Freshman of the Week: Colorado's McKinley Wright edges out Oklahoma's Trae Young

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.

It's been an interesting week to evaluate the best first-year players in college hoops. No one was massively dominant, but there were some close performances. Trae Young's numbers were good, again, but if you watched his performance vs. West Virginia, you know that he didn't play well. So our Freshman of the Week comes from the Pac-12 -- and proves this year's point-guard class is nearly as deep as last season's stacked group.

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McKinley Wright IV, Colorado               

A new face to the program. If you're unfamiliar with Wright, the 6-foot point guard helped bring Colorado to a flash of national recognition thanks to the Buffaloes pulling off a home sweep against the Arizona schools last Thursday and Saturday. First was a win over No. 4 Arizona State, then came a pushback on 14th-ranked Arizona. The win over ASU was the first time since 2003 Colorado beat a team ranked in the top five. 

Colorado had never defeated top-15 opponents in consecutive games. Without Wright, it wouldn't have been possible. In the two games he averaged 17.5 points on 50 percent shooting, had 7.5 assists and was 9-of-11 from the charity stripe. Wright was pivotal in overtime against ASU. Had he not been on the floor, the Buffaloes could've come undone. What was particularly impressive about the Arizona State game was how good Wright looked against Sun Devil Tra Holder, who's unquestionably been one of the 10 most impressive and consistent players in college basketball through the first half of the season. 

Against Arizona Wright went for 16 points and 10 assists, landing his third double-double of the season. Pretty solid for the Minnesota native who was recruited out of Big Ten territory. 

In light of that, Sean Miller's playful barb at his brother, Indiana coach Archie Miller, is worth noting. Following Arizona's loss to Colorado, Sean Miller said: "McKinley Wright is one of the most impressive guards we have faced. My brother recruited him and he must be one of the dumbest coaches in college basketball to not have him as part of his program."

With this performance, and given his increasingly strong play over the past month, Wright has cracked the Frosh Watch below.  


Here are the top 10 freshman performers in college basketball from the start of the season until now. 

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1. Trae Young, Oklahoma

Key stats: 29.4 ppg, 10.2 apg, 3.9 rpg, 1.9 spg

Last week: No. 1

On Saturday, West Virginia set out to do exactly what it wanted to do: It got in Young's head, forced him into a season-high eight turnovers, and made the frontrunner for national Player and Freshman of the Year look flustered and discombobulated. And after all that, Young still finished with 29 points. He still had five assists. He still was above average vs. most other freshmen. By the way, that  89-76 loss to WVU was preceded by a 109-89 home win over Oklahoma State. Young was one rebound away from a triple double (27/10/9). But he had six turnovers in that game, too. His usage, and Oklahoma's number of possessions, will inflate his turnovers. To this point, it hasn't cost Oklahoma dearly (despite his eight giveaways vs. WVU, Oklahoma still would have lost if Young only had, say, two turnovers), but it's probably the biggest flaw in his game right now. 

Next game: Tuesday vs. Texas Tech


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2. Deandre Ayton, Arizona

Key stats: 20.4 ppg, 11.6 rpg, 1.6 bpg, 30.0% D-rebound rate

Last week: No. 2

Another really good week for the Bahamian. Averaged 25.0 points, 9.5 rebounds -- and it should have been more. Ayton had only two fouls, played 32 minutes in the Colorado loss yet was not bing utilized as much as he could have been. He probably should ahve finished with 36 instead of 26 points. You know, Marvin Bagley III's been in that 3 spot of the Frosh Watch for a month now -- and he's been playing well and putting up good numbers. But it's a testament to Ayton's dominance and improved defensive cognitive ability that Bagley can't leapfrog him. Ayton has shot under 50 percent in a game only once this season, Dec. 5 vs. Texas A&M.

Next game: Thursday vs. Oregon State.     


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3. Marvin Bagley III, Duke

Key stats: 22.5 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 1.5 apg, 68.9 2-pt FG%

Last week: No. 3

Bagley had 31 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks against NC State -- and it's like it didn't even matter. The Wolfpack beat Duke on Saturday 96-85, and though Bagley was typically efficient, the team's defense wiped out much of what he did. His individual defense was good, not great. There were a few times where he had angles and leverage in space but still got beat. Mike Krzyzewski's got two things to address and tweak immediately. The first and obvious issue is team communication on defense. The second is if he wants to keep using Bagley the way he has been. It's worked a lot, but it might be time for Bagley to play off Grayson Allen more. If those two really find a common energy, then Duke makes a push to No. 1 again.              

Next game: Wednesday at Pittsburgh.


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4. Brandon McCoy, UNLV

Key stats: 19.3 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 1.6 bpg, 61.5 2-pt FG%

Last week: No. 4

Rinse and repeat for McCoy, who would be getting five times as much publicity if he was putting up the types of numbers we see now but instead doing it in the Pac-12. UNLV went 1-1 last week; McCoy had 23 in both games. We're approaching the point where I don't think anyone in the Mountain West can actually match up with him -- meaning his averages are likely to go up. I wouldn't be shocked to see him post 25 and 15 on Air Force later this week. 

