Sports Illustrated’s 2017-18 college basketball projections are a collaboration between economist Dan Hanner, SI’s Chris Johnson and SI’s Jeremy Fuchs. The system uses college and AAU statistics, recruiting rankings and coaching data to project every Division I player and team. For a deeper look at how the system works, read this explainer. SI’s ranking of teams 1-351 has been more accurate than similar 1-351 rankings produced by ESPN, CBS Sports and noted analyst Ken Pomeroy for three consecutive years.
Yesterday we broke down our top candidates for National Player of the Year. Today we’re unveiling our projected top 50 freshman scorers in the nation’s top nine conferences (American, ACC, Atlantic 10, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Mountain West, Pac-12 and SEC) plus West Coast Conference contenders BYU, Gonzaga and St. Mary’s.
(Chart key: PPG = projected points per game. ORtg = projected offensive rating. Volume = projected percentage of team possessions used while on the court. Mins. = projected percentage of minutes played. The Recruiting Services Consensus Index (RSCI) is a composite recruiting ranking that incorporates data from several services.)
Michael Porter Jr. (No. 1) was a statistical marvel in Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League last year, posting a ridiculous 141.5 offensive rating on 29% usage in 20 games, and he’ll be encouraged to shoot early and often for Missouri. Big man Marvin Bagley III’s (No. 2) scoring output may be blunted by the presence of other talented offensive pieces in Duke’s rotation, including National Player of the Year contender Grayson Allen, but Bagley could vie for freshman of the year honors by helping keep Duke near the top of the polls.
Alabama’s Collin Sexton (No. 3) has relentless energy and a tireless work ethic, and Crimson Tide head coach Avery Johnson should keep his light green at all times, a perfect recipe for a high points-per-game figure. If Oklahoma’s Trae Young (No. 5) can even come close to replicating his AAU stats in the Big 12, it may not be long before he’s being labeled Buddy Hield 2.0.
Duke’s elite point guard recruits have been hit-and-miss in recent years, but with Bagley and Allen on the court, the primary role of Trevon Duval (No. 8) will be as a facilitator. UNLV scored a massive recruiting win when Brandon McCoy (No. 9) chose the Rebels over Arizona and Oregon last April, and coach Marvin Menzies should unleash him as his primary offensive option right away. Given Kansas’s limited frontcourt depth, Billy Preston (No. 10) steps into a perfect situation to be a featured scorer.
Mohamed Bamba’s (No. 12) status as a projected top-five pick in the 2018 NBA draft owes more to his defense than his scoring, but he showed signs of offensive development on the Longhorns’ summer trip to Australia. Although Omari Spellman (No. 17) sat out 2016–17 as an academic redshirt, he could be an excellent inside scoring complement to Villanova’s star point guard Jalen Brunson after spending a year practicing with the Wildcats. While Miami will have loads of offensive firepower in its backcourt, Lonnie Walker (No. 20) should get plenty of chances to flash his advanced scoring arsenal in head coach Jim Larrañaga’s ball screen–heavy offense.
Arizona State had one of the nation’s top backcourts last season, and it will hope that two debuting forwards, Kimani Lawrence (No. 22) and Romello White (No. 26), can help the Sun Devils make a push for the first NCAA tournament bid of head coach Bobby Hurley’s tenure. After reclassifying late in the summer, Jontay Porter (No. 30) will serve as an auxiliary scoring threat for a Missouri squad led by his more highly regarded brother, Michael.
The Razorbacks are counting on Daniel Gafford (No. 37) to help fill the production void left by center Moses Kingsley; if he delivers, a second consecutive tourney bid is well within reach. Meanwhile, the combination of Nick Weatherspoon (No. 36) and his older brother, 6' 4" junior Quinndary, should give Mississippi State one of the better backcourts in the SEC.
Nick Richards’s (No. 43) biggest contributions at Kentucky this season are more likely to come on the defensive end of the floor. Texas A&M’s planned rotation fell apart last year when JJ Caldwell (No. 48) was declared ineligible, leaving the team with a huge void in the backcourt. But with Caldwell eligible after serving a five-game suspension, and able to feed projected lottery pick Robert Williams in the paint, the Aggies should be capable of not only making the NCAAs but also advancing. Iowa’s Luka Garza (No. 47) and Wisconsin’s Brad Davison (No. 50) did not garner the same recruiting hype as some of the other players on this list, but Garza was dominant on Iowa’s summer tour of Germany and Davison shined on Wisconsin’s summer trip to Australia.