Frosh Watch: Kentucky's Kevin Knox back into rankings, wins Freshman of the Week

CBS Sports has once again teamed up with the United States Basketball Writers Association and its Wayman Tisdale Freshman of the Year Award. Every Tuesday throughout the regular season we post 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. The feature works hand in hand with the Tisdale committee and the USBWA. The winner of the award will be announced in March, and a ceremony for all USBWA honors will take place in early April. The cycle for Freshman of the Week consideration starts on Tuesdays and ends Monday nights.

This week's decision was the closest of the season yet. The two finalists put up career-bests in points, led their teams to a pair of wins last week, and both are on the Frosh Watch. The headline gives away the winner, but to see who nearly got the honor, scroll down to the Frosh Watch. 

And since there's nowhere else to put this, I might as well include this freshman-to-freshman highlight out of UCLA. Jaylen Hands' in-the-air, through-the-legs alley-oop to Kris Wilkes. Whoo!

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Kevin Knox, Kentucky            

What a response by the Kentucky newcomer. He's earning this award one week after falling out of the Frosh Watch. Message received, Kevin! Knox put up a career-best 34 points in UK's stunning 83-76 win at No. 7 West Virginia on Saturday. Prior to that, last Tuesday, UK beat Mississippi State 78-65. Knox averaged 26.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and shot 70 percent overall, and 75 percent from 3-point range, between those two games. If you need more context: Knox made nine total 3-pointers in both games. He showed, definitively, that he is Kentucky's best player. 

That's why he's Freshman of the Week. 

Here's a stunner: Knox's 34 points at West Virginia are the most by a Kentucky freshman in a non-conference road game. I mean ever -- in the history of the program. 

If Knox can continue to be a lead player, Kentucky will continue to be ranked. The Wildcats jumped back into the polls this week, and they also bumped up two seed lines in our Bracketology after winning at WVU. Calipari's lucky to have a guy like Knox on his squad. Remember, his commitment to UK came as a surprising one. Without him, this team might have been destined for the bubble. 


Here are the top 10 freshman performers in college basketball through Jan. 30. 

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1. Trae Young, Oklahoma

Key stats: 29.6 ppg, 9.6 apg, 4.1 rpg, 2.0 spg

Last week: No. 1

Young is coming off his strangest week of the season. He took a season-low nine shots (honestly, it might have been the fewest shots he's taken in an organized game in half a decade) in Oklahoma's 85-80 home loss to Kansas last Tuesday. That KU game was the first of the season in which Young played 40 minutes in a game that didn't go to overtime. On Saturday, Young hoisted 17 attempts but made only six. That was the loss to Collin Sexton and Alabama. (More on that in Sexton's section below.) Young still managed 21.5 points, 8.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds and shot 6-of-12 from 3-point range between both games. This is mediocre for him and season-defining for most others. He's in no immediate danger of slipping from the top spot. 

Next game: Tuesday vs. Baylor.


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2. Marvin Bagley III, Duke

Key stats: 21.5 ppg, 11.4 rpg, 1.5 apg, 64.2 2-pt FG%

Last week: No. 2

Bagley was docile on Monday night, putting up 12 points in Duke's 88-66 win over Notre Dame. It was Bagley's lowest point total in a game this season in which he did not leave because of injury. No matter, because Duke didn't really need his best. Also, Bagley just won ACC Rookie of the Week for the sixth time. In the loss to Virginia, Bagley put up 30 points and 14 rebounds. He was dominant, and yet it kind of didn't matter. Virginia, man. Bagley's hit the 30-point mark six times this season. That showing was good enough keep him at No. 2 on the Watch. He made 13 of his 18 field goals, including two 3s. 

Next game: Saturday at St. John's. 


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3. Deandre Ayton, Arizona

Key stats: 19.5 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 1.8 bpg
Last week: No. 3

Went for 17.5 points and 7.0 rebounds in Arizona's wins last week over Colorado and Utah. Ayton now ranks in the top 16 nationally in 10 statistical categories. 

Third: 2-point field goals (157)
Fourth: offensive win shares (3.2)
Sixth: defensive rebounds (180)
Seventh: total win shares (4.5)
Seventh: player efficiency rating (31.1) 
12th: rebound average (10.7)
12th: defensive rebound percentage (28.7)
13th: field goals (166)
15th: total rebound percentage (20.5)
16th: field goal percentage (61.9)

Next game: Wednesday at Washington State.       


