College basketball rankings: Duke and Kentucky dominate the top 20 must-know, must-see and most important freshmen
The Blue Devils are loaded, but there's plenty of frosh talent in college hoops this season so come meet the newbies
College basketball has finally come around and figured out the proper way to start its regular season.
On Tuesday, Nov. 6, the sport will pull back its curtain for 2018-19 and offer up high-profile games amid its countrywide launch. Season-opening night has mercifully been abandoned from the random mid-November Friday, right before a crucial football weekend gears up. Instead -- now! -- that first Tuesday gives practically the entire night to college hoops. (Even the NBA only has four games Nov. 6.)
And there's tasty tilts to warm the blood. There are six matchups featuring two teams.
One byproduct of all these noteworthy openers is the ever-important introduction to top freshmen. On Nov. 6, the debates and conversations regarding at least a half-dozen one-and-dones will begin. And as you scroll the list below, you'll notice that five of the six games above feature at least one of the 20 most important frosh for the season ahead.
Twelve of the 20 on this list will play in those games. That's sweet. And you better catch them as often as possible, considering every freshman ranked in the top 15 of March Madness heroes. Here are the 20 newbies to know for 2018-19., and 17 of the 20 overall, are no longer in college basketball. Keeping up with the new guys is part of the deal with following college hoops now. Embrace it. Some of these studs will go on to be big names in the NBA -- after they potentially become
1. R.J. Barrett, SG, Duke
- 247Sports composite recruiting ranking: No. 1.
- The skinny: Topping the list because we're expecting him to be the most dominant and successful freshman in America. Barrett is an NBA-ready shooting guard, someone who could stand out amid the litany of one-and-done freshmen at Duke over the past decade. That alone is impressive. As you'll see in this story, there's a lot of intriguing and promising frosh in the class -- for different reasons -- but no one is on the level of Barrett's combination of athleticism, shooting stroke, two-way ability and still-rising ceiling. Not only should he be the best freshman, he could conceivably prove to be the ultimate talent in college basketball in 2018-19.
2. Zion Williamson, PF, Duke
- 247Sports composite recruiting ranking: No. 5.
- The skinny: While Barrett's going to probably size up as the best college freshman this season, no player in America, regardless of class, figures to command the media attention of Williamson. He's a mutant among freaks, an aberration among anomalies, a powerhouse athlete that we've honestly never seen before in college basketball. Williamson's defense may become as renowned as his dunks. He won't be asked to guide Duke in scoring, but the matchups issues he could present as a small-ball 5 could make Duke unlike any team in the sport. He's at No. 2 on this list because he'll probably be more widely covered and known than Trae Young a year ago, which is hard to do.
3. Romeo Langford, SG, Indiana
- 247Sports composite recruiting ranking: No. 7.
- The skinny: Indiana fans have hope for the NCAA Tournament once again, thanks in no small part to Langford's decision to stay home and play for the Cream and Crimson. You're going to want to watch Langford for the lore alone. Given how he rose to prominence in the social media era, Langford's easily the most celebrated high school basketball player in Indiana state history. That brings a lot of pull and star power to IU. He also could wind up scoring almost as much as potential Big Ten POY Juwan Morgan -- his teammate. Langford's long (a 6-foot-11 wingspan on a 6-6 frame) and can score in any way you want: off screens, off the bounce, in transition, in penetration, from deep, from short, in the mid-post. This is going to be fun for IU. The last time the Big Ten had a freshman star with this much appeal heading into his freshman season was ... Cody Zeller?
4. Nassir Little, SF, UNC
- 247Sports composite recruiting ranking: No. 3.
- The skinny: With Little family cleared in the government's case against college basketball, he can focus on channeling his anger over getting his name muddied up by showing he's every bit as good as the top-10 pick some expect him to be. Little can do a little of everything. He's a muscular, multi-faceted guard who is going to ensure North Carolina doesn't slip too far from its standing of recent seasons. The best part for him is he won't need to be the focal point of the offense (Luke Maye and Cam Johnson probably will average more points), but he'll still, I think, step in and be the kind of playmaker that boosts UNC's chances on a nightly basis. His spectrum for impact is wider than a lot of players I have in the top 10, but it boils down to this: You'll be inclined to keep the UNC game on because you'll enjoy watching Little play.
