It should come as no surprise to college basketball fans that freshmen have come to possess a significant portion of the star power in the sport. Just look at this year’s NBA draft, where the first upperclassman was not selected until Duke sophomore Luke Kennard with 12th pick. So while some returning players will undoubtedly have a major impact in 2017–18 season, it’s important to get to know the new faces who may come to occupy the spotlight.
With that in mind, SI.com will be introducing you to the top 25 incoming freshmen in college basketball and breaking down the impact those players could have this season. We move to the No. 8 overall recruit: Michigan State forward Jaren Jackson.
What he means for Michigan State’s recruiting class
When he committed to the Spartans in the fall of 2015, Jackson was not considered one of the best overall prospects in this class. He’s since leapt into the top 10 of every major scouting service and is viewed as a candidate to go one-and-done at Michigan State, giving the Spartans two potential lottery picks on their roster this season. (Sophomore Miles Bridges is the other.) Michigan State’s ’16 recruiting class was rated higher than this one, but Jackson is more esteemed than each member of that four-man group (Bridges, Cassius Winston, Josh Langford and Nick Ward). The only other recruit in the Spartans’ ’17 haul is three-star center Xavier Tillman.
How he fits
Jackson may slide into Michigan State’s starting lineup as a stretch four. Bridges should continue to do most of the heavy lifting on offense, with Jackson spreading the floor with his jump-shooting ability and offering a snug fit next to the more ground-bound, post-oriented Ward, who was one of the nation’s top offensive rebounders and foul-drawers last season. Spartans head coach Tom Izzo also could opt to roll out some lineups with Jackson at the five and Bridges at the four. Those configurations could be particularly helpful if Ward can’t shake the foul trouble that bedeviled him as a freshman and contributed to his 19.8 minutes per game average. Wherever Izzo chooses to use Jackson, it’s not unreasonable to expect him to be the most impactful freshman in the Big Ten.
No draft-related development will have a larger effect on the 2017–18 college basketball landscape than Bridges’s decision to turn down a probable first-round selection in favor of a return to East Lansing for a second season of college ball. The Spartans have plenty of pieces to support him, too, including Jackson, three former top-40 recruits from their 2016 class (Winston, Langford and Ward) and upperclassmen like forwards Ben Carter, Kenny Goins and Gavin Schilling and guards Lourawls Nairn and Matt McQuaid. The Spartans will be the obvious frontrunners to win the Big Ten, and they’ll open the season on the short list of national title contenders. This could be one of Izzo’s best teams.