College Basketball’s Impact Freshmen

Markelle Fultz, via UW Athletics

The recent trend in college basketball dictates that five-star freshmen are potential one-and-done players who have a chance to be a major impact at the college level right away.

This season will be no different.

In fact, this is one of the deepest freshmen classes in terms of five-star talent over the last 20 years. While there are no LeBron or Kevin Durant megastar type of prospects, this year’s crop of freshmen should be a major boost to college basketball.

Since the class includes so many dynamic lead guards who will be given the ball right away, it will be especially fun to track those dudes this season.

Helpful hint for college basketball fans looking to watch the best freshmen: stay up late for the Pac-12 — or set your DVR — because Duke and Kentucky aren’t the only programs with freshmen to watch this season.

CONTENDER SERIES: Duke | Oregon |Kentucky | Kansas | Villanova

Subscribe to the CBT Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher or Audioboom

TEN NAMES YOU NEED TO KNOW: 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.

1. Markelle Fultz, Washington: No freshman might be asked to do more than this 6-foot-4 guard who will be given the ball for a young Washington team. Fultz went from missing the varsity team at DeMatha as a sophomore to now being a potential No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft as he combines an advanced scoring acumen with ridiculous amounts of perimeter skill. With deep range, crafty ball handling, slick passes and a unique style of play, Fultz will have plenty of highlight-reel plays this season.

2. Josh Jackson, Kansas: Stepping into an ideal situation at Kansas is the 6-foot-7 Jackson as he’ll join Frank Mason and Devonte Graham to form one of the country’s best perimeter defenses. An alpha male who isn’t intimidated by the spotlight, Jackson is a ridiculous athlete who can score, rebound, pass and defend. Unlike Andrew Wiggins, who was timid at times during his freshman year, Jackson should be charged up to go right away and his production could be the key to a potential Kansas title team.

3. Dennis Smith, N.C. State: It’s going to be fascinating to see how the 6-foot-2 point guard looks this season after he enrolled early last season to help recover from a torn ACL. If the preseason videos and hype are any indication, Smith could be the most important freshman in the country and he has a lot of weapons at his disposal. An expert in the pick-and-roll or operating in transition, Smith is going to have some huge dunks this season. Some are saying he’s the Pack’s most talented freshman since David Thompson.

LEAGUE PREVIEWS: Big 12 | ACC | Pac-12 | Big Ten | SECMid-Majors

Jayson Tatum (photo courtesy Duke Athletics)
Jayson Tatum (photo courtesy Duke Athletics)

4. Jayson Tatum, Duke: Already dealing with an early-season foot injury, that shouldn’t do much to slow down this talented 6-foot-8 St. Louis native. The next big Duke wing who can score and rebound, Tatum has an advanced feel in the mid-range and he excels at getting to the free-throw line and putting up points. A plus athlete who is smooth with the ball, Tatum could have the ball in his hands a lot this season if Duke can’t find consistent options to handle the point.

5. Lonzo Ball, UCLA: An absolute wizard with the ball, the 6-foot-5 Ball is one of the best passers to enter college basketball in years. A triple-double threat who will rifle deep outlet passes and crisp cross-court feeds, Ball makes offense easy for others and the deep range on his jumper help. Although he has a funky-looking release on his jumper, Ball shot it well in high school and it made him nearly unguardable with his passing skills. If Ball can help the Bruins defensively, that would be a huge bonus for a team that needs stops.

6. Bam Adebayo, Kentucky: It comes as no surprise that John Calipari is bringing in freshmen reinforcements and the 6-foot-9 Adebayo is the most physically gifted of the group. A powerful athlete who can finish with authority and rebound in traffic, Adebayo could be Kentucky’s most productive player this season. Since he’s a potential double-double threat and the team’s top rebounder, Adebayo will get a ton of minutes, but it’ll be interesting to see how much he protects the rim and how deep his shooting range extends.

