Freshman rankings: Fultz reaffirms top spot ahead of UCLA's Ball, UK's Fox
The Washington stud continues to put up big numbers, but his team is failing him
We here at CBS Sports have once again teamed up with the United States Basketball Writers Association and its Integris 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 we will provide a look at the best freshman for the previous week, followed by our top 10 overall freshman rankings as we see them at this point in the season.
Freshman of Week: Markelle Fultz, Washington
On the whole, Fultz -- barely -- had the best statistical week among freshmen. He averaged 22 points, 7.5 assists, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks on 49 percent shooting.
Washington went 1-1, beating Seattle but falling to Washington State at home. Weird week. They're all weird weeks for Washington. The two-game stretch was a microcosm for Fultz and the Huskies' season.
Fultz, who is firmly No. 1 in the Frosh Watch below, continues to be one of the country's most well-rounded players. He's playing in obscurity and on a team that will need a push to make the NIT. It's sort of a bummer. But at the end of the day, his numbers are undeniable, and when you watch him play, you see an unquestionable top-three NBA talent for the upcoming draft.
Look at this sick pass in the Washington State game:
Unfortunately for Fultz, Malachi Flynn -- a freshman for Wazzu -- was the freshman who played best in the final two minutes.
Fultz edged out the likes of Kentucky's Malik Monk (25 points; UK played only once last week) and St. John's Shamorie Ponds (20.5 points average in two games), both of whom are prior Freshman of the Week honorees. It was a solid week for the freshman class yet again, but no one player put up two huge games and went 2-0.
Washington (7-6) has upcoming home games against Oregon and Oregon State.
Here are the top 10 freshmen performers through the first six weeks.
Last week: No. 10
13.1 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 1.6 blocks, 75.5 2-pt%, 132.6 ORtg
Patton and Creighton fell at home in a really good game against undefeated and top-ranked Villanova. It was Creighton's first loss of the year. Patton's starting to get more and more attention. To wit:
Can you imagine if Justin Patton was on TV more?— Fran Fraschilla (@franfraschilla) December 31, 2016
Patton has actually been on TV a lot, albeit not on ESPN. Creighton also hasn't played a great out-of-conference schedule, so because Patton's only faced three teams inside KenPom's top 60 (Wisconsin, Seton Hall, Nova), the secret's not fully out yet. But he's undeniably a pro prospect, and it's already on the table that he'll be gone after this year.
Patton's holding on to the No. 10 spot, closely, against the likes of Michigan State's Nick Ward, Kentucky's Bam Adebayo, MSU's Miles Bridges ( who returns this week) and Duke's Jayson Tatum.
9. Shamorie Ponds, St. John's
Last week: No. 9
17.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 3.4 APG, 2.0 steals, 52.3 2-pt%, 40.9 3-pt %, 120.9 ORtg
Ponds stays firm at No. 9 after winning Big East Freshman of the Week yet again. St. John's beat Butler and DePaul last week, is 2-0 in league play and now gets a huge chance by hosting Creighton on Wednesday night. Ponds and Patton won't be guarding each other, but it'll be nice to see the league's two best freshmen squaring off in New York. Ponds put up 26 points, the most of his college career, in the win over Butler. Nineteen of those points came in the second half. Against DePaul, Ponds had 15 points and four steals.
Last week: No. 8
15.8 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 53.0 2-pt%, 44.3 3-pt%, 83.6 FT%, 131.4 ORtg
The Wildcats would be so different without Markkenen, who's been overshadowed out West by Fultz, Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf. The reality is Markkanen's a near-lock to be a lottery pick and continues to be one of the most reliable offensive players in America. And remember, he is doing this while 13-2 Arizona continues to press on without starting lead guard Allonzo Trier. The fact that Sean Miller's gotten this much out of his team and his best freshman is a testament to his coaching ability. Markkanen's numbers should be good again this week, as U of A hosts Utah and Colorado.
7. Josh Jackson, Kansas
Last week: No. 5
14.7 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.5 steals, 56.6 2-pt%, 110.0 ORtg
Jackson has to slip. On the whole, he's been good this season, but he's starting to become less valuable. In Kansas' one game last week, vs. TCU, he fouled out in 13 minutes of play! That is wild. He managed just four points to go with two rebounds and three assists. Because Frank Mason III will wind up being Kansas' most vital player, Jackson's probably not a real threat to win national Freshman of the Year. But he's still the best in the Big 12, and I think we'll see a bump back to all-around play in the weeks ahead. A triple-double or two is not off the table, either. Next up for Kansas: vs. K-State on Tuesday, vs. Texas Tech on Saturday.
