Freshman rankings: Josh Jackson is turning into college hoops' most dangerous player


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 Frosh Watch as we see them at this point in the season.

Freshman of Week: Josh Jackson, Kansas

No freshman in America has had a better three-week run than Jackson, who's helped keep Kansas on the 1 line while averaging a double-double in the process. This past week, Jackson averaged 22.5 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 3.0 steals and shot a solid 16 for 28 from the field.

His passing ability used to be underrated, but after a few great dimes last night, I think that might no longer be the case. Did you see what he did here? This is a lot harder than it looks.

Kansas is clearly elevated by Jackson's competitiveness, tremendous defense and an aggressiveness in getting to the rim that makes him a problem for a lot of teams. And now that he's stepping out and hitting jumpers with a little more frequency, it makes KU all the more a threat to reach the Final Four. That win over West Virginia was simply incredible, the latest in a string of crazy college hoops comebacks. Jackson managed to shoot 6-of-8 from the foul line and dodged foul trouble despite playing 41 minutes.

He's getting better and better, and as you'll see below, he's now enjoying his highest ranking yet in the Frosh Watch.

joshjacksonfreshmanoftheweek.jpg
Jackson has had a double-double in four of his last five games. USATSI

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

10. Justin Patton, Creighton

Last week: No. 9

13.6 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.8 blocks, 71.4 2-pt%, 121.6 ORtg

If you're not overly impressed by Patton, you're watching basketball the wrong way. Through 25 career games, Creighton's big man is stacking up well against the company of recent college basketball bigs who've gone on to be good-to-great NBA players. Check it out. And as a reminder, Henry Ellenson was a top-four freshman in college hoops last season.

Through 25 career games

Player Year PPG RPG BPG APG FG%
Justin Patton 2017 13.6 6.5 1.8 1.2 70
Henry Ellenson 2016 16.6 10.1 1.7 1.8 43.2
Karl-Anthony Towns 2015 9.1 6.4 2.3 1.1 52.3
Myles Turner 2015 11.3 6.5 2.7 0.7 47.2
Jahlil Okafor 2015 18.2 9.3 1.5 1.3 66.5
Joel Embiid 2014 11 7.8 2.5 1.2 62.3
Jabari Parker 2014 19.3 8.5 1.2 1.3 47.8
Steven Adams 2013 7.2 6.5 2 0.6 59.4
Nerlens Noel 2013 10.5 9.5 4.4 1.6 59
Anthony Davis 2012 14 10 4.8 1 66
Tristan Thompson 2011 12.8 7.5 2.3 1.2 53.2

(Stats courtesy of Creighton Athletics)

9. Miles Bridges, Michigan State

Last week: No. 10

16.2 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.7 blocks, 55.9 2-pt%, 40.0 3-pt %, 102.0 ORtg

Bridges continues to be the most reliable facet to an erratic Michigan State team that's trying to make the NCAA Tournament for the 20th consecutive season. MSU went 1-1 last week, falling in an awful way (86-57) at Michigan, then beating Iowa by 11 over the weekend. Bridges averaged 15.5 points and 8.0 rebounds in those games, shooting 50 percent in each tilt. The Spartans have had issues, but Bridges has benefited because fellow freshman, point guard Cassius Winston, is No. 1 in the country in assist rate. Winston's responsible for 49.3 percent of Michigan State's assists when he is on the floor. Incredible number. Winston should bloom into a very good four-year player for Tom Izzo, and this is now the most productive freshman class since Izzo's been at Michigan State. Bridges, Winston, Nick Ward and Josh Langford have combined to score 945 points, already far outpacing the 2001-02 group (Chris Hill, Alan Anderson, Kelvin Torbert, Tim Bograkos), which scored 855 points.

8. Lauri Markkanen, Arizona

Last week: No. 8

15.2 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 51.5 2-pt%, 47.2 3-pt%, 82.9 FT%, 130.7 ORtg

Arizona got a home sweep of the Bay Area schools last week, and Markkanen again did not have a huge presence. It's now four straight games for him that he's not hit double figures in scoring; Markkanen's averaging 6.5 points and 4.8 rebounds on just 20 percent shooting. A strange turn of events, but I don't think it's a February freshman wall situation here. Remember, Allonzo Trier is fully back in the fold, and Markkanen's 3-point attempts are remaining steady, he's just made a few less as of late. Arizona travels to play the Washington schools this weekend. I expect Markkanen to get right and have at least one very good game, because UW and Wazzu are a combined 20-30.

7. T.J. Leaf, UCLA

Last week: No. 6

16.6 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 2.7 APG, 66.2 2-pt%, 45.8 3-pt%, 131.7 ORtg

The Bruins had that great come-from-behind win over Oregon, and in that game Leaf was just OK: eight points, five boards, three dimes and a steal on 4-of-12 shooting. UCLA's defensive want-to has been the talk as of late, and Leaf will wind up being a big component of this. Can the Bruins become really good on defense? There's just no game-over-game evidence that suggests this. But Leaf is the guy I look to and see as the potential spark for stops. He's averaging 1.1 blocks, 0.8 steals, doesn't foul a lot and needs to increase his role in the paint. In watching him play, I get the sense Leaf wants to be a better defender than he actually is, and that's a good sign.

