2014-15 Season Preview: 20 Impact Freshmen

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Justin Jackson (left) and Jahlil Okafor (right) at the McDonald’s All-American Game

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

Freshmen are a major part of the college basketball landscape. While basketball fans have become enamored with talk of “one-and-done” freshmen that pepper the top of the recruiting rankings, there will be difference-making freshmen at every level of college basketball this season.

So this isn’t your typical impact freshman list.

This one has been broken into four tiers: The headliners, the impact All-Americans, the  other high-major players to watch and mid-major players to watch. Only one player per team was eligible.

THE HEADLINERS

Jahlil Okafor, Duke – Not only is the 6-foot-11 Okafor the consensus No. 1 player in the country, but he’s also the biggest impact freshman of this college basketball season. The arrival of Okafor allows Duke to put Amile Jefferson to the four at his more natural position and it gives Coach K a natural post scorer to draw double teams and kick it out to Duke’s many perimeter threats. Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow and Grayson Allen could all show flashes this season, but Okafor doesn’t have anyone else like him on the Duke roster.

Stanley Johnson, Arizona – If Okafor isn’t the premier college freshman in the country than Stanley Johnson is. The powerful 6-foot-7 wing combines tremendous perimeter skill and a power drive game that is very tough to stop. Johnson already owns the body of a pro and people in Tuscan are excited for his arrival because he might be a better fit for the Wildcats current lineup than last year’s impact freshman, Aaron Gordon

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Karl-Anthony Towns (Getty Images)

Karl Towns Jr., Kentucky – Kentucky and head coach John Calipari bring in another class filled with McDonald’s All-Americans and the 7-foot-1 Towns might be the most talented player in the Wildcats’ roster. Towns showed flashes of brilliance during the team’s Bahamas trip this summer and gives Kentucky a skilled post player on the offensive end. Among Kentucky’s loaded front court, Towns could separate himself from the pack if he can defend and rebound his area with consistency because returnees Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson aren’t as talented on offense.

Cliff Alexander, Kansas – Kansas has a few potential impact guys in Kelly Oubre and point guard Devonte Graham in this class, but Alexander’s athleticism and raw power at 6-foot-8 means he could overpower college players this season. With Perry Ellis playing more of a finesse game on the interior, Alexander’s power game gives Bill Self some nice balance in the front court and Alexander is also a premier rebounder in this incoming group of freshmen.

Myles Turner, Texas – Rick Barnes returns Cameron Ridley and Jonathan Holmes on the interior but Turner is more naturally talented as a shot blocker and perimeter shooter. Playing Turner alongside Ridley or Holmes — or in a jumbo line-up that features all three — could be a major problem in the Big 12 this season.

MORE: Best non-conference games | NBCSports.com’s Preseason Top 25 Countdown

THE ALL-AMERICANS

Rashad Vaughn, UNLV – The 6-foot-5 Vaughn might be the most physically ready guard in the freshman class and that strength allows the Minnesota native to make an impact on both ends of the floor. Vaughn and Emmanuel Mudiay waged war on each other in McDonald’s All-American practices this spring and Vaughn enjoys playing in the spotlight.

Justin Jackson, North Carolina – North Carolina is bringing in quite a bit of firepower in the 2014 class, but 6-foot-8, rail-thin wing Justin Jackson has a very developed mid-range game and he can also operate as a ball handler in pick-and-roll situations. Jackson might be slender, but he can score in bunches all over the floor.

Melo Trimble, Maryland – The 6-foot-2 Trimble is Maryland’s first McDonald’s All-American since Mike Jones in 2003 and he gives Mark Turgeon a scoring guard that can also handle the ball. Trimble has a developed pull-up jumper and will be counted on to produce immediately after the Terps lost five transfers this offseason.

Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall – Kevin Willard did everything he could to get Whitehead to come to Seton Hall and he’ll give the ball to his new McDonald’s All-American from the opening game. Whitehead can score a lot of points in a hurry and can also handle the ball a bit in spot situations. The Pirates are going to count on Whitehead to make a major impact this season.

James Blackmon, Jr., Indiana – Indiana was able to reel Blackmon Jr. back in after the in-state guard briefly de-committed and now he’ll be asked to score points alongside starting point guard Yogi Farrell. Blackmon Jr. can catch fire from the perimeter and he’s a fearless scorer attacking the basket.

MORE: Top 25 Potential Breakout StarsCoaches on the Hot Seat 

HIGH-MAJOR PLAYERS TO WATCH

Daniel Hamilton, UConn – The younger brother of former Texas star Jordan Hamilton and guard Isaac Hamilton (UCLA), Daniel joins the Huskies as a 6-foot-7 scorer with a knack for hitting big shots. Expect Hamilton to get immediate minutes — and shots — from the wing.

