Ranking college basketball's top freshmen: Oklahoma's Trae Young the best so far

We here at CBS Sports have once again teamed up with the United States Basketball Writers Association and its Wayman Tisdale Freshman of the Year Award. Every Tuesday throughout the rest of the regular season we'll be posting a Freshman of the Week winner and the Frosh Watch, which is a ranking of the top 10 performing freshmen in men's Division I college basketball. This weekly feature 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. The cycle for Freshman of the Week consideration runs from Tuesday through Monday of each week.

Welcome back to the Frosh Watch! This season's freshman class hasn't gotten as much hype as last season, but we're quickly finding out that the top of the crop can be just as good -- if not better -- than the 2016-17 class. That's especially impressive considering:

-- Missouri's Michael Porter Jr. could wind up only playing two minutes in his college career

-- Kansas freshman Billy Preston still hasn't been cleared to play

-- Former Louisville freshman Brian Bowen had his eligibility put on hold because of the FBI case

-- Mitchell Robinson wound up skipping college basketball altogether

-- Kentucky's Jarred Vanderbilt hasn't played yet due to a foot injury

Amazingly, those players comprise 25 percent of the top 20 in the 2017 class. Think about how much more impressive this group could be if all were able to be playing since the start of the season.

Before we look at the top 10 freshman performers, let's award our Freshman of the Week. After another stellar showing on Monday night, the call had to be made for a 6-foot-2 kid out of Norman, Oklahoma. The 2017-18 inaugural winner is:

Freshman of the Week: Trae Young, Oklahoma

A reminder that the cycle for FOTW consideration runs from Tuesdays through Mondays. Oklahoma's 97-85 Monday night win over UTSA enable Young to win out over Arizona's DeAndre Ayton. In the past week Young averaged 30.0 points, 9.0 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 3.0 steals. Beyond that, he's gone five straight games with at least 28 points. 

Not bad for a guy who was ranked 23rd in his class. That's going to wind up looking like a misfire by evaluators, but an understandable one. Young has rapidly developed his game in the past 18 months. He was always a good prospect, but now he's on the precipice, already, of sustaining himself as a great player. 

Young's 28.7 scoring average is tops in college basketball. The last time a freshman led college hoops in scoring at the end of November? You might have a hard time guessing it correctly. In fact it was Indiana's Eric Gordon, who did it a decade ago. Even more impressively, Young's able to put up big numbers but is also getting his teammates involved. 

Want to see for yourself? Here's Trae doing a little bit of everything vs. the Roadrunners. 

Now, on to the Frosh Watch. Here are the top 10 freshman performers in college basketball from the start of the season until now. 

1. Trae Young, Oklahoma

  • Key stats: 28.7 ppg, 8.7 apg, 3.9 rpg, 2.4 spg
  • Comment: Perhaps you're surprised Marvin Bagley III isn't here? Don't be. The Duke freshman has a strong case, but Young's output on Monday night in Oklahoma's win over UTSA signaled his fifth straight game with 28 points or more. Look at how he's played, how he's lifted Oklahoma, how much he does on both ends and it's clear that he's the top freshman in college basketball at this moment. He's carrying a huge load for the Sooners, certainly even bigger than Bagley at this point. Plus, Young is distributing the ball. He's must-see college hoops TV. And through the first 25 days of the season he's been the best freshmen in college basketball overall. Next game: Friday vs. USC (at Staples Center).

2. Marvin Bagley III, Duke

  • Key stats: 22.0 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 1.6 apg, 65.1 2-pt FG%
  • Comment: Bagley is practically indecipherable from Young for FOTY at this point. He's been Duke's MVP and has exceeded his sterling reputation through his first 10 games as a college player. Duke would almost certain have two or three losses if he was not on the roster this season. Bagley's numbers would be even higher if he did not have to leave in the first half of the Champions Classic due to an eye injury. Next game: Tuesday night vs. St. Francis (PA).

3. DeAndre Ayton, Arizona

  • Key stats: 20.4 ppg, 11.4 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 67.9 2-pt FG%
  • Comment: Ayton is absolutely in the conversation at this point for No. 1 pick come June. He's predictably stepped in at Arizona and already become one of the 10 best players in college basketball. I've dubbed him a "power center" because his combination of post play, strength, shooting ability and length make him an unusual-looking player on a collegiate court. Ayton's play on Saturday at UNLV singlehandedly lifted Arizona to a win that should not have happened. Next game: Tuesday night vs. Texas A&M (in Phoenix).

