We here at CBS Sports have once again teamed up with the United States Basketball Writers Association and its Wayman Tisdale Freshman of the Year Award. Every Tuesday throughout the regular season, we'll be posting a Freshman of the Week winner in addition to our Frosh Watch, which is a ranking of the top 10 most statistically impressive freshmen in men's Division I college basketball. This weekly feature will work hand in hand with the Tisdale committee and the USBWA. The winner of the award will be announced in March, and a ceremony for all USBWA honors will take place in early April. The cycle for Freshman of the Week consideration starts on Tuesdays and ends Monday nights.
We've hit the wall. This past week signaled a stall in freshmen production throughout much of the sport. This was inevitable. It's been a fairly strong year for first-year players in myriad leagues, with 17 freshmen averaging 15.7 points or more this season. Yet league play takes a toll on most, and we're seeing that come about. Trae Young, Marvin Bagley III, Kevin Knox, Hamidou Diallo, Brandon McCoy, Tremont Waters and many other frosh had below-average overall performances last week.
It made for the toughest choice yet for Freshman of the Week.
R.J. Cole, Howard
Frosh Watch readers are familiar with the name. Cole, who has been a scoring monster most of the season, is a regular to the Frosh Watch and figures to stay in the top 10 through the rest of the season. He beat out Trae Young for FOTW honors due to his 26.0 points, 6.5 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 2.5 steals in a pair of wins for Howard.
The wins are the thing. Howard's not a good team, but Cole's not been the reason why. The Bison rely on him just as much as Oklahoma relies on Young. And now, most importantly, Howard has its first two-game win streak of the season. The Bison are just 5-17 but now sit at 2-4 in the MEAC after beating North Carolina Central and North Carolina A&T. Incredibly, four of Howard's past five games have gone to overtime -- and the one that didn't was decided by one point (91-90 loss at Savannah State).
Howard played at St. Anthony, in New Jersey, the legendary program that was run for decades by Bob Hurley Sr. (The school closed last year.) If you haven't seen him yet, here's what Cole did earlier in the season against Indiana.
Jersey PG @HUMensBB freshman RJ COLE “GOVERNOR” goes off last night 27pts 8asst. He is off to a great start! #JerseyGuardsDifferent#BallIsLife#TrustTheProcess#Believe#ncaa#basketball#Work#Cooking#thatboygottheJUICEpic.twitter.com/K3Zn6z81Yd— Wayne P (@WayneP__) November 13, 2017
Here are the top 10 freshman performers in college basketball from the start of the season until now.
| 1. Trae Young, Oklahoma|
Key stats: 30.5 ppg, 9.7 apg, 4.2 rpg, 2.0 spg
Last week: No. 1
Well, we've come to the portion of the program that I thought was more likely to hit in February. Oklahoma's lost two straight, Young's jacking up a lot of shots, and his style of play is becoming a talking point on a national level. Young will probably be reduced to a polarizing sports figure over the next two months. That's lame, and you won't get any of that cheap analysis here.
It is fair to ask what Young can do to be more efficient. It is not fair, nor realistic, to ask him to change who he is and what he does as Oklahoma's flame-throwing floor general. Young is on pace to do the unprecedented (become the first player to lead Division I in points and assists) while blasting Oklahoma back into the NCAA Tournament. Young averaged 34.0 points, 9.5 turnovers, 7.0 assists and 2.5 steals against Kansas State and Oklahoma State. He still leads the nation in scoring (by four points over Oakland's Kendrick Nunn) and assists (by .6 over Saint Mary's Emmett Naar). His 4.33 3-pointers per game rank third behind Nunn and Wofford's Fletcher Magee.
Next game: Tuesday vs. Kansas.
2. Marvin Bagley III, Duke
Yes, for the first time in more than a month, Bagley is making the hop over Deandre Ayton. Duke had just one game in the last week, an 81-54 win at home vs. Pitt on Saturday. Bagley went for 20 points and seven rebounds on 60 percent shooting. He and Ayton are interchangeable at this point. Bagley has a slight edge in some statistical categories, while Ayton's been a smidge more efficient. If Trae Young weren't in college basketball this season, there'd be a bigger conversation about how big men have made a modified return to collegiate dominance. Maybe that discussion is still coming.
Next game: Tuesday at Wake Forest.
