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 the Week: Josh Jackson, Kansas
Jackson played three times since last week's Frosh Watch update, averaging 14.0 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.6 steals. Kansas won at Oklahoma last Tuesday, then beat Oklahoma State in Lawrence over the weekend, and finished up with Monday night's 76-72 win at Iowa State. If you saw any or all of those games, you got a glimpse of what Jackson can do, how he's changed Kansas' defense and why he's now -- seemingly -- a lock to be a top-five pick.
Here's a vicious from-behind swat on Monte Morris, the nation's most responsible and valuable point guard.
Josh Jackson with the huge block!https://t.co/VI3z3WDznQ— Jayhawk Video (@JayhawkVideo) January 17, 2017
Jackson won Big 12 Newcomer of the Week four times already. With one more win in that category, he'll set a Kansas record.
Jackson won't have a chance to repeat as Freshman of the Week, as KU has just one game (at home against Texas) before the next Frosh Watch. But after that, be on the lookout. Kansas travels to West Virginia next Tuesday, then plays at Kentucky four days later, on Jan. 28. It's the biggest week of KU's season, and could go a long way to determining Frank Mason's Player of the Year candidacy in addition to Jackson's Freshman of the Year push.
Here are the top 10 freshman performers in college basketball.
Last week: No. 10
17.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.7 steals, 53.8 2-pt%, 38.3 3-pt %, 119.1 ORtg
Ponds holds his ground here, though it's a slim margin. Jayson Tatum, Miles Bridges, Nick Ward, Bam Adebayo and Jonathan Isaac are all in a cram right outside the top 10. We are nearly at the point where the aforementioned five guys, plus the fellas here in spots 10 and 9, will compete on the back end. You'll see below why I think the players listed at 8 and higher are probably good to stay on the Frosh Watch until the end of the season. Ponds' Johnnies went 1-1 last week; he averaged 13.5 points 3.5 assists, 2.5 steals and 2.5 boards vs. Villanova and DePaul.
Last week: No. 9
13.8 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.7 blocks, 74.6 2-pt%, 128.6 ORtg
While we await the results of Mo Watson, Jr.'s injured knee, know that Patton is quite clearly capable of stepping up his game even more, if needed. The Bluejays need Watson in order to contend for the national title, but Patton's been a near-consistent evolutionary threat. His footwork is among the best of any one taller than 6-8 in college basketball. Last week he averaged 13.4 point, 7.0 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and shot 66 percent from the field in three games.
Last week: No. 8
16.7 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 54.8 2-pt%, 46.7 3-pt%, 82.5 FT%, 134.4 ORtg
Markkenen averaged 26.0 points and 7.0 rebounds (but didn't have an assist, a block or a steal) in Arizona's two most recent games, home wins over Colorado and Arizona State. Markkanen had just one game over the past seven days, a 30-point performance over rival ASU. I normally reserve Freshman of the Week for guys who have played at least two games between Frosh Watch postings, so he falls short this week. But he's keeping strong in the top 10. He's so reliable on offense, I'm not sure he'll fall out of the rankings the rest of the season. In many ways, the top eight feels cemented from here on out, it's just a matter of how they shift.
Here's Markkanen camping out and killing Arizona State in the first half during his game over the weekend. Enjoy the "Roundball Rock" intro!
7. Josh Jackson, Kansas
Last week: No. 7
15.1 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.6 steals, 54.9 2-pt%, 108.5 ORtg
Note this on Jackson: He ranks No. 7 in Ken Pomeroy's player-of-the-year formula. That formula doesn't factor in traditional statistics, so sometimes the players listed will run counter to what you'll see elsewhere. Still, if you're in the top 10 there, you're undeniably a top-25 player of overall statistical impact, no matter the metric, in college hoops. Jackson is one spot behind teammate Frank Mason. Jackson, who's so fun to watch play because of his athleticism and nine-gear motor, has one knock against him. He's been below 50 percent from the field in every Big 12 game except one (K-State). The Jayhawks are so close to being undefeated, by the way. They've won 17 straight, the only L coming in the season-opener, in overtime, against Indiana.
Last week: No. 6
21.8 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 2.2 APG, 59.8 2-pt% 41.5 3-pt%, 128.4 ORtg
Kentucky fans have had fun ribbing on me for not consistently putting Malik Monk in the top five of the Frosh Watch. And he's still not breaking through this week. I promise, my reasoning is logical. The No. 5 guy on the list, NC State's Dennis Smith, Jr., is averaging just two points fewer per game than Monk, yet nearly triples him in assists, more than doubles him in rebounds and plays more consistently on defense (and Smith is no Josh Jackson on defense, to be certain).
