The transfer portal dominates men’s college basketball offseason discussions, but developing top freshmen is still critical in building a contender to win a conference championship and, ultimately, a national championship.
This list below isn’t the top dozen freshmen — although it does include a few of the highest-regarded freshmen — but it's the 12 most-important freshmen to potentially NCAA tournament-bound teams.
1. Dereck Lively II, 7-foot-1, Duke: The Blue Devils will lose Mark Williams’ impact around the rim, but Lively can step in and do even more on the offensive end. He will have an immediate impact at both ends of the floor.
2. Dariq Whitehead, 6-foot-6, Duke: Whitehead isn’t the equivalent of Paolo Banchero, but the Blue Devils will need some inside-out scoring. Whitehead is another major part of the country's top recruiting class.
3. Nick Smith, 6-foot-4, Arkansas: Smith is a dynamic scoring guard who will get plenty of shot opportunities for Eric Musselman with the departures of JD Notae and Jaylin Williams.
4. Cason Wallace, 6-foot-4, Kentucky: The Wildcats return Sahvir Wheeler as the lead guard, they're projected to get a healthy season from Iowa transfer CJ Fredrick and and they added Illinois State transfer Antonio Reeves. But Wallace should give them the lock-down perimeter defender they covet.
5. Gradey Dick, 6-foot-7, Kansas: I could have gone with MJ Rice in this spot, but Dick is a shooting specialist and that’s exactly what Kansas needs to complement Dajuan Harris Jr., Jalen Wilson, Texas Tech transfer Kevin McCullar Jr., Joseph Yesufu and Bobby Pettiford Jr.
6. Chris Livingston, 6-foot-6, Kentucky: Livingston is a physical presence who will fit in quite nicely next to Oscar Tshiebwe, the reigning national player of the year. Jacob Toppin is back and so is Daimion Collins. But look for John Calipari to get Livingston into the mix quickly.
7. Keyonte George, 6-foot-4, Baylor: The Bears need another scoring guard to join the pair of Adam Flagler and LJ Cryer after the departures of Matthew Mayer and James Akinjo. George can step in and have an immediate impact.
8. Jalen Hood-Schifino, 6-foot-5, Indiana: Hood-Schifino can play multiple guard positions and he will fit in perfectly with Xavier Johnson and help feed Trayce Jackson-Davis, Race Thompson and Jordan Geronimo.
9. Skyy Clark, 6-foot-3, Illinois: Clark will slide into a lead guard role that the Illini need to fill after the departures of Trent Frazier and Andre Curbelo. There will be plenty of mouths to feed, including transfers Terrence Shannon Jr. and Matthew Mayer, and the team's bigs, led by Coleman Hawkins.
10. Jarace Walker, 6-foot-8, Houston: The Cougars needed another physical presence and they’ve got that in Walker. Marcus Sasser will handle the brunt of the scoring, but Kelvin Sampson needed another strong force.
11. Dillon Mitchell, 6-foot-7, Texas: Mitchell is the athletic wing the Longhorns can use immediately. Texas enrolled the Big 12 Freshman of the Year in Tyrese Hunter from Iowa State, and the Longhorns return lead guard Marcus Carr and scoring wing Timmy Allen.
12. Brandon Miller, 6-foot-8, Alabama: Miller headlines a top recruiting class. He’s a scoring forward who Nate Oats can use from day one. The Tide picked up an experienced guard in Mark Sears, plus it returns Jahvon Quinerly and Noah Gurley, and Alabama will be in the mix near the top of the SEC.