6. Dennis Smith, Jr., NC State
Last week: No. 6
19.1 PPG, 6.2 APG, 3.6 RPG, 1.9 steals, 49.2 2-pt%, 39.4 3-pt%, 114.3 ORtg
Smith, who continues to have a good stat line across the board, fails to climb higher this week because NC State went 1-1 and was uncompetitive in its 81-63 loss at Miami. In that game Smith went for 21 points and had five assists to go with five turnovers. He's still the point guard I think will become the best NBA player of any in this class. You'll hear me repeat this about 30 times over the next six months.
A little flash of Smith's athleticism here:
It's a big week ahead, as NC State hosts Virginia Tech on Wednesday, then plays at UNC on Saturday. Smith and State need to split those two games in order to have a realistic goal of competing for an ACC title.
Last week: No. 7
22.4 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 2.2 APG, 59.4 2-pt% 41.5 3-pt%, 124.5 ORtg
Monk moves up to No. 5 this week, his highest placement on the Frosh Watch so far this season. His 30.5 points-per-40-minutes clip is No. 1 among all freshmen. (Michigan State's Nick Ward is second, Michael Weathers at Miami (OH) is third).
Monk tossed 34 points on Ole Miss last week. He went 5 of 7 from 3-point range. So for UK fans angry that Monk wasn't FOTW, just be aware that I almost always hand out Freshman of the Week to a player who played at least two games over a seven-day span. Monk only had one last week. Monk's 34 is now a Kentucky record for the most points scored in a road game by a freshman. He's a near lock to finish above 20/game this season. Kentucky's next game is Tuesday at home against Texas A&M.
4. T.J. Leaf, UCLA
Last week: No. 4
17.5 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.3 blocks, 69.9 2-pt%, 48.5 3-pt%, 134.6 ORtg
Leaf is a steady, easy pick for No. 4 in the Frosh Watch standings. He averaged 17.0 points and 7.5 rebounds last week. He leads UCLA in scoring and has an oh-so-good 70.5 effective field goal percentage this season. Leaf's got Cal on Thursday, Stanford on Sunday. Eager to see him go up against Ivan Rabb in that Cal game. It's a bigger game for Rabb, who would have gone in the lottery last season but has perhaps played his way out of top-15 draft status through the first seven weeks of this season.
3. De'Aaron Fox, Kentucky
Last week: No. 3
15.6 PPG, 6.8 APG, 5.0 RPG, 1.8 steals, 49.3 2-pt %, 33.3 assist rate, 110.8 ORtg
Fox had an under-the-radar good game against Ole Miss, scoring seven points, dishing seven dimes, grabbing five rebounds and acquiring three steals in 23 minutes. Pretty good per-minute stats there. He's firmly ahead of Monk in the overall rankings because he's the better overall player. Not just on defense, but on offense. De'Aaron Fox is and has been Kentucky's MVP to this point of the season. I'm interested to see if that changes by the end of January.
His 3-point shot, however, remains a war. Yikes.
De'Aaron Fox (Kentucky) tiene muchísimo talento, pero le falta atinar desde larga distancia: pic.twitter.com/ygpByQD5QA— Esperando Marzo (@esperandomarzo) December 30, 2016
2. Lonzo Ball, UCLA
Last week: No. 2
14.3 PPG, 8.1 APG, 5.7 RPG, 65.5 2-pt%, 43.4 3-pt%, 130.9 ORtg
UCLA nearly took out Oregon on the road. Ball was a big reason why. Though he had "just" 14 points and six assists, the bulk of his points were in big spots. He hit three 3-pointers in about a two-minute span, and in the final minute of play he took Dillon Brooks one-on-one and finished a pro's move at the rim to give UCLA an edge. Brooks hit the 3, Oregon announced its arrival to the national conversation, and in the process UCLA lost its undefeated season. Ball holds steady in the 2 slot, though, because two nights later he put up 23 points to go with seven assists and six rebounds in a win at Oregon State. There is a little daylight between him and Fox at this point, but not too much.
Last week: No. 1.
22.3 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 6.7 APG, 1.6 steals, 50.9 2-pt%, 45.5 3-pt%, 119.0 ORtg
Fultz's lead grows. More than half of his games have featured him with at least five rebounds, five assists and double-digit scoring. And the scoring is one-tenth of a point below Malik Monk. Fultz's PER sits at 30.45 according to ESPN's algorithm, which falls behind fellow freshmen Kyle Guy (Virginia), Zach Collins (Gonzaga) and Nick Ward (Michigan State). But those three aren't nearly doing all-around things like Fultz, who gets a must-watch matchup against Dillon Brooks and Oregon on Wednesday. A loss, which is the projected outcome, will drop UW to 7-7.
Previous FOTW winners:
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