LONDON, Ont. — To say the least, the 2017-18 college basketball season has been an exciting one, and we still have over two months of action left before another dreaded off-season.
Conference play is in full swing for every league across the NCAA, and the contenders are starting to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. There have been several surprise teams, both for the better and for the worse, that have caused some shakeups in leagues that many thought were locks for particular teams this season.
With the excitement comes the plethora of emerging young talents from coast to coast. Freshmen from all across the country have emerged as potential stars with their respective programs, and have taken on starring roles in their first seasons in the NCAA.
For whatever reason, the majority of freshmen outside of the Big Seven conferences (B1G, B12, Pac-12, ACC, SEC, AAC, BEast) don’t get their fair share of attention on a national scale. Most media outlets will only focus on the biggest names and the top programs, all while turning a blind eye to players who are just as deserving. One player, in particular, ranks sixth in the nation in scoring, yet many fans don’t know his name.
That needs to change, and in a hurry.
Here are 11 freshmen that fans from coast to coast need to become familiar with, as they are poised for big things over their collegiate careers, including one of the nation’s elite scorers who just so happens to play in the nation’s capital.
Kobe Webster – Western Illinois Leathernecks
2017-18 Stats: 15.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 4.3 apg; 44.5% FG, 84.2% FT
Out of the gate this season, guard Kobe Webster has been a star for the Leathernecks. In his debut, he recorded 19 points, five rebounds, eight assists, and four steals to lead Western Illinois to the 109-68 win over St. Mary’s (MN). Webster has shown that he has the ability to impact the game on both ends of the floor, whether it’s finding an open teammate for a high quality look at the basket or using his quickness on the defensive end to disrupt his opponents. He has been a consistent force on offense, as he has recorded double digit points in seven straight games, and 15 times overall this season.
With the graduation of Garret Covington following last season, the Leathernecks needed someone to step in and help fill the void. With Webster, Western Illinois has another star on the back end.
RJ Cole – Howard Bison
2017-18 Stats: 23.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 6.0 apg, 1.6 spg; 37.9% FG, 78.9% FT
If you aren’t familiar with RJ Cole at this point in the season, what have you been doing since November? It seems as though he is the MEAC Rookie of the Week with each passing week, and it should be a regularly scheduled announcement by both the conference and Howard Athletics at this point. Cole ranks sixth in the nation in scoring, averaging 23.4 points per game. He trails only Trae Young for the top scoring mark among freshmen in the country. Add in his 3.5 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game, and it’s easy to see why Cole has been a regular fixture when it comes to the weekly awards from the MEAC.
Alongside Charles Williams, who is a sophomore, Cole gives the Bison the top young tandem in the MEAC, and it’s not even close.
Eric Williams Jr. – Duquesne Dukes
2017-18 Stats: 15.4 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1.4 spg; 41.6% FG, 40.5% 3PT
Eric Williams Jr. had himself a strong non-conference slate, but has taken his game to another level against Atlantic 10 foes to open up the 2018 calendar year. From January 13th to 20th, Williams Jr. recorded three straight double-doubles, a stretch that included a 34-point, 11-rebound outing against the George Mason Patriots in double overtime on the 20th. For the season, he is averaging just shy of a double-double per game, with 15.4 points and 9.7 rebounds per contest. The 6’5” wing opened his career with a double-double against the St. Francis (BKN) Terriers, and has recorded nine double-doubles over the course of the season.
Williams Jr. impacts the game on the glass on both ends of the floor, while also possessing the ability to take a leading role on offense and put up points in bunches.
Ja Morant – Murray State Racers
2017-18 Stats: 11.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 6.5 apg; 44.7% FG, 81.8% FT
Alongside guard Jonathan Stark, freshman Ja Morant gives Murray State arguably the top back court tandem in the Ohio Valley Conference. With Stark being a senior, the Racers have found their next star guard in the 6’3” freshman from Dalzell, SC. During his first season in the NCAA, Morant is a threat to stuff the box score on any given night. Through 19 games, he is one of four Racers to average double digit points per game, averaging 11.7 points per outing. Add in his 6.2 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game, and Morant doesn’t have to score to have a big impact on the game. On January 20th against the Tennessee State Tigers, Morant went for 12 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists in the Racers’ 76-57 win.
This season, Morant has recorded double digit points in 13 games, five or more rebounds 14 times, and five or more assists 14 times.
Jordan Goodwin – Saint Louis Billikens
2017-18 Stats: 11.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 4.2 apg, 2.1 spg; 37.4% FG, 67.6% FT
He isn’t quite done his first season in the NCAA, but guard Jordan Goodwin has asserted himself as a star-in-the-making in the Atlantic 10 Conference for Saint Louis. He is averaging 11.5 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game this season, and is one of two ESPN Top 100 recruits from the Class of 2017 on the Billikens’ roster (Hasahn French). Goodwin was the 55th ranked recruit, and the second-highest ranked recruit to come from the state of Illinois. He has been a stud all season long, and even has a triple-double to his name. On January 17th against Duquesne, Goodwin posted 13 points, 15 rebounds, and 10 assists in the Billikens’ 76-63 win.
With another Top 100 recruit joining the fold in the Class of 2018 (Carte’Are Gordon), Goodwin and company will be big-time players in the Atlantic 10 for years to come under Travis Ford.
