College Basketball

Newcomer Impact Rankings – Which freshmen, transfers will determine team fortunes?

Up until now, most preseason player rankings have been separated into categories. Best graduate transfers, best sit-out transfers, best freshmen, even best junior college transfers. But with roster turnover at an all-time high and transfer waivers being granted left and right this fall, it’s time to put all of these players on a level playing field.

There are a couple of things to note. One, this is a ranking based purely on the impact during the 2020-21 college basketball season. Not recruiting ranking, not pro potential — impact during the upcoming season. For example, North Carolina freshman Caleb Love was ranked behind teammates Day’Ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler in the ESPN 100 for 2020, but Love is expected to be the Tar Heels’ starting point guard this season, while Sharpe and Kessler are going to start off as reserves behind established starters Armando Bacot and Garrison Brooks.

Two, there are still several players waiting for official word on waivers and they aren’t included in the rankings. The biggest of those names is Kentucky’s Olivier Sarr, but other players who would likely find a spot in the rankings are Texas Tech’s Mac McClung, Oregon’s LJ Figueroa, Michigan’s Chaundee Brown, DePaul’s Javon Freeman-Liberty, Memphis’ DeAndre Williams, Maryland’s Jairus Hamilton, Minnesota’s Both Gach, Oklahoma’s Umoja Gibson and South Alabama’s Michael Flowers. We’ll just have to wait and see on the status of those players, and until that time, let’s get into the rankings.

1. Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State (freshman): We likely won’t get to see Cunningham in the NCAA tournament because of the Cowboys’ postseason ban, but he was the best high school player in the country last season and is the favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NBA draft.

2. Sam Hauser, Virginia (transfer): There’s an argument for Hauser to be the preseason Player of the Year in the ACC, after averaging 14.9 points and 7.2 rebounds for Marquette two seasons ago.

3. Evan Mobley, USC (freshman): A game-changer at both ends of the floor, Mobley is a shoo-in to be selected in the top five of the next NBA draft. He’ll team up with his brother, Isaiah, for the Trojans.

4. Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga (freshman): A two-sport star at the high school level, Suggs will get the keys to the offense of a national championship contender from day one.

5. B.J. Boston, Kentucky (freshman): With all the personnel losses for the Wildcats from last season, John Calipari will need someone to emerge as the go-to-guy offensively; my money is on Boston.

6. Joshua Christopher, Arizona State (freshman): Christopher enters college with one of the most complete scoring packages in the 2020 class and is now part of maybe the most explosive perimeter group in the country.

7. Scottie Barnes, Florida State (freshman): Barnes is so versatile at both ends of the floor and will be the best player on a top-25 team in Tallahassee. Don’t be surprised to see the 6-foot-8 Barnes playing the point.

8. Jalen Johnson, Duke (freshman): Mike Krzyzewski always has an elite freshman on his hands, and Johnson will be the best of the group this season. Versatile offensive player despite a choppy senior season.

9. Carlik Jones, Louisville (transfer): The No. 1 graduate transfer last spring, Jones was the Big South Player of the Year after averaging 20.0 points. He’ll hit the ground running in the ACC.

10. Ziaire Williams, Stanford (freshman): A potential top-five pick in the 2021 NBA draft, Williams was a game-changing addition for the Cardinal. He could carry them to the NCAA tournament.

11. Caleb Love, North Carolina (freshman): Ranked a bit above where he was slotted in the 2020 class, Love should make a significant impact early. He’s an elite point guard and Roy Williams needs him.

12. Sharife Cooper, Auburn (freshman): Cooper is an aggressive and exciting point guard who knows how to make plays with the ball in his hands. Bruce Pearl’s system should suit him perfectly.

13. Terrence Clarke, Kentucky (freshman): Clarke will impact the game in a variety of ways, and Calipari will find interesting ways to utilize him. Great physical tools and makes plays at both ends.

14. Keon Johnson, Tennessee (freshman): The Volunteers have a number of impact newcomers, but there’s strong early buzz surrounding Johnson. He’s an elite-level athlete, but showed a lot more as his high school career progressed.

15. Joey Hauser, Michigan State (transfer): A former top-50 recruit, Hauser had his waiver request to play last season denied — but he’ll be worth the wait for Tom Izzo. Shot 42.5% from 3 for Marquette in 2018-19.

16. Earl Timberlake, Miami (freshman): Timberlake will be a matchup problem early on in Coral Gables. Powerful left-handed playmaker who is difficult to contain because of his physique and 6-6 size.

17. Greg Brown, Texas (freshman): Brown is an elite athlete who will excel in the open court for the Longhorns. Shaka Smart’s team was inconsistent last season, but Brown is the type of X-factor who can take them to the next level.

18. Landers Nolley II, Memphis (transfer): Had 30 points in his college debut last season for Virginia Tech, and his waiver to play immediately vaults the Tigers into the preseason top-25 discussion.

19. D.J. Carton, Marquette (transfer): Showed flashes of his ability at Ohio State, but left the team in January. Marquette’s offense has been very friendly for talented scoring guards; Carton could be next in line.

20. Jahvon Quinerly, Alabama (transfer): Never quite got going at Villanova as a freshman, but Nate Oats’ up-tempo offense should suit Quinerly. Gets into the lane at will and will have plenty of scorers around him.

21. Cameron Thomas, LSU (freshman): One of the truly elite scorers in high school basketball last season, Thomas will be counted on to put up points right away in Baton Rouge.

22. Jeremy Roach, Duke (freshman): Yet another point guard expected to make an immediate impact, Roach could start right away for the Blue Devils. He’s a winning player who can score and buys in defensively.

23. Devin Askew, Kentucky (freshman): Askew might not be as athletically explosive as some previous Calipari point guards, but he’s tough and never seems out of sync. Can score at all three levels.

24. James Akinjo, Arizona (transfer): He was the Big East Freshman of the Year before leaving Georgetown after seven games last season. Sean Miller will give him the ball on day one.

25. Moussa Cisse, Memphis (freshman): Cisse’s commitment to Memphis over LSU was a huge boost for Penny Hardaway’s program. He’ll immediately be one of the best shot-blockers and rebounders in the AAC.

26. Romello White, Ole Miss (transfer): Started 92 games at Arizona State and averaged 10.2 points and 8.8 rebounds last season. Could be the best player on a sneaky-good Ole Miss team.

27. Bryce Thompson, Kansas (freshman): The Jayhawks are going to need scoring punch after the departures of Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike. Thompson can fill it up in a hurry.

28. Nimari Burnett, Texas Tech (freshman): At times last season, the Red Raiders struggled to create offense. Burnett should help in that area. He can play on or off the ball.

29. Adam Miller, Illinois (freshman): Would have been higher up this list had Ayo Dosunmu not returned to Champaign, but Miller now won’t have to shoulder the playmaking duties right away.

30. David Jenkins Jr., UNLV (transfer): Followed T.J. Otzelberger from South Dakota State to UNLV in 2019, and is eligible after sitting out last season. Averaged 19.7 points in 2018-19 and will push that number this season.

31. Makur Maker, Howard (freshman): Maker made a historic decision when he chose Howard over UCLA, Memphis and others — and now it’s time to translate that impact to the court. Maker’s physical tools should give him a huge advantage in the MEAC.

32. Justin Smith, Arkansas (transfer): On a team made up almost entirely of transfers and freshmen, Smith is gathering the most hype. Averaged 10.4 points at Indiana and played more than 30 minutes per game.

33. Jordan Brown, Arizona (transfer): A former McDonald’s All-American who barely played at Nevada as a freshman, Brown impressed during his sit-out year in Tucson.

34. Tyree Appleby, Florida (transfer): Not as highly touted as some other sit-out transfers, Appleby averaged 17.2 points and 5.6 assists for Cleveland State in 2018-19. Earned rave reviews last season out of Gainesville.

35. Hunter Dickinson, Michigan (freshman): Dickinson is a bit of an old-school big man, with his ability to score with his back to the basket. He’s certainly not unskilled, though, as he is a high-level passer in the post and has shown range.

36. Eugene Omoruyi, Oregon (transfer): An honorable mention All-Big Ten performer at Rutgers, Omoruyi averaged 13.8 points and 7.2 rebounds in 2018-19. Should start up front for the Ducks.

37. Marcus Santos-Silva, Texas Tech (transfer): Wide-bodied post player should start down low this season for the Red Raiders. Efficient scorer averaged 12.8 points and 8.9 rebounds at VCU.

38. Dawson Garcia, Marquette (freshman): If not for teammate D.J. Carton, Garcia would be the favorite for Newcomer of the Year in the Big East. He’s 6-11, versatile and can create huge matchup issues.

39. R.J. Cole, UConn (transfer): Dan Hurley’s team has NCAA tournament hopes this season, and the Huskies’ point guard will be Cole — who averaged 21.4 points and 6.4 assists at Howard in 2018-19. There has been positive buzz about Cole for over a year now.

