Key freshman to watch this season

The 2022-23 women's college basketball season has tipped off. It's a little too early for us to start thinking about trends and all that, so let's do one more preview-y kind of piece instead. This time, we'll be looking at some key freshmen players who should make an impact around the state this season.

This list excludes redshirt freshmen or JUCO players who are in their first season at the Division I level.

Janiah Barker - Texas A&M

Barker was the highest-rated recruit in ESPN's rankings to come to a Texas school, as she was the third-ranked player behind Lauren Betts (Stanford) and Kiki Rice (UCLA). 

The only thing that we know for sure about the Aggies this year is that we know nothing about the Aggies. I couldn't even begin to guess what the team's starting lineup this season will look like, as so much of last year's squad is gone. For example, A&M's strength was that they had four wings above-average wings, and now zero of those players are on the current roster.

The 6-foot-4 Barker should help shore up the interior for A&M, something that was an issue last year. She averaged 17.6 points and 8.9 rebounds per game last season and also shot well from the outside. We'll have to see how A&M ends up using her. And what A&M's whole system looks like.

And Barker isn't the only Aggie freshman who'll get run. Guards Sydney Bowles and Mya Petticord should both have prominent spots in the rotation. Could A&M start all three? This might shape up to be a rebuilding year in College Station, so it's definitely in the realm of possibilities.

Through two games, Barker is averaging 12.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game

Darianna Littlepage-Buggs - Baylor

Baylor looks a lot different this year, and they also looked a lot different against Lamar in the opener than they should for most of the season, as Caitlin Bickle and Dre'una Edwards were both out, leading to a starting lineup that featured newcomers Catarina Ferrerira and Darianna Littlepage-Buggs, in addition to hyped transfer Aijha Blackwell.

Littlepage-Buggs was ESPN's No. 17 recruit in this class, the top player from Oklahoma. Littlepage-Buggs is a wing, but had to play some center against Lamar because Edwards and Bickle were out, which really shows the first-year player's versatility. She played 31 minutes in the opener, going 5-for-10 with 11 points and seven rebounds, plus an assist, a block and a steal. It's too early to hype her up too much simply because we don't know how this rotation will shake out, but it looks like she'll have a sizable role, though she struggled with her shot in the team's second game against UIW, going just 2-for-8 from the floor.

Amina Muhammad and Ndjakalenga Mwenentanda - Texas

Baylor looks different this year, but I'm not sure they have anything on the transfer and freshman-heavy Longhorns. Two freshmen sw heavy minutes in the team's tune-up games: Ndjakalenga Mwenentanda and Amina Muhammad. Both were efficient in those games. Against real competition, Mwenetanda played 27 minutes in Texas' first game, scoring 10 points but shooting just. 20 percent, while Muhammad scored just two points in the game. This won't be updated after the UConn game on Monday night, but both will need to play well for Texas to win that one.

Muhammad, a forward from DeSoto, was ESPN's No. 63 recruit. Mwenentanda, who is from South Dakota, was the No. 34 recruit. Both flashed an ability to get to the line and some good passing skills in the exhibition games, though like with Baylor and A&M, it's anyone's guess how the freshmen get mixed into things.

Bailey Maupin - Texas Tech

While the players above have unsettled roles because we either A) haven't seen their team play or B) haven't seen their team play at full strength, we can get a sense of how Texas Tech will use its prized freshman, former Gruver guard Bailey Maupin, who was named Miss Texas Basketball last year.

Maupin played 17 minutes off the bench in Monday's win over Texas A&M Corpus Christi, taking six shots and making three of them. She also made four free throws, which led to her tying Rhyle McKinney for second on the team in scoring with 11 points. She made one of the team's four threes.

With Vivian Gray gone and Bre'Amber Scott still working her way back from foot surgery, it's not clear who'll be doing most of the scoring for the Red Raiders. Maupin has made an early statement that she might be a big part of the team's offense. 

Jordan Harrison - SFA

The Ladyjacks have to replace Stephanie Visscher, which is going to be really hard. And one thing that people have been wondering lately has been who on the roster would step up.

Harrison has a chance to be one of those key players. Through three games, she's averaging 9.7 points and 5.0 assists per contest. The scoring will likely be uneven for a bit, just because that's what happens with a young player. But the early assist numbers show how she's quickly picking up with offense. With her and Avery Brittingham able to handle the ball, SFA should still be able to run its offense, even without Visscher.

This SFA team looks a lot different than it has in recent years, but one thing is set to continue: they'll take a lot of shots and will play an offensive scheme that values smart shots. Harrison fit that shot profile in the opener, as all her attempts were either at the rim or behind the arc.

Jazzy Owens-Barnett - Rice

This one's a little bit of a personal pick because I saw Owens-Barnett play at Frisco Liberty a few years back and thought she was really talented.

Owens-Barnett's a gifted passer who can run the Rice second unit. She won't have to do much in terms of scoring because the Owls have a lot of good scorers on the team already with players like Malia Fisher, Maya Bokunewicz, Katelyn Crosthwait and Fatou Samb.

Through two games, Owens-Barnett is only shooting 30 percent, but she's averaging 3.0 assists and just 0.5 turnovers per game. She's going to be an exciting league guard down the line.

Bonus: Ashlon Jackson - Duke

Jackson, who went to Hardin Jefferson, left the state of Texas to play college basketball. And while that's a real shame for those of us who really like to watch Texas college basketball, it doesn't mean that we have to just ignore Jackson, right? In fact, Duke might be the non-Texas teams that Texans should adopt this year. They play in a conference with no Texas teams, so there's no conflicts there, and the roster features Jackson plus Prosper's Jordyn Oliver and Austin High's Mia Heide, and they also have Emma Schmidt, who is from Waukee, Iowa but played five games at TCU in 2020-21, walking on after being the school's men's basketball student manager.

Anyway, Ashlon Jackson is good. She played 17 minutes in her Duke debut, scoring eight points on 2-for-6 shooting with three assists. She was 2-for-4 from deep. Duke's a team that doesn't really have a lot of reliable shooting, so Jackson should be able to carve out a role.

 

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