7. De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky: A potential two-way terror at lead guard, the 6-foot-3 Fox is one of the fastest players in the country and could be unstoppable in transition. Defensively, Fox takes a lot of pride in being a shutdown guy, as his on-the-ball ability could make the Wildcats a tough team to score on. Shooting range and consistency is going to be the big thing with Fox. A streaky shooter, Fox is tough to contain off the dribble because of his quickness and burst, but he has to prove that he can make open jumpers.

8. Miles Bridges, Michigan State: Tom Izzo is going to need a lot from the powerful 6-foot-6 Bridges as this versatile forward could be a matchup nightmare. At 225 pounds, Bridges is more physically developed than a lot of freshmen wing forwards and that enables him to score around the rim and rebound at a high level. If Bridges shows that he’s capable of hitting three-pointers, he’s going to be tough to defend as a small-ball four, since the Spartans are so depleted in the front court.

POSITION RANKS: Lead Guards | Off Guards | Wings | Big Men

9. Jonathan Isaac, Florida State: Florida State had plenty of offensive firepower last season but the 6-foot-10 Isaac is probably a better fit with this roster’s personnel. Since Isaac is a good rebounder with a face-up, perimeter-oriented skill set, he should give the Seminoles some tough lineups this season since he’s more of a natural fit with players like Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Dwayne Bacon. It’ll be interesting to see how Isaac finds his offense, since Rathan-Mayes and Bacon can dominate the ball so much.

10. Harry Giles, Duke: The wildcard on this list because of his knee injuries, the 6-foot-10 Giles is a potentially special player if he’s fully healthy and ready to go. With a high skill level, a history of winning (two gold medals with USA Basketball) and some elite skills like rebounding, Giles could be the Blue Devils’ most talented NBA prospect, but he doesn’t have to have huge success right away because of the team’s frontcourt depth. Don’t be surprised if the nation is buzzing about a healthy Giles come March.

FIVE POTENTIAL D’ANGELO RUSSELLS: 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.

1. Jarrett Allen, Texas: Shaka Smart was able to convince the McDonald’s All-American to stay in-state as Allen gives the Longhorns a valuable two-way center. Allen should be the key Texas frontcourt player on a team that will be smaller and athletic around him.

2. Marques Bolden, Duke: The center chose Duke over Kentucky and his ability in the post gives the Blue Devils an extra insurance policy for Harry Giles. Bolden has soft touch, a 7-foot-9 wingspan and should command a lot of defensive attention.

3. Malik Monk, Kentucky: A freak athlete at guard, Monk was a streaky scorer in high school with an ability to play well above the rim. During his freshman season, don’t be surprised if Monk has some huge scoring nights but consistency has been an issue. If Monk improves his perimeter jumper, he could be the Wildcats’ most productive freshman in the scoring column.

Top Backcourts | Top Frontcourts | Top 100 Players | Preseason Top 25

Lauri Markkanen, Arizona Athletics
Lauri Markkanen, Arizona Athletics

4. Lauri Markkanen, Arizona: Arizona has a glut of guards who will command the ball, but this 6-foot-11 forward from Finland can really shoot and he could give the Wildcats a ton of unique lineups and spacing this season.

5. Mustapha Heron, Auburn: Snubbed from many of the big-name spring all-star games, Heron is the most important recruit Bruce Pearl has brought in. The 6-foot-4 wing is physically gifted and athlete and should be an impact on both ends of the floor.

FIVE MORE NAMES THAT WILL HAVE AN IMPACT IN MARCH: They may not be the superstars, but these guys will be relevant in the tournament.

1. Cassius Winston, Michigan State: The point guard should split minutes with Tum Tum Nairn early in the year, but if Winston is able to make jumpers with more consistency he could see more time and close games.

2. Alterique Gilbert, UConn: A McDonald’s All-American who is explosive despite his 5-foot-11 size, Gilbert could earn quality minutes if the Huskies play two-guard lineups that allow Gilbert to be a playmaker.

3. Kyle Guy, Virginia: The Cavaliers haven’t had a lot of freshman scorers like Guy and the McDonald’s All-American could be a key rotation player and spark plug off the bench. Guy has to fight through a crowded backcourt to earn minutes.

4. Payton Pritchard, Oregon: The Ducks return a lot of talent and experience at guard but don’t be surprised if this point guard challenges for more minutes. The 6-foot-1 Pritchard is a good long-range shooter and ball handler.

