The youth of college basketball has grown in importance as the one-and-done era has matured. Players are no longer consistently staying four years and winning championships, in part because it's no longer a prerequisite to success. 18- and 19-year-olds can make an immediate impact for title-contenders now more than ever before they hop to the next level.
Next season we could see a rare iteration of this evolution that bucks a trend of top talent spreading unevenly to traditional blueblood institutions. No. 1 overall recruit Cade Cunningham, for instance, is headed to Oklahoma State; two top-30 recruits, Joshua Christopher and Marcus Bagley, are Arizona State-bound; Stanford is bringing in its highest-rated signee of all-time in Ziaire Williams. The list of traditional blue-chip prospects headed to non-traditional blue-blood schools is a lengthy one.
With the dispersion of talent should come parity. Duke and Kentucky will still be Duke and Kentucky because, well, Duke and Kentucky are always Duke and Kentucky. (How's that for analysis?) But game-changing talents will be spread from the bright lights of Hollywood to the booming metropolis of Knoxville, Tennessee, and scattered throughout the states to give boosts to programs not typically accustomed to enjoying the immediate boost that comes with the addition of elite recruits.
Some will make an impact more than others. Below are the 16 incoming freshmen who will immediately impact college basketball this season -- ranked in the likelihood that they'll be stars from Day One.
1. Cade Cunningham | Oklahoma State | PG
247Sports Composite ranking: No. 1
From Marcus Smart to Byron Eaton to Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State's had some incredible talent at point guard over the years. But Cunningham is the crème de la crème that could turn things around in Stillwater, Oklahoma, under Mike Boynton. He has the perfect blend of passing, scoring and defensive abilities that should vault the Cowboys from the fringes of the tournament picture to a darkhorse title contender in the Big 12 and beyond.
2. Evan Mobley | USC | C
247Sports Composite ranking: No. 3
Mobley was the top-rated recruit in the Class of 2020 for months before eventually finishing at No. 3. But his decline was more about Cunningham and Jalen Green's rise as opposed to his own slip. The 6-foot-11 USC-bound big man has incredible mobility and skill for a player his size, and he should come in as a dominant post presence right away, continuing the destruction Onyeka Okongwu -- the best shot-blocking freshman big in college hoops last season -- left in his wake. Mobley has his work cut out for him after the Trojans lost their top five scorers from last season, and yet, USC should feel confident there won't be a drop-off from last year to this year. He's a generational talent who impacts both ends of the court and should serve as the tide that lifts all boats in Los Angeles.
3. Caleb Love | North Carolina | PG
247Sports Composite ranking: No. 13
It was a bleak season for Roy Williams at UNC, who dubbed last year's team the "least gifted team" he's ever coached. But things are on the upswing after Williams got up and did something about it, signing arguably his most talented class ever led by Love, the Tar Heels incoming point guard.
Love fits the archetype of prior UNC lead guards with score-first instincts who have been successful under Williams. The Missouri Gatorade Player of the Year can score it at every level and really made strides as an outside shooter this past season. His game should fit perfectly into UNC's system, and he'll be the face of one of college basketball's biggest turnarounds -- a team that finished with a losing record in 2019-20 that could be a title threat in 2020-21.