40. Bryce Aiken, Seton Hall (transfer): Might be higher if fully healthy; latest reports have him expected to be cleared from his ankle injury in late November. First-team All-Ivy guard in 2018-19 after averaging 22.2 points, and he’s Myles Powell’s replacement.

41. Joel Ntambwe, Texas Tech (transfer): Ntambwe consistently impressed onlookers in practice during his sit-out season, and his size and skill set is intriguing. Averaged 11.8 points as a freshman at UNLV.

42. Matt Haarms, BYU (transfer): There was plenty of hype surrounding Haarms last spring, and he ultimately chose BYU over Kentucky and Texas Tech. Elite shot-blocker started 41 games over three seasons for Purdue.

43. Terrell Gomez, San Diego State (transfer): Gomez is only 5-8, which will be an adjustment going from Cal State Northridge to the Mountain West, but he averaged 19.8 points and shot 44% from 3.

44. Marcus Bagley, Arizona State (freshman): The buzz surrounding Bagley has been growing for most of the past six months, and he’s going to provide a different dimension for the Sun Devils alongside their elite perimeter.

45. Johnny Juzang, UCLA (transfer): Juzang is headed back to the West Coast after an inconsistent freshman year at Kentucky. Had the reputation of a shooter coming out of high school and will look to return to form.

46. Khristian Lander, Indiana (freshman): A five-star point guard who reclassified late in the process, Lander will have to beat out veteran Rob Phinisee — but the two can also play next to each other in the backcourt.

47. Azuolas Tubelis, Arizona (freshman): Considered the top European prospect entering college basketball, Tubelis is already drawing positive early reviews. Put up huge numbers for Lithuania the past three summers.

48. Liam Robbins, Minnesota (transfer): Joined his uncle, Ed Conroy, at Minnesota after transferring from Drake. Seven-footer averaged 14.1 points, 7.1 rebounds and nearly three blocks.

49. Justice Sueing, Ohio State (transfer): The Buckeyes are going to need scoring pop on the wing this season, and Sueing might have the edge on Seth Towns for that role. Averaged 14.3 points at California.

50. Josh Primo, Alabama (freshman): Primo is a potential first-round pick and is perhaps the best international prospect entering college basketball. The only thing keeping him this low is his age; he won’t turn 18 until the day before Christmas. So there could be some growing pains early.

51. Cartier Diarra, Virginia Tech (transfer): Averaged 13.3 points, 3.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists for Kansas State last season and was a key player for Bruce Weber for three seasons.

52. Trey McGowens, Nebraska (transfer): Recently received a waiver to play immediately this season. Averaged 11.5 points and 3.6 assists for Pittsburgh last season, and is being looked at to contribute right away.

53. Cormac Ryan, Notre Dame (transfer): Mike Brey has been excited about the addition of Ryan for more than a year. He was a consistent shooter in high school, and averaged 8.7 points as a freshman at Stanford.

54. E.J. Anosike, Tennessee (transfer): Anosike was a double-double machine at Sacred Heart last season, averaging 15.7 points and 11.6 rebounds, and he could start down low for the Volunteers right away.

55. Amauri Hardy, Oregon (transfer): The Ducks are going to battle Arizona State at the top of the Pac-12, which means Hardy will play a huge role as the team’s starting point guard. Put up 14.5 points at UNLV.

56. Darius McNeill, SMU (transfer): Averaged at least 11 points in his two seasons at California and will be expected to start right away on the perimeter for a Mustangs team that could push for an NCAA tournament bid.

57. D.J. Harvey, Vanderbilt (transfer): Harvey averaged 10.8 points at Notre Dame two years ago and should exceed that at Vanderbilt. He will start immediately and arguably is the most talented scorer on the roster.

58. Nysier Brooks, Miami (transfer): The Hurricanes lacked size and consistency up front, and Brooks should help solve those issues. He’s experienced and was a terrific defensive player for Cincinnati.

59. JD Notae, Arkansas (transfer): If you’re looking for a sleeper pick to lead the Razorbacks in scoring, Notae is your guy. He’s versatile and put up 15.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.4 assists at Jacksonville in 2018-19.

60. Seth Towns, Ohio State (transfer): At one time was the No. 1 transfer on the market last spring. Towns was the 2017-18 Ivy League Player of the Year but has missed the past two seasons because of knee injuries. If he’s healthy, this ranking will look way too low.

