Frosh Watch: After unprecedented season, Trae Young goes wire-to-wire at No. 1

This season, CBS Sports once again teamed up with the United States Basketball Writers Association and its Wayman Tisdale Freshman of the Year Award. Every Tuesday we've posted 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 marks the final Frosh Watch of the season. The winner of the Tisdale Award will be officially announced in the coming days.

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Deandre Ayton, Arizona   

For the first time this season, we have a back-to-back Freshman of the Week winner. Ayton continues to dominate against the Pac-12, and obviously it must be noted that he's doing this in the wake of being connected to a pay-for-play scheme. But the school has cleared him and Ayton's legal representatives have passionately denied any wrongful accusations. 

Now he's playing ticked off, and it's riveting thing. Arizona's probably going to be considered a trendy Final Four pick thanks to the way Ayton's hit a dominant streak. Physically, there's not a player in the tournament he'll face who can match up with him. 

Ayton averaged 19.0 points, 15.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and was 13 for 18 from the field in Arizona's two final games of the season, both at home, against Stanford and Cal. Ayton's 26-and-20 game vs. Cal in the finale marked the first time an Arizona player went for 20-and-20 since 1975-76, when Al Fleming did it. 

This is the third Freshman of the Week honor for the Bahamian. Only Trae Young won the award more this season. Closing out the year with four fantastic games also locked in Ayton at No. 2 in the final Frosh Watch rankings.  


Here are the top 10 freshman performers in college basketball through the end of the regular season.                                       

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1. Trae Young, Oklahoma

Key stats: 27.5 ppg, 8.9 apg, 3.9 rpg, 1.7 spg

Last week: No. 1

After a breakout November, Young has done the unprecedented in the five-year history of the Frosh Watch: wire to wire atop the rankings. While the Norman, Oklahoma, native won't sweep the national player-of-the-year awards, he's undoubtedly got a lot of hardware coming to him. Appropriately, the USBWA Freshman of the Year Award is named after late Oklahoma Sooner Wayman Tisdale, whose 810 freshman season points Young beat at 826. (Tisdale also averaged 10.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in 1982-83.) 

This weekly Watch is about being the best freshman, and Young's done it. He's finished the regular season leading the nation in scoring and assists. Interestingly, his lead in both statistical was so comfortable that a disappointing February (for him) still didn't tank him from atop either category. In the Big 12, Young lost out on Player of the Year to Kansas' Devonte' Graham despite Young's 27.5 points and 8.9 assists being single-season records in league history and Young tallying 281 more points than the tremendous Graham, who will almost certainly land on some First Team All-America lists. 

In fact, Young's points-per-game cushion in the conference was 9.9 points, the biggest gulf between first and second place in league scoring in more than two decades. Remember, there was the 22 assists vs. Northwestern State on Dec. 19, when he became the only freshman to have at least 20 dimes in a game. There were the four 40-point games. Been a bumpy year for Young but that's because his peaks were so high so soon. 

Let's put into further perspective how impressive this season has ben: J.J. Redick scored 833 points in 2005-06, making him the only other player from a Major 7 conference to eclipse 800 points in the regular season since 1997-98. Young achieved this while on a slumping team, but incredibly became the second player in history to put up more than 800 points and 250 assists in a season, joining Kay Felder of Oakland from two years ago. If Young gets 22 more assists, he'll topple the NCAA freshman record set by Duke's Bobby Hurley in 1989-90. 

The Sooners have had their issues, and Young has turned the ball over as much as almost any player of the past 25 years, but without him this team wouldn't be anywhere close to the NCAA Tournament. Start to finish he was the most impressive freshman this season. 

Next game: Wednesday vs. Oklahoma State


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2. Deandre Ayton, Arizona

Key stats: 19.9 ppg, 11.4 rpg, 1.9 bpg, 64.0 2-pt FG%
Last week: No. 2

On Monday, Ayton was named Pac-12 Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year and with obvious reason. He's the third player to ever do that, joining Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Kevin Love. Ayton finished in the top five in the league scoring, rebounding, field goal percentage and blocks. Going for 26 and 20 in what will no doubt be the final home game of his career was what sealed the deal, and it should be noted he did this while playing alongside Allonzo Trier, who statistically has also been one of the 20 best players in America this season. (Trier joined Ayton on the Pac-12 All-Conference First Team.)

