This article is part of our Freshman Haze series.
Some say the ACC should get 11 of its 16 teams in the NCAA tournament, which might happen if everything falls just right. What is not in dispute is that the conference has been buoyed by its freshmen. Duke was expected to lead the way with a number of sparkling first-year players, but injuries have waylaid those plans. The conference dominates the middle section of the top 21 freshmen here at the Haze with four of the seven players, including one player who will likely not be dancing later this year without conference tournament heroics. We continue our march to March with players 14 through eight.
14. Josh Jackson, guard/forward, Kansas Jayhawks
Through non-conference play, it seemed like we had a pretty good idea of what Jackson was: an athletic wing who could do just about everything except hit shots from the perimeter. In his last seven games, the 6-foot-8 swingman has started knocking down his 3-pointers (15-of-28, 53.6 percent). Is this three-week stretch of fine shooting just a hot streak or does it show that Jackson is putting in extra work and improving his game? Time will tell. For now, he has shown the hype has been deserved by leading the Jayhawks to the top of the Big 12 with 16.6 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.1 blocks.
13. Justin Patton, center, Creighton Bluejays
In the early going, Patton looked like a nice big for the Bluejays. A foot injury to Zach Hanson moved the 7-0 redshirt freshman into a more prominent role and he started putting the Bluejays on his back. Patton had a beautiful stretch around the flip of the calendar in which he averaged 19.6 points on 69.4 percent from the field and 7.0 rebounds in five games. His production has been a bit more inconsistent over the last month as the team adjusted to life without Mo Watson (ACL), but he is still scoring 13.6 points on 70 percent from the field. Patton is judicious in taking 3-pointers, but has hit half of his 12 attempts.
12. Malik Monk, guard, Kentucky Wildcats
Of the two freshman Wildcat guards, I thought Monk would be the better scorer but De'Aaron Fox would provide more fantasy value. These year-end rankings indicate that Fox was fine (he came in at 25), but Monk's shooting excellence was enough to put him in the top 12. The 6-3 Monk is the second-leading freshman scorer at 21.7 points and is hitting 48.6 percent of his field goals, 41.4 percent of his 3-pointers, and 82.2 percent of his free throws. He had one of the most exceptional games of the season with 47 points and eight 3-pointers in the win over North Carolina on Dec. 17. We should see Monk well into March.
11. Jayson Tatum, guard, Duke Blue Devils
The downside of using averages is that players who missed time like Tatum can be rated higher than perhaps they should be. The 6-8 forward missed the first eight games of the season with a foot injury. He has easily been the best of Duke's vaunted freshman class because Harry Giles and Marques Bolden have not been healthy enough to contribute as more than part-time players. Tatum has scored 19 points or more six times. As this ranking attests, Tatum does not have many holes in his game with averages of 15.6 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.4 blocks. He is hitting just 31.7 percent of his 3-pointers, but has proven to be a nice complementary scorer next to Luke Kennard and Grayson Allen.
10. A.J. Brodeur, forward, Pennsylvania Quakers
It is good to see a small-school player among the giants. The 6-8 Brodeur likely won't see postseason play as the Quakers stand 2-6 in Ivy League play. That shouldn't take away from the freshman's individual brilliance. He leads the team with 14.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks. Brodeur led the team to a surprise win over La Salle in a Big 5 game on Jan. 25 with 35 points and three blocks. Penn lost seven Ivy League games around the win over the Explorers, but have won their last two conference games. Brodeur has canned 52.5 percent of his field goals and has six straight games of multiple blocks.
9. Dennis Smith, guard, North Carolina State Wolf Pack
If there was one player who I thought could challenge Markelle Fultz for the top freshman guard in the country, it was Smith. The two players are in similar situations as they come from teams in the lower echelon of a power conference. Smith helped the Wolf Pack win at Cameron Indoor Stadium for the first time since 1995 with a season-high 32 points on Jan. 23. NC State has not won since with five straight losses. Smith has put up fine numbers all season with 18.7 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 6.8 assists. He is hurt in the rankings by giving up 3.2 turnovers. His responsibilities are great, so we'll forgive a bit of sloppiness with the ball.
8. Bruce Brown, guard, Miami Hurricanes
It could be easy to miss the 6-5 Brown among the Hurricanes that include stars such as Davon Reed and Ja'Quan Newton. Every now and then, Brown pops up and does something spectacular. He had a triple-double on Dec. 6 in the win over South Carolina State. He also tattooed North Carolina for 30 points on 11 field goal attempts in the Jan. 28 win. Those are the highlights, but Brown has been steadily productive as well. He is averaging 11.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 3.3 assists. The freshman guard has been held to single digits nine times, including two of his last three games. He was better than average in every category except free throw percentage (70.3 percent).