Next game: Wednesday at Air Force.


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5. Tremont Waters, LSU

Key stats: 17.4 ppg, 6.0 apg, 3.6 rpg, 2.4 spg

Last week: No. 5

This is how Waters got LSU a road win over Texas A&M on Saturday. Easily one of the three most ridiculous shots of the season. 

Waters is banging on the door for No. 4 on the Frosh Watch. He continues to make wowing plays in almost every game. He came close to winning Freshman of the Week this week, too. In the loss to Kentucky he had 18 points and 11 rebounds. Against Texas A&M, Waters had 21 points, five boards, four assists and five turnovers. He is absolutely on the short list -- call it a top 10 -- of the must-see players in college hoops.

Next game: Wednesday at Arkansas


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6. Collin Sexton, Alabama

Key stats: 20.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.4 apg 

Last week: No. 5

Averaged 23.5 points, 4.0 assists, 2.0 steals last week, but Alabama lost 76-75 at Vanderbilt, then took a miserable 65-46 loss at Georgia. Sexton continues to put up good numbers, but if we want to start asking why he's unable to be a team-changing point guard, that's fair. I don't think we should put Alabama's 9-6 record on him, because he does a lot of good, but it is interesting that Sexton and the talent around him haven't been able to maintain top-30 status in the sport. The Crimson Tide are destined for the bubble.         

Next game: Tuesday vs. South Carolina


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7. R.J. Cole, Howard

Key stats: 22.7 ppg, 6.1 apg, 3.3 rpg, 1.6 spg

Last week: No. 9

Cole put up 31.0 points and 7.5 assists in his two games last week, but Howard dropped both. First was a road loss at Florida A&M, then cam a home overtime defeat to Bethune-Cookman over the weekend. Cole continues to be a high-volume scorer but also a willing distributor. It's fair to assume 98 percent of the people reading this Frosh Watch have never seen Cole dribble a basketball, but I assure you he's worthy of this list. His team is bad, but he's a high-usage player out of necessity. I keep waiting for him to hit 40. 

Next game: Saturday at South Carolina State


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8. Mohamed Bamba, Texas

Key stats: 11.9 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 4.6 bpg

Last week: No. 10                                                                          

Texas fell 69-60 at Baylor on Saturday, but Bamba wasn't the reason. He had 15 points, nine boards, five blocks and sank a 3 in quasi-transition at a point when Texas needed that kind of bucket. The Longhorns are still figuring things out at this point, even with Bamba, but it is undeniable that he's a better, more fluid player now than what we saw at PK80. 

Next game: Wednesday vs. TCU


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9. McKinley Wright IV, Colorado

Key stats: 16.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.8 apg

Last week: N/R

How rare is it to see a Colorado freshman be this good? The last time a Buffaloes newbie won the league's Player of the Week honor it came in 1995 (Chauncey Billups), when Colorado was in the Big Eight -- now known as the Big 12. 

Wright's only 6 feet tall, if that, but he's got to be considered a fringe NBA prospect already. Certainly at least a two-year player, maybe three, but he's got a lot of "it" to him. Currently he's at 5.3 assists per game, tied for second in the Pac-12. His 84 dimes through the first 16 games of his career already put him in the top 10 in program history for first-year assists. He needs 144 to break Billups' freshman record. 

Next game: Wednesday at USC.              


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10. Kevin Knox, Kentucky

Key stats: 14.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.9 apg

Last week: No. 7

Knox's teammate, Hamidou Diallo, fell out of the Watch this week. Now Knox is clinging to the 10 spot after going 1-of-9 with six points and four fouls in Kentucky's 76-65 loss at Tennessee on Saturday night. He has a lot of potential, is Kentucky's best player, but cannot make the leap to A-level player. At least, he hasn't yet. I do think it will happen. I'm wondering if moving him full-time to power forward wouldn't be better for him, and UK, right now. With a lot of concern regarding Kentucky's lack of pizzazz and power this season, it's worth noting that the program has never had a freshman ranked this low in the Frosh Watch. There's almost always a UK guy in the top five. Now Knox is wrapping up the list. If that doesn't change, Kentucky isn't winning the SEC. 

Next game: Tuesday vs. Texas A&M.            

Previous Freshman of the Week winners:

Dec. 5: Trae Young
Dec. 12: Deandre Ayton
Dec. 19: David Jenkins Jr. 
Dec. 26: Trae Young 
Jan. 1: Mohamed Bamba

CBS Sports Writer

Matt Norlander is a national award-winning senior writer who has been with CBS Sports since 2010. He's in his eighth season covering college basketball for CBS, and also covers the NBA Draft, the Olympics,... Full Bio

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