5. Jarron Cumberland, Cincinnati: We know the Bearcats can get stops, but the 6-foot-5 Cumberland can really score as he’s comfortable taking jumpers from all over the floor. If Cincinnati needs scoring they might turn to the four-star wing.

No. 8 Kansas avenges earlier loss to No. 7 Kansas State, 90-78

Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

LAWRENCE, Kan. — Jalen Wilson had 20 points, Kevin McCullar Jr. added 16 points and 13 rebounds, and No. 8 Kansas avenged a loss to Kansas State just a couple of weeks ago with a 90-78 victory over the seventh-ranked Wildcats.

Dajuan Harris Jr. scored 18 for the Jayhawks (18-4, 6-3 Big 12), who built a 12-point halftime lead before coasting to their 17th straight home win over the Wildcats in the 10th matchup of top-10 teams in series history.

Kansas has rebounded nicely from a rare three-game skid that included the overtime loss to Kansas State, and made sure to avoid taking back-to-back losses in its storied home for the first time since the 1988-89 season.

Markquis Nowell scored 23 points and Keyontae Johnson had 22 to lead the Wildcats (18-4, 6-3), who were trying for their first regular-season sweep of their biggest rival in four decades. Nae’Qwan Tomlin added 11 points and David N’Guessan had 10.

In their first meeting on Jan. 17, the Wildcats raced to a big early lead and controlled the game until late in the second half, when the Jayhawks forced overtime — only for Kansas State to win on Johnson’s alley-oop dunk.

It was the Jayhawks who controlled the rematch.

They used a 16-7 run in the first half that included a technical foul on Kansas State coach Jerome Tang to build a 32-19 lead. And when Johnson answered with eight straight points for the Wildcats, and the lead was eventually trimmed to four, the reigning national champs pulled away again down the stretch.

It was 37-32 when Wilson hit back-to-back 3-pointers and Zach Clemence added one of his own. And by the time Wilson made two foul shots with about 10 seconds left, Kansas had built a 49-37 lead that it took to the break.

The Wildcats briefly got within six in the second half before the Jayhawks stretched their lead to as many as 16.


Johnson had to sit with two fouls just 2 1/2 minutes into the game. Only problem? The crew of John Higgins, Kip Kissinger and Marques Pettigrew gave one to the wrong player. By the time they corrected their mistake, the Wildcats’ leading scorer had unnecessarily ridden the bench for several minutes.


For the first time in more than 15 years, more Kansas students redeemed tickets than there was space available inside Allen Fieldhouse. The overflow had to watch the game on screens in the adjacent Horejsi Family Athletics Center, where the Jayhawks play volleyball games. Those students also got refunds and concessions vouchers.


Kansas State’s three losses in league play have been to ranked teams on the road: TCU, Iowa State and Kansas. And with a more forgiving second half to the Big 12 schedule, the Wildcats remain firmly in the conference title hunt.

Kansas got its mojo back with its win over Kentucky last weekend. This victory over another bunch of Wildcats was crucial because the road doesn’t get any easier for the Jayhawks, who are in the midst of three straight games against teams ranked 13th or better.


Kansas State returns home for another top-10 showdown Saturday against No. 10 Texas.

Kansas hits the road for the third time in four games against No. 13 Iowa State on Saturday.

BC beats No. 20 Clemson 62-54; Tigers fall into ACC tie

Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

BOSTON — Makai Ashton-Langford had two key driving baskets in the closing two minutes and finished with 15 points to help Boston College beat No. 20 Clemson 62-54 on Tuesday night.

Jaeden Zackery added 13 points for the Eagles (11-12, 5-7 Atlantic Coast Conference). BC held Clemson to one field goal — and that came with 18 seconds left — in the final 13:16.

Hunter Tyson led Clemson (18-5, 10-2) with 22 points and Chase Hunter had 12. The Tigers fell into a first-place tie atop the ACC with No. 6 Virginia.

The Eagles used a 5-0 spurt — with T.J. Bickerstaff hitting a free throw and getting a driving layup — to pull ahead 50-45 with just over five minutes to play.