Tra Holder, Arizona State – Herb Sendek re-loaded the roster with experienced junior college players but he’ll likely replace Jahii Carson with Holder as the Sun Devils’ starting point guard because he’s the most talented lead guard on the roster.

Kaleb Joseph, Syracuse – The No. 46 player in Rivals’ 2014 class, the 6-foot-2 Joseph should step in and be the starting point guard for Syracuse this season, the fourth starting point guard the program has had in as many seasons.

Vic Law, Northwestern – Chris Collins brought in a talented recruiting class and Chicago-native Law is a centerpiece of those efforts. The 6-foot-7 wing can rebound very well for his position and gives Northwestern an athletic on the wing that the program hasn’t seen in quite some time.

Jordan McLaughlin, USC – Andy Enfield needs a legitimate floor general to run his uptempo system and local point guard McLaughlin should provide a major boost for the Trojans. The 6-foot McLaughlin can hit shots and is a very good athlete.

RELATED: NBCSports.com’s Mid-Major Power Rankings | Mid-Major All-Americans

MID-MAJOR PLAYERS TO WATCH

Josh Cunningham, Bradley – After winning two Illinois Class 3A state titles at Morgan Park High School, the athletic 6-foot-7 Cunningham chose Bradley after programs like DePaul and Indiana offered scholarships and showed significant interest during his senior season. Rivals rated him as the No. 88 overall player in the 2014 class.

Omega Harris, UTEP – The Miners lost freshmen Chris Sandifer and Shaq Carr before the season because they didn’t qualify but the 6-foot-2 Harris can really score and should give Tim Floyd’s ballclub a boost on the perimeter.

William Lee, UAB – The Gatorade Alabama Player of the Year is a 6-foot-8, bouncy forward who should make an immediate contribution in the front court thanks to his athleticism and motor.

Wyatt Lohaus, Northern Iowa – The son of former NBA veteran Brad Lohaus, the younger Lohaus is a skilled 6-foot-2 guard with one of the best mid-range games in the class. He should contribute immediately for Ben Jacobsen.

C.J. Turman, Florida Atlantic – Turman was committed to Tennessee until Cuonzo Martin left and re-opened his recruitment before deciding on the Owls. New head coach Michael Curry will be thrilled to have a 6-foot-9 forward that had plenty of high-major interest.

Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim comment on death of Kobe Bryant and daughter, Gianna

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Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski was the head coach of the USA Men’s National team for nearly a decade, and in that time, he won two gold medals with Kobe Bryant.

Bryant, and his daughter Gianna, died on Sunday morning after a helicopter that they were flying in crashed in Calabasas, Cali.

“We have tragically lost one of the greatest sports figures of our time with the passing of Kobe Bryant,” Coach K said. “He was an incredibly gifted person who was universally respected. He was in constant pursuit of doing something special and there will never be a greater warrior in our sport.

“I had the amazing honor of coaching Kobe in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games, and I will always remember how much he cherished representing his country in a first-class manner playing the game he so loved. The game of basketball is better today because of Kobe, and he deserves eternal appreciation for that. This is a devastating loss, made even more tragic by the passing of his daughter, Gianna, and all others on board. The entire Krzyzewski family is saddened as we genuinely loved and admired Kobe. We extend our deepest sympathies to his wife, Vanessa, their daughters Natalia, Bianka, and Capri, and the families of those involved.”

Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim was an assistant on the 2008 Gold Medal winning team, dubbed the Reedem Team. That squad restored the image of USA Basketball after winning bronze medals in the 2004 Olympics and the 2006 World Championships.

“I first saw him in person when he came to the qualifier in ’07 before the Olympic year,” Boeheim told Syracuse.com. “He came in the first day and worked twice as hard as everybody else. He taught all the young players, LeBron and Carmelo and all those guys: ‘This is what you gotta do. You gotta go after this.’

“We lost in the World Championship the year before. And he just showed everybody — this is what you do. And we overpowered everybody in that tournament, then we went to the Olympics and overpowered everybody. When it was a close game against Spain in the finals, he took the ball, made the play to win the game.

“That’s who he was. He set a high standard. He’s the hardest worker I’ve ever seen. Jordan, I didn’t coach, but Jordan was the same. Of all the guys that I’ve ever coached and ever seen, he worked harder than everybody.”

Tom Izzo broke the news of Kobe Bryant’s death to Cassius Winston on live TV

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While the shock and immediacy of Kobe Bryant’s death spread through my network of friends and social media follows like wildfire on Sunday afternoon, one thing I kept thinking about was how many people involved with the game of basketball were actually playing while this was happening.