4. Collin Sexton, Alabama

  • Key stats: 22.1 ppg, 4.0 apg, 4.0 rpg, 46.2 3-pt FG%
  • Comment: A cocksure blur of a point guard who was ruled eligible shortly after Alabama's season started (his eligibility was in question in light of the FBI's investigation). Sexton is a program-changing player who's become most known so far this season for propelling Alabama to outscore Minnesota in the final 11 minutes of their game in Brooklyn. Yes, that's the 3-on-5 game you'll recall. Sexton was one of three. He finished with 40 points. Next game: Wednesday night vs. Rhode Island.

5. Brandon McCoy, UNLV

  • Key stats: 20.4 ppg, 11.9 rpg, 1.5 bpg, 63.0 2-pt FG%
  • Comment: All things considered, McCoy is the most overlooked freshman -- except here at CBS Sports -- through the first month of the season. He was plenty good against Ayton on Saturday (33 points, 10 rebounds, six turnovers) but more than that, he's been an anchor for Rebels team that started 6-0 and is now 6-2 because it's lost two straight OT games to solid teams (Northern Iowa, Arizona). I listed McCoy as a top-15 freshmen back in October. I was at least seven or eight spots too low, it seems. Next game: Tuesday night vs. Oral Roberts.

6. RJ Cole, Howard

  • Key stats: 19.0 ppg, 6.5 apg, 2.4 rpg, 1.8 spg
  • Comment: Howard is absolutely awful (1-8 and the one win is against Central Pennsylvania, which isn't a D-I program), but for at least a week I have to give this player some love. He's doing so much for the Bison. When you're accounting for more than 30 points of offense per game as a freshman, you're in small company. As a reminder: the Frosh Watch is not like Player of the Year. Team success does not dictate if you make this list. Next game: Saturday night vs. Monmouth (at Madison Square Garden).

7. Kevin Knox, Kentucky

  • Key stats: 16.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.6 apg 57.2 2-pt FG%
  • Comment: Knox is quite clearly Kentucky's best player. It would not shock me if he winds up playing his way to the top three of the Watch by the time we get to March. Knox hasn't had a defining moment yet, but give it time. He's got a great instinct with and without the ball. The question is: Will John Calipari eventually unleash him to Malik Monk-like levels? Next game: Saturday night vs. Monmouth (at Madison Square Garden).

8. Tremont Waters, LSU

  • Key stats: 18.0 ppg, 6.0 apg, 2.7 rpg, 2.5 spg
  • Comment: Unless he was flatly BS'ing me, Will Wade has to be surprisingly shocked at what Waters has been able to do. I asked Wade in the preseason if he expected Waters to be the team's most important player. He confidently said no, especially not early. Well, this kid's a baller. And his defense has to be so refreshing to LSU fans who suffered in recent seasons. Waters is shooting 50 percent from the field and 43 percent from 3-point range. Good distributor, too. Next game: Sunday afternoon vs. UNC Wilmington.

9. Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky

  • Key stats:13.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.0 spg
  • Comment: Diallo's numbers are just OK, but his defensive importance to 7-1 Kentucky shows up more on the tape and in scouting reports than raw stats at this point. Diallo's makes the debut list here but might be hindered from staying on it for much of the season for the same reason that Duke's Trevon Duval is absent: unreliable mid- and deep-range shooting. Diallo is a scorer not a shooter. It will be interesting to track his next 4-6 games, because I get the sense he's about to firm up the kind of role and player he'll be under Calipari. Next game: Saturday night vs. Monmouth (at Madison Square Garden).

10. Kellan Grady, Davidson

  • Key stats: 6.2 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.5 apg, 42.1 3-pt FG%
  • Comment: Davidson's just 3-3 this season, but Grady's popped early as the next prolific scorer in Bob McKillop's system. He's not exactly taken the shine off of potential A-10 Player of the Year Peyton Aldridge, but in fact Grady's become one part of a three-part scoring unit that's putting up 54.5 points per game. Grady has the likes of Texas' Mohamed Bamba and Michigan State's Jaren Jackson on his heels, but his first-month play warrants the No. 10 spot on the Frosh Watch debut unveiling. Next game: Tuesday night vs. VMI.
CBS Sports Writer

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

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