Clemson sliced it to 50-47 before Aston-Langford made his two big baskets. He followed that by making two free throws with 32 seconds left.

Trailing by 10 midway into the second half, the Tigers went on a 10-0 spree, tying it at 45 when RJ Godfrey hit both ends of a 1-and-1.

The Eagles had opened a double-digit lead twice in the opening six minutes of the second half, the later 45-35 on Prince Aligbe’s foul-line jumper with 14:12 to play.


Clemson: Off to a solid start in conference play, the Tigers were tested on the road for the second straight game after edging Florida State by a point on Saturday. It hasn’t been easy for them away from home with a 4-3 record and with three away matchups against North Carolina, North Carolina State and Virginia to go, they’ll need to get it straightened out of they’re going to won the ACC regular-season title.

Boston College: The Eagles proved when they play defense that they’re a tough out in coach Earl Grant’s second season. A little more offense could make them very dangerous for top ACC teams to play.


In the first half, Clemson’s man-to-man defense smothered the Eagles’ offense for the opening 10 minutes, holding them in single digits in scoring until just about the same time the student section finished filling up late, bringing some energy to a very quiet building.

BC’s players then responded, closing the half with a 22-4 spree that turned an 11-point deficit to a 30-23 halftime edge.


Both teams were missing key players. Guard Brevin Galloway, Clemson’s fourth leading scorer at 10.6 points per game, was sidelined with an abdominal injury. For BC, guard DeMarr Langford Jr., who logs big minutes at the point, was out with a knee injury.


Clemson: Hosts No. 23 Miami on Saturday.

Boston College: Hosts Syracuse on Saturday.

South Carolina tops women’s AP Top 25; Ohio State tumbles

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

It was a rough week for Ohio State, which lost all three of its games and tumbled down the AP Top 25 as a result.

The previously unbeaten Buckeyes fell from second to 10th in The Associated Press women’s basketball poll released Monday after losing to Iowa and Indiana, two top 10 teams, as well as Purdue. Ohio State fell two games back in the Big Ten Conference standings.

South Carolina remained No. 1 for the 32nd consecutive week. The Gamecocks, who were again a unanimous choice from the 28-member national media panel, have the fourth-longest streak ever atop the poll. Only UConn (51 and 34 weeks) and Louisiana Tech (36) have had longer runs at No. 1.

Stanford moved back up to No. 2 in the poll and the Cardinal were followed by LSU, Indiana and UConn in the top five. LSU is the only other undefeated team in women’s basketball besides South Carolina, which visits UConn for a top-five showdown on Sunday.

Iowa jumped out four spots to sixth with Utah, Maryland and Notre Dame coming in ahead of Ohio State. The Hawkeyes started the season No. 4 in the poll.

The Fighting Irish split a pair of games last week against ranked opponents, routing Florida State before falling to N.C. State.

“There’s a lot of parity right now, which is great, great for the game,” Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey said. “The game is growing, which is what you want. But yeah, I mean, every night, especially the ACC, the ACC is the strongest league and, you know, we have just a tough stretch every night.”

One week after falling out of the rankings, Texas re-entered the poll at No. 24. The Longhorns routed then-No. 14 Oklahoma and Oklahoma State last week. South Florida also came in at No. 25. Colorado and Illinois fell out of the poll.


No. 25 South Florida continued its streak of being ranked for at least one week every season since the Bulls entered the poll for the first time in 2015.

“For us not being in a so-called football five conference, that’s a huge accomplishment,” South Florida coach Jose Fernandez said. His team has won 10 consecutive games and has 20 victories this season. The team’s four losses have all come against ranked opponents (Michigan, Villanova, Ohio State and N.C. State).

“This group has been fun to coach. We always play a great non(equals)conference schedule,” Fernandez said. “We won on the road at Texas, beat Alabama, beat Arkansas. We challenged ourselves in November and December.”


Cameron Brink carried Stanford to a win over Oregon with a triple-double that included 10 blocks. It was the first triple-double in NCAA Division I women’s basketball featuring double-digit blocks since Tamari Key did it for Tennessee in an overtime win against Texas on Nov. 21, 2021.