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4. Brandon McCoy, UNLV

Key stats: 17.5 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 1.5 bpg

Last week: No. 4

McCoy has made 144 2-point field goals, which ranks 12th in college basketball. McCoy put up 21 points in UNLV's 88-78 home win over San Diego State on Saturday. The Runnin' Rebels are 15-6 overall but 4-4 in the league. McCoy is putting up nice numbers despite logging a tame 27.5 minutes per game.        

Next game: Wednesday vs. San Jose State.


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5. Tremont Waters, LSU

Key stats: 15.2 ppg, 5.8 apg, 3.6 rpg, 2.3 spg

Last week: No. 5

GET A LOAD OF THIS PASS.        

That is so casually beautiful. It's one of my favorite plays in college basketball this season. That's the kind of stuff D'Angelo Russell was doing at Ohio State

Here's another angle. 

Next game: Wednesday at Tennessee


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6. Mohamed Bamba, Texas

Key stats: 13.1 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 4.4 bpg

Last week: No. 7                                                                                                                                           

Bamba, who won FOTW back on Jan. 2, lost out to Knox this week. Still, he bumps up another spot to get to No. 6. No player has progressively improved his position in the Watch over the past seven weeks like Bamba. Heck, maybe he'll wind up finishing fourth at season's end. Bamba averaged 24.5 points, 13.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks on 79 percent shooting last week. He did it averaging 29 minutes and was 3-of-3 from 3. He also hit 16 of his 17 foul shots. Texas won its games vs. Iowa State and Ole Miss. I came really, really close to giving FOTW to Bamba, but Knox just barely had a better case. Bamba leads the Big 12 in rebounding and blocks. He will almost certainly break UT's freshman record for swats by the time next week's Watch gets here. Three more and Chris Mihm's record 90 is no more. 

Next game: Wednesday at Texas Tech


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7. Collin Sexton, Alabama

Key stats: 18.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.3 apg 

Last week: No. 6

The most hyped game of Sexton's season ended with an 80-73 Alabama home win over Oklahoma on Saturday. Sexton had 18 points on 8-of-14 shooting, plus three rebounds and two assists. No steals, three fouls, three turnovers. He looked, at times, like the superior physical prospect he is to Trae Young. But on the whole, he didn't completely get the better of Young. He absolutely used his physicality to force Young out of rhythm, but even then there were times when Young still got his. If you found yourself paying much more attention to Virginia-Duke, which was happening concurrent to Oklahoma-Alabama, here's a recap of Sexton v. Young. 

Next game: Wednesday vs. Missouri


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8. R.J. Cole, Howard

Key stats: 23.6 ppg, 5.9 apg, 3.6 rpg, 1.7 spg

Last week: No. 8

Howard is on its first three-game win streak against Division I opponents since November of 2015. And it hasn't won three straight against MEAC foes since almost three years to the day: Feb. 2, 2015. Cole is a big reason why. The Bison won 85-75 over Maryland Eastern Shore on Saturday. Cole -- who won FOTW last week -- put up 28 points, six rebounds, six assists and three steals. He shot 56 percent in that game, his second most efficient performance of the season. At this point, Cole seems unlikely to crack the top five but just as unlikely to fall out of the top 10 for the rest of the season. 

Next game: Saturday vs. Florida A&M


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9. Jaylen NowellWashington   

Key stats: 16.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.6 apg

Last week: No. 10

A year after Markelle Fultz, in comes Jaylen Nowell as one of the best freshmen in America. Unless you're a Pac-12 fan or a college basketball die hard, you probably haven't seen him play. Nowell had 14 points, nine rebounds and four dimes in Washington's win over Washington State on Saturday. Mike Hopkins has the Huskies at 15-6 and on the cusp of bubble talk so long as the Dogs can get through their homestand this week against the Arizona schools. Does not feel like an overstatement to say that Washington's NCAA Tournament chances hinge greatly on the next pair of tips. Will Nowell play like a vet? 

Next game: Thursday vs. Arizona State


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10. Kevin Knox, Kentucky 

Key stats: 15.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.6 apg

Last week: N/R

Knox isn't a natural distributor, so his role on this team is built around creating his own shot and becoming a mismatch while flourishing at power forward. I think Knox is destined to be a 3 at the NBA level, but it's become clear over the past three weeks that Knox is most effective when he's defending bigs and pulling them out on offense. I would be surprised if Calipari doesn't gameplan for Knox to get a touch on every possession, when he's on the floor, against Vanderbilt. Ride the hot hand. 

Next game: Tuesday vs. Vanderbilt.                    

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

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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