time in the Atlantic 10 is going to be short-lived. The Bulldogs had a good showing in their step up in competition from the Horizon. Dunham, a 6-6 guard, has chipped in with 10.2 points. He has spent the majority of the season coming off the bench. Dunham's 3-point shooting is a bit spotty at just 36.2 percent, and he has only hit a quarter of his long-range shots over his last three games. Still, you don't want to bet against Butler in the NCAA Tournament, do you?