Rising mid-major star nabs Freshman of the Week, as Kentucky duo rises in Frosh Watch
Trae Young strengthens atop the rankings, while a pair of Kentucky players move up in the standings
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 regular season, we'll be posting 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 weekly feature will work 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 runs from every Tuesday through Monday.
Longtime readers know that the Freshman of the Week award does not favor major-conference players vs. mid-major guys, nor should it. The reason why first-year guys at smaller schools normally don't top these weekly cycles is not for lack of exposure but instead lack of opportunity. Mid-major coaches usually grow their teams the traditional way, meaning that juniors and seniors normally scoop up most of the playing time. So it's rare you have a freshman come in and make a big impact.
That's not the case this week.
Freshman of the Week
David Jenkins Jr., South Dakota State
In two games last week against North Dakota and at Colorado, Jenkins averaged 23 points, four rebounds, 1.5 steals and was 8 of 17 from 3-point range. In South Dakota State's double-overtime loss at Colorado, Jenkins put up a career-high 31 points in 45 minutes. He's averaging 15 points and 3.2 rebounds while shooting 43.2 percent from 3 this season.
South Dakota State, the preseason favorite in the Summit League, is a 9-5 squad that could be 11-3 had it been able to hold off Colorado and Wichita State. The loss to the Shockers came on Dec. 5. The Jackrabbit led most of the game. Jenkins had three points in four fouls in that one, though.
He's a quick study, however, Jackrabbits coach T.J. Otzelberger told CBS Sports by phone on Tuesday.
"David's done a tremendous job coming in and embracing the culture and the veteran players in our program," he said. "Our veteran players have a lot of confidence him based on how he stepped up for us early. He continues to be a guy who proves himself offensively."
He was put into the starting lineup for the Colorado game and he flourished. More minutes haven't dipped his production or efficiency.
"Colorado was unique because [Mike] Daum had 17 of our first 19 point, and then I think as Daum gained the focus of their defense, David really stepped up for us," Otzelberger said.
That's what's most dangerous about South Dakota State. Daum could be a top-30 player in college hoops. He's averaging 21 points and eight rebounds (after averaging 25.1 points last season) but is getting unexpectedly big help from Jenkins. And for Otzelberger, this is proof of recruiting dedication paying off in a big way, right away. When Otzelberger was an assistant at Washington three years ago, he became aware of Jenkins because Jenkins was a local prospect out of Tacoma.
After Otzelberger got the SDSU job, Jenkins took a prep year in Kansas, at Sunrise Christian Academy. Otzelberger would take 8.5-hour drives to see Jenkins. He knew his team would need a real scoring threat from deep for the long-term. Jenkins was the guy. Now the 19-year-old, 6-2 combo guard could be the piece that gets the Jackrabbits to the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row.
(For those wondering why Oklahoma's Trae Young, Syracuse's Oshea Brissett or UNLV's Brandon McCoy didn't earn the honor, remember: When possible, I try to hand out Freshman of the Week to someone who played at least two games in a week's time. All those players only had one game since last week's update.)
Here are the top 10 freshman performers in college basketball from the start of the season until now.
| 1. Trae Young, Oklahoma|
Key stats: 28.8 ppg, 8.9 apg, 3.6 rpg, 2.1 spg
Last week: No. 1
In the couple weeks since he topped these rankings the first time, everyone has caught on. Young's pace is seemingly not sustainable, yet he's sustained it just fine through nine games. If he wants it, he could go for 40 on Tuesday, because he faces a team with a terrible defense that owns only one win vs. D-I competition. I'll set the over/under at 34.5 and take the over.
Next game: Tuesday vs. Northwestern State.
2. Deandre Ayton, Arizona
It was HYSTERICAL to watch Ayton matched up against North Dakota State's overmatched and undersized frontcourt. He finished with a casual 25-and-9. What was impressive about Ayton was how he showed his improvement in facing up and hitting mid-range shots, how he continued to use the low post and his ability there to work the backboard to his advantage, and how, with him, it's not just about overpowering players. If anything, Ayton might not be getting enough credit at this point.