It's really close, but Smith is being asked to do more -- and doing more -- than Monk, who is a joy to watch score. Some of that is made possible by De'Aaron Fox's leadership at the point and Isaiah Briscoe's role expansion on offense. I don't deny Monk with any joy. The race between him and Smith at this point is very slim, and if Monk (who had a total of two rebounds and one steal and seven assists last week) balls out at Mississippi State and/or South Carolina, chances are good he'll jump back into the top five.
5. Dennis Smith, Jr., NC State
Last week: No. 5
19.5 PPG, 6.2 APG, 4.3 RPG, 2.2 steals, 50.0 2-pt%, 38.8 3-pt%, 112.8 ORtg
Smith is turning into a mediocre man's Markelle Fultz. He's a fabulously athletic point guard who's doing it all for his team, they that's not translating to victories. NC State took on losses last week at Boston College and at home to Georgia Tech. State's dropped three in a row and has only one win of note (Virginia Tech). While some discussed the fact we'd not get to see Fultz in the tournament, the reality is we might miss out on two of three best freshman point guards in the NCAA.
But as I must remind readers often, the Frosh Watch is about statistical impact. The rankings don't explicity tie to a team's win total. With that in mind, look at what Smith is doing. Only three players in America are producing more offense than him, and two of them are ranked ahead of him on this list.
Markelle Fultz leads the NCAA (HM) in points created per game; Maurice Watson, Lonzo Ball, Dennis Smith, and Frank Mason round out top 5. pic.twitter.com/638oRIOkVw— Synergy Sports Tech (@SynergySST) January 17, 2017
4. T.J. Leaf, UCLA
Last week: No. 4
16.8 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 2.7 APG, 67.1 2-pt%, 51.3 3-pt%, 132.9 ORtg
Leaf was threatening De'Aaron Fox for the No. 3 spot after last week, but he averaged 12.0 points, 7.5 rebounds 1.5 assists and had no blocks. Don't get me wrong, he was still good. But on the whole, Fox has been more valuable and had a better all-around statistical year so far. Plus, some of Leaf's numbers are starting to come back down to earth. Frankly, it's wild that a 6-foot-10 combo forward is shooting better than 50 percent from deep, and it's not like he's taking one every other game. Leaf's attempted 39 3-pointers in 19 games, so he's basically good for at least one triple every time out.
3. De'Aaron Fox, Kentucky
Last week: No. 3
16.5 PPG, 6.4 APG, 5.0 RPG, 1.7 steals, 53.6 2-pt %, 32.8 assist rate, 115.1 ORtg
Fox, who can't shoot 3-pointers (he's 15 percent on the season), is finding his shooting form as of late. If he can turn into a player that can sink 3-5 mid-range jumpers on opponents, it only makes life worse for teams playing Kentucky. Fox averaged 17.5 points, but also 4.5 fouls. But check this: in his last four games, all Kentucky wins, he's shooting 66 percent from 2-point range. Monk has been so much fun, but I'm still taking Fox over him if forced to pick between the two. His assist-to-turnover ratio is a solid 2.84. The only freshmen with better ratios are Lonzo Ball and Louisiana Tech's Daquan Bracey.
2. Lonzo Ball, UCLA
Last week: No. 2
14.6 PPG, 8.0 APG, 5.5 RPG, 67.6 2-pt%, 43.0 3-pt%, 132.2 ORtg
Every week, I try to give you a stat or nugget here and there, with a player or two, that enlightens you as to why this freshman class is so good. For Ball, here's what stands out to me: He's gone 10 straight games with three or fewer turnovers, averaging 1.9 turnovers in that span. Given how much control Ball has been given with UCLA offense, and that he's averaging 35.4 minutes, and that UCLA plays 75 possessions per game, it's incredible. With that pace, he's done an amazing job. I'm as strong on Ball in the 2 spot (and closer to the 1) this week as I've been all season.
Last week: No. 1.
22.2 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 6.1 APG, 1.6 steals, 51.0 2-pt%, 41.3 3-pt%, 117.2 ORtg
Fultz's 34-point showing (yes, in a loss) against Stanford keeps him solidly at No. 1. He also had seven boards, three assists and a pair of blocks and steals in that game.
Get a glimpse of what he did against Cal. Here's news you can use for translation to the next level. Looks like a travel there, but Fultz's athleticism and ability to play the college game like he's going against a really good high school team is something most are missing out on.
Previous FOTW winners: