As we near the midpoint of the 2021-22 college basketball season, several things have become apparent when it comes to the impact of freshmen on the college game. The combination of Covid limiting development as high school players, more pro alternatives to college like the G League Ignite program and high school talent entering a bit of a down cycle has led to fewer impact freshmen than we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in years past.

There have certainly been first year players making their mark on the college game and the trio of Duke’s Paolo Banchero, Auburn’s Jabari Smith and Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren have provided plenty of highlights while helping their teams and building up considerable NBA Draft hype before exiting their respective schools after a nine month or so pit stop.

Which other first year players have stood out and why? Today we take our first look at this season’s freshman tracker to see the 10 true freshmen who have made the biggest marks on their teams thus far.



2021-22 stats: 17.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game.

Why he’s impressed: The No. 2 ranked player in the high school class of 2021, Paolo Banchero may had been No. 1 had he been able to play a normal season and compete in the usual slate of postseason All-Star games. All of that is immaterial now because the physical and skilled Banchero has been every bit as good as advertised.

The leading scorer among all true freshmen, Banchero’s mature game and frame have allowed him to assimilate quickly to the college game and be among the toughest covers in the country. If we want to be picky there are times that he will coast or settle too easily for a jump shot when he’s virtually unstoppable in the paint, but it is tough to find much/if anything wrong with what he’s done. This season has been a tough for many players looking to show why they were so heavily touted in high school, but not for Paolo.

If Duke is going to send Mike Krzyzewski off in style, this tremendous freshman’s play is going to have a lot to do with it.



2021-22 stats: 16.1 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game.

Why he’s impressed: A big duo of reclassifications in 2022 from Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren, who had each been ranked No. 1, made things tricky in the 2021 rankings. Duren and Bates assumed the Nos. 5 and 6 spots, respectively, sliding down the ranking of one Jabari Smith. That year-ahead-of-schedule arrival has certainly played into their Duren and Bates' so-so starts, but all things being equal they just weren’t better than Smith and with the benefit of hindsight, Smith should have remained ranked ahead of them.

That’s all immaterial now. All that Bruce Pearl and Auburn fans care about is just how awesome Smith has been during his time on campus. A slender and skilled 6-foot-10 forward who seems to have unlimited range and adds to his game each time out, Smith is emerging as the early favorite to go No. 1 in the 2022 Draft and has been chipping away at was once a pretty big lead for Banchero as the top performing freshman.

Smith is incredibly fun to watch, approaches the game with grace and humility and is a major reason why Auburn is positioned to make a legitimate run at a National Championship.



2021-22 stats: 13.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game.

Why he’s impressed: There seems to be a bit of a misconception out there that Chet Holmgren has somehow been underwhelming or not as good as advertised. Let’s be clear, Holmgren has been very good. However, playing alongside a stud post player with some experience like Drew Timme, Holmgren has been fortunate in that he hasn’t had to carry his team or spend all his time as the offensive focal point.

Unsurprisingly, Holmgren has already proven himself as one of college hoops elite shot blockers and a unique player on the offensive end because of his high level of skill and inside/out game. Gonzaga has reached the part of the year where the clean up on WCC competition and then hope to do enough to impress the rest of the country once NCAA Tournament time comes around.