20 under-the-radar freshmen to watch for in 17-18 CBB season

East Team guard Tremont Waters (4) during the second half of the 2017 Jordan Brand Classic National Boys Game between the West Team and the East Team on April 14, 2017 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)
Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

We know all about the McDonald’s All-Americans to keep an eye on entering next season, but what about some hidden gems that could make a major impact right away? Check out our list below for 20 under-the-radar freshmen entering the 2017-18 CBB season. In no particular order…

Daejon Davis, Stanford: The former Washington commit has a chance to be Jerod Haase’s starting point guard as a freshman. The 6-foot-4 Davis has great burst off the dribble and can also keep the defense honest with his offensive repertoire. This will be one of the top first-year players in the Pac-12 next season.

Abdul Ado, Mississippi State: The Bulldogs went 16-16 last season and if you ask anyone on their staff, this team would have won 20 if been a 20-win team if Ado was ruled eligible by the NCAA. A non-qualifier last year as a freshman, Ado should be Mississippi State’s starting center in 2017-18. A capable screener and elite rim protector, the 6-11 big man is cut from the same cloth as other frontcourt players that helped Ben Howland win a lot of games at both UCLA and Pitt.

Chuma Okeke, Auburn: The epitome of relentless, Okeke averaged a double double during the Tigers’ foreign tour this summer and should have a legitimate chance to be Bruce Pearl’s starting power forward in 2017-18. The Atlanta native has good size at 6-8 and 230 pounds, boasting the physical attributes needed to have an immediate impact in the SEC during his first year of college basketball.

Matt Coleman, Texas: The Longhorns had 377 assists to 443 turnovers as a team last season and that’s a main reason Shaka Smart made Coleman such a priority on the recruiting trail. A pass-first floor general with a great feel, Coleman sets the table as well as any incoming point guard from the 2017 class. His presence will be instantly worth another five-to-seven victories for Texas next season.

Tremont Waters, LSU: This Connecticut native took his talents to Baton Rouge to get the keys to the car from Day 1 and he’ll be the Tigers’ starting point guard as a freshman. Look for Will Wade to use Waters the same way he used JeQuan Lewis, who flourished under Wade’s tutelage the past two seasons at VCU.

De’Andre Hunter, Virginia: Tony Bennett has always believed in redshirting players for the long term and Hunter is just another example. The 6-7 wing added strength and size since his arrival in Charlottesville and has the potential to develop into an elite defender for Virginia. This will be a regular name in the ACC by the middle of conference play.

Anthony Gaines, Northwestern: There are not a lot of open minutes on the Wildcats’ perimeter, but Gaines could work his way into Chris Collins’ rotation thanks to his intangibles. Smooth, tough, and steady, the 6-4 Gaines can fill the box score and make an impact on defense. This will be a quality four-year guy in Evanston.

Bryan Trimble, St. John’s: Former Florida State commit scores 10-12 points just by getting out of bed in the morning and could wind up as a valuable reserve for Chris Mullin. Don’t be shocked if Trimble has the same type of long term impact on the Red Storm program that current sophomore Myles Powell is projected to have at Seton Hall.

Jordan Goodwin, Saint Louis: The reclamation project with the Billikens is up and running and Goodwin’s presence is a major reason. Travis Ford was attracted to this 6-4 guard because of his similarities to Marcus Smart and if he winds up being half as good as the former Oklahoma State star then Saint Louis will be one of the top teams in the Atlantic 10 over the next few seasons. Expect this kid to be an instant star at Chafeitz Arena.

Jose Alvarado, Georgia Tech: Josh Pastner needed guys with intangibles when he began to rebuild the Yellow Jackets’ program and that’s what Alvarado has. New York bred and New York tough, the former Christ The King point guard often decimates the opposition with his biggest weapon — his heart.