3. Deandre Ayton, Arizona
Like many players on the Watch, Ayton had a just-OK run of it last week. The Bahamian averaged 14.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in Arizona's wins over Cal and Stanford, both of which came on the road. Ayton fouled out vs. the Cardinal, but not before swatting a season-high six shots. Ayton has 50 fouls vs. 35 blocks this season. A decent rate for a big man, but one he could certainly improve on.
Next game: Thursday vs. Colorado.
4. Brandon McCoy, UNLV
McCoy averaged 9.0 points and 8.0 rebounds last week against New Mexico and Colorado State. UNLV's now 14-4 with a 3-3 Mountain West record. McCoy, strangely, is not rating among the five best players in the league according to KenPom.com's calculations. Yet his per-40 numbers are stout: 25.8 points, 14.3 rebounds, 2.2 blocks and 61 percent shooting. Per 100 possessions, he's at 113.2 for an offensive rating.
Next game: Tuesday at Fresno State.
5. Tremont Waters, LSU
A rough week for Waters. LSU lost its games to Georgia and Vanderbilt. He averaged 6.5 points, 4.5 assists, 3.0 rebounds and shot 6 for 19 between both games. He fouled out against Vanderbilt. Just a slump. He's holding strong at No. 5 overall. Waters' assist rate is 31.3 -- that's pretty solid. It means when he's on the floor, 31.3 percent of LSU's possessions end with him distributing a dime.
Next game: Tuesday vs. Texas A&M.
6. Collin Sexton, Alabama
Did not play last week due to an abdominal strain. He should be good to go on Tuesday night against Ole Miss, as he was initially listed as a game-time decision for Bama's contest vs. Mississippi State on Saturday. The Tide have won four straight, are 5-2 in the SEC, and a win on Tuesday night would be bigger than most realize for this team's NCAA tourney resume. Fortunately for Sexton and the Tide, freshman John Petty has been a step-up player in Sexton's absence. Petty had 27 last week vs. Auburn.
Next game: Tuesday at Ole Miss.
7. Mohamed Bamba, Texas
Bamba was superb against Iowa State on Monday night, going for a career high 24 points in Texas' 73-57 victory. He was 9 for 11 from the field, hit a pair of 3-pointers, went 4 for 4 from the foul line and had two steals. He also had 12 rebounds, six of which were offensive. All told, it was the best game of his Texas career. Bamba is now at nine double-doubles this season.
Next game: Saturday vs. Ole Miss.
8. R.J. Cole, Howard
Cole isn't as efficient as he needs to be. His ORtg at KenPom is 103.4, which is fairly average. He is a workhorse, though. Cole has played 92.3 percent of his team's minutes, has accounted for 33.6 percent of Howard's points while on the floor, ranks 22nd in the nation in assist rate (36.4) and bizarrely shoots better from 3 (37.9) than from 2 (37.6).
Next game: Saturday at Maryland Eastern Shore.
9. McKinley Wright IV, Colorado
Check below and you'll see we've got three Pac-12 players in the Frosh Watch now. Wright maintains his status on the Watch thanks to his availability. He's averaging 32.9 minutes and committing just 1.8 fouls per 40 minutes. The Buffaloes are 12-8 after taking a shaky home loss to Washington over the weekend, but Wright's still playing like an elite guy within the conference.
Next game: Thursday at Arizona.
10. Jaylen Nowell, Washington
Nowell knocks Kentucky's Kevin Knox out of the top 10. Wondering who this guy is and what's up with Washington? A year after Markelle Fultz occupied the top three in the Frosh Watch from beginning to end, the Huskies are now coached by former longtime Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins. Nowell averaged 18.0 points and 7.5 rebounds last week for the 14-6 Huskies, who own wins over Kansas, USC and Belmont. UW has an outside shot a making the NCAAs, but will need to avoid dropping games at home against the Arizona schools at the start of February.
If you're curious as to who's knocking on the door of the Frosh Watch, here are the names in no order: Knox, Lindell Wigginton, Omari Spellman, Jaren Jackson Jr., Wendell Carter, Jordan Goodwin, Kellan Grady, David Jenkins Jr., Hamidou Diallo, Jhivan Jackson, Cameron Lard and Ja Morant.
Next game: Sunday vs. Washington State.
Previous Freshman of the Week winners:
Dec. 5: Trae Young
Dec. 12: Deandre Ayton
Dec. 19: David Jenkins Jr.
Dec. 26: Trae Young
Jan. 2: Mohamed Bamba
Jan. 9: McKinley Wright IV
Jan. 16: Trae Young