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September 28, 2007

SCS.comCollege football is currently in full swing, but it's never too early to start thinking about college basketball. Midnight Madness will be here before we know it, and it's going to be another great season. The implementation of the one-year minimum rule for high school seniors definitely had a huge impact on college basketball last year. Greg Oden and Kevin Durant gave fans a lot of great memories and then carried their respective games to the NBA. This year's incoming freshman class is also very talented, and it will be interesting to see who lives up to the hype and who crumbles under the pressure.

The list of incoming freshmen is led by O.J. Mayo (USC), Kevin Love (UCLA), Derrick Rose (Memphis), Eric Gordon (Indiana), and Michael Beasley (Kansas State). All five of these guys bring a lot of hype to the table, and all five will have great freshman seasons. College basketball fans need to watch them as much as possible because most of them will probably follow in the footsteps of Oden and Durant. It would be a surprise to see all five phenoms back for a second college season.

Everyone knows about Mayo, Love, Rose, Gordon, and Beasley, but there are a lot of other talented incoming freshmen. This brings me to my topic: which other stud freshmen are currently flying under the radar? The list could get pretty long, but I've picked out a handful of guys that will play a large role in helping their teams get to the postseason and beyond. To say all these guys have big shoes to fill is a vast understatement. Enjoy the list!

Anthony Randolph - LSU

The LSU Tigers have had one of the best low-post players in the nation over the last few years, but "Big Baby" Glen Davis has taken his game to the professional level. Coach Brady and the Tigers will need a big guy to step up in a hurry to keep them in contention in the ruggid SEC. Enter Anthony Randolph. Randolph, a 6'10" forward from Texas, isn't as bulky as Davis was, but he has all the makings of a great low-post threat. The freshman's offensive game is very polished, and he should provide a lot of help in the rebounding and shot-blocking department.

Anthony Randolph will be given an opportunity to start from day one, so it's up to him to make an immediate impact like Glen Davis did a few years back. Randolph is still a little thin at 220 pounds, so opposing teams will probably look to push him around down low until he proves himself. Nonetheless, Tiger fans should be happy to have Randolph on campus because he is going to be a factor from the start. LSU has been listed as an NIT team in several publications, but if the freshman has a big year, they will sneak into the NCAA Tournament instead.

Austin Freeman - Georgetown

The Hoyas made a memorable run to the Final Four last season, and Jeff Green was a large part of that. Green was drafted early in the first round of this year's NBA Draft, so there will be immediate shoes to fill at Georgetown. Austin Freeman, a 6'4" freshman from Maryland, will be looked upon early and often to make things happen for John Thompson III. Freeman is Georgetown's highest-ranked recruit in several years, so the pressure will be on from day one.

Austin Freeman won't be able to do all the things Jeff Green did, but he will provide a much-needed offensive spark. The Hoyas on paper aren't exactly loaded on the offensive side of the ball, but Freeman's scoring ability will help out greatly against the tougher Big East squads. The freshman may not start at the beginning of the season, but he will be a productive sixth man at the very least. And by the end of the season, Freeman may find himself in the starting lineup. He could definitely form a great inside-outside combination with All-American center Roy Hibbert. In order for Georgetown to return to the Final Four, Freeman and other newcomers will have to come up big.

James Anderson - Oklahoma State

Oklahoma State has had a very poor offseason to say the least. Mario Boggan graduated, and JamesOn Curry was selected in the second round of the NBA Draft. Senior Marcus Dove is currently suspended indefinitely, and Kenny Cooper recently announced he is leaving the team as well. This leaves the cupboard very bare for Sean Sutton and the Cowboys. Luckily for Sutton, he is bringing in a top-25 recruiting class, including seven new guys. At the top of that list is James Anderson, a 6'6" freshman from Arkansas. Anderson is a versatile scorer (38.4 PPG as a high school senior) and can play hard-nosed Oklahoma State defense.

James Anderson will not only be starting from day one, he will probably be the Cowboys' best player from the start. Along with sophomore Obi Muenelo, the freshman will be asked to carry a great deal of the scoring load left behind by Boggan and Curry. The college game is definitely a step up from the high school game, but Anderson should be an above-average offensive weapon in the Big 12. And if he steps up on defense, he could become one of the best all-around players in the conference. For Oklahoma State to have any shot at getting to the NCAA Tournament, Anderson will have to step in and have a huge year.

Jai Lucas - Florida

It's hard to imagine Jai Lucas being under the radar after his long recruiting process, but he will be to a certain extent. Lucas was ranked around 40th in the nation out of high school, but his impact will be much bigger than that this season. The 5'11" freshman from Texas signed with the Gators, who have a lot of holes to fill. The two-time defending national champions lost their entire starting lineup from last season, and it's obvious the newcomers will have to step up early and often. Lucas is a true point guard and proven winner, so he should fit in nicely to Billy Donovan's system.

Jai Lucas may not start from day one, but he will before the season ends. Walter Hodge fits in better at shooting guard, as does Lucas's fellow freshman, Nick Calathes. This will allow Lucas to run the show from the point. He is a proven leader and will be asked to contribute early on. The freshman will struggle at times in the tough SEC, but the potential is definitely in place. UF won't have it nearly as easy as they have the past two seasons, but they still have the talent to make a run to the NCAA Tournament. Lucas and other newcomers will have to come up big, however.

DeJuan Blair - Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh has been led by the solid play of Aaron Gray over the past few seasons, but Gray has moved on to the NBA ranks. This leaves a huge hole down low for the Panthers. Luckily for Jamie Dixon, DeJuan Blair chose Pitt coming out of high school. Blair, a freshman newcomer from Pittsburgh, is 6'7" and weighs 250 pounds. He won't be as tall as some of the Big East centers, but he will be just as tough. Blair is more than capable of averaging 10 to 12 points and 10 rebounds per game.

Pittsburgh's backcourt combination of Levance Fields (barring effects from a recent arrest) and Ronald Ramon is one of the best in the Big East, but the team will need low-post help to contend in arguably the deepest conference in college basketball. DeJuan Blair may or may not start from day one, but he will be a huge factor either way. The Panthers are an NCAA Tournament team already, but if the freshman big man can elevate his game, Pitt may be making a deep run into March. The team outcome weighs heavily on the performance of the inexperienced frontcourt, and Blair will be a huge part of that.

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