David Caraher – Houston Baptist Huskies
2017-18 Stats: 15.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.1 apg; 47.1% FG, 41.1% 3PT
Senior big man Josh Ibarra hasn’t played since December 15th, 2017, and the results haven’t been there on the court for Houston Baptist since. However, freshman forward David Caraher has emerged as a star-caliber player for the Huskies in his absence. The 6’6” forward trails only Ibarra in scoring, averaging 15.8 points to go along with 6.6 rebounds per game. Caraher is shooting 41.1% from three point range, and has hit at least two trifectas in each of his last five games. He missed two games at the end of December, but has recorded double digit points in all six games since his return. Caraher posted a career-high tying 30 points on January 20th against the McNeese State Cowboys.
With Caraher, Ian DuBose, and Braxton Bonds leading the way, the future of Houston Baptist men’s basketball looks very bright in the coming years.
JD Notae – Jacksonville Dolphins
2017-18 Stats: 16.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.1 apg, 1.9 spg; 42.5% FG, 41.4% 3PT
At 5-1 in Atlantic Sun play, the Jacksonville Dolphins have been one of the more pleasant surprises during conference play across the country, and the play of freshman JD Notae has been a big factor. The 6’2” guard is second on the team in scoring, averaging 16.1 points per game to go along with 5.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists. Notae opened his career with a pair of 18-point performances, and has reached double figures in 20 of the Dolphins’ 23 games this season. In conference play, Notae is averaging 16.7 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, while shooting 41% or better from the floor on four occasions.
When Notae gets hot from three point range, he can put up points in a hurry. Don’t be surprised is Jacksonville keeps pace atop the Atlantic Sun standings all season long.
Justin Turner – Bowling Green Falcons
2017-18 Stats: 15.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.7 spg; 41.7% FG, 41.7% 3PT
Redshirt freshman Justin Turner burst onto the scene this season for the Bowling Green Falcons, and while he has struggled over his last three games, he is a threat to go off at any given point. The native of Detroit, MI posted 33 points and seven assists in the Falcons’ first game of the season, a 78-69 road win over the Drexel Dragons. He has since followed that up with 14 more double digit performances, including a 30-point showing on January 13th. Overall, he’s averaging 15.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game, while shooting over 41% from both the field and three point range. While he has been held to single digits in two of his last three games, the presence of Turner can’t be understated on the floor for the Falcons, and he can score in bunches at any given point.
The trio of Turner, Demajeo Wiggins, and Dylan Frye have the Falcons in the thick of things in the MAC – East Division through seven conference games.
Holland Woods – Portland State Vikings
2017-18 Stats: 10.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 5.5 apg, 1.9 spg; 47.2% FG, 41.3% 3PT
Every team needs a rock solid point guard to run the offense, and the Portland State Vikings have found their PG of the future in freshman Holland Woods. Nicknamed ‘Boo Boo’, Woods has been a steady force for the Vikings in his first season, averaging 10.8 points and a team-high 5.5 assists per game over 20 games. He has a 2.29 assist-to-turnover ratio this season, dishing out 110 total assists to just 48 turnovers. In addition to his ball distribution numbers, Woods has shown he can score at a high clip. In back-to-back road wins over Loyola Marymount and Santa Clara, the 6’0” guard posted 20 and 26 points over the two wins. He also has five or more assists in 12 games, and while the Vikings are 6-6 in those games, three of those losses game to Duke, Butler, and Oregon.
Woods is undoubtedly the point guard of the future for Portland State.
Terry Taylor – Austin Peay Governors
2017-18 Stats: 15.5 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 0.7 apg, 1.1 bpg; 54.9% FG, 42.9% 3PT
The Austin Peay Governors have been a pleasant surprise in the Ohio Valley Conference through eight games, and the play of freshman guard Terry Taylor has been a big factor in their 5-3 start. The Governors opened up conference play with four straight wins, and Taylor averaged 18.75 points and 10.25 rebounds per game over that stretch. He has eight double-doubles on the year, and five of them have come against conference opponents. Taylor has taken his game to another level since conference play began, and the Governors are in a tie for fourth place with Tennessee Tech. Taylor is leading the team in points (15.5), rebounds (8.6), and blocks (1.1) per game.
Taylor and transfer Averyl Ugba have given the Governors a boost on both ends of the floor, and it’s showing on both ends of the floor in conference play.
Jermaine Jackson Jr. – Detroit Mercy Titans
2017-18 Stats: 12.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1.2 spg; 36.2% FG, 88.0% FT
The best young back court in the Horizon League belongs to the Detroit Mercy Titans, and freshman guard Jermaine Jackson Jr. will be a key piece of the puzzle moving forward. While Jackson Jr. has had some struggles in terms of shooting this season, he is still one of three Titans who are averaging double-digit points per game, posting 12.5 points per night out. He also leads the team with 3.1 assists per game, and is one of just three players to appear in all 21 games for Detroit Mercy. With his streaky shooting, Jackson Jr. can get hot and lead the Titans to victory, much like he did against Youngstown State (12-of-17 FG, 32 pts, 93-91 win). Or, he can go cold and struggle like he did last time out against Oakland (2-of-9 FG, six points, 92-86 loss). The talent is there, and as his career progresses, the jumper will become more consistent and so will the points.
With Jackson Jr., Corey Allen, Josh McFolley, and Kameron Chatman all together for at least one more season, the Titans are a team to watch in the Horizon League.
Five More To Keep An Eye On
Desmond Cambridge – Brown Bears
David Jenkins – South Dakota State Jackrabbits
Jhivvan Jackson – UTSA Roadrunners
Tywhon Pickford – Northern Iowa Panthers
Takal Molson – Canisius Golden Griffins
– T. Bennett