No. 20 Oklahoma’s Taylor Robertson set the all-time NCAA women’s career record for 3-pointers when she hit her 498th in a loss to Iowa State on Saturday. Robertson has 503 entering this week. The all-time NCAA record, men or women, is held by Antoine Davis of Detroit Mercy, who has 534 and counting.

Purdue a unanimous No. 1 in AP Top 25; Tennessee up to No. 2

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

Purdue became this season’s first unanimous No. 1 team in the AP Top 25 men’s college basketball poll Monday after wins over Michigan and Michigan State last week as chaos ensued behind the Boilermakers among other ranked teams.

More than half of Top 25 teams lost, including second-ranked Alabama, which was routed by Oklahoma in the Big 12-SEC Challenge. That allowed Purdue to grab the remaining No. 1 votes and tighten its grip atop the poll, while Tennessee jumped two spots to second and Houston held onto third in voting by 62 national media members.

The Boilermakers (21-1) have won eight straight since a one-point loss to Rutgers on Jan. 2.

“We’re the No. 1 team in the country because of how unselfish we are as a team,” Purdue guard David Jenkins Jr. said. “We had a lot of people doubting us in the beginning because, you know, we may not be the most talented team or whatever, but we’re close on the court and off the court and it’s really translating to how we’re winning.”

The Volunteers climbed to their highest perch since reaching No. 1 for four weeks during the 2018-19 season. They routed Georgia before becoming one of three SEC teams to beat Big 12 opponents on Saturday, knocking off No. 10 Texas 82-71 for their fifth consecutive win over a top-10 team.

Perhaps this is the year Rick Barnes finally gets the Vols through the Sweet 16 for the first time as their coach.

“We have a chance to be as good as we want to be,” he said. “It’s up to one thing: Are we tough enough to embrace the daily grind? And not worry about going to the Final Four or worry about going to the NCAA Tournament, but can we build a team that can be successful that time of year? It starts with truly embracing the grind.”

The Crimson Tide dropped to fourth after the blowout loss to the Sooners, when Alabama fell behind by 17 at halftime in an eventual 93-69 defeat. The Tide edged fifth-ranked Arizona by just two points in this week’s poll.

“It doesn’t have any effect on SEC standings, which is the only good thing to come out of this,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said of the lopsided loss. “Hopefully we’ll recover from a loss out of conference, but you know, it’s not good.”

Virginia was sixth and Kansas State, which rebounded from a narrow loss at No. 13 Iowa State by pummeling Florida on Saturday, fell two spots to seventh; the Wildcats face eighth-ranked Kansas in a top-10 showdown Tuesday night.

UCLA dropped to ninth after losing to Southern California and Texas rounded out the top 10.

Baylor continued its climb from unranked to No. 11 following wins over the Jayhawks and Arkansas. The Bears were followed by Gonzaga, Iowa State, Marquette and league rival TCU – the sixth Big 12 team in the top 15.

Xavier, Providence, Saint Mary’s, Florida Atlantic and Clemson completed the top 20, while poll returners Indiana and San Diego State joined Miami, UConn and Auburn in rounding out the Top 25.


The No. 11 Bears and No. 17 Providence made the biggest leaps, each climbing six spots from last week.

“I think our defense is better. Our turnovers are better. When you don’t give people easy transition baskets, now its five-on-five in the half court,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew, whose team had a date with the Longhorns on Monday night.

“We execute at a pretty high rate,” Drew said. “It really comes down to taking care of the ball, making sure we get shots up and when you don’t make them, you’ve got to get rebounds. And our guys are buying into that.”

Auburn took the biggest hit of those still in the poll, dropping 10 places after losses to unranked Texas A&M and West Virginia.


The Hoosiers returned to the poll at No. 21 and the Aztecs rejoined it right behind them. They took the place of Charleston, which fell out from No. 18 after losing to Hofstra, and New Mexico, which lost to Nevada in double overtime last week.


