College basketball: The five most valuable freshmen of 2017-18 season
Just more than a week away from the start of the college basketball season, USA TODAY Sports examines some of the most intriguing story lines.
Today, the five most valuable freshmen.
Michael Porter Jr., Missouri
The versatile 6-10 forward will be the face of new coach Cuonzo Martin’s program, and likely will be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft next summer. Porter will be counted on to put up big numbers and lift the Tigers out of the SEC’s basement in 2017-18, but this plan hasn’t always worked in the past — Markelle Fultz (Washington) and Ben Simmons (LSU) each failed to get their college programs to the NCAA tournament in their one season before they headed to the NBA.
How can Porter buck the trend? Perhaps the formula is two family members on the roster — his dad, Michael Porter Sr., was hired by Martin as an assistant, and his brother, Jontay, a 2018 prospect who graduated early to be eligible this fall. Porter Jr. will be a national player of the year candidate, but how the rest of the squad fits in will determine Mizzou’s fate.
Marvin Bagley III, Duke
Bagley, a 6-11 forward, is as NBA-ready as it gets, with an ability to score on the low block and stretch the floor with a strong outside jumper. He’s on par with Porter talent-wise but in a much different situation in Durham. Bagley won't have to be the lead guy, and that will be extremely beneficial for his development.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski has young and old talent, making the Blue Devils a preseason No. 1 team on-paper, and how Bagley fits into a high-octane offense will be interesting given his multidimensional skill set. Preseason All-American Grayson Allen, a proven senior scorer, and dynamite freshman point guard Trevon Duval will make up a star-power backcourt, but Bagley is undoubtedly the X-Factor for Duke’s title hopes.
Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky
A freshman impact player from Kentucky? Unusual, right? Diallo, however, has a bit of a different story. After spending the spring semester with last season’s Elite Eight squad before getting a good barometer for his future at the NBA draft combine, consider Diallo ahead of the curve as far as the rest of the freshman class goes.
The good thing about the 6-5 guard is he’s athletic as they come with jump-out-of-the-gym dunks that will serve up plenty of highlight reels; that also carries over to defensive ball-hawking. The not-so-good is that he’s a 2-guard who isn’t exactly a Malik Monk-like outside shooter — yet. John Calipari will have to tame him, just a little, but that’s one of his strengths in Lexington.
DeAndre Ayton, Arizona
Ayton is an athletic 7-footer who will give coach Sean Miller a weapon like he’s never had before. Defensively, Ayton will be a force with his ability to protect the rim. Offensively, he’ll play like a stretch-4 who can make an already-loaded Arizona squad extremely difficult to guard. This is perhaps Miller’s most talented roster ever, with a nice mix of new and old, and Ayton can be the key to getting the coach to his first Final Four.
Mohamed Bamba, Texas
Texas coach Shaka Smart has himself a gem of a freshman in Bamba, a 7-foot wrecking ball who will protect the paint and likely average a double-double with his ability to out-muscle fellow big men and rebound. Smart is in need of a bounce-back season after the Longhorns finished 11-22 amid a wave of on-and-off-the-court issues. So having Bamba headline a top-five recruiting class to enforce his signature “havoc” is huge.