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Rothstein | 25 impact freshmen for the 2017-18 season

BROOKLYN, NY - APRIL 14: East Team forward Michael Porter Jr. (1), who will be a freshman in college basketball this season, on the bench during the first 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

Which first-year players will have the biggest impact during the 2017-18 college basketball season? Check out our list below as we look at 25 impact freshmen (in no particular order):

Michael Porter Jr., Missouri: At 6-10, the likely No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft has guard-like skills that allow him to play all five positions on the court. Can the Tigers go from irrelevance to one of 68 teams playing in the NCAA Tournament next spring? Absolutely. How? Porter is that special. This kid will be appointment television for the college basketball junkie and beyond.

DeAndre Ayton, Arizona: This 7-footer is the most talented player that Sean Miller has coached during his career. That should give the Wildcats a chance to finally break through and reach the Final Four. Armed with tremendous hands and a high skill level, Ayton adds a new dynamic Arizona hasn’t possessed in past years due to his length, athleticism and explosiveness.

Mohammed Bamba, Texas: Trying to get points at the rim against Bamba will be harder than getting blood from a stone. The 6-11 big man possesses a 7-9 wingspan, making it virtually impossible for opponents to get clean looks at the goal. The most underrated thing about this kid’s game? How gifted he is offensively. Expect Bamba to show a diverse offensive game next season by taking and making 3-point shots with regularity. His presence gives Shaka Smart’s team a real chance to return to the NCAA Tournament after winning only 11 games last season.

Trevon Duval, Duke: If you blink, you’ll miss this lead guard in transition — seriously. Like a cheetah in the open floor, Duval blends elite speed and elite finishing ability. A high-level playmaker and scorer, this 6-3 floor general will give Duke something it didn’t have at the start of last season — a clear-cut presence at the most important position on the floor.

Marvin Bagley III, Duke: This late addition has Chris Bosh-like ability on offense. At 6-11, the left-handed Bagley has the tools to extend the defense and also have a major impact in protecting the rim on the other side of the floor. Expect this kid to challenge Porter for the top spot in next June’s NBA Draft, all while putting Duke in position to win a national title a few months prior.

Wendell Carter, Duke: A prototypical power forward, this Atlanta native is blessed with great size at 6-9 and 255 pounds. Already built like an NBA big man, look for Carter to slide to center when Mike Krzyzewski plays small and features four skilled players on the floor at the same time.

Gary Trent Jr., Duke: The son of former NBA forward Gary Trent, this 6-5 wing is an elite scorer who can put the ball in the basket in several different ways. With Trevon Duval, Grayson Allen, and fellow freshman Jordan Tucker all more than likely to play major minutes for the Blue Devils, don’t be surprised if Trent becomes this team’s small-ball four-man when ACC play begins in January.

Quade Green, Kentucky: Any 5-star point guard who commits to Kentucky will have high expectations, and Green is no different. The Philadelphia native is expected to replace De’Aaron Fox as the Wildcats’ starting floor general next season, arriving in Lexington with high-level cachet thanks to his ability to set the table. If a teammate is open, Green will find him.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kentucky: While the expectation is that Green will replace Fox as the Wildcats’ starting point guard next season, don’t count out the forgotten piece of Kentucky’s fabled recruiting class. Gilgeous-Alexander has great size for a guard at 6-5, boasting the length to guard multiple positions. That’s something John Calipari has always craved regardless of where he is coached. After initially committing to Florida, this native of Canada will call Rupp Arena home and should play a major role in the Wildcats’ rotation.

Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky: A freak athlete, the 6-5 Diallo has wiry athleticism that simply cannot be taught. After almost a full year on Kentucky’s campus since arriving last January, this kid should be ready to hit the ground running when the season starts on November 10. Think another Latrell Sprewell.

Kevin Knox, Kentucky: Simply put, Knox is absurdly skilled on offense. The combo forward is being touted as a “6-9 version of Malik Monk” and should be a lock to start for the Wildcats next season on the wing opposite Diallo. Rupp Arena will love this kid’s ability to fill it up.

P.J. Washington, Kentucky: Versatility personified, the 6-8 Washington can play either forward spot and will be a regular mismatch for opponents. Armed with the ability to score both inside and out, the Findlay Prep product will give the Wildcats another player with size who can affect the game offensively, both around and away from the basket.

J.J. Caldwell, Texas A&M: Why do many SEC coaches believe the Aggies can win the league next season? This guy. Texas A&M lacked a proven point guard last year. That problem is now solved with the addition of Caldwell. An academic redshirt in 16-17, the pass-first floor general makes the Aggies the top team in the SEC in terms of overall talent and experience.