Next game: Thursday vs. Connecticut.
Bagley hasn't played since last week's update. He stays firm at No. 3. With an 11-day break between games (Duke's most recent outing was that Dec. 9 road loss to Boston College), it could be interesting to see what Mike Krzyzewski schemes up for Bagley and company on Wednesday. Duke will only play one game in a 19-day span, so if you're itching to see more of this guy, take advantage this week.
Next game: Wednesday vs. Evansville.
4. Collin Sexton, Alabama
Like Bagley, Sexton has not played since last week's update. Similarly, he stays put in the rankings. Here's a stat that's telling to Sexton's game: He draws 9.4 fouls per 40 minutes. That's the second most in the country to South Carolina's Chris Silva -- who is 6-feet-9.
Next game: Tuesday vs. Mercer.
If you're thinking McCoy isn't a top-five freshman this season, you haven't been keeping tabs on an UNLV team that's probably going to be 11-2 heading into conference play. (Its two losses came in overtime, by the way.) McCoy is coming off a 21-and-13 performance against Pacific. He picked the right program and the right coach. Marvin Menzies knows what he's doing with this guy.
Next game: Wednesday vs. Mississippi Valley State.
He averaged 18 points, six assists, three rebounds and 3.5 steals last week in LSU's split vs. Houston and Stephen F. Austin. Keep in mind that Waters is a 5-11 point guard who's shooting nearly 50 percent from the field and has played like a top-five player in the SEC to this point. He's not receiving nearly the pub Ben Simmons did, nor should he, but if he opts to return for a sophomore season, LSU's going to have a great shot to make the NCAAs in year No. 2 under Will Wade. Waters' game has matured in Wade's system.
Next game: Tuesday vs. Sam Houston State.
Knox bounced back beautifully following his bad game vs. Monmouth on Dec. 9. In Kentucky's 93-86 home win over Virginia Tech on Saturday, Knox had 21 points, five rebounds and four assists. Whereas Hamidou Diallo was big late (see below), Knox was productive early. Something to keep an eye on: Knox has played 87 percent of Kentucky's minutes so far this season. No other Wildcat is above 72 percent. That tells you how much Calipari relies on this distinguished wing.
Next game: Saturday vs. UCLA (in New Orleans, CBS Sports Classic).
Wigginton continues to thrive off the radar nationally (except here, of course), but let's discuss his team this week. Iowa State's now 8-2 and has won eight straight after dropping its first two games (Missouri, at Milwaukee). ISU has wins over Iowa, Boise State and Northern Iowa. After Wednesday's game, the Cyclones' next will come on Dec. 30 in their Big 12 opener against Kansas State. I'm not sold on this team as an NCAA Tournament team yet, but I am ready to say I was wrong about how average I thought Steve Prohm's club would be.
Next game: Wednesday vs. Maryland Eastern Shore.
9. Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky
Diallo was the SEC Freshman of the Week after Kentucky's win vs. Va. Tech on Saturday. Scoring 20 (including four 3-pointers) and grabbing five rebounds and three steals, Diallo teamed up beautifully with Knox. He was clutch, too. Diallo would like to be a perimeter threat, but he's not that yet. Still, he hit some big 3s in the second half to keep the Hokies at arm's length. visitors at bay. In the past four gams, Diallo is averaging 20.3 points and shooting 54 percent. It could become a battle between him and Knox as to which Kentucky guy is higher in the Frosh Watch, much like Malik Monk and DeAaron Fox tussled last season.
Next game: Saturday vs. UCLA (in New Orleans, CBS Sports Classic).
10. R.J. Cole, Howard
Cole continues to ball out without any conscience. Had he averaged 28.5 points and 6.5 assists against two D-I opponents, he would have been in strong contention for FOTW. But, alas, Washington Adventist (an NAIA team) was one of the two opponents. Cole is the entire team's offense, basically. The Bison rank 333rd at KenPom in offensive efficiency. Cole's shooting percentages are in the high 30s, so he's getting docked for lack of efficiency.
Next game: Thursday at UTEP.
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