Our 2015-16 season preview continues with a look at the freshmen most likely to make an immediate impact next season. Check back the next five weeks for more college hoops preview content.
1. Ben Simmons, F, LSU: One of the most diversely skilled players to enter college basketball in the past few years, Simmons will create matchup problems for all of LSU's opponents this season. The Australian-born future lottery pick handles the ball well enough to lead a fast break and creates for himself or for others off the dribble. Yet at 6-foot-10, 240 pounds, he's also plenty big and strong enough to defend opposing post players.
2. Skal Labissiere, F/C, Kentucky: The only way Labissiere doesn't emerge as one of the nation's top freshman big men next season is if eligibility issues intervene. The athletic 7-foot native of Haiti can alter shots on defense and score from multiple spots on the floor on offense, yet it's unclear if he'll be able to showcase those abilities right away because the NCAA is looking into red flags concerning Labissiere's guardian.
3. Malik Newman, G, Mississippi State: Few freshmen will be more of a focal point for their teams next season than Newman, a dynamic scoring guard and consensus top 10 recruit at a program that seldom attracts that caliber of prospect. While Mississippi State returns three of its four leading scorers from last year's 19-loss campaign, it's Newman's impact that will determine if the Bulldogs can make the jump from lower-echelon SEC team to postseason contender.
4. Jamal Murray, G, Kentucky: The late addition of Murray this past spring might have given Kentucky the last weapon it needed to catapult to the forefront of the national title race again this season. Murray is multitalented 6-foot-4 combo guard who boasts a deadly outside shot, impressive playmaking ability off the dribble and the size and quickness to defend all three perimeter positions. He'll likely be free to look for his own shot this season while playing alongside Tyler Ulis.
5. Brandon Ingram, F, Duke: If a lack of strength was Ingram's biggest weakness entering college, then it's an ominous sign for Duke opponents that he has added 23 pounds since July. That should help the wiry 6-foot-9 combo forward absorb contact at power forward, a huge key for Duke since that's the position where he creates the most matchup issues for opponents. Ingram has a guard's skill set because of his ball handling, slashing ability, quickness and perimeter shooting.
6. Jaylen Brown, F, Cal: In one of the biggest surprises of the 2015 recruiting cycle, Brown spurned numerous national powers to head West and join fellow elite recruit Ivan Rabb at Cal. The 6-foot-6 Brown is a strong, athletic wing capable of bull rushing his way to the rim in transition the way Stanley Johnson did last season at Arizona. Expect Brown to see some time at both forward spots since Cal is loaded on the perimeter but lacks interior depth.
7. Derryck Thornton, G, Duke: Before the Duke coaching staff persuaded Thornton to commit and reclassify last spring, the Blue Devils did not have a single true point guard on their 2015-16 roster after Tyus Jones left for the NBA draft. Therefore Thornton instantly becomes the most important member of Duke's latest star-studded recruiting class since the consensus top 20 recruit is the starter at the position the team is the thinnest.
8. Thomas Bryant, F, Indiana: There may be no greater marriage between a recruit and a contender who needs him than Bryant and Indiana. Bryant's ability to challenge shots in the paint should improve a Hoosiers defense that neither stopped dribble penetration nor protected the rim last season. The 6-foot-10 big man's interior scoring also should balance an explosive but one-dimensional offense fueled by an array of perimeter shooters.
9. Henry Ellenson, F, Marquette: The antidote for an offensive the scored the least points per possession in the Big East last year could be a McDonald's All-American power forward whose trademark is his offensive versatility. The 6-foot-10 Ellenson is the centerpiece of second-year coach Steve Wojciechowski's strong five-man recruiting class because of his ability to score in the post or knock down shots from the perimeter.
10. Jalen Brunson, G, Villanova: How good is Brunson? Villanova likely won't be able to keep him out of its lineup even though it returns one point guard who's the reigning co-Big East player of the year and another who's an obvious breakout candidate. Brunson, a McDonald's All-American who starred on the US U-19 world championship team last summer, has a good chance to start alongside Ryan Arcidiacono in the Villanova backcourt with Phil Booth playing heavy minutes off the bench.
11. Cheick Diallo, F, Kansas: Diallo might be higher were his academic eligibility not in doubt. If the NCAA clears him to play, Diallo's length and athleticism make him a perfect complement to forward Perry Ellis in the Kansas frontcourt. Ellis atones for modest physical tools with a polished repertoire of back-to-the-basket moves and mid-range jumpers. Diallo doesn't score often besides put-backs and dunks, but he runs the floor exceptionally, rebounds at both ends and has impressive timing blocking shots.
12. Dedric Lawson, F, Memphis: Whether he's ready or not, Lawson will be thrust into a key role at Memphis from day one. The unexpected departure of standout power forward Austin Nichols this summer not only forces Lawson into the starting lineup but also makes it critical for the Tigers that the freshman emerges as a go-to scoring threat. The 6-foot-8 Lawson is a long, skilled Memphis native who averaged 21.3 points and 15.5 rebounds at nearby Hamilton High last year.
13. Tyler Dorsey, G, Oregon: With Pac-12 player of the year Joseph Young having graduated, Oregon needs a perimeter scorer to help replace some of his scoring. Enter Dorsey, a 6-foot-4 guard who somehow didn't get selected to the McDonald's All-American game despite averaging 34.3 points as a senior and earning state player of the year honors in California. Dorsey showed off his talent this summer for the Greek U-19 team when he averaged 15.9 points and lit up the gold medal-winning U.S. squad for 23.
14. Stephen Zimmerman, C, UNLV: Zimmerman's decision to remain at home in Las Vegas lessens the impact of Christian Wood's ill-advised departure. UNLV coaches expect the 7-foot McDonald's All-American to start right away at center and emerge as an instant double-double threat thanks to his size and skill level. Zimmerman chose the Rebels over the likes of Kentucky, UCLA and Kansas last spring.
15. Diamond Stone, C, Maryland: At a time when college basketball doesn't have many polished low-post scorers, Stone has the chance to emerge as an exception. The 6-foot-11 McDonald's All-American has an array of smooth post moves, a consistent mid-range jumper and excellent passing ability, but he'll need to improve his conditioning and defensive awareness to stay out of foul trouble and stay in Mark Turgeon's good graces.
16. Jeremy Hemsley, G, San Diego State: The loss of Xavier Thames short-circuited San Diego State's offense last season because it left the Aztecs without a point guard capable of creating shots for himself and his teammates. The answer to that problem could be Hemsley, a 6-foot-4 point guard the Los Angeles Times named its player of the year last year. Hemsley will be given every chance to win the starting point guard job so that sophomore Trey Kell can slide to shooting guard.
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