Lonnie Walker, Miami: Jim Larranaga has augmented the level of Miami’s recruiting the past few years, and Walker’s commitment reiterates that sentiment. The 5-star guard had offers from several blue bloods before ultimately choosing the Hurricanes . He should form a potent perimeter with veteran point guard Ja’Quan Newton and ACC Player of the Year candidate Bruce Brown.

Jaren Jackson, Michigan State: Tom Izzo gets two healthy veterans back from injuries up front in Ben Carter and Gavin Schilling, but Jackson will do everything he can to earn as much playing time as possible. With Miles Bridges likely to play a large portion of minutes at small forward, Carter, Schilling, sophomore Nick Ward, and Jackson will be left to fill the holes at both power forward and center. The son of former NBA star Jaren Jackson, this 6-11 freshman is long, athletic, and has the ability to stretch the defense from the four spot.

Billy Preston, Kansas: For Kansas to win its 14th consecutive Big 12 regular season title, it needs mileage out of Preston. The 6-10 forward may have as much overall talent as any player in the 2017 class, but the question remains: Can he be consistent on a regular basis? The Jayhawks will have to count on Preston with regularity at the power forward spot.

Collin Sexton, Alabama: There are many reasons for the current buzz surrounding Alabama’s program, but this is one of the main ones. Sexton is as good a point guard as there is in the 2017 class, and he should make the Crimson Tide a dangerous team entering the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Blessed with size at 6-3, elite speed, and a willingness to lead, this kid may become the ultimate momentum changer when people look back at Avery Johnson’s tenure in Tuscaloosa.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Virginia Tech: Smooth, sound, and mature beyond his years, this 6-5 wing makes the hard plays look easy and the simple plays look matter of fact. Buzz Williams has always valued experience during his time as a college head coach, but Alexander-Walker is not your typical freshman. A terrific passer who never gets rattled, this 5-star prospect has an excellent chance to be a starter for the Hokies in 2017-18.

Troy Brown Jr., Oregon: The rebuilding situation in Eugene is real, but as of now, it’s far from spectacular. Not to worry, the 6-6 Brown will ensure that the Ducks are again competitive in the Pac-12. A McDonald’s All-American, Brown can play multiple positions and could lead the Ducks in scoring next season. He’ll be an instant starter for Oregon.

Jaylen Hands, UCLA: How will UCLA replace Lonzo Ball? This guy. Hands may not arrive in Westwood with the same cachet as his predecessor, but he’s still more than capable of running Steve Alford’s offense. The Bruins are in good shape with this kid pointing their compass.

Kris Wilkes, UCLA: Tailor-made for Hollywood, the 6-7 Wilkes should keep the Bruins’ offense moving at a high clip. Everyone will ask about how UCLA will replace Lonzo Ball, but this program also has to replace three other double-figure scorers in Bryce Alford, Isaac Hamilton, and T.J. Leaf. Wilkes should help.

Brandon McCoy, UNLV: Marvin Menzies vowed to again make UNLV relevant when he took his current post in 2016. McCoy’s commitment did just that. The 5-star big man is a legitimate one-and-done prospect. At 6-11, he could be the most physically imposing player in the Mountain West next season. McCoy alone makes the Runnin’ Rebels worth following again — that’s a great thing for college basketball.

Brian Bowen, Louisville: There were times last season when the Cardinals couldn’t throw the ball into the ocean. Bowen should significantly help in that specific area. The 6-7 forward is as gifted a scorer as there is in the 2017 class but needs to make a regular commitment to defense if he wants to start for Rick Pitino. As we’ve seen in the past, that’s a non-negotiable.

Trae Young, Oklahoma: It’s not an oversight, it’s an insult. Young is regularly bypassed in conversations when people talk about the top freshmen lead guards entering college basketball next season and he shouldn’t be. The Oklahoma native turned down offers from Kentucky and Kansas before ultimately choosing to play for the Sooners. It says here many Big 12 teams will know just how darn good this kid is by mid-January.

Omari Spellman, Villanova: The best big man that Jay Wright has ever coached? It’s very possible. After not being cleared by the NCAA last season, Spellman comes to the Main Line with high expectations for good reason. Armed with hands like glue and the ability to stretch the defense out to the 3-point line, Spellman will give the Wildcats a completely new dynamic in the paint and beyond. Think Jared Sullinger with more skill.

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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