College basketball's freshmen class is as promising and productive as it's been in years with nearly all the blue-chip recruits thus far shining at their new destinations. It makes ranking the class in our Frosh Watch, which debuts this week, a special type of challenge.
But David Cobb and I, men of the people, are up for it.
So, in the first Frosh Watch of the 2021-22 season, we've crunched the numbers, watched the games, crunched more numbers and came up with who we think -- no, who we know -- are the top 10 freshmen in this year's class thus far. Our list will change and evolve as the season rolls along and as more results pop in, but this is our starting point -- and it's a very strong one.
Without further ado, let's jump into our first rankings and get to our first Freshman of the Week award.
Freshman of the Week: Paolo Banchero, Duke
Welcome back to the Frosh Watch, our weekly ranking of the 10 most impressive freshmen in college basketball. CBS Sports has once again teamed up with the United States Basketball Writers Association and its Wayman Tisdale Freshman of the Year Award to present this every-Tuesday feature. Each week we'll start by announcing the national Freshman of the Week honoree. The cycle for FOTW runs Tuesday-Monday.
Easy call here with Paolo Banchero. The Duke star poured in 28 points and eight boards in a blowout win over The Citadel a week ago then followed it up with 21 points and five boards as Duke toppled No. 1 Gonzaga on Friday. Incredibly, he scored 20 of his 21 in the first half as he dealt with cramps and struggled to produce in the second half, but it was easily his most impressive outing to date as he knocked down shots off movement, led transition breakaways and created for himself all while out-performing Chet Holmgren in a rare head-to-head battle between the top prospects in the 2022 draft class.
Banchero, the No. 2 prospect in the 247Sports Composite rankings entering college, is leading all freshmen in scoring early this season and his emergence has recalibrated the expectations for Duke, which now ranks No. 1 in the AP poll after entering the season just inside the top 10.
"He basically carried us in the first half," said Duke captain Wendell Moore Jr. after the Gonzaga win. "He scored 20 in the first half. He led us offensively."
Frosh Watch: Top 10 freshman rankings
1. Paolo Banchero | Duke
Stats: 18.3 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 53.4 FG%
No. 1 with a bullet is Paolo Banchero. The combo forward is leading Duke with 18.3 points and 7.6 rebounds per game and ranks first among all freshmen in scoring one month into the season. He's been brilliant in big spots, too, averaging 21.5 points and 6.0 boards in two contests against top-10 opponents, highlighted by Friday's stat line of 21 points and five boards in a win over No. 1 Gonzaga. The Blue Devils now rank No. 1 in the sport in no small part because of his heroics to date.
2. Jabari Smith | Auburn
Stats: 16.3 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 2.3 SPG
With Allen Flanigan still rehabbing a preseason injury, it's been the Jabari Smith show at Auburn -- and he's delivered the goods. The 6-foot-10 big man is third among all freshmen in scoring on a per-game basis and top-10 in rebounding. He's coming off his best showing of the season, too, in which he dropped 22 points, six boards and four assists in a blowout win over Syracuse in only 30 minutes of action.
3. Chet Holmgren | Gonzaga
Stats: 13.8 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 3.5 BPG
Scoring has not quite been at the level of other top freshmen in this class for Holmgren -- he's averaging just shy of 14 points per game -- but defensively he's arguably been the most impactful of this entire list. His 3.5 blocks per game are second-most among all freshmen and ranks top 10 among all players in the sport. He's already had three games with four or more blocks including a seven-block (!) outing in the team's opener vs. Dixie State and a four-block outing vs. No. 2 UCLA.
4. Kendall Brown | Baylor
Stats: 13.7 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.8 SPG
Baylor landed a star in Kendall Brown, who to this point has been one of the most consistent freshmen in college hoops. In each of his seven games he has scored at least 10 points and he ranks No. 3 among all freshmen in Player Efficiency Rating (PER) at 30.1.
5. Kennedy Chandler | Tennessee
Stats: 14.2 PPG, 4.8 APG, 3.2 RPG, 56.3 3P%
Tennessee has jumped out to a hot 4-1 start and Chandler's helped propel them along the way. He's averaging the most assists among Vols players and is second in scoring, as he's already proven himself proficient as a creator and scorer. It's hard to make an impact early under Rick Barnes even with a great pedigree -- Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer are prime examples -- but he's already looking like a potential star.
6. Tyrese Hunter | Iowa State
Stats: 13.2 PPG, 5.2 APG, 3.7 RPG, 3.2 SPG
Hunter is one of the driving forces behind No. 19 Iowa State's stunning 6-0 start under first-year coach T.J. Otzelberger. The 6-foot guard is tied for third nationally among freshmen in assists per game and is showing he was plenty deserving of his four-star prospect rating and perhaps even underrated at No. 37 overall in the 247Sports Composite.
7. Ryan Nembhard | Creighton
Stats: 13.4 PPG, 5.1 APG, 3.9 RPG, 47.6 3P%
So who is the best Nembhard in college basketball? Ryan is giving his older brother Andrew, a Gonzaga point guard, a run for his money with his early performance at Creighton. The former four-star prospect is tied for fifth nationally among freshmen in assists per game and is proving to be an efficient scorer in spite of his slight frame.
8. Jalen Duren | Memphis
Stats: 11.3 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 2.0 BPG
Duren ranks second nationally in blocks per game and is tied for fifth in rebounds per game among all players, despite playing just 24.2 minutes per game. He was quiet against Virginia Tech and Xavier in the NIT Season Tip-Off, but Duren's 22-point, 19-rebound effort against Western Kentucky on Nov. 19 offer plenty of proof that he'll be a freshman force in college basketball.
9. TyTy Washington | Kentucky
Stats: 14.9 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 2.9 APG, 40.0 3P%
After the disappointment of last season, Kentucky fans can rest assured they landed a freshman guard capable of meeting the hype. Since an inefficient debut against Duke, Washington has been steady and solid, even turning in consecutive 20-point performances against Ohio and Albany. He'll be tested again in December against Louisville and Ohio State.
10. Emoni Bates | Memphis
Stats: 12.3 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 1.5 APG, 38.7 3P%
Bates is still finding his way on both ends of the floor. But the context here is that he doesn't turn 18 until January 28 and won't be draft-eligible until 2023. Considering his youth and the fact that he reclassified just to be eligible this season, his up and down start is understandable.