Frosh Watch: Memphis' Precious Achiuwa is Freshman of the Week; Washington's Isaiah Stewart jumps in rankings
The Tigers' valuable forward is proving to be more precious than even Penny Hardaway could have expected
Welcome back to the Frosh Watch, our weekly ranking of the 10 most impressive freshmen in college basketball. CBS Sports has once again teamed up with the United States Basketball Writers Association and its Wayman Tisdale Freshman of the Year Award to present this every-Tuesday feature. Each week we'll start by announcing the national Freshman of the Week honoree.
CBS Sports / USBWA Freshman of the Week
PRECIOUS ACHIUWA, MEMPHIS: The big man has been excellent as the go-to interior presence for the Tigers. Without James Wiseman around, Achiuwa hasn't had his play falter or take a hit, even though he's commanding more attention in the scouting report. Last week, Achiuwa averaged 17.0 points and 12.5 rebounds. The Tigers beat Tulane and lost by three at home to Georgia. In that Georgia game, Achiuwa had a career-best 15 rebounds to go along with 20 points.
On a freshman-laden team, Achiuwa is the freshman more responsible for Memphis' 12-2 start than anyone. He's played 69% of Memphis' available minutes, the most of anyone on the team. As a result, he's been a higher-usage player than all other Tigers as well. Per KenPom's metrics, Achiuwa has been the most valuable player on the court in three of Memphis' past four games.
As American Athletic Conference play moves along, Achiuwa (who just missed on cracking the Frosh Watch this week) has established himself as a top-five player in the league. If he can continue to dominate in the interior the way he did in Memphis' past two games, the Tigers can continue on as the league favorite.
These are the top 10 freshman performers in college basketball through the first 10 weeks of the season.
1. VERNON CAREY JR., Duke
Key stats: 18.4 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 39.0 PER | Last week: No. 1
Not only is Carey still the No. 1 freshman in college basketball, he's actually scooted into the pole position -- as far as we're concerned -- in the national player of the year race. With Duke 13-1 and sitting at No. 1 in the KenPom rankings, Carey has become the most important player on maybe the best team in college basketball. That means Duke is in position to have the NPOY in consecutive seasons -- with freshmen. His player efficiency rating is not so far off from Zion Williamson's 40.8, which set a record in Sports Reference's college database.
Key stats: 18.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.6 spg | Last week: No. 2
Shot selection for Edwards in Georgia's 65-62 win over No. 9 Memphis won't be topping his NBA Draft highlight reel. He finished 4-of-17 shooting in the win with some audacious stepbacks that weren't falling for much of the outing. Nonetheless, his overall body of work and impact for the Bulldogs has him holding steady at No. 2. He's managed to get UGA to 10 wins just a few days into the new year, a mark UGA didn't reach until it was 19 games into the 2018-19 season.
3. ZEKE NNAJI, Arizona
Key stats: 16.6 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 1.1 bpg | Last week: No. 3
Despite being the third-highest rated recruit of Arizona's freshman class, Nnaji has emerged as Arizona's most impactful player this season. He leads the team in scoring, rebounding, shots blocked and field-goal percentage on the season and has been Mr. Reliable for the 11-3 Wildcats. In Zona's first game of the calendar year, he put up 17 points, 11 boards and two steals in a thumping of cross-state foe Arizona State. It was his fifth double-double of the season.
Key stats: 19.5 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 1.9 bpg | Last week: No. 5
Over the last 15 years, only eight freshmen have managed to average at least 19.4 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. It's an exclusive list: Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, Marvin Bagley III, Deandre Ayton, Bol Bol, Lamine Diane, James Wiseman and Isaiah Stewart. Stewart's averaging 19.5 and 9.1 on the year for a Washington team that is 11-4 on the year. In two games last week he averaged 21 points, 10.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks.
5. ONYEKA OKONGWU, USC
Key stats: 17.8 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 2.9 bpg | Last week: No. 4
With 18.5 points and 10.5 rebounds on average against Washington and Washington State last week, Okongwu maintained his pace as a clear-cut top-five freshman in college hoops. The Trojans need to be competitive to up Okongwu's profile, lest he be pegged as the best under-the-radar player in the 2020 draft pool. USC is 12-3 but fell 72-40 at Washington on Sunday. Now it's at UCLA this Saturday.
Key stats: 15.0 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 28.1 PER | Last week: No. 7
Illinois is grabbing 39.1% of its offensive-rebound opportunities this season. That's good -- so good it ranks No. 5 nationally. And the last time an Illinois team finished the season with a rebound rate of at least 39%, Lon Kruger was coaching the Illini in the late 1990s. Much of this is due to Cockburn, who is an equal-opportunity corral guy on both ends of the floor. The last Illinois freshman big man this consistent was Meyers Leonard.
7. NICO MANNION, Arizona
Key stats: 14.3 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 6.3 apg | Last week: No. 6
Mannion's slump carried over into the new year, with a 2020-opening 3-of-9 shooting performance on Saturday in a win over Arizona State. Still, his impact as a darting distributor has given Arizona a dynamic on offense that it could not replace. He ranks top-30 in assist rate on the season and nationally leads freshman in assists with 6.3 per game.
Key stats: 14.8 ppg, 2.3 bpg, 8.4 rpg | Last week: No. 10
Efficiency has been Trayce Jackson-Davis' game all season and even with a 3-of-8 shooting performance in a loss to Indiana, he's still ranking comfortably in the top-20 nationally in KenPom's offensive rating metrics. He also ranks top-40 in effective field goal percentage and in free-throw rate. The only knock on him is that there's not enough of him. IU's on a two-game losing skid and could use more of Jackson-Davis to get back on track.
9. LANDERS NOLLEY, Virginia Tech
Key stats: 17.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.5 apg | Last week: No. 9
Nolley is the only player on Virginia Tech's roster using more than 28% possessions per game. You might be unaware, but Nolley sat last season due to some test-score discrepancies that led him to redshirt. That year away has proven to be so helpful, as he's the team's best player in an offense that ranks top-25 nationally in 3-point percentage. Nolley's a 6-foot-7 utility knife averaging 7.5 2-point attempts and 6.4 3-point attempts.
10. COLE ANTHONY, UNC
Key stats: 19.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 3.6 apg | Last week: No. 8
This will be Anthony's final week in the Watch until he returns. Nine games with a 19.1 scoring average -- plus better than six rebounds and three assists per game -- have made his value to UNC all the more clear since he went down. We wait for his return from MCL surgery. If the four-to-six week timeline sticks and he does indeed come back, the latest he'd be back for the Heels is Jan. 25 vs. Miami.
Previous FOTW winners:
- Dec. 3:
- Dec. 10:
- Dec. 17:
- Dec. 24:
- Dec. 31:
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