6. Malik Monk, Kentucky

Last week: No. 5

21.7 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 2.2 APG, 55.6 2-pt% 41.4 3-pt%, 121.0 ORtg

Monk was called out by his coach last week for not having a rebound in two straight games. How did he respond in Saturday's tilt at Alabama? One board, baby. Man, it's got to be really frustrating for Cal, because he's got this guy who's capable of scoring, but the holes in Monk's game elsewhere leave a lot to be desired. Still, he's going to have two or three really big moments in March, I just know it. And then you look at this chart sent out Monday by Synergy, and you see that Monk's efficiency and usage is on an elite level. There are no other freshmen listed here.

5. De'Aaron Fox, Kentucky

Last week: No. 4

15.7 PPG, 5.4 APG, 4.2 RPG, 1.6 steals, 52.8 2-pt%, 111.2 ORtg

Fox did not have as strong of a week as I was expecting. He was well-rounded against a bad LSU team, scoring 16 and adding six assists, four rebounds and three steals (plus three turnovers). Then at Alabama, Fox was 3-of-12 from the field, scored seven points, dished three assists and had one rebound in 30 minutes worth of work. UK won those two games by an average of eight points, which is still not meeting expectations for Calipari's crew. Now, holding Alabama to 58 points in its own gym was a nice sign of some progress for UK, but let's not forget that Bama is a 14-10 team with only one win over a projected NCAA Tournament team (South Carolina).

Fox is shooting 90 percent (18 for 20) on his foul shots since Jan. 24. That would be huge for UK if he can keep his clip above 80 throughout the end of the season. Kentucky's next two: vs. Tennessee on Tuesday, at Georgia on Saturday.

4. Josh Jackson, Kansas

Last week: No. 7

16.5 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.8 steals, 54.7 2-pt%, 108.1 ORtg

A warranted bump to No. 4 for Jackson, who's been more consistent and productive in recent weeks than Kentucky's fine frosh duo. The only thing stopping Jackson from winning Freshman of the Year is having a consistent jump shot and/or making most of his free throws. We'll see if that gets shored up in the final five games. Kansas plays at Baylor on Saturday, and so Jackson will have his tests against that Scott Drew zone, which can sometimes throw guys off their game.

Also, if you missed Jackson's career-high 31-point effort at Texas Tech, get a look at what he's capable of. A lot here that scouts will take stock in.

3. Dennis Smith Jr., NC State

Last week: No. 3

18.7 PPG, 6.8 APG, 4.4 RPG, 2.0 steals, 50.7 2-pt%, 38.3 3-pt%, 113.0 ORtg

I'll have more on Smith this week and beyond (I interviewed him last week on my trip to North Carolina), but in seeing NC State in person on Saturday, it was pretty deflating. Wake Forest won 88-58, and now the Wolfpack qualify as the most disappointing team in the sport. This team is just done. The NIT will now be a challenge to qualify before. Smith doesn't beat himself up over the losing, but the fact is he's never been on the receiving end of so many defeats before in his life. Smith had an OK night (17 points, three boards, three assists, four fouls) but didn't have a steal, asked to be taken out at the end of the game, and in general this season has turned into such a letdown. I'll say this: Smith did speak to the media afterward, he owns up for the team when the group doesn't play well, he doesn't shy from criticism and he's not a prima donna. Because Jackson was so far behind him, and Monk and Fox didn't play well enough, he's still in firm position in the 3 spot -- for now.

2. Markelle Fultz, Washington

Last week: No. 1.

23.2 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 6.0 APG, 1.6 steals, 50.2 2-pt%, 42.1 3-pt%, 114.3 ORtg

Fultz sticks at No. 2, but there's not much to update here. If you missed it, he actually did not play in Washington's two most recent games, as the school cited knee soreness. At this point, with a 9-16 record and a reputation for playing both ends, it's not in Fultz's interest to keep playing if he's not 100 percent healthy. So if he's used in spot duty, I can't blame him. Fultz should give it a go this week, though, because playing against Arizona's talent could only enhance his impression as the No. 1 overall pick. That's a Saturday evening tip.

1. Lonzo Ball, UCLA

Last week: No. 2

15.4 PPG, 7.6 APG, 6.0 RPG, 1.8 steals, 70.9 2-pt%, 43.2 3-pt%, 130.6 ORtg

Somewhat surprisingly, Ball just won Pac-12 Player of the Week honors for only the second time this season. He put up 18.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 5.0 assists in taking down the Oregon schools. This was on 15-of-23 shooting in those games, 5 for 11 from 3-point range. He hit that 3-pointer with 32 seconds to go that clinched the win over the Ducks, a massive get for UCLA's profile, completing a 19-point comeback. Ball has 198 assists this season, the most in America. Again, he was so good, and so his placement at the top of this list earns a little separation from Fultz.

Next up: vs. USC on Saturday, at home. It's the only game the Bruins have in a 10-day stretch.

Previous FOTW winners:

Dec. 6: T.J. Leaf
Dec. 13: Jayson Tatum

Dec. 20: Malik Monk
Dec. 27: Shamorie Ponds
Jan. 3: Markelle Fultz
Jan. 10: Dennis Smith, Jr.

Jan. 17: Josh Jackson
Jan. 24: Dennis Smith, Jr.
Jan. 31: Miles Bridges
Feb. 7: T.J. Leaf

CBS Sports Senior Writer

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

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