Missouri Athletics

College Basketball’s Impact Freshmen

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Beginning in September and running up until November 10th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

This season’s freshman class isn’t quite as deep as last season’s bunch — which saw a ridiculous group that is already contributing at the NBA level — but the star power at the top of 2017 might actually be better than last season’s guard-heavy group.

While this class is very focused on big men and bigger wings, there are talents at all positions to keep track of. Another interesting wrinkle for this season is some of the new schools that five-star prospects are choosing.

Traditional bluebloods like Arizona, Duke and Kentucky are still cleaning up on five-star talents but some other schools have entered the mix for some of the nation’s best young talent.

Watch out for these 20 names this season, and there will also be plenty of other freshmen to keep tabs on throughout college basketball.

Marvin Bagley III (Reagan Lunn/Duke Athletics)


These are the studs, the best players in the class, the guys that are going to be at the top of draft boards and in the all-american conversation all season long.

Michael Porter Jr., Missouri: Capable of being the best player in the country this season, Porter might be one of the most polished freshman scorers that college basketball has seen over the past several seasons. And unlike a lot of his peers who teamed with other five-star super talents, Porter is going to have to do a lot of the heavy lifting for the Tigers this season. Yes, Missouri has some four-star talents like younger brother Jontay Porter and Jeremiah Tilmon coming in with Michael, but if the Tigers want to make noise in the SEC then Porter might have to have a Kevin Durant/Michael Beasley type of season to make it happen.

Marvin Bagley, Duke: Even if Porter Jr. has a monster season, the 6-foot-11 Bagley might be the best long-term prospect and No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. A gifted and fluid athlete with a very high skill level for his size, Bagley’s August commitment to the Blue Devils made them the preseason No. 1 team in the eyes of many. Bagley is a double-double machine capable of snaring almost any miss above rim level and his ability to handle the ball and pass makes him deadly pushing off of a rebound. And with elite off-the-floor athleticism, Bagley can make plays around the rim that others can only dream of.

Deandre Ayton, Arizona: If exhibition games are any indication, then Ayton should still be considered a potential No. 1 pick and possible All-American. In only 24 minutes against Eastern New Mexico, Ayton had 31 points (13-for-16 FG), 10 rebounds, two blocks and two assists. If Ayton is focused and playing with a high motor, then he is one of the most physically-gifted 7-footers that college basketball has seen in the last decade. With unique touch for a player of his size and athleticism, Ayton can be a special player for Arizona this season if they get him enough touches and keep him engaged. And with the help of another double-double threat in senior big man Dusan Ristic, defenses can’t take a break defending against Arizona’s talented interior scorers. That should wear down a lot of teams this season.

Deandre Ayton (Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

Collin Sexton, Alabama: Watching Sexton should be a very unique experience this season as head coach Avery Johnson tries to reign in the 6-foot-3 guard’s hyperactive intensity. Sexton is the kind of electric talent who led the Nike EYBL in scoring by a full nine points per game a few years back but he also plays with such energy (both good and bad) that it has to be harnessed correctly or things can go poorly. Thankfully, Sexton has become better about playing in level-headed ways as he’s also capable of getting others involved by drawing in multiple defenders. Sexton should be one of the biggest weapons with the ball in his hands in the country this season. Don’t be shocked to see Sexton among the nation’s leaders in attempted free throws.

Mohamed Bamba, Texas: It will likely only be one season in Austin for this 6-foot-11 center and it’s hard to predict what type of player Bamba can be for the Longhorns. With a 7-foot-8 wingspan and tremendous lateral quickness for his size, Bamba is a completely distinctive prospect because he can do so many uncharacteristic things on the defensive end. Bamba is long enough to challenge and swat at nearly any look while also being quick and instinctive enough to switch onto some wings and shut them down. And offensively, Bamba is also trying to figure out how to use his unique gifts as he can limited on that end because of his developing strength and skill level. Bamba will have to show he’s able to score outside of the paint if he’s going to be a consistent factor on offense. Even with some limitations, Bamba is a scary prospect and one who should help Texas immensely at times this season.

Wendell Carter, Duke: It’s scary to think that Carter could be a top-five pick — even though Bagley is playing in the other frontcourt spot. The 6-foot-10 Carter is another monster on the interior who can impact a game on the glass, score on the block or stop opposing big men one-on-one in the paint. A little bigger and stronger than Bagley, Carter is also underrated from a skills perspective as he’s a gifted passer and solid jump shooter. Watching to see if Carter has any kind of extended range is going to be a major factor early in the season as Duke seeks consistent spacing from anyone besides Grayson Allen and Gary Trent Jr.

