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Reliving the Past: Top Freshmen Excel at Defense

Basketball Prospectus reranked last year's freshman class. We go inside the numbers to see what stands out about the mid-major players on the list.

Troy Taormina-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Ahh, freshmen. The best thing about freshmen is that we have no reason not to like them when they appear on campus. They are mostly bundles of raw talent.

It is up to them how they will be seen over the next four years (or in some cases these days, one year).

And we love to swoon over what could be the potential of the frosh because of some ranking on a website. Because if there is one thing we love more than freshmen it is rankings.

Drew Cannon over at Basketball Prospectus has started looking back at last year's preseason lists, and he began with the top 100 freshman. There were six mid-major players on that list by how we classify them here at Mid-Major Madness.

Some improved their lot, and some fell, but there was a common theme among all the freshmen that is hard to miss.

New Rank Prev Rank Player Team DEF100 HOOPWAR/30
93 82 Sim Bhullar New Mexico State -- --
70 56 Erik Copes George Mason 14.17 -0.68
55 9 Adonis Thomas Memphis 9.49 -0.22
42 13 PJ Hairston North Carolina 1.87 0.58
41 59 Adjehi Baru Charleston 8.62 0.86
38 6 James Michael McAdoo North Carolina 6.95 1.04
33 19 Kyle Wiltjer Kentucky 8.94 0.37
25 68 Gary Bell Gonzaga 2.92 -0.79
21 92 TaShawn Thomas Houston 22.42 6.12
12 8 Marquis Teague Kentucky 5.91 -0.44
3 4 Michael Kidd-Gilchrist Kentucky 26.10 4.38
1 1 Anthony Davis Kentucky 67.15 12.99

I don't need to point out who the mid-major players are on the list. I have included a couple of the big names from the major conferences for comparison's sake.

As you can see from the final column, the performance of the freshmen was kind of a mixed bag, according to HOOPWAR. There wasn't really a lot of correlation between how someone was ranked before the season and the end contribution he made.

This is even more apparent when you get to the next list of 20 players that Cannon ranked. We will dive more into them at another time, because I think it is worth looking at how their HOOPWAR scores matched up to the hype around the top 100 (in many cases, they were diamonds in the rough).

But back to the first list.

You can see that a number of the freshmen weren't worth anything (including Marquis Teague, who is expected to be drafted in the first round by some NBA team). That isn't that rare. Based on the numbers we have run so far through the HOOPWAR formula, the average freshman is worth less than a replacement player.

The way I reason this is that so many of them play limited minutes, or are outmatched by more experienced and better players when they do play.

I would question the continued high rating for some of the players based on the numbers though. Teague was obviously one of the least impressive players on Kentucky. Gary Bell wasn't the impact player he was original tagged to be for Gonzaga (and outpaced by Kevin Pangos). And Erik Copes struggled offensively for George Mason.

Copes was crushed in his ranking, as was Adonis Thomas, but Bell moved up 40 spots and Teague barely budged. I understand that numbers didn't necessarily weigh heaviest in Cannon's rankings, but this seems odd when you look at the final data.

That being said, there is a common theme on that list and it is in the Defense per 100 minutes column. If you look at every player on that list, they turned in a positive result defensively. As with the HOOPWAR score, the average freshman doesn't do that.

But these players all managed to do that, no matter how poor their end performance rating was.

To me that says the most about these players. They may not have been the 100 "best" players, but they were probably the 100 most ready for college basketball. Each one of them was able to excel at a skill where players usually struggle until later in their careers (Davis being the very pointed exception to every rule had the highest HOOPWAR and DEF100 number. Showoff.)

Finally, there is one more thing to take away from this list: TaShawn Thomas is darn good.

Keep an eye out for Houston in 2012-13