The Big 12’s dominance of the SEC in the final year of their head-to-head challenge was rewarded in the poll, where the league led the way with six ranked teams and all of them in the top 15. The Big East has four teams in the poll but none higher than No. 14 Marquette, while the SEC and ACC have three teams apiece.

College basketball broadcaster Billy Packer dies at 82

billy packer
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
1 Comment

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Billy Packer, an Emmy award-winning college basketball broadcaster who covered 34 Final Fours for NBC and CBS, died Thursday. He was 82.

Packer’s son, Mark, told The Associated Press that his father had been hospitalized in Charlotte for the past three weeks and had several medical issues, and ultimately succumbed to kidney failure.

Packer’s broadcasting career coincided with the growth of college basketball. He worked as analyst or color commentator on every Final Four from 1975 to 2008. He received a Sports Emmy for Outstanding Sports Personality, Studio and Sports Analyst in 1993.

“He really enjoyed doing the Final Fours,” Mark Packer said. “He timed it right. Everything in life is about timing. The ability to get involved in something that, frankly, he was going to watch anyway, was a joy to him. And then college basketball just sort of took off with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and that became, I think, the catalyst for college basketball fans to just go crazy with March Madness.”

Packer played three seasons at Wake Forest, and helped lead the Demon Deacons to the Final Four in 1962, but it was his work as an analyst that brought him the most acclaim.

He joined NBC in 1974 and called his first Final Four in 1975. UCLA beat Kentucky in the title game that year in what was John Wooden’s final game as coach.

Packer was also part of the broadcast in 1979 with Dick Enberg and Al McGuire when Magic Johnson’s Michigan State team beat Larry Bird’s Indiana State squad in the title game. That remains highest-rated game in basketball history with a 24.1 Nielsen rating, which is an estimated 35.1 million viewers.

Packer went to CBS in the fall of 1981, when the network acquired the rights to the NCAA Tournament. He remained the network’s main analyst until the 2008 Final Four.

In 1996 at CBS, Packer was involved in controversy when he used the term “tough monkey? to describe then-Georgetown star Allen Iverson during a game. Packer later said he “was not apologizing for what I said, because what I said has no implications in my mind whatsoever to do with Allen Iverson’s race.?

Sean McManus, the chairman of CBS Sports, said Packer was “synonymous with college basketball for more than three decades and set the standard of excellence as the voice of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.”

“He had a tremendous impact on the growth and popularity of the sport.” McManus said. “In true Billy fashion, he analyzed the game with his own unique style, perspective and opinions, yet always kept the focus on the game. As passionate as he was about basketball, at his heart Billy was a family man. He leaves part of his legacy at CBS Sports, across college basketball and, most importantly, as a beloved husband, father and grandfather. He will be deeply missed by all.”

Packer was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.

ESPN broadcaster Dick Vitale took to Twitter as word of Packer’s death spread. “So sad to learn of the passing of Billy Packer who had such a passion for college basketball,” Vitale tweeted. “My (prayers) go out to Billy’s son Mark & the entire Packer family. Always had great RESPECT for Billy & his partners Dick Enberg & Al McGuire-they were super. May Billy RIP.”

College basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla tweeted: “We fell in love (with) college basketball because of you. Your voice will remain in my head forever.”

Packer was viewed as a controversial figure during his broadcasting days, often drawing the ire of college basketball fans, particularly on North Carolina’s “Tobacco Road.”

“As a kid, I was a big NC State fan growing up, and I would watch a game and the next day I’d be like, `Boy you sure have it out for NC State, don’t you?’ And he would just laugh,” Mark Packer said.

The younger Packer, who is the host of ACC PM on the ACC Network, said it didn’t matter what school – most fans felt the same way about his father.

“He would cover North Carolina game and Tar Heels fans would be like, `you hate North Carolina,”‘ Mark Packer said. “Wake (Forest) fans would be like, `you hate us.’ And Billy just sort of got a kick out of that.”

Mark Packer said that while most fans will remember his father as a broadcaster, he’ll remember him even more for his business acumen. He said his father was a big real estate investor, and also owned a vape company, among other ventures.

“Billy was always a bit of a hustler – he was always looking for that next business deal,” Packer said.