5. Cam Reddish, SF, Duke
- 247Sports composite recruiting ranking: No. 2.
- The skinny: I've heard reports out of Durham, North Carolina that Reddish has shown flashes of being more offensively scary than Barrett or Williamson. It's certainly possible. While Reddish hasn't exactly been lost in the mix of the preseason Duke hype, he hasn't earned a lot of talk due to his injury bug. Reddish suffered a groin injury in the offseason -- and fractured a rib earlier this month -- but is good to go for the Champions Classic on Nov. 6. If you're scanning this list and happen to be the kind of college fan who loves identifying players with pro skill sets who figure to pop after they leave school, Reddish is an ideal candidate. I'm aware of how widely loathed Duke is. But know this: the fact Duke got Barrett and Williamson and Reddish? Your disdain just got a recharge. You'll hate how much you like their games.
6. Quentin Grimes, SG, Kansas
- 247Sports composite recruiting ranking: No. 10.
- The skinny: No worries about the reigning player of the year for the state of Texas. He'll produce heartily in year one for Bill Self. Grimes is a fantastic guard with terrific length, B-plus athleticism and doesn't shy on confidence. Kansas has been good just about every year since the Eisenhower administration, but under Self the best KU teams have had guards who attack like starving cheetahs. Grimes fits that mold. We'll be watching him score between 13 and 16 per game this season as he does it from all three ranges on the floor: at the rim, from the elbow/soft mid-range, from beyond the arc. Plus, he embraces rebounding. All of this led to Grimes earning MVP at the 2018 FIBA U18s (where he was coached by Self). Grimes also won a 6A title in Texas and averaged 30/9/5 while doing so. Trust me, he is the goods.
7. Keldon Johnson, SF, Kentucky
- 247Sports composite recruiting ranking: No. 13.
- The skinny: Kentucky's cadre of callow freshmen promises to be compelling. Who's the best of the new faces? I think it's Keldon Johnson, an ideal wing who is set to be a go-go-go scorer for John Calipari's club this season. When you think Kentucky, you think flashy freshmen. Johnson fits that mold better than any other for Big Blue Nation this season. This Wildcats team might prove to be the best in Lexington, Kentucky in four seasons. If that's going to be the case, I think Johnson's role as a top-three player on the roster will be paramount. He handles the ball well, scores in a variety of ways and is a willing rim-rusher on both ends. You'll enjoy watching him (even if you're not big on Kentucky) because of how inventive he is on and off the ball. The closer we get to the start of the season, the more it feels like, well, let me put it this way: I don't think there's been a more talented freshman to get less hype under Cal at UK than Johnson. There have been better freshmen, but those guys were propped up plenty. Johnson's still an unknown for most.
8. Darius Garland, PG, Vanderbilt
- 247Sports composite recruiting ranking: No. 14.
- The skinny: Point guard with flair who stayed local and in doing so injected renewed purpose into Bryce Drew's program. Some believe Garland can be a top-10 pick in 2019, by the way. So don't go thinking that because Vanderbilt's got a five-star freshman that he's going to stick around for a couple of years. No, the 6-3 floor colonel is set up to be a comet in college hoops. If you're looking for the one player who's trajectory this season sliiiiiightly could resemble Trae Young from a season ago, Garland's my pick. He's a five-star prospect on a non-traditional path by "staying home" and going to a school that normally doesn't bring in blue-chip guys. He's a point guard with a lot of pizzazz, a shooter with range and someone with confidence to put up 24 points but also dish 10 times. Has used his rep as an undersized playmaker to his advantage. A lot of that was the case with Young.
9. Charles Bassey, C, Western Kentucky
- 247Sports composite recruiting ranking: No. 6.
- The skinny: We waited to see how former five-star center Mitchell Robinson would do in Conference USA last season … only to see Robinson never play a minute for Rick Stansbury's team. Now Stansbury brings in Bassey, who could be better than Robinson ever figured to be. Bassey's a big man with agility and someone who could prove to be the best player in Conference USA by the end of November. The Nigerian's second jump is so bouncy, I'm not seeing how Bassey's prevented from averaging a double-double this season. Rim-running technique is great, shot-blocking instincts are there, post game and mid-range are well-established. For all the talk of how basketball is getting smaller, bigs like Bassey are a refreshing change of sight -- and that's not to say he's a traditional center. He's not. WKU won't be on easy-to-find television much this season, so Bassey's exposure will be limited, but you're going to want to find the time to see him wreck guys two and three years his senior.