Kellan Grady, Davidson: How will Bob McKillop replace Jack Gibbs? Probably not with one man, but there’s a good chance Grady will have a major hand in what the Wildcats do on the perimeter next season and beyond. Many coaches in the Atlantic 10 believe that Davidson could be the conference’s sleeper team next year because of what it returns. If Grady is ready for a major piece of the pie, then things could get really interesting. A big combo guard at 6-4, the Massachusetts native is fluid, smooth, and versatile with his offense.

Romello White, Arizona State: Bobby Hurley didn’t have a bonafide interior presence last season and now he does with White. A former Top-100 recruit, the Atlanta native was an academic redshirt a year ago and should have an excellent chance to average a double double in 17-18. Expect this kid to produce at a high level from the first jump ball of the season.

D.J. Harvey, Notre Dame: Mike Brey went back to his DeMatha roots to tab this 6-6 forward and Harvey will be a key piece for the Irish next season. Under Brey, Notre Dame has always thrived when playing smaller and Harvey fits the mold of a classic undersized 4 man. Expect this kid and Bonzie Colson to close out a lot of games up front for the Irish next season.

Geo Baker, Rutgers: Armed with good size at 6-4, Baker is the type of building block that Steve Pikiell desperately needed to land in Piscataway. Expect this kid to start as a freshman and give Rutgers a real foundation moving forward. With Montez Mathis — another Top 100 guard — already in tow for 2018, Pikiell is gradually building a perimeter that he hopes will lead the Scarlet Knights out of the bottom of the Big Ten.

Collin Gillespie, Villanova: The hidden gem of the Wildcats’ recruiting class, the 6-2 Gillespie sports a tight handle and an uncanny intangibles. Destined to overdeliver in college after being undersold in high school, this Pennsylvania native should find a place in Villanova’s rotation next season behind Jalen Brunson. Think a watered-down version of Oregon’s Payton Pritchard.

Luka Garza, Iowa: Garza comes to Iowa City from the fabled Team Takeover AAU program and will be an immediate contributor next season. Skilled, cerebral, and physical at 6-11, Garza has an excellent chance to start for Iowa at center as Fran McCaffery aims to take his team back to the NCAA Tournament in 2018.

Matthew Moyer, Syracuse: Jim Boeheim needs another option to emerge alongside Tyus Battle and Moyer will get an opportunity to fill that void. A former Top-100 recruit out of high school, the 6-8 forward redshirted last season, but should start for the Orange in 2017-18. Long and wiry, Moyer could be an active component of Syracuse’s vintage 2-3 zone, especially with Taurean Thompson’s unexpected departure.

Ethan Thompson, Oregon State: The Beavers could be one of the most improved teams in the country next season and the addition of Thompson is a major reason why. A four-star recruit, this Southern California native gives Wayne Tinkle a quality fifth starter to go along with Thompson’s brother Stephen, JaQuori McLaughlin, Tres Tinkle, and Drew Eubanks. Oregon State only won six games last season, but don’t be surprised if it at least triples that number in 17-18.

Daron “Fatts” Russell, Rhode Island: 5-10 and shifty, Russell will bring Philadelphia swagger to New England. Dan Hurley is loaded on the perimeter with veterans like Jeff Dowtin, E.C. Matthews, Jarvis Garrett, Jared Terrell, and Stan Robinson, but there will still be a place in Rhode Island’s rotation for Russell. This kid will have at least one or two games where he makes an Atlantic 10 opponent beyond frustrated.

Mark Smith, Illinois: Smith was named Mr. Basketball in Illinois last season and his decision to stay home was a major coup for Brad Underwood. Smith is strong, skilled, and confident, so expect him to have a chance to start for the Illini immediately as they attempt to crack the top half of the Big Ten.

Jon Rothstein has been a college basketball insider for CBS Sports since 2010 and is the lead college basketball columnist for the FanRag Sports Network. He is also the host of the College Hoops Today Podcast via Compass Media Networks, which is available via iTunes. Rothstein is also a regular in-studio correspondent for both WFAN and CBS Sports Radio. He currently lives in Manhattan.

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