Auburn needed to sweep Mississippi State and South Carolina last week to emerge as the solo champion of the SEC, and the Tigers accomplished exactly that, thanks in large part to the play of Jabari Smith. The 6-10 freshman phenom finished with 27 points and 10 rebounds on 9 of 13 shooting in an overtime win over the Bulldogs on Wednesday and followed up with a 21 point outing as Auburn clinched the outright league title in a win over the Gamecocks on Saturday.
That strong finish earned Smith CBS Sports/USBWA Freshman of the Week honors for the final week of the regular season. It's the second time this season that Smith has been awarded the national honor, and Smith also finishes the regular season atop the season-long rankings of the sport's top freshmen, narrowly beating out Duke's Paolo Banchero and Gonzaga's Chet Holmgren.
Smith hit at least one 3-pointer in all but one game for the Tigers during the regular season while also proving to be a versatile defender and quality rebounder. His positional versatility and sharpshooting stroke have made him a candidate to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. In the meantime, there are still some college games left for Smith to play as the Tigers embark on the postseason as the No. 1 seed in the SEC Tournament and a projected No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
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.
Previous FOTW winners
- Nov. 30: Paolo Banchero, Duke
Dec. 7: Reyne Smith, Charleston
Dec. 14: Aminu Mohammed, Georgetown
Dec. 21: Kendall Brown, Baylor
Dec. 28: Paolo Banchero, Duke
Jan. 4: Malaki Branham, Ohio State
Jan. 11: Blake Wesley, Notre Dame
Jan. 18: TyTy Washington, Kentucky
Jan. 25: Caleb Houstan, Michigan
Feb. 1: Tyrese Hunter, Iowa State
Feb. 8: Chet Holmgren, Gonzaga
Feb. 15: Trevor Keels, Duke
Feb. 22: Jabari Smith, Auburn
March 1: AJ Griffin, Duke
These are the top 10 freshman performers in college basketball this season.
1. Jabari Smith | Auburn
Stats: 17.1 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1.8 APG, 43.6% 3PT
Smith capped a spectacular freshman season by averaging 24.8 points over Auburn's last six regular season games. The Tigers lost a couple games over that span, but it wasn't Smith's fault. The 6-foot-10 forward hit 56.8% of his 3-pointers over the span and appears to be firing on all cylinders entering the postseason. Smith may have even exceeded the hype of his top-10 prospect ranking, if that's possible.
2. Paolo Banchero | Duke
Stats: 17.1 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 3.1 APG
Banchero closed the regular season with a flurry, surpassing 20 points in each of Duke's last three games entering the ACC Tournament. He also hit 8 of 15 shots from 3-point range during that span to reignite the outside portion of his game that fell largely dormant in February. Banchero earned ACC Rookie of the Year and first-team All-ACC honors in a reflection of how he met the hype all season.
3. Chet Holmgren | Gonzaga
Stats: 14.4 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 3.6 BPG, 43.8% 3PT
Holmgren evolved from a curiosity with potential into a star with substance during his freshman season. The lanky 7-footer finished the regular season with 11 double-doubles in 26 games and recorded at least one block in all but one game. He also shot 50% from 3-point range during WCC play. His combination of skills is matched by no one in the college game.
Stats: 13.7 PPG, 4.6 APG, 2.2 SPG, 35.8% 3PT
Chandler combined with fellow freshman Zakai Ziegler to improve Tennessee's point guard play this season and make the Volunteers a top-10 team entering the SEC Tournament. Chandler's ability to penetrate and distribute is huge, but his defensive tenacity is what sets him apart. The Vols have one of the nation's best defenses, and he's a big reason for that.
5. AJ Griffin | Duke
Stats: 10.3 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 48.3% 3PT
Griffin emerged as one of the most accurate 3-point shooters in the country once he got settled into his role for the Blue Devils after navigating a knee injury in preseason practice. He earned a spot on the ACC's all-rookie team while playing a versatile role on the wing. His emergence as a primary scoring option helped carry the Blue Devils in February when Banchero had some quiet games.
6. Blake Wesley | Notre Dame
Stats: 14.8 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.3 SPG
If you want to know how Notre Dame evolved from an 11-15 team last season into an NCAA Tournament-bound squad, Wesley's play explains much of it. The Fighting Irish were off to a 3-3 start when he entered the starting lineup. In his second game as a starter, they knocked off Kentucky. The 6-5 guard is the type of dynamic offensive weapon who can create his own look, which has opened up things for the whole offense.
7. Malaki Branham | Ohio State
Stats: 13.2 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 43.6% 3PT
In Branham's first 10 games, he averaged 6.3 points on 33.3% 3-point shooting while logging just 21.8 minutes per game. Then came his 35-point explosion at Nebraska on Jan. 2. Including that game, and in the 18 since, he's averaging 16.9 points on 46% 3-point shooting while logging 33.1 minutes per game. He's even taken it to another level in recent weeks and will be a huge component to whatever the Buckeyes do this month.
8. TyTy Washington | Kentucky
Stats: 12.2 PPG, 4.1 APG, 3.4 RPG, 1.3 SPG
Washington teamed up with Georgia transfer Sahvir Wheeler to overhaul Kentucky's back court in the best way possible this season. The 6-3 guard proved adept at playing on and off the ball and also proved to be a tenacious defender. His 3-point shot has been off over the last six weeks as he's been hobbled by injury, but if Washington is at 100%, he can be as good as any freshman in the sport.
9. Trevor Keels | Duke
Stats: 12.3 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.4 SPG
With Keels also on the ACC all-rookie team, the Blue Devils represented 60% of the list. The 6-4 guard thrives on and off the ball and is a hassle for opposing guards because of his physicality. He's provided the Duke offense with a big lift on multiple occasions — reaching 25 points on three occasions — and is the type of player who can help propel the Blue Devils this month.
10. Jalen Duren | Memphis
Stats: 11.9 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 2.2 BPG, 62.2% FG
In his last 11 games, Duren is averaging 13.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. Considering that he was supposed to be a high school senior this season, his performance has been nothing short of spectacular. Duren's emergence as a star big man came at the perfect time for a Memphis team that struggled mightily in the first half of the season.