10. Bol Bol, C, Oregon
- 247Sports composite recruiting ranking: No. 4.
- The skinny: You've probably heard about the long-legged son of the late, great Manute Bol. Most appealingly, Bol Bol has taken to his father's penchant for 3-point shooting. But the 7-2 stretch center brings more than just a big name, long range and 7-8 wingspan to the Ducks. He's so tempting because of how much is there to scrape away at. I don't think he'll be a top 10 freshman this season, but I have him rated this high because he'll be interesting regardless of his adaptation to D-I. Bol's got a long way to go to be the kind of player most want him to be. He's not a fiery player, isn't the kind of prospect that has clawed to get to where he's at. If anything, it's impressive by how good he is in default mode. (When you basically don't have to jump in order to dunk, perhaps this is the byproduct.). Despite all this, he's going to be entertaining to watch just as a player who will look different from everyone else in college hoops. If he truly wants to, he can average 15 rebounds. That hasn't happened in at least 34 years.
11. Ashton Hagans, PG, Kentucky
- 247Sports composite recruiting ranking: No. 12.
- The skinny: Might take Hagans a minute to get his gait, but I expect him to be the most important backcourt player for Kentucky by the time conference play arrives. He's big for his 6-3 frame, embraces defense and keeps opponents honest because of how inventive he is with his playmaking. Hagans isn't quite a combo guard (call him a lead guard, if you will), but he'll be a threat to score when necessary. Obviously Calipari is known for some of the ultra-talented point guards he's put through the waterway to the NBA. Hagans isn't on that elite level, but he is very good. Because of his aptitude for distributing the ball and his ability to face up defenders on the perimeter, I expect him to be on the floor in crunch time in almost every game from December on.
12. Tyler Herro, SG, Kentucky
- 247Sports composite recruiting ranking: No. 37.
- The skinny: The lowest-ranked player among UK's 2018 haul of recruits could very well become the best and most valuable freshman on the team. That's the opinion of some who've been following Herro's promising preseason performances, including when he averaged 17.3 points during Kentucky's summer trip to the Bahamas for exhibition play. Herro is a shooting guard through and through, a natural scorer. When the lights go on at season's start, UK fans will be hoping, if not expecting, him to inject that long-range dynamic to UK's offense that was sorely missed last season. But don't think Herro's just going to be a 3-point specialist. He's got active feet and will find spaces in the crevices of the defense on the interior as well. I'm ranking him this high based in good part off what I'm hearing come out of Lexington and what I saw in the Bahamas. Herro has star potential.
13. Naz Reid, PF, LSU
- 247Sports composite recruiting ranking: No. 18.
- The skinny: Reid is so fluid and gifted for a 6-10 player, he's not vulnerable to being overshadowed by his sophomore stud teammate, Tremont Waters. Reid has a 9-foot standing reach, a powerful base, embraces physical battles around the backboard and can use both hands to get his way. LSU's going to be good this season, ladies and gents. Reid has a shot to be the most valuable freshman big man in college basketball because of his natural ability and LSU's need for a dynamic power forward. The scouting report on Reid coming out of high school was how smart he was in hoops IQ, how well he could handle the ball in transition and how quickly he was ascending with his offensive repertoire. I find it unlikely he's in college more than one season.
14. Tre Jones, PG, Duke
- 247Sports composite recruiting ranking: No. 15.
- The skinny: Jones has received by far the least amount of pub of any of Duke's star quartet of freshmen, but don't worry, he'll get his shine. Give it about a month before Jones is no longer consistently referred to as "Tyus Jones' younger brother." The truth is, Tre enters Duke with more expectation about his ability than Tyus did. It's just that Tyus accelerated his college career by two seasons after helping get Duke that 2015 natty. With Tre, Duke will have a freshman point guard that never gets sped up, almost never makes foolish mistakes and usually knows where to put the ball. He distributes and can play as adroitly in transition as he can with the shot clock winding down. Jones isn't an out-and-out old-school point guard, but with all the scorers around him, he'll grease Duke's inevitably squeaky, freshman-loaded wheels.
