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Rothstein: 20 impact freshmen for 2016-17

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

Which first-year players will make the biggest impact during the 16-17 college basketball season? Check out our list below as we look at 20 impact freshmen.

In no particular order:

Jayson Tatum, Duke: If there was a physical definition of what a small forward is supposed to look like it would be of Tatum. The Saint Louis native has great size for a wing at 6-8 and always seems to play playing the game downhill. He’ll be a menace this season in Durham.

Harry Giles, Duke: Despite injuries to both of his knees over the past few years, Giles remains the top NBA prospect in college basketball. Armed with elite size, length, and athleticism at 6-9, Giles runs the floor like a deer and is an elite finisher. If this kid is healthy he’s the best overall talent in the sport.

Frank Jackson, Duke: Jackson may not be getting the same amount of attention as Tatum and Giles, but that doesn’t mean he’s not an elite freshman. A native of Utah, the 6-4 guard can play either back court position and could wind up being the key to whether or not the Blue Devils can give Mike Krzyzewski his sixth national championship.

Josh Jackson, Kansas: Bill Self coached an elite freshman wing a few years ago in Andrew Wiggins and now he’s got another one in Jackson. Armed with cheetah-like speed in the open floor, the 6-7 Jackson is a menace in transition and should be an elite defender out of the gate for Kansas.

Bam Adebayo, Kentucky: No freshman in college basketball will be as physically imposing next season as Adebayo. The 6-9, 240 pound power forward has a body that’s chiseled like an ice sculpture and his presence should give John Calipari what he was sorely lacking last season: a true interior scoring threat.

De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky: If speed kills then all of Fox’s opponents are in major trouble. The 6-3, 160-pound floor general leaves opposing point guards stuck in the mud on defense and has all the requisites to join the long line of one-and-done play makers that have flourished under Calipari at both Memphis and Kentucky.

Malik Monk, Kentucky: The Wildcats went to the state of Arkansas to get this 6-3 guard, who will immediately be one of the top athletes in the sport. An above-the-rim finisher that can score the ball in a number of ways, Monk should really complement the skills of both Fox and Isaiah Briscoe on Kentucky’s perimeter.

30 March 2016: McDonald's All American Boys West Team guard Lonzo Ball (2) during the McDonald's All-American Boy's Basketball Game at the United Center in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)

Lonzo Ball, UCLA: If you’re being compared to Jason Kidd then you’re probably pretty special, and that’s the case with Ball. The 6-5 point guard comes to UCLA with the label of being a pseudo messiah and those who’ve seen him play don’t dispute that notion. Many on the West Coast believe that Ball will be the best floor general the Pac-12 has seen since Kidd played for Cal in the mid 90’s.

T.J. Leaf, UCLA: Skilled power forward will give the Bruins a new offensive dimension up front. After initially committing to Arizona, Leaf instead heads to Westwood with the hopes of putting UCLA in position to win its first Pac-12 regular season title since 2013.

Jarrett Allen, Texas: Shaka Smart’s first recruiting class in Austin is highlighted by this 6-11 big man, who was named a McDonald’s All-American last spring. Allen can run the floor, block shots, and score the ball either facing the rim or with his back to the basket. This addition gives the Longhorns the interior presence they needed in order to have a chance to return to the NCAA Tournament.

Lauri Markkanen, Arizona: The unknown member of Arizona’s star-studded recruiting class may be the one who’s most ready to contribute this season. A native of Finland, the 6-11 forward can play either front court spot and is freakishly skilled. Expect an immediate contribution from Markkanen this season in the Wildcats’ starting lineup.

Kobi Simmons, Arizona: This Georgia native is taking his talents to the desert and will likely play multiple positions for the Wildcats as a freshman. Simmons has great size for a point guard at 6-6 and is blessed with an uncanny ability to display his talent. Now comes the hard part: leading a team and being an extension of Sean Miller on the floor.

Shamorie Ponds, St. John’s: An effortless scorer, Ponds should have an excellent chance to lead all Big East freshmen in scoring this season. A shooting guard trapped in a point guard’s body at 6-1, this Brooklyn native has Cuttino Mobley-type ability and should be a double-figure scorer throughout the duration of his college career.

Mustapha Heron, Auburn: Tough, nasty, and downright driven, Heron plays every possession like it’s life or death. A 6-4 guard with great versatility, this lefty has the chance to become an elite defender as the centerpiece of Bruce Pearl’s second rebuilding job in the SEC.

30 JUL 2016: Dennis Smith Jr. (NC State) in action during the adidas Global Nations at the Next Level Sports Complex in Garden Grove, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)

Dennis Smith, NC State: A table-setting point guard at the highest level, Smith’s knack for creating opportunities for his teammates will be apparent during the first drill of the first practice. Despite coming off a torn ACL, Smith should be more than ready to attempt to lead NC State back to the NCAA Tournament.

Markelle Fultz, Washington: How does Washington replace two perimeter starters in Andrew Andrews and Dejounte Murray? With a lottery pick. Lorenzo Romar has always had an ability to land elite level talent during his tenure with the Huskies, but Fultz may go down as one of this program’s best ever. The 6-4 guard can score, distribute, and lead a team. This will be a first-team All-Pac-12 player and a top-five pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.

15 APR 2016: Jordan Brand All American West Team forward Miles Bridges (1) during the game between the 2016 Jordan Brand All American West Team and the 2016 Jordan Brand All America East Team played at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

Miles Bridges, Michigan State: Tom Izzo made national waves with the Spartans’ recruiting class and Bridges is the top-rated prospect of the group. A prototypical “hybrid forward”, the 6-7 Bridges will play multiple spots for Michigan State during the upcoming season.

Jonathan Isaac, Florida State: Leonard Hamilton has always loved to coach wiry players and he’s got another one in Isaac. The 6-10, 233-pound forward will start for Florida State at the four and should regularly be a mismatch for opposing defenses. This is a one-and-done caliber talent.

Tyus Battle, Syracuse: Jim Boeheim had a dynamic scoring freshman last season in Malachi Richardson and now he’s got another one in Battle. The 6-5 wing should be an instant starter for the Orange and can score the ball from deep as well as the mid-range area. This is a big time talent.

Alterique Gilbert, UConn: Kevin Ollie loves dynamic point guards and he’s got one in Gilbert. This McDonald’s All-American is lightning quick in the open floor and should form a potent perimeter combination next season alongside Jalen Adams.

Jon Rothstein has been a college basketball insider for CBS Sports since 2010 and is the lead college basketball columnist for the FanRag Sports Network. He is also the host of the College Hoops Today Podcast via Compass Media Networks, which is available via iTunes. Rothstein is also a regular in-studio correspondent for both WFAN and CBS Sports Radio. He currently lives in Manhattan. 

Rothstein: 20 impact freshmen for 2016-17

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