Ayton was also voted to the Pac-12's All-Defensive Team. By the end of the NCAA Tournament we could look back and say that Marvin Bagley III, overall, had a better freshman season than Ayton. Maybe Duke will win its league tournament and get to the Final Four while Arizona does neither of those things. That's possible. But the Watch ends here, and from start to finish -- and due in small part to Ayton missing no games while Bagley missed almost five due to injury -- Arizona's freakish beast has won out over his former teammate at Hillcrest Prep, in Arizona.

Yeah, I'm not sure enough has been made of the fact that Bagley and Ayton once played together at the high school level. 

Next game: TBD in Pac-12 quarterfinals.               


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3. Marvin Bagley III, Duke

Key stats: 20.7 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 1.6 apg, 64.4 2-pt FG%

Last week: No. 3

Bagley had a top-five game of his season vs. UNC on Saturday, helping Duke rally from a double-digit second half deficit to win xx-xx. We've seen that play out a handful of times this season. Without the big man, Duke wouldn't have stood a chance against a solid UNC team that's a dark horse to win the ACC tournament title. Bagley had 18 points and 11 rebounds -- in the second half -- of the game, finishing with 21 and 15. 

But there's little justifying putting Bagley at 2 on the Watch after Ayton closed out the year with consecutive FOTW honors. Still, there's no denying that Young, Ayton and Bagley long ago separated themselves from the rest of their peers this season. It's a huge drop-off from No. 3 to No. 4 on the Watch. 

The ACC named Bagley its Player of the Year and Rookie of Year. He's the second player (Jahlil Okafor being the other; people have already forgotten how good he was at Duke) to win both. Bagley's prideful stat is this: He's one of just two players in the country putting up more than 20.0 points, snaring higher than 10.0 rebounds and shooting better then 60 percent. Let's see if he keeps it up in postseason play. 

Next game: Saturday vs. North Carolina.   


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4. Brandon McCoy, UNLV

Key stats: 16.9 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 1.7 bpg

Last week: No. 4

McCoy, who had 19 and 17 vs. Nevada last week, was the highly rated recruit who was expected to be an elite talent in the league from game one. In some respects that wound up being true. Though he's statistically been a double-double guy almost the entire season, those who follow the Mountain West don't consider him a top-five player in the league. If McCoy is able to make improvements to his basketball IQ and defensive want-to, he will be the best player in the conference next season. The question is, will he come back? McCoy's defensive rebound rate of 25.0 is better than Bagley (who competes with Wendell Carter, of course).

Next game: Wednesday vs. Air Force


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5. Mohamed Bamba, Texas

Key stats: 13.0 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 3.8 bpg, 60.0 2-pt FG%

Last week: No. 5                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

Bamba almost certainly would have jumped to No. 4 in the final edition had he been able to play to his averages, but he missed the past two games with a left toe sprain. What's interesting about Bamba's freshman season is, barring a second weekend NCAA run for the Longhorns, he might not be remembered for as good as a college player as he's been. 

The 7-footer has grown more from October through March than any other freshman on this list. But he didn't win Freshman of the Year in his conference because of Young, and he didn't win Defensive POY because of West Virginia senior Jevon Carter, who deserved the honor. In fact, because the league was so good, Bamba didn't even make All-Big 12 First Team. 

Nevertheless, he led the Big 12 in rebounds, blocked shots and double-doubles. Him picking Texas was surprising for a lot of people, but when you look at how he's done over the past four months you can't say it was a bad call. The NCAA Tournament will be better because he's in it. 

Next game: Wednesday vs. Iowa State


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6. Tremont Waters, LSU

Key stats: 15.6 ppg, 5.9 apg, 3.4 rpg, 2.0 spg

Last week: No. 7

The highest praise I can give Waters is this: If the Bayou Bengals had everyone except him on the roster, this team would be 13-17 instead of 17-13. The 5-foot-9 floor general has stepped into college basketball and set himself up for a very nice career in Baton Rouge. Waters will almost certainly land in the top 20 of our list of the top 100 (and one) players in college hoops come next October. He averaged 16.5 points, 7.0 assists and 3.0 rebounds last week. Unless you followed college basketball intently, you probably didn't see or hear too much about him this season. That will not be the case come December, especially if he can improve his mid-range shot. 

Next game: Thursday vs. Mississippi State.