Take Michigan State and Minnesota, for example. The news of Bryant’s death broke around 2:30 p.m. ET. This game tipped off at 3 p.m. ET. Cassius Winston, Michigan State’s resident all-american, found out about Kobe’s death live on TV after the game came to an end:

 

Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu breaks down during moment of silence honoring Kobe Bryant

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Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu was moved to tears during a pregame moment of silence in honor of Kobe Bryant prior to a rivalry game against Oregon State on Sunday:

Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna died Sunday morning in a place crash that also resulted in the death of one of Gianna’s teammates and a parent.

Ionescu is the best women’s player in the country, recently surpassing Gary Payton for the Pac-12 career assist record, and she has developed a friendship with Kobe Bryant over the years. Gianna, a budding basketball star in her own right, was a huge fan of Sabrina Ionescu’s game, and Kobe Bryant had brought her and her teammates to a number of Oregon games in recent years.

These are the details of the crash, according to our Kurt Helin:

The crash took place in Calabasas, an area about 30 miles northeast of the Staples Center, where Kobe starred as a player for more than a decade. It is not far from the Mamba Academy athletic training center where Kobe was both an owner and an active participant. It was a foggy day in Southern California, which could have contributed to the crash.

The crash killed five people, of which Kobe was one.

Kobe was 41. He and his wife Vanessa have four daughters. Kobe’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna was aboard the helicopter with Kobe (they were on their way to one of her basketball games, along with a fellow teammate of Gianna’s and her parent).

 

Saturday’s Things To Know: Kentucky survives, Ayo Dosunmu’s on a tear, Roy and Huggs reach milestones

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It was actually a relatively slow day for a Saturday in late-January in college hoops, but there is still plenty to discuss. Here are the ten things that you need to know:

1. No. 15 KENTUCKY KNOCKED OFF No. 18 TEXAS TECH

Nick Richards went for 25 points, 14 boards and four blocks and Immanuel Quickley chipped in with 21 points of his own as Kentucky went into Lubbock and knocked off the Red Raiders in overtime. A full breakdown of that game can be found here.

2. TEXAS TECH IS IN REAL BUBBLE TROUBLE

I’m not sure people realize just how little their is on Texas Tech’s resume right now. They beat Louisville (11) on a neutral court. They beat Iowa State (70) at home. They beat Oklahoma State (83) at home. They won at Kansas State (89). Combined, that’s one Quad 1, two Quad 2 and a Quad 3 win. They have eight wins against sub-200 teams and have lost to seven Quad 1 opponents, including Kentucky (23) at home on Saturday. The Red Raiders will have plenty of chances to build on their profile — they get West Virginia (7) at home and play at Kansas (3) next week alone — but there is no doubt that this team has to start winning some games against teams that are not horrific.

3. AYO DOSUNMU CONTINUED HIS TEAR

In case you haven’t noticed, No. 21 Illinois is the hottest team in the Big Ten, sitting all alone in first-place in the conference standings and Ayo Dosunmu — who scored 27 points and hit the game-winner at Michigan today — has been the best player in the Big Ten this month. More on the Illini and their star here.

4. ROY WILLIAMS PASSED DEAN SMITH ON THE ALL-TIME WINS LIST

It’s ironic when you think about it: North Carolina was in the midst of their first five-game losing streak since 2003, and it just so happened to come after Williams had tied Smith on the all-time wins list. He finally broke the streak on Saturday, blowing out Miami, 94-71, to win his 880th game as a head coach. It is, quite literally, the first win for the Tar Heels in 2020.

5. BOB HUGGINS PASSED ADOLPH RUPP ON THE ALL-TIME WINS LIST

No. 14 West Virginia blew out Missouri in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge to give Huggy Bear is 876th career win, good for seventh on the all-time list, one better than Adolph Rupp, the legendary Kentucky head coach.

6. No. 1 BAYLOR UPSET UNRANKED FLORIDA

This might sound ridiculous, but if you subscribe to the theory that any underdog that wins a game is an upset happening, then No. 1 Baylor going into the O-Dome and knocking off Florida is, technically, an upset. The Gators entered the game as 2.5 point favorites, jumped out to a big league and then proceeded to watch as the nation’s best team proved that they are, in fact, the nation’s best team.

We have spent the majority of this season explaining away the reasons why there isn’t an elite team in college basketball, but I’m beginning to think that there’s a chance Baylor could be that team. They’re never going to be the darlings of the metrics and they don’t have much NBA talent, but they are so balanced, so effective in crunch time and elite on the defensive end of the floor.

7. MEMPHIS BLEW AN 11-POINT LEAD IN THE FINAL SIX MINUTES

This one was hard to do.

The Tigers were up 70-59 with less than six minutes remaining in the game and then never scored again. They would give up a 15-0 run in that stretch and go on to lose, 74-70, at home to an SMU team that is not very good. Penny Hardaway’s team has found themselves in a bad, bad spot this season.