15. Kevin Porter Jr., SG, USC
- 247Sports composite recruiting ranking: No. 28.
- The skinny: I've had multiple people inside and outside the USC program gush about Porter's ability and potential. He wasn't rated at the top of his class, but his skillset is outfitted for the next level. With a lot of opportunity at USC this season (the Trojans can be good but they did lose NBA talent and really good seniors from last season), the former four-star recruit can make evaluators blush if he goes on to be the substantial scorer his coaches know he's capable of. What makes him all the more fun of a watch: Porter's a southpaw, something that has a proven to benefit him against inferior athletes. I'm not big on ISO-type stuff spreading in college basketball, but Andy Enfield better put the ball in Porter's hands, spread the floor, and let him paint.
16. Jordan Brown, PF, Nevada
- 247Sports composite recruiting ranking: No. 19.
- The skinny: Here's a power forward who put up 26 and 8 in the McDonald's All-American Game earlier this year. Brown's commitment to Nevada was what sealed me putting the Wolf Pack as a top-five team heading into 2018-19. He's also helped legitimize Nevada as a national title contender for the first time in program history; this is the first 5-star player to ever commit to the Wolf Pack. You'll notice there's no shortage of bigs on this list. That's a good thing for college basketball, as it's great to see 6-10 (or-taller) players step onto the scene and become stars. Brown will play
secondthird fiddle to the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline but he won't be a timid role player. Nevada needs him to be good in order for it to be great.
17. Simi Shittu, PF, Vanderbilt
- 247Sports composite recruiting ranking: No. 11.
- The skinny: Shittu's on his way back from an injury, so I've dropped him a bit just to wait and see what developments he has by the time he plays Nov. 6 against Winthrop. Vanderbilt's had some good teams in the past decade and a half, but no 'Dores crew brings in the anticipation of this one due to Shittu and Garland wearing gold and black. The Burlington, Ontario product stands about 6-9 and is as well-built as almost anyone in the 2018 class not named "Zion." Because he can ball-handle, create, shoot from deep (42 percent from 3-point range on the top Nike circuit) and plays with a constant stream of intelligence at his size, he's a great complement to Garland in the backcourt. Plus, he embraces defense, which is always coveted by coaches.
18. Louis King PF, Oregon
- 247Sports composite recruiting ranking: No. 20.
- The skinny: King's teammate, Bol Bol, has the bigger name and has been subject to feature stories and general curiosity for three years now. But keep an eye on King, who could wind up, quite easily I think, as the more well-rounded college player in the ensuing five months. Oregon's the favorite to win the Pac-12 in part because of its strong freshman class. King has the goods to become a top-20 pick. That will be expedited if Dana Altman puts him at power forward in a small-ball style offense. I'm telling you, Oregon should be a different watch, and a fun one, vs. the kind of style and lineup a lot of other high-majors put on the court this season.
19. Coby White, PG, UNC
- 247Sports composite recruiting ranking: No. 25.
- The skinny: Here's where UNC has a shot to actually win the ACC again. Nassir Little shapes up as the better NBA prospect and all, but UNC coaches told me that White has been fantastic -- a spongy learner -- since he got to campus. He's going to have impact almost right away. It wouldn't be a shock if White's effect and influences was larger in nonconference play than Little's. Plus, let's be real, his hair is incredible. White's image is going to go a long way to his informal marketability in college basketball. White's an enticing talent -- he might be the one guy on this list who winds up being ranked 8-10 spots too low.
20. Jahvon Quinerly, PG, Villanova
- 247Sports composite recruiting ranking: No. 29.
- The skinny: Have to put a Villanova player on this list. Quinerly gets the nod over fireball frosh Cole Swider primarily due to the fact he could/should start, and being a point guard, he'll have the ball in his hands more. Quinerly also has a talented freshman teammate in Saddiq Bey, who Villanova coaches told me has looked as good as any of the new guys in the preseason. For Quinerly, he steps into a fascinating spot; Villanova's been commanded by Jalen Brunson and Ryan Arcidiacono in recent seasons. Now point guard, at least for a short time, becomes an unknown for the reigning national champs. If Nova's a Final Four contender again, Quinerly probably has to play to where he's been listed here: as a top-20 freshman this season.
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