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, meaning our weekly feature on the best freshman in the country will work hand in hand with the Tisdale committee and the USBWA. The winner of the award will be announced in March, while a ceremony for all USBWA honors will take place in early April. Each week moving forward we will provide, first, a look at the best freshman for the previous week, followed by our top 10 overall freshman rankings as we see them to that point in the season.
Freshman of the Week: Jayson Tatum, Duke
It wasn't a stellar week for freshmen across the country, but a lot of guys had solid outings. So Tatum gets the nod here, as he's adapting immediately despite being a month behind his expected debut for Duke. He averaged 17.5 points and shot 52 percent in Duke's wins over Florida and UNLV last week. He also averaged 6.5 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 1.5 blocks. He didn't miss a free throw (10 for 10) and was something of a revelation in that Duke win over Florida at MSG.
After the Florida game, in the locker room, I asked Tatum about coming back and feeling 100 percent. He admitted he felt fatigue, and that's scary for anyone, because he looked really good even while sucking wind. He also went out of his way to give high praise to teammate Luke Kennard, who's a top-five player of the year candidate right now.
"Luke is smooth as silk," Tatum said. "He just has such an array moves and, you know, he uses his feet well. He comes off the screens, he can shoot, can pump-fake and get into you. He's a knock-down shooter. When he gets hot, I feel sorry for whoever's gotta guard him. We realize that when somebody's hot we keep going to them. He's a very smart player."
You can say a lot of the same about Tatum's game. He'll be threatening for the top 10 on the Frosh Watch in short order, he just needs to get a few more games under his belt.
Now, we turn to the weekly Frosh Watch. Once more, in case you missed last week's addition and/or aren't sure how this list is composed, it's such a loaded class of freshmen this season that we'll be counting down the top 10 every week. These are the players in the mix for national freshman of the year. The list is arranged by production and statistics but with a broader lens of looking at the level of competition each player has faced, how much help they do (or don't) have around them, and should be viewed as a look at the season as whole, not just knee-jerk reactions on a week-by-week basis. \
Team success is only a minor factor; it doesn't have nearly as much importance as it does in a Player of the Year race, which is linked to team success. (Remember, LSU was mediocre last year and Ben Simmons still ran away with the FOY award, while he wasn't even close to winning national POY.)
Last week: No. 10
15.1 PPG 7.3 RPG, 1.1 blocks, 66.7 2-pt%, 43.3 3-pt %, 126.3 ORtg
Isaac is barely clinging to this ranking, as he's missed some games this season and had just nine points and six boards against Florida (a win for FSU) on Sunday. FSU has two games before next Tuesday's Frosh Watch update, so Isaac can make good gains if he shows up well against Manhattan on Saturday and Samford on Monday. If he's top-10-NBA-pick material, he'll play to or above his averages.
9. Malik Monk, Kentucky
Last week: No. 8
19.4 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 2.4 APG, 57.5 2-pt% 38.5 3-pt%, 121.0 ORtg
Monk is No. 2 among all freshmen in scoring, so he's going to be in the top 10. And so long as he's a top-three freshman scorer, it's going to be hard to not to have him on this list. But aside from his scoring, there's little else to warrant putting Monk here. Fortunately, his offense means a lot to Kentucky -- and he's got a really good offensive rating. He averaged 17.5 points in UK's games vs. Valpo and Hofstra. Now let's see what he does vs. UNC on Saturday. That's going to be gooooooooooood.
Last week: No. 6
16.6 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.5 blocks, 52.9 2-pt%, 38.5 3-pt%, 94.4 ORtg
Bridges takes a drop because the players around him continue to put up numbers while he's recovering from an ankle injury. Tom Izzo said on a conference call Monday that Bridges is still TBD on coming back. Don't expect to see him before Christmas. He's vulnerable to drop next week, but I'll keep him top 10 for at least another week, because it was clear that Bridges was playing like a top-10 freshman in America prior to his injury. Michigan State gets Northeastern at home Sunday.
7. Dennis Smith, Jr., NC State
Last week: No. 9
18.3 PPG, 5.0 APG, 3.7 RPG, 1.7 steals, 46.2 2-pt%, 106.3 ORtg
Given what Smith has been tasked with, he's played pretty well. Not great, but watch NC State. Without Smith on the floor, this team is not the same. He's taking up 89 percent of available minutes. And now NC State will get Omer Yurtseven, a stretch-5-type of player who is going to make the team even better. Smith might dip below No. 7 going forward, but I think it's more likely he begins to gain national attention over the next three weeks. He had 19 points, six dimes and four steals in NC State's 67-55 overtime win vs. Tennessee State. The Wolfpack next get Appalachian State at home (Thursday), then host Fairfield (Sunday).
