College/Prep Sports Reporter

Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).

Caleb Houstan

Former Montverde Academy (Fla.) standout Caleb Houstan is one of two five-star freshmen on Michigan’s roster.

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Some familiar players that made the Big Ten hyper competitive the last couple seasons are gone. That just opens the door for some newcomers. Beat writer Scott Richey spotlights 10 freshmen who could make an impact during the upcoming 2021-22:

1. Caleb Houstan, Michigan

Houstan played a key role in Canada’s third-place finish at the FIBA U19 World Cup earlier this month, averaging 17 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists. There has to be a spot in the Wolverines’ starting lineup for the five-star wing.

2. Max Christie, Michigan State

The door is open for the 2021 News-Gazette All-State Player of the Year to make an immediate impact for the Spartans. Joshua Langford has retired from basketball, and Aaron Henry turned pro. Playing time on the wing is available.

3. Malaki Branham, Ohio State

Duane Washington Jr. opting to stay in the NBA draft was a blow to the Buckeyes. They filled that roster spot with Louisiana transfer Cedric Russell — a solid shooter and scorer — but don’t be surprised to see Branham carve out a role.

4. Moussa Diabate, Michigan

Brandon Johns Jr. is probably penciled into Michigan’s lineup at the 4, and he did play some of his best basketball at the end of the 2020-21 season with Isaiah Livers out. But you don’t recruit a five-star like Diabate not to play.

5. Tamar Bates, Indiana

Bates was a big-time addition for new Indiana coach Mike Woodson, who flipped the five-star guard after his decommitment from Texas. The early playing time should be there, too, after both Al Durham and Armaan Franklin transferred.

6. Bryce McGowens, Nebraska

McGowens might be higher on this list had Nebraska coach Fred Hoiberg not loaded up his backcourt this offseason. The ‘Huskers have four new transfer guards on top of McGowens competing with Kobe Webster and older brother Trey.

7. RJ Melendez, Illinois

All three of Illinois’ freshmen wings bring something different to the table. Melendez’s length and athleticism might put him over the top initially, although Luke Goode’s ability to play some 4 and Brandin Podziemski’s shooting could do the same.

8. Caleb Furst, Purdue

Furst got some of that FIBA U19 World Cup experience, too, and came home with a gold medal playing for Team USA. Furst can probably play next to Trevion Williams or Zach Edey and would allow Purdue to run out its typical big frontcourt.

9. Julian Reese, Maryland

The Terrapins’ weak spot last season was in its frontcourt, which was often outmatched physically in the Big Ten. Adding Georgetown transfer center Qudus Wahab addresses that, but so does Reese, who has an open door to playing time.

10. Jaden Akins, Michigan State

Speaking of weaknesses, the Spartans’ point guard issues in 2020-21 were a problem. Northeastern transfer Tyson Walker could wind up being the quick fix, but Akins is the point guard of the future in East Lansing, Mich.

Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).

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