College basketball predictions: USC’s Isaiah Collier will be freshman of the year

By the time they play their first college game, freshmen are already endlessly scrutinized, screened and measured. We see their high school highlights on social media and even some of their games on ESPN. Prices are unknown, if the products are still unfinished.

Identifying which youngsters will truly shine is not an exact science. Last season, Alabama’s Brandon Miller was the national freshman of the year, consensus All-American and SEC player of the year at the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. He was the first college player selected in the 2023 NBA Draft. But Miller was just the 14th-ranked player in the Class of 2022 according to the 247Sports Composite and the No. 11 in the Recruiting Services Consensus Index. When we made our predictions this time last year for the rookie of the year, he didn’t get a single vote.

But we will try again. And this time, there is a clear favorite, in our opinion. Hint: He’s a USC freshman whose dad isn’t an active NBA legend.

Isaiah Collier was chosen by seven of our 12 voters. He was the only player to receive more than one vote (UCLA’s Aday Mara, Kentucky’s DJ Wagner, UConn’s Stephon Castle, Duke’s Caleb Foster and Iowa State’s Omaha Biliew each received nods). We’re not going out on a limb here, as Collier was the No. 1 player in the Class of 2023, according to the 247Sports Composite. But what makes the 6-foot-3 point guard so good? We asked CJ Moore to break down his game:

Isaiah Collier, USC

The transition from high school to college should be easier for Collier than most, because he will be playing next to one of the best returning guards in college basketball in Boogie Ellis and another proven veteran in Kobe Johnson. Collier doesn’t have to be a great scorer. That’s what’s refreshing about watching Collier play. He is not hunting for numbers. He likes to take it easy and pick his spots to attack. And with a hot head, you are in a special category of prospects.

Collier is like a running back in his ability to see holes in the defense and explode through them.

Note that he lifted his dribble to the 3-point line and found a way to the basket. Collier will do most of his scoring in the paint and at the free throw line. You have amazing energy for a young person. The bodies just move away from him, and even if he gets hit, he can balance himself and continue to lift the ball comfortably to the rim.

Based on what USC has done this summer on its road trip, it looks like Andy Enfield will put the ball in Collier’s hands. He doesn’t have to worry about Collier bending the ball too much. He has a good attitude and is looking to pass. He can make every pick-and-roll read, seeing multiple levels of defenders.

Collier will have to adjust to how quickly the windows are closing at the college level. He has a habit of trying to squeeze the ball into small windows, and he was used to changing this summer because of that. He just needs to pick his spots and be willing to pass easily. But what I like about him is that his head is always up and he sees the games progressing.

This play below where he rejects the ball screen and sees the cutter is special.

How smart Collier’s numbers are can depend on how you shoot the ball. He’s a good shooter, but that’s probably the biggest weakness in his game right now. Fortunately, the Trojans have enough on his side that he doesn’t need to put up big numbers.

Enfield have had good teams before, but this could be their perfect team. Collier should be judged on how much he wins, and he has a chance to lead his team to a deep run in March.

(Our voting panel: Nicole Auerbach, Tobias Bass, Brian Bennett, Scott Dochterman, Brian Hamilton, Brendan Marks, CJ Moore, Dana O’Neil, Brendan Quinn, Joe Rexrode, Kyle Tucker, and Justin Williams.)

Previous predictions:

The surprise team

A disappointing team

First year coaches

(Photo: Courtesy of USC Athletics)