Last week: No. 4
16.8 PPG. 7.1 RPG, 1.6 APG, 55.0 2-pt%, 47.7 3-pt%, 138.4 ORtg
Markkanen is following the Fultz formula in that he's putting up really strong numbers, yet a lot of people aren't noticing and/or watching. That 138.4 offensive rating is nuts. Markkanen's proving to be a diverse player, someone who could help lift Arizona to a really nice seed this season even though the team has endured a lot of roster problems for the past two months. In terms of raw production, Markkenen didn't have a huge week, so he slips -- but the difference between Nos. 1-6 on this list is pretty small. Next up: home vs. Grand Canyon on Wednesday night, then vs. Texas A&M in Houston on Saturday.
5. Josh Jackson, Kansas
Last week: No. 7
14.8 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.7 steals, 60.5 2-pt%, 110.6 ORtg
Jackson is the only freshman ranked here who is also on the top 10 list for KenPom.com's Player of the Year race. Jackson averaged 18 points, nine rebounds and three blocks in Kansas two most recent wins. He's not yet had a bevy of highlight plays, but I assure you they are coming. Jackson has just one game in the next week: vs. Davidson on Saturday night.
4. T.J. Leaf, UCLA
Last week: No. 5
17.6 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.2 blocks, 71.9 2-pt%, 50.0 3-pt%, 137.0 ORtg
Leaf's not only moving up draft boards, he's now legitimately entering the conversation for First Team in the Pac-12 and should be in the mix for All-American honors. He'll battle with his teammate, Lonzo Ball, for national freshman of the year honors, too. Leaf's a lot of fun to watch -- a killer game underneath and an All-American smile. Leaf had 21 points and eight boards in UCLA's win over Michigan over the weekend. He's a firm choice at No. 4.
3. De'Aaron Fox, Kentucky
Last week: No. 2
15.1 PPG, 6.9 APG, 5.4 RPG, 1.7 steals, 50.0 2-pt %, 33.0 assist rate, 113.5 ORtg
Fox and Kentucky went 2-0 last week, as the sinewy point guard averaged 12.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists against Valpo and Hofstra. Fox will contend for SEC Player of the Year with his teammates, Fox and Bam Adebayo. For now, legitimate concerns about Fox's 3-point shooting caused him to slip one spot this week. He's got a huge challenge upcoming with the game against UNC on Saturday in the CBS Sports Classic. A big-time showing there might even vault him to No. 1 in the rankings a week from now.
2. Lonzo Ball, UCLA
Last week: No. 3
15.0 PPG, 8.8 APG, 5.2 RPG, 1.6, steals, 71.1 2-pt%, 45.3 3-pt%, 133.7 ORtg
UCLA continues to be an amazing team to watch, now at 10-0 with Ball running the show and hitting bombs from 30 feet almost every time the Bruins play. Ball's only game in the past seven days was that 102-84 win at home over Michigan. He put up 19 points, had seven boards and four assists -- and also went 4-of-7 from beyond the arc. On the whole, he's the most entertaining freshman in America. And he's close to taking over the No. 1 spot on this list. Next up: home vs. UC Santa Barbara on Wednesday, then vs. Ohio State in Vegas on Saturday for the CBS Sports Classic.
So Lonzo Ball just casually drained a 3 from just about halfcourt to tie up the game before halftime. This game is insane. pic.twitter.com/i9VVTth93n— Derrek Li (@DerrekLi) December 11, 2016
1. Markelle Fultz, Washington
Last week: No. 1.
22.8 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 6.1 APG, 2.1 steals, 50.0 2-pt%, 48.7 3-pt%, 121.1 ORtg
Fultz holds strong at No. 1, even though his team is an absolute mess. Statistically, he's still better than any freshman in America. He leads all freshmen in points per game, and he's the only frosh in the country averaging more than 17 points, six boards and six dimes per game -- not to mention the 2.1 steals average. Fultz has lost four straight, but against Gonzaga and Nevada last week, he averaged 23.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2.0 steals and shot 50 percent (6 for 12) from 3-point range. Next up on the schedule: Home vs. Western Michigan on Sunday. Western Michigan, by the way, just had a player charged with murder.