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7. Collin Sexton, Alabama

Key stats: 18.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.6 apg 

Last week: No. 6

Some will disagree with Sexton below Waters. Sexton is the better pro prospect, the bigger point guard, the better on-ball defender and playing on the team with a better chance a winning an at-large bid. The separation between the two is really slim. Sexton was beat out in a few categories (3-point shooting, steals, offensive rating, assist rate) by Waters. Two really nice SEC guards, but what they do for their teams is very different. Sexton, all told, has done well for himself this season and is probably going to go in the lottery. It'd be nice to see him in the NCAA Tournament, though. Thing is, Alabama's in trouble. At 17-14 and with five straight losses, the Tide is going to need to make a big run in the league playoff in order to get to the NCAAs. A loss on Thursday would mean Avery Johnson's most talented tam might finish with its lowest win total in his three seasons in Tuscaloosa. Sexton had 23 points, seven assist and four rebounds against Texas A&M on Saturday, but the Tide lost by two. Now the two will meet again in the SEC bracket.

Next game: Thursday vs. Texas A&M. 


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8. Wendell Carter Jr.Duke    

Key stats: 14.1 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 2.2 bpg, 2.1 apg

Last week: No. 9

Carter sputtered in his final two games of the season, totaling 14 points, eight fouls and six turnovers. But on the year he's been top-10 quality in this freshman class. He made second-team All-ACC and was of course All-Freshman in the league. His 9.5 rebounds average was fourth best in the ACC, as was his 57.2 shooting. Per Duke, Carter is one of only two players shooting better than 57 percent overall and 48 percent from 3. Unless he winds up having a ridiculous run in the ACC or NCAA Tournament, Carter probably won't be remembered much for his Duke career. But if Duke is going to get a No. 1 seed or make a Final Four, Carter will be the third most important player on the team behind Bagley and Grayson Allen.

Next game: TBD in ACC quarterfinals. 


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9. R.J. Cole, Howard

Key stats: 23.7 ppg, 6.0 apg, 3.9 rpg, 1.7 spg

Last week: No. 8

Shoutout to the breakout star in the MEAC. As promised, Cole's all-around numbers have been steady enough to keep him on the Watch through the end of the season. Howard had an improved year all around, getting to 10 wins in the regular season. The high-volume scorer out of New Jersey is sixth nationally in points per game in addition to a healthy assists average. He had 10 points or more in every game this season, including when  he put up 42 against UNC Wilmington in December. Cole averaged 23.0 points, 8.5 assists and 3.5 steals in his final two games. If Howard can hold on to him, recruit well, and improve, this team will have a solid shot at taking the MEAC auto bid in 2019. 

Next game: Tuesday vs. Florida A&M


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10. Jaylen NowellWashington   

Key stats: 16.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.6 apg

Last week: No. 10

As we wrap up with this season's final Frosh Watch, before I get to Nowell, here are two items on two freshmen that did not finish the season on the list. The first is about Lindell Wigginton of Iowa State. He finished 11th in my rankings. It was a close call, but Nowell bested him in rebounds, turnovers, PER and offensive rating. Truth is, Wigginton probably had Cameron Lard tugging down on his numbers just a little. Regardless, Wigginton pulled off maybe the dunk of the year over the weekend. 

Now, the one really talented freshman that didn't make the final Frosh Watch is a guy who's going in the 2018 lottery. He's got great per-40 numbers and is probably going to be a 10-year starter in the NBA:Michigan State's Jaren Jackson Jr. But the Frosh Watch doesn't rank players based on NBA potential or per-40 numbers. And Jackson, for as good as he was in flashes, was not as essential to his team as any other player listed here. He's been a super talented supplemental piece, yet still overshadowed by Miles Bridges, Cassius Winston and Nick Ward. His per-game averages (11.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.2 apg, 3.2 bpg, 52.0 FG%) were solid but on a per-game basis he was not one of the 10 most consistent first-year players in the country. 

Nowell hung on the final month of the season on this list because he's been necessary to Washington's faint bubble hopes. He's led the team in scoring 13 times and put up more than 20 nine times. He needs 83 points to set the program record (580) for most points by a freshman.  

Next game: Wednesday vs. Oregon State.

Previous Freshman of the Week winners:

Dec. 5: Trae Young
Dec. 12: Deandre Ayton
Dec. 19: David Jenkins Jr. 
Dec. 26: Trae Young 
Jan. 2: Mohamed Bamba
Jan. 9: McKinley Wright IV
Jan. 16: Trae Young
Jan. 23: R.J. Cole
Jan. 30: Kevin Knox
Feb. 6: Trae Young
Feb. 13: Cameron Lard
Feb. 20: Mohamed Bamba
Feb. 27: Deandre Ayton

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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