8. ARIZONA BLEW A 22-POINT LEAD

The No. 22 Wildcats led Arizona State in Tempe by 22 points in the first half. With 1:40 left before the break, they were ahead 43-24. At halftime, they were up 43-30. With 16:30 left on the clock, the Sun Devils had cut that lead to 43-40, and after Alonzo Verge scored with 10 seconds remaining, the Sun Devils had a 66-65 lead and went on to win by that score.

The importance of this win for Bobby Hurley’s club cannot be overstated.

9. SAN FRANCISCO WORKED THEIR FOULING MAGIC AGAIN

Last weekend, San Francisco fouled a ball-handler at the end of the first half in order to get the ball back. It was a sneaky bit of math that gave the Dons an extra two points on their lead heading into the break.

On Saturday against BYU, Todd Golden drew up something similar. With 22 seconds left in the game and the Dons clinging to a 79-77 lead, he had his team intentionally foul Yoeli Childs, BYU’s star center who just so happens to be a 60 percent free throw shooter and coming off of a broken finger. The reasoning was simple: Since BYU was in the one-and-one, Childs shooting free throws meant that A) BYU’s xPPP for that possessions was 0.96, lower than the average possession for a team that had scored 77 points in 39 minutes and shot 15-for-27 from three on the night. If he made both, USF had a chance to win on the final possession. If he missed one, BYU’s best rebounder was shooting the free throws. Turns out, he missed the first, and USF hung on to win, 83-82.

10. SAMUELL WILLIAMSON MAY HAVE HAD HIS BREAKOUT GAME

Last weekend, it was freshman David Johnson that had his breakout game for No. 6 Louisville. He went for 19 points and seven boards as the Cardinals went into Cameron and beat Duke. This weekend, it was fellow freshman Williamson, who scored 14 points for the Cards as they blew out Clemson in the Yum! Center. Is this the start of his star turn?

No. 1 Baylor smothers Florida 72-61, 16th straight win

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — MaCio Teague and Devonte Bandoo scored 16 points apiece and No. 1 Baylor extended its winning steak to 16 with a 72-61 victory over Florida in the Big 12/SEC Challenge on Saturday night.

The Bears improved to 6-1 in the annual inter-conference series – the best record of any team in either conference – and themselves another week atop The Associated Press poll.

Baylor also gave the Big 12 an even split (5-5) in the daylong series.

The Bears (17-1) overcame an eight-point deficit early and led by 19 points in the second half before Florida mounted a minor rally. The Gators (12-7) had a chance to make it a single-digit game with a little more than 7 minutes to play, but they missed the front end of three consecutive one-and-ones. Kerry Blackshear Jr. misfired twice on back-to-back possessions and then Noah Locke did the same seconds later.

What could have been an eight-point game was still a comfortable lead for the Bears.

Florida eventually managed to whittle Baylor’s lead to 10 on Andrew Nembhard’s driving layup with 2:40 remaining. But the Bears answered on the other end thanks to their 13th offensive rebound, which led to two free throws for Bandoo.

Davion Mitchell finished with 11 points and six assists for Baylor, which was a slight underdog entering the game. Jared Butler chipped in 10 points.

Baylor’s length, athleticism and defensive prowess posed problems all night for Florida, which shot 44% from the field and 23.5% from 3-point range.

The Gators fell to 2-17 against the No. 1 team, including 10 consecutive losses.

Keyontae Johnson led Florida with 20 points. Nembhard added 16 points and eight assists, but he missed more shots (8) than he made (6), including all four 3-pointers. The Gators missed 13 of 17 from behind the arc.

Baylor took control of the game with a 13-2 run to close the first half, turning a tie game into a double-digit lead. The Bears hit six 3-pointers in the opening 20 minutes – twice as many as Florida – and had seven offensive rebounds.

They got help from an unlikely source. Bandoo, who averages 7.5 points off the benched, scored 11 in the opening half on 4 of 6 shooting.

BIG PICTURE

Baylor: The Bears matched their best 18-game start in school history. They also started 17-1 in 2011-12 and 2016-17. They landed No. 3 seeds in the NCAA Tournament after those regular seasons and were eliminated both times by SEC teams (Kentucky in ’12, South Carolina in `17).

Florida: The Gators appeared to be taking strides while beating then-No. 4 Auburn last Saturday and nearly stunning LSU on the road earlier this week. But the team’s offensive woes returned against Baylor – no surprise given the Bears are one of the best defenses in the nation.

STILL HOBBLING

Florida forward Dontay Bassett missed his second consecutive game with a calf injury. Bassett averages 1.3 points and 2.1 rebounds.

UP NEXT

Baylor: Returns to Big 12 action and plays at Iowa State on Wednesday night. The Bears have won three of the last four in the series, but lost to the Cyclones in the conference tournament last March.

Florida: Returns to SEC play and hosts Mississippi State on Tuesday night. The Gators lost to the Bulldogs last year to end an eight-game winning streak in the series.