Wendell Carter (Reagan Lunn/Duke Athletics)

Jaren Jackson Jr., Michigan State: The ceiling is the roof for the 6-foot-11 Jackson as he’s skilled enough to shoot 40 percent from three-point range but long and athletic enough to be a menacing rim protector. That’s why Jackson has shot up NBA Draft boards over the past year as he’ll give the Spartans a big man who space the floor. Armed with a 7-foot-4 wingspan, Jackson can also be a major impact on the glass and defensively as he should be a great compliment to the bruising low-post game of sophomore Nick Ward. If Jackson has a monster season then Michigan State might have the scariest collection of talent in the country.

Trevon Duval, Duke: Nobody is doubting the physical tools and lead guard skill that Duval can potentially bring to Duke this season. The 6-foot-3 Duval is nearly impossible to contain off the bounce and his slick handles and passing ability is also noted. But Duke needs Duval to tone down his streaks of wild play and make sure that he’s a floor leader who can get others looks in the half court. For all of the talent that Duke has this season, it might be up to Duval to see this team’s true ceiling because he can make things so much easier on everyone else. Duval’s jumper will also be something to watch for as he’s never been consistent in that department. It’s not just that Duval is inconsistent, he can be flat-out bad shooting the ball sometimes. If Duval can handle point-guard responsibilities adequately then Duke won’t have to worry as much about the jumper but how Duval handles having the ball in his hands early is something to monitor.

Kevin Knox, Kentucky: A surprising spring signing for the Wildcats, Knox might have the best upside of a loaded Kentucky recruiting haul. The son of former Florida State receiver Kevin Knox, the younger Knox is a mega-athlete on the wing who is capable of scoring and rebounding at a high level. The 6-foot-8 Knox showed an improving jumper during his senior season and that could be a huge key for his freshman success and Kentucky’s season. Since the Wildcats don’t have a lot of consistent perimeter threats, Knox knocking down jumpers would keep a lot of defenses honest and make the Wildcats very tough to beat.

Lonnie Walker, Miami: Now that it looks like he’ll be fully recovered from a torn meniscus suffered this summer, the 6-foot-5 Walker joins a Miami team with very high expectations. A natural scorer with a developed pull-up game and ability to get to the basket, Walker will have a lot of weapons around him, so he might be an immediate tough cover in the ACC. If Walker can knock down three-pointers on a consistent basis then he’ll continue to generate pro interest as he’s been rising up boards since the spring all-star circuit.

Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky Athletics


Here are five players ranked outside the top ten that might play their way onto an all-american team or into the NBA Draft lottery.

Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky: Redshirting the second semester of last season, Diallo has already experienced the highs and lows of practices and preparing for game days. Now the ultra-athletic 6-foot-5 Diallo gets a chance to play under the bright lights of Big Blue Nation. With tremendous athletic gifts and a ridiculous 6-foot-11 wingspan, Diallo could be one of the nation’s elite perimeter defenders this season and he’s also capable of above-the-rim plays that could lead top-ten highlight lists on a nightly basis. If Diallo becomes more consistent scoring away from the rim then he could be a force this season.

Troy Brown, Oregon: Highly-touted since he dominated the LeBron James Skills Academy as a high school freshman, the 6-foot-7 Brown is a very polished wing who can do a bit of everything. Capable of handling the ball, distributing and scoring, Brown has a chance to play a major role for an Oregon team that is losing a lot off of last year’s Final Four team. Brown should be one of the Pac-12’s better offensive players this season.

Trae Young, Oklahoma: It isn’t very often that the Sooners get a local five-star point guard but that is the case for the 6-foot-2 Young. Nobody on this list can match Young’s long-range shooting ability as he has the ability to rise and fire off the dribble from Steph Curry range. While he doesn’t own Curry’s consistency from three-point range (but, really, who does?), the sheer threat of Young knocking down deep jumpers makes him that much more of a threat off the bounce, where he’s a deceptively good floor leader.

Kris Wilkes, UCLA: The Bruins won’t have the magic of Lonzo Ball at point guard this season but they’ll still have a high-octane offense with a lot of weapons. Among the better options for the Bruins will be this 6-foot-8 wing from Indiana as Wilkes is a very good scorer. Very tough to stop in the open floor and also skilled enough to score at multiple levels in the halfcourt, Wilkes is a potential mismatch problem on the wing who is versatile enough to play a few different roles.

Brandon McCoy, UNLV: Coming off of an 11-21 season, the Runnin’ Rebels need this five-star 6-foot-11 center to produce immediately. The McDonald’s All-American is a solid athlete who brings a lot of natural size and ability at center for UNLV. It also helps McCoy that he’ll have two senior guards to get him the ball and some of the nation’s best junior college players joining him in the frontcourt. UNLV will have a lot of new pieces but McCoy will be one of the few freshman asked to produce for them right away.

