The list of stars of the sport in college basketball this season — much like in the last few years — figures to be top-heavy with upperclassmen once again as the perks of name, image and likeness opportunities continue to lure older players (frequently those with unclear pro projections) back to school. But freshmen with big talent still shine bright as ever in the sport’s spotlight, and on the opening day of the 2023-24 season Monday, that was especially true.
Pitt freshman Carlton Carrington was the biggest story of opening night with a triple-double to help the Panthers to a 100-52 win over North Carolina A&T. Carrington, who finished with 18 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists, became the first Pitt player since 1998 to record a triple-double, doing so in a dazzling debut nearly a year to the date after signing with the school as a recruit ranked outside the Top 100 among recruits in his class.
Carrington was not alone in radiating flare on opening day among newbies, either. So with Day 1 in our rearview mirror, we scanned the landscape — from five-stars to unranked recruits and everyone in between — and compiled a ranking of some of the top performing frosh who lit it up to open the season on a high note.
1. Carlton Carrington, Pitt
Carrington became the first Pitt player in more than two decades to record a triple-double in a game and became the first ACC freshman since Dennis Scott in 1987 to record one in a debut. He did this damage despite playing in only 29 of the 40 minutes in the game, with his 10th assist to secure the triple-double coming with more than four minutes remaining in the game.
Coming off an 11-win season, Notre Dame opened its 2023-24 campaign on a great note by not only taking down visiting Niagara 70-63 — but doing so behind a star-studded performance from freshman guard Markus Burton. Burton tallied 29 points and added four boards and four assists in the win. The second-highest ranked signee in ND’s incoming recruiting class, he tag-teamed with fellow freshmen Carey Booth, Logan Imes and Braeden Shrewsberry in a promising debut in which the rookies accounted for a combined 50 points, 17 rebounds and seven assists.
3. Isaiah Collier, USC
USC looked electric this summer during its trip overseas led by Collier, a five-star freshman. That remained the same Monday. Collier looked the part of a top-five NBA Draft pick in his college debut with 18 points and six assists, scoring both on the perimeter and on the attack and facilitating like a true lead guard.
Hines had a massive 15-point, 15-rebound game — highlighted by eight offensive boards — in his college debut for High Point in a 105-51 win over St. Andrews Presbyterian. Hines was a late bloomer from California who didn’t get much attention from colleges, but he already looks like he could be a potential steal for the Panthers and first-year coach Alan Huss.
Iowa State signed a top-10 recruiting class led by five-star Omaha Biliew, but the second-highest ranked signee in the class, Milan Momcilovic, was the star of the opening act for the Cyclones out of the gate. Momcilovic scored 18 points and grabbed seven rebounds inside Hilton Coliseum to take down Green Bay 85-44. All 18 of his points came from 3-point range, helping him set a record for the most made 3-pointers by an ISU freshman in a debut.
The season-opener for Kentucky inside Rupp Arena on Monday went about as well as to be expected. UK blew out visiting New Mexico State 86-46 doing so despite getting just 25 combined points from freshman Justin Edwards and DJ Wagner as Rob Dillingham stole the show with 17 points, five rebounds and three assists. The former Overtime Elite standout looks comfortable already even next to several likely top-10 picks, which should portend well for the Wildcats this season.
At the risk of overreacting to exactly two (probably mostly meaningless) results, I beg the question: are we underrating this Illinois team?
One week after taking down preseason No. 1 Kansas in a scrimmage, the Illini demolished in-state foe Eastern Illinois 80-52 with freshman guard Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn accounting for 17 points, three rebounds and three assists in the winning effort. Gibbs-Lawhorn wasn’t heavily pursued as a recruit but could be a key piece for a potentially deep Illini team that needs his combination of size, speed and scoring.
Other notable freshman debuts Monday
- Stephon Castle (UConn): 12 points, five rebounds, two assists vs. Northern Arizona
- Elliot Cadeau (North Carolina): Six assists, five points, two rebounds vs. Radford
- Thomas Batties II (Harvard): 16 points, five rebounds, three assists vs. UMass Boston
- Caleb Foster (Duke): 15 points, three rebounds vs. Dartmouth