61. Terrell Brown, Arizona (transfer): Was a first-team All-WAC selection last season after averaging 20.7 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.9 assists. Will be one of several newcomers pushing to start for Sean Miller.

62. Mark Williams, Duke (freshman): Williams has a chance to surprise early on and get extensive playing time down low due to his shot-blocking ability. It wouldn’t be a shock to see him go one-and-done.

63. Jaden Springer, Tennessee (freshman): Springer improved his point guard ability as his high school career progressed, but can also play off the ball. Strong-bodied, physical scorer who likes to get to the rim.

64. Dimencio Vaughn, Ole Miss (transfer): A unanimous first-team All-MAAC selection at Rider last season, Vaughn averaged 14.8 points, 6.6 rebounds and shot 39.3% from 3. He can also defend and will bring experience.

65. Charles Minlend, Louisville (transfer): Carlik Jones will get more attention, but Minlend was a second-team All-WCC selection who averaged 14.4 points. He could start for the Cardinals.

66. Ethan Morton, Purdue (freshman): Morton is a unique player on the offensive end of the floor. He brings 6-6 size, high-level passing ability and versatility. Will be an effective playmaker.

67. Dalano Banton, Nebraska (transfer): Here’s a sleeper impact newcomer. Banton averaged just 3.4 points at Western Kentucky, but he’s 6-8, can play point guard and has high-level playmaking ability.

68. Seventh Woods, South Carolina (transfer): Onlookers in Columbia have been impressed for months by Woods’ ability, and despite his struggles at North Carolina, he is expected to make an impact for the Gamecocks.

69. Tyon Grant-Foster, Kansas (transfer): Like Bryce Thompson, Grant-Foster will bring serious scoring punch to Lawrence. He’s the only junior college transfer in these rankings.

70. Kevin Marfo, Texas A&M (transfer): Marfo led the nation in rebounding last season and averaged 10.2 points and 13.3 rebounds. Going from Quinnipiac to the SEC will be an adjustment, but he’s got the body and build.

71. Day’Ron Sharpe, North Carolina (freshman): Perhaps the best rebounder in high school basketball last season, Sharpe is stuck behind Armando Bacot and Garrison Brooks — but will find his way onto the floor.

72. Jalen Carey, Rhode Island (transfer): A former ESPN 100 prospect, Carey didn’t put it together at Syracuse, but he could start alongside star senior Fatts Russell in a dynamic and talented backcourt.

73. Deivon Smith, Mississippi State (freshman): Smith is a super-dynamic point guard who loves to get out in transition. He’s one of the most explosive athletes in the 2020 class and should start day one.

74. Mike Smith, Michigan (transfer):There are questions about how Smith’s numbers (22.8 PPG, 4.5 APG) will translate from the Ivy League to the Big Ten, but he will give Juwan Howard experience and playmaking at the point guard spot.

75. Jared Bynum, Providence (transfer): The Saint Joseph’s transfer should step in immediately at the point guard spot for the Friars, alongside David Duke and A.J. Reeves. Unselfish, tough and a good distributor.

76. Caleb Daniels, Villanova (transfer): Buzz about Daniels coming out of Villanova over the past year has been consistently positive. Strong-bodied guard who averaged 16.9 points at Tulane in 2018-19.

77. Adam Flagler, Baylor (transfer): Scott Drew will have arguably the nation’s best backcourt again, and Flagler will be a key part of that group. Was the freshman of the year in the Big South in 2018-19 after averaging 15.9 points at Presbyterian.

78. D.J. Steward, Duke (freshman): Steward might not start for the Blue Devils, but he is an explosive scorer who can really shoot the ball from the perimeter. He’ll be instant offense for Duke.

79. Mady Sissoko, Michigan State (freshman): There’s a starting spot open down low with the departure of Xavier Tillman, and Sissoko has the size, length and build to find minutes. Had positive summer buzz.

80. Walker Kessler, North Carolina (freshman): Like Day’Ron Sharpe, Kessler is a five-star recruit who will fight for minutes behind Bacot and Brooks. But Kessler brings a little more inside-outside ability.

Next 10: Andre Jackson, UConn; Andre Curbelo, Illinois; Cliff Omoruyi, Rutgers; Alan Griffin, Syracuse; Holland Woods, Arizona State; Tyrese Martin, UConn; Kerr Kriisa, Arizona; R.J. Davis, North Carolina; Jalen Tate, Arkansas; Takal Molson, Seton Hall

Three mid-major names to watch: Justice Ajogbor, Harvard; Rubin Jones, North Texas; Chris Youngblood, Kennesaw State

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