Mo Bamba (AP Photo)


They may not be the superstars, but these guys will be relevant in the tournament.

Paul Scruggs, Xavier: A rugged two-way guard who isn’t afraid to play with physicality, the 6-foot-3 Scruggs could play his way into more minutes if he’s able to be a threat on offense. Strong at getting in the paint and attacking the basket, Scruggs can play on or off the ball, although he needs to improve the consistency on his perimeter jumper.

John Petty, Alabama: If Alabama envisions themselves as an NCAA tournament team then they’ll likely need a good season from this potent four-star shooting guard. The 6-foot-5 Petty is capable of some big scoring outbursts as he’s equipped with a streaky perimeter jumper and college-ready transition game. Cutting back on bad shots and turnovers could be key for Petty but he’s never had this much talent around him.

Matt Coleman, Texas: Without a point guard last season, the Longhorns struggled to take good shots and generate consistent offense. A true floor leader who has played for some high-level teams during a storied prep career, Coleman is hoping to be the piece that helps fix the Texas offense by making everything easier on everyone else. Coleman’s perimeter jumper needs work, but he’ll get plenty of good looks for others to make up for it.

Rayshaun Hammonds, Georgia: Some serious frontcourt depth means that the 6-foot-8 Hammonds doesn’t have to shine early. But if Hammonds can play like a top-50 prospect, then it gives the Bulldogs one of the best frontcourts in the country as he’ll join senior Yante Maten and junior Derek Ogbeide. Versatility will help for Hammonds as he’s capable of knocking down jumpers while also providing rebounding and defense at multiple positions.

Makai Ashton-Langford, Providence: Jumping late from UConn to Providence, the Friars are thrilled to be gaining such a talented floor general. The 6-foot-3 Ashton-Langford is very poised and does a great job of attacking off the dribble. Ashton-Langford could be a valuable change-of-pace from senior point guard Kyron Cartwright or he might force his way into the lineup if he plays up to his potential.

No Haas, no problem: No. 2 Purdue sneaks past No. 10 Butler, into Sweet 16

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No Haas, no harm.

Playing without Isaac Haas, their senior 7-footer who fractured his elbow in an opening round win over Cal St.-Fullerton, the Boilermakers shot 11-for-24 from three and got a valiant effort from their other 7-footer, freshman Matt Haarms, in a 76-73 win over No. 10-seed Butler.

The second-seeded Boilermakers advanced to the Sweet 16 for the second straight season. They’ll take on No. 3-seed Texas Tech in the East Region semifinals on Friday evening in Boston.

Purdue was led by 20 points from Vincent Edwards, Purdue’s senior leader, who scored 20 points on 6-for-8 shooting as his partner in crime, sophomore Carsen Edwards, shot just 4-for-17 from the floor and finished with 13 points. The biggest shot of the night came from another senior, Dakota Mathias, who buried a three with 14 seconds left that put Purdue up five.

But the real story here was Haarms.

The freshman will be thrust into a critical role for the Boilermakers throughout the rest of this tournament, and I don’t think that it’s crazy to say that the Boilermakers will go as far as he allows them to go. Haarms is the only big man currently on the Purdue roster that played any kind of meaningful minutes this season. Purdue played roughly 100 possessions during the regular season without Haas or Haarms on the floor, and it’s probably safe to assume that the majority of those possessions were played during garbage time, when the walk-ons were on the floor.

Haarms finished with seven boards, six boards and a pair of blocks in 27 minutes, doing a good enough job in the role that he was asked to play to keep Butler from lighting up the Boilermakers in pick-and-roll actions and in protecting the rim. He is certainly a better defender than Haas, particularly in space, but he is no where near the threat that Haas is on the offensive end of the floor. It limits what Purdue can do offensively, and with a game coming up against one of college basketball’s best defensive teams, a group that prides themselves on their ability to run teams off the three point line, we could be looking at a situation where Purdue really needs that interior presence.

What Haarms can provide will be a difference-maker.

I hope he’s ready for it.

VIDEO: Jordan Poole got a hero’s welcome in Michigan’s locker room

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Jordan Poole hit the game-winning, buzzer-beating three to send Michigan into the Sweet 16.

And as you might expect, when he made his way back into the Wolverine, he was greeted with a wall of water:

Let’s see that from another angle:

I can never see enough of these videos, but perhaps this is the best part: Two weeks ago, after Michigan won the Big Ten tournament, John Beilein was absolutely drenched in the locker room, having to go to his press conference sopping wet, cold and wearing a towel around his shoulders.

