OK, so no, this year’s crop of freshmen don’t match up to the 2016-17 group, which proved to meet the hype. If you want a refresher on that class, just go check out the 2017 draft results, in which a record number of freshmen were taken in the first round.
This year’s newbies do have plenty to offer, though. A lot of really good power forwards and centers. It’s not the “Year of the Big Man” or anything like that, but we’re likely to see a lot of guys 6-foot-9 and taller turn into top-40 players in college hoops this season.
Below, I’ve listed the 20 freshmen who I think are a combination of being the most talented, having the best chance of producing big numbers and overall being the most watchable guys in their class. It’s not just about how they project as pros. I’d say at least eight of the players I have listed should return for their sophomore seasons.
Not included on this list: Former Western Kentucky commit Mitchell Robinson, who has left the sport; Brian Bowen, who may never play college basketball thanks to the FBI; and Jarred Vanderbilt, a top-12 prospect at Kentucky who’s out for three months with an ACL tear.
Even without those three players, all of whom were five-star recruits, we’ve got a nice crop of frosh to gab about. Here’s a head start on the new guys to know in college hoops this season.
1. Michael Porter, PF, Missouri
- 247Sports composite recruiting ranking: No. 2.
- The skinny: Porter does it all from an offensive standpoint. He can play any of the forward positions in dominant fashion, and although Missouri has a lot of new pieces in place (including his brother, Jontay, who was able to reclassify to 2017 and will also be a freshman), Porter is the posterchild for program turnaround. He’ll attempt to do what Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz could not: be statistically dominant, make a push for No. 1 overall draft status and reach the NCAA Tournament. Missouri fans are already plenty familiar with Porter’s game, but if you’ve only heard the name and don’t know much else, take a look.
2. Marvin Bagley III, PF, Duke
- 247Sports composite recruiting ranking: No. 1.
- The skinny: Bagley would be tops on this list if not for the fact he’s on a team that’s got more talent than Porter. Make no mistake about it: Bagley’s a bad man, and he’ll do damage at Duke this season. But Grayson Allen will probably put up around 20 points per game, and Trevon Duval should command the offense. Bagley will be the best complementary player in America, probably. He’s as well-rounded a power forward as you could ask for. Truthfully, he’s got no business playing college basketball, but that’s where we’re at now. Duke’s young, but Bagley’s likely to help the Blue Devils overcome that inexperience thanks to his dominant rebounding, deft ball-handling, terrific body control and NBA-ready jumper.
3. DeAndre Ayton, C, Arizona
- 247Sports composite recruiting ranking: No. 4.
- The skinny: Allow me to coin the term “power center,” if you will? Because that’s what Ayton should be labeled. He’s 7-foot with a 7-6 wingspan, can play back to the basket or handle in the mid-range, and he’s got defensive potential that is going to put him in contention for Defensive Player of the Year in the Pac-12. He probably won’t be Arizona’s best all-around player, but he might wind up being the most valuable. He’s a stark contrast from the big man that helped the Wildcats last year, Lauri Markkanen. Arizona’s dealing with plenty of off-the-court problems, in addition to Rawle Alkins’ long-term injury, but there’s no shortage of talent on the roster, and Ayton will supplement all of it.
4. Mohamed Bamba, PF, Texas
- 247Sports composite recruiting ranking: No. 3.
- The skinny: Bamba will be watchable from game No. 1, and it’s not going to be for his offense. He’s got a wingspan like an albatross. Shaka Smart has his best offense-breaker ever. He’s never coached a player close to what Bamba boasts. Expect the freshman to average 10 or 11 points, 10 or 11 rebounds, and probably north of 3.0 blocks. He’ll guard down low and get out on the perimeter. During Rick Barnes’ best years at Texas he often had guys with long reach and dominant rebounding ability. Bamba is a throwback to that in some regard. On that end of the floor, he’s bust-proof.
5. Trevon Duval, PG, Duke
- 247Sports composite recruiting ranking: No. 6.
- The skinny: If he can compete in the style and at the level he did as a junior and senior in high school, Duval is going to be the clear-cut best point guard in this year’s class. He’s got composure and smoothness to his game. He’s athletic. Think of his game as a cousin to Dennis Smith Jr., only with more consistent results defensively. Duval has more lead guard tendencies than a true point guard, but he’ll be a welcomed sight for Duke fans who watched the Blue Devils win in spite of having a true point guard running the floor last season. Allen and Bagley will command a lot of attention, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see Duval seal a few victories in big spots for the Blue Devils by the time we get to mid-February.
6. Hamidou Diallo, SG, Kentucky
- 247Sports composite recruiting ranking: No. 10.
- The skinny: Diallo could have taken a gamble on himself and left for the NBA Draft in June. Instead, he got feedback that he wouldn’t be a top-20 pick. Now he has an opportunity to be the dominant player on this young-as-ever Kentucky roster. And this UK team is going to be green but good. Diallo might wind up as the most watchable player in the sport. Freak athlete, fairly good handle, loves to run, will get up in your face and defend. He also plays hot from time to time, which is a good quality but one he’ll need to keep in check. He’s probably the most competitive guy John Calipari has on the roster this season. It’s a good thing for college hoops that a program like Kentucky has a player like Diallo. They fit each other well.
7. Collin Sexton, PG, Alabama
- 247Sports composite recruiting ranking: No. 5.
- The skinny: If you missed my rundown of the top point guards in college basketball, . A snippet of what I wrote about Sexton: “The resurgence of Alabama’s basketball program doesn’t fall only on the Sexton’s shoulders, but if the Crimson Tide are going to play up to the hype this season, Sexton will almost certainly be the biggest reason. He’s a flash of an athlete and a really fun player to watch. He’ll move with abandon and bring an element of excitement that the program hasn’t seen in ages.” When was the last time you tuned in to watch Alabama play hoops? Sexton could become appointment television. He was a great recruit, should be an A-level college player, and almost certainly is going to be one-and-done. There are general wonderments regarding any potential eligibility issues, — who seems obliquely connected to the FBI’s case — resign. The school claims it’s reviewed what needs reviewing and all players are still in uniform.
8. Jaren Jackson, PF, Michigan State
- 247Sports composite recruiting ranking: No. 8.
- The skinny: The biggest man on Michigan State’s roster should blend in quite well on a sophomore-dominated Spartans team that has national championship expectations. Miles Bridges is getting preseason POY pub. He’ll be supported by Jackson, who will tag team with Nick Ward in the post to give MSU and Tom Izzo a refreshingly old-school pound-pound-pound approach. Since Bridges is so heralded and Ward was so good last season, Jackson’s cruising under the radar at this moment. He could wind up becoming an elite freshman by the time we get to January, though. Powerful, bruising, intelligent player.
9. Kevin Knox, SF, Kentucky