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True Freshman Tracker: Who Has Been The Best Newcomer In The Big Ten?

Just like every year, there are a bunch of new faces making positive impacts for teams all around the Big Ten. Which players have managed to stand out so far, and who has been the very best?

Jaylon Tate hustles for a loose ball against Illinois-Chicago
Jaylon Tate hustles for a loose ball against Illinois-Chicago
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports


As in any other season, there are a bevy of talented true freshmen making their mark on the Big Ten in their premier season. Among freshmen either regularly starting for their team or playing greater than 40% of available minutes(16mpg), several players have shown quite a bit of promise. Next week we'll look at which of the Big Ten's rising sophomores have done the most to realize the promise they showed off in their freshmen campaigns - Kevin Yogi Ferrell, Glenn Robinson III, Gary Harris, and Mitch McGary headed up one of the most promising freshmen classes to come to the conference in years. But for now, let's take a look at how this year's freshmen have performed.

By the Numbers

Player Pos. Program 247Sports Composite PPG ORtg FG% 3PFG% FT% RPG APG BPG STL TO
Jaylon Tate G Illinois 206 2.7 96.8 .297 .100 .818 1.0 3.3 0.3 0.4 0.9
Troy Williams F Indiana 53 7.9 95.6 .457 .154 .675 4.8 0.9 0.4 1.3 2.2
Noah Vonleh F/C Indiana 11 12.0 115.4 .563 .167 .704 9.5 0.7 0.9 1.1 2.0
Derrick Walton Jr.
G Michigan 29 8.0 96.8 .429 .353 .727 2.4 2.6 0.0 0.4 2.2
Zak Irvin G/F Michigan 45 7.5 114.9 .423 .408 .600 2.3 0.8 0.0 0.3 0.5
Tai Webster G Nebraska 213 6.5 83.5 .370 .143 .566 2.2 2.5 0.1 1.0 2.1
Basil Smotherman G Purdue 160 6.4 128.4 .673 .333 .600 3.6 0.7 0.2 0.5 0.7
Bryson Scott G Purdue 97 9.7 108.1 .424 1.000 .733 2.5 1.6 0.2 1.3 1.3
Kendall Stephens G Purdue 62 7.5 121.5 .402 .377 .714 1.7 0.6 0.4 0.4 0.5

Bold highlights indicate the strongest performance in a given category

Best Defender

Bryson Scott - G - Purdue - This one was tough, as none of these freshmen are spectacular defenders yet. Bryson disrupts opponents' dribble, turns his opponents over, and isn't as foul-prone as some of his peers.

Best Scorer

Noah Vonleh - F/C - Indiana - Noah Vonleh is seriously versatile. Not only does he have great footwork around the basket, which allows him to find dunks against halfcourt defenses, but he can score over either shoulder in the low post and has nice touch on his jumper.

Best Passer

Jaylon Tate - G - Illinois - Tate has been phenomenal for the Illini off the bench, chipping in over 3 assists per game with less than a turnover per outing. His offense isn't there yet but his shot will improve. His vision as a true freshman is a great sign for Illinois.

Best Rebounder

Noah Vonleh - F/C - Indiana - Vonleh has been impressive overall, but he has really stood out on the glass. Noah's offensive rebounding percentage, 14.2, is well within the top 100 nationally. His defensive rebounding percentage, 29.3, is the 9th best figure posted by anyone in the country.

Best Shooter

Kendall Stephens - G - Purdue - Sure, Bryson Scott has put up a better percentage from long range - but Scott did that with only 4 three-point attempts all season. Stephens is shooting a fantastic percentage behind the arc and has shot nearly 70 three-point attempts, the most of this group(Irvin was also considered, with 50 attempts). Stephens' height allows him to get his shot off with less room than most guards need, and his shot motion is compact and tight. He's going to be a big-time shotmaker for the Boilermakers over the course of his career.

Biggest Surprise

Bryson Scott - G - Purdue - Bryson Scott has been a bear for the Purdue Boilermakers. Something of a sixth man, Scott really relishes his time off the bench and is aggressive going to the basket whenever he gets a chance to get on the floor. Thus far, he has rewarded Matt Painter's patience with bunches of trips to the free throw line and shot attempts near the rim. A willing defender, Scott has shown some solid instincts there though he has plenty of room to grow yet.

Biggest Disappointment

Tai Webster - G - Nebraska - Though Webster has gotten more time on the floor than any of his true freshmen peers, he has taken the longest to figure out how to be effective at this level. Before the season, more ink had been spilled for Tai's benefit than it probably had for any previous Nebraska basketball recruit, though so far he hasn't managed to live up to expectations. Tai's offensive efficiency is awful, the worst among freshmen getting significant minutes, and he isn't a great passer, rebounder, or defender yet. It's not all bad. The tall, talented guard has shown the ability to reach whatever spot on the floor he wants, so once he does figure out where he can score at this level the Cornhuskers should finally start to see some return from the minutes they've invested in Tai. Though that revelation may not come during this season for Webster.

Freshman of the Year(to date)

Noah Vonleh - F/C - Indiana - Noah Vonleh came into the season as the Big Ten's lone McDonald's All-American. So far, Noah has lived up to his lofty rankings. He can score efficiently at the college level, he's one of the best rebounders in the nation, and he is an excellent help side defender. Vonleh still has trouble with fouling too much, but for a young kid whose game is still growing he has been very impressive.

What to Watch For

Can Noah Vonleh rebound against Big Ten players? Through non-conference play the freshman phenom has been better than anyone could've reasonably expected with 9.5 rebounds per game. Can he continue to grab that many boards against bigger and stronger competition?

Will Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton emerge offensively for UM? With Mitch McGary out, Beilein will need his true freshmen to score more often and more efficiently. Will they be equal to the task in conference play?

Will Jaylon Tate earn more minutes? Tracy Abrams isn't the best passer and he already plays fewer minutes than nearly every starting point guard in the Big Ten. If Tate's offense can improve and his passing continues to be steady, the young guard may be able to take another chunk out of Abrams' minutes.

Can Kendall Stephens keep it up? Stephens' 5 three-point attempts per game is one of the highest marks in the conference regardless of class. He has been efficient with those attempts, making an average of 2 three-point baskets per game. Against conference opponents, windows to catch and shoot the ball will be tighter and will close faster. How will Kendall respond?

Will Tai Webster catch on late? Webster has been bad so far, but at least he navigates the floor pretty well. If he can settle down and make better decisions offensively, his numbers there could improve quickly. But will he take that step in conference play? Tai has looked shell shocked at times, Big Ten play isn't going to be anymore comforting for him. Can Tai reward Tim Miles' patience with a late surge?


The Big Ten has a bunch of young talent this season. Outside of these players, guys like Bronson Koenig and Marc Loving may not get quite as much burn as these guys but they're also looking forward to bright futures in the Big Ten. Vonleh has emerged at the front of the pack to this point, but there are plenty of players within striking distance. The Big Ten Freshman of the Year race is far from over, though there are now frontrunners. Conference play will end up affecting some of these guys adversely in the short term, but going through the Big Ten should pay dividends for these players as they prepare for their sophomore seasons. Enjoy watching these players while you can, some of them are almost sure to leave for greener pastures before they earn upperclassman status.