The Freshman Guards at the Big Dance

Every year, March Madness produces stars, players boost their draft stock, popularity,
and more. We have seen it in recent years with Max Abmas, Davion Mitchell, Jalen Wilson,
Donte Divincenzo, Doug Edert and more. With March Madness just around the corner, let’s
look at what Freshman guards could leave the tournament with big impacts for their programs,
as well as across the country.

Braden Smith (Purdue)
Braden Smith is a curious case. The 6ft, former Mr. Indiana Basketball Point Guard has
been nothing short of sensational and surprising this season for anyone who has followed
Purdue. A team that was not even ranked in the AP poll to start the season, Purdue blasted on
the scene with big early wins over Gonzaga, Duke and Marquette. Smith possesses some of the
best court vision in the country, he constantly has the ball in his hands for the Boilermakers and
is easily seen as their top and most important playmaker. Smith has shown he is made for the
big stage, playing minutes deep into close games, and never shying away from the ball or the
moment. Smith is a shifty and quick guard with a tight handle who has the poise of the four-
year college starting point guard, yet he was only ranked as a three-star coming out of high
school last season. This season, Smith has posted averages of around 10 points, 4 rebounds and
4 assists a game. He is also shooting 45% from the field and averaging about 1 steal an outing.

Fletcher Loyer (Purdue)
The other piece of Purdue’s starting backcourt is another freshman, Fletcher Loyer,
another undervalued Guard coming out of high school, and another freshman guard nobody
expected to help lead the Boilermakers to a possible 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Loyer can
really, really shoot the ball, which, when you have the most dominant big man in the country,
constantly being doubled, it all comes down to how Purdue’s secondary stars play. Loyer has
been a bit inconsistent as of late, not posting the best shooting splits for someone who has the
potential to shoot at a high clip. Nevertheless, Loyer is averaging around 12 points a night, and
has shown that when he is on, this Purdue team is debatably the best in the country.

Gradey Dick (Kansas)
The 2022 National Champions are rolling right now and can really make a strong push to
run it back as the 2023 Natty Champs. Kansas, a team that thrived off of experience last year
lost a lot of firepower in its backcourt with the departures of Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun.
Gradey Dick has done nothing short of bringing that firepower with him the moment he arrived
on campus in Lawrence. Dick is probably the best shooter in the country right now, but he
offers so much more than just that. Dick never shy’s away from the ball or the moment, when
watching him, you can tell he knows he really is that guy who can help Kansas and Bill Self try to
repeat. The projected lottery pick and former National Player of the year has lived up to his
expectations, averaging 14.5 points shooting 45% from the field and 40% from three point
range. Dick is also very active and tough on the defensive end, averaging 1.5 steals a night and
showing qualities of not backing down. Gradey Dick is not a shocking player to be on this list, he
might be the most expected one just because of the attention he has garnered in social media.

Keyonte George (Baylor)
Keyonte George is Baylor’s most talented player. When you pair him with fellow starting
guards LJ Cryer and Adam Flagler, this team is hard to not compare to Scott Drew’s squad that
took the Natty home two seasons ago. The resemblance of their former three-headed
backcourt of Macio Teague, Davion Mitchell and Jared Butler is uncanny. Cryer, Flagler, and
George are all averaging 15 plus points an outing and having the championship experience in
their frontcourt of Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua and Flo Thamba, this Bears team can make
another deep run in March, especially considering Baylor has been so solid in Big 12 play which
has been the best conference and it is not even close. George is the best shot creater in his
class, and possibly the whole country. His knack for hitting big shots will only be on display at a
larger scale once March Madness starts, and it could really help Baylor win their second
championship in the last three years.

Nick Smith (Arkansas)
Unfortunately, Smith’s sole season at Arkansas has been riddled with injuries, but when
he plays, he is often the most talented and polzarizing player on the court. The former #1
recruit in the country is a projected top 5 pick, and if he is fully healthy for the tournament, this
Arkansas team can really make a splash. Eric Mussleman is known for bringing the electricity on
both ends of the floor come tournament time, and this Arkansas team has not been able to play
together for most of the season due to injuries, but their culture, tough defense, and firepower
from Nick Smith, if healthy, will prove a lot of people wrong about the inconsistent Razorbacks.

Amari Bailey (UCLA)
Another 5-star prospect coming out of high school, Amari Bailey has been an extremely
solid role player as a player that can score in bursts, play at a high IQ and boast unique
athleticism on a true National Contending team. Bailey is averaging right around 10 points a
game, which is very impressive considering he is the fourth option behind Jaime Jaquez, Tyger
Campbell and Jaylen Clark. This UCLA squad is one of the best coached teams in the country,
their balance on both sides of the floor makes them one of the teams with the highest floors
coming into March. Jaquez and Campbell are going to be more than solid night in and night out,
if Jaylen Clark is on, this is one of the scariest teams in the country. When you combine those
feats with the fact that Bailey can, on any given night, go for 20 points at high efficiency, he
could be the difference maker for a long time blue blood who is hungry to hang another banner
at Pauley Pavilion.

Jalen Hood-Schifino (Indiana)
Jalen GOOD-Schifino has shown some flashes of being the smoothest bucket getter out
of this whole freshman class. Schifino has averaged 13 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists in his,
most-likely sole campaign for the Hoosiers. Indiana has shown flashes of being the best team in
the Big 10, completing the season sweep over long-time rival Purdue. With that being said, they
have also been incredibly inconsistent in the Big 10 as well, recently getting blown out at home
against Iowa. Trace Jackson Davis is going to do his thing night in and night out, and with the
soon return of point guard Xavier Johnson, Schifino will have more opportunities to score

playing off the ball, with a true playmaking point guard sharing the backcourt with him. Indiana
is a very interesting case, they can easily make a final four run, but at the same time they can
easily lose in the first round as well. Hood-Schifino will be a huge part of Indiana’s success, if
they show it.

Aidan Mahaney (St. Mary’s)
Now, straying away from the big-time high school prospects and moving on to one of
the best stories in college hoops in Aidan Mahaney. Mahaney, a hometown hero, did not
receive many offers coming out of college, yet he might be the best three-level scorer in this
freshman class. Mahaney is averaging 15 points on an experienced St. Mary’s team that has
proven they are legit, defeating Gonzaga this season and currently posting a 25-6 record.
Against Gonzaga, Mahaney struggled for most of the game. Late in the second half, it seemed
as if he was making impossible shot after impossible shot. This kid just knows how to score the
basketball, and when surrounded by upperclassmen Mitchell Saxon, Alex Ducas, and Logan
Johnson, the Gaels can truly make a run, and I do not think it would be that much of a surprise.

Cason Wallace (Kentucky)
Wallace is Kentucky’s most important player. He is a true point guard who is an even
better defender. Wallace simply knows how to play the game, he does all the dirty work, is one
of the best on ball defenders in the country, always makes the right play and just does
everything he can to win. With Wallace out, the Wildcats do not have an identity. Wheeler has
been injured, so not having a true point guard has killed this team that is full of talent but has
been disappointing and inconsistent. Oscar Tschiebwe will do his thing in the big dance; he
proved that last year when Kentucky lost to St. Peters. It is up to the other players on Kentucky
to step up if they want to make any sort of run in the tournament. Wallace is the centerpiece of
that, when he plays well, fellow starters and scorers Antonio Reeves and Jacob Toppin will only
have more opportunities to thrive.

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