So on Saturday night, he did the smart thing. He wore a poncho and goggles and went on the offensive:

Sunday’s betting lines, point spreads, over-unders

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Here is the full TV schedule, with spreads, over-unders and betting lines, for every game for final day of the first week of the NCAA tournament.

Detroit: Ian Eagle, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce

  • 12:10 p.m.: No. 2 Purdue (-3.5) vs. No. 10 Butler, CBS (143.5)
  • 2:40 p.m.: No. 3 Michigan State (-9) vs. No. 11 Syracuse, CBS (129.5)

Charlotte: Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson

  • 5:15 p.m.: No. 2 North Carolina (-6.5) vs. No. 7 Texas A&M, CBS (151.5)
  • 7:45 p.m.: No. 9 Kansas State -10) vs. No. 16 UMBC, CBS (135.5)

Nashville: Andrew Catalon, Steve Lappas, Jamie Erdahl

  • 6:10 p.m.: No. 2 Cincinnati (-8) vs. No. 7 Nevada, TNT (136.5)
  • 8:40: No. 1 Xavier (-5.5) vs. No. 9 Florida State, TNT (159)

San Diego: Carter Blackburn, Debbie Antonelli, John Schriffen

  • 7:10 p.m.: No. 4 Auburn (-1.5) vs. No. 5 Clemson, TBS (146.5)
  • 9:40 p.m.: No. 5 West Virginia (-12.5) vs. No. 13 Marshall, TBS (159.5)


Saturday’s NCAA Tournament Recap: An evening full of buzzer-beaters and monster performances

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No. 5-seed Kentucky advanced to the Sweet 16 with a win over No. 13-seed Buffalo, and the star of the show was the guy that’s been Kentucky’s best player for three months: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. He finished with 27 points, six boards, six assists and a pair of steals on 10-for-12 shooting while making both of his threes and 5-of-7 free throws.

That’s a ridiculous line, one that makes me wonder whether or not we were premature in saying that this Kentucky team does not have a superstar that can take a game over.


  • ZACH NORVELL, Gonzaga: Two days after hitting a game-winning shot against No. 13-seed UNC Greensboro, Norvell went for 28 points, 12 boards, four assists and two steals — sidenote: !!!!! — as the Zags beat No. 5-seed Ohio State.
  • ANGEL DELGADO, Seton Hall: 24 points, 23 boards, five assists, career over. Salute, sir. It’s been a pleasure.
  • KEENAN EVANS, Texas Tech: Evans finished with 22 points on 8-for-14 shooting to lead the Red Raiders to the Sweet 16 with a win over Florida.


You make the call here.

Was it Jordan Poole’s buzzer-beating three for No. 3-seed Michigan:

Or Clayton Custer hitting Loyola-Chicago’s second game-winner in the span of three days?:


The buzzer-beater that didn’t matter … did.

Myles Powell, with Seton Hall down 83-76, hit this running three at the buzzer. It meant that the final score was 83-79, meaning that Seton Hall covered the 4.5 points that Kansas was favored by. It also meant that the Pirates covered the second half line (Kansas -1.5) and Seton Hall’s wild last minute rally meant that this game also hit the over:

Bad beats everywhere.


No. 1-seed Kansas was +21 in the 22 minutes that Udoka Azubuike played on Saturday. They were -17 in the 18 minutes he didn’t play.

No. 1-seed Villanova shot 17-for-41 from three in an 81-58 win over Alabama to get to the Sweet 16.

Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter overwhelmed No. 7-seed Rhode Island as No. 2-seed Duke is now a Sweet 16 team.

VIDEO: Jordan Poole’s last-second three sends No. 3-seed Michigan into the Sweet 16

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For the first time in this NCAA tournament, we have a buzzer-beater.

After Devin Davis missed a pair of free throws with 3.6 seconds left, No. 3-seed Michigan went the length of the court and Jordan Poole, a freshman who was scoreless on the night, buried a three as time expired to send the Wolverines into the Sweet 16 with a 64-63 win:

When asked after the game how a freshman was able to make that shot, Michigan head coach John Beilein said he has “an overdose of swag.”

Poole’s three bailed out Michigan in what was an otherwise ugly performance.

John Beilein’s club shot 35.6 percent from the floor, 8-for-30 from three and looked stagnant and bogged down offensively for 39 minutes and 56.4 seconds before Poole saved their season.

No. 6-seed Houston got 23 points from Rob Gray, who was again sensational and certainly deserved a chance to extend his career for another game. He had 39 points in a win over No. 11 San Diego State in the opener and was the best player in the West Region for the first weekend of the tournament.