Tisdale Freshman Watch: Kentucky's Tyler Ulis is Frosh of the Week

D'Angelo Russell (shooting) will really prove his worth in Big Ten play, starting Tuesday vs. Iowa. (USATSI)

We have once again teamed up with the INTEGRIS Wayman Tisdale Freshman of the Year Award, meaning our weekly feature on the best freshman in the country will work hand in hand with the Tisdale committee and the United States Basketball Writers Association. The winner of the Wayman Tisdale Award will be announced in March and presented at the Devon Energy College Basketball Awards gala at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City on April 14, 2015.

Freshman of the Week for Dec. 23-29: Kentucky's Tyler Ulis.

In limited minutes (19.9 per game), Ulis has managed to creep into the top 10 of the yearly watch list as well. He and teammate Karl-Anthony Towns are the only freshmen for Kentucky to do that this year. Ulis gets the weekly award because he was the most pivotal player in Kentucky's most pivotal game of the season to date.

Hitting a couple of huge 3s at Louisville on Saturday extended the Wildcats' lead and deflated Louisville's gusto. Ulis finished with 14 points, two assists and one rebound. It's likely to be the weakest stat line any freshman will have this season that wins this honor. (He endured a cut on his face, and I can't deny that played about 1/19th into why he's getting the nod here as well.)

On the season Ulis is averaging 5.8 points, 3.7 assists and 2.2 rebounds. Many believe his minutes should rise, as well as a promotion to UK starting point guard -- over Andrew Harrison. That's not likely to happen. But with his defense and shooting ability and overall shrewd play, Ulis encapsulated on Saturday why he can be Kentucky's MVP, X factor and glue guy all in one. Very fun to watch.

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And we recalibrate the top 10 newbies in college hoops in the final week of 2014 -- and right at the start of conference play. Our continuing and updating look at which freshmen are putting up the best performances, consistently, throughout the season.

(Quick key for two critical stats listed below: PER = player efficiency rating. ORtg = offensive rating. Explanations for both are in those links. Anything above 30 in PER is exceedingly good; topping 35 is elite. And anything above 120 in ORtg is undeniably great, while cracking 130 is absolutely remarkable.)

Here they are, the top five (and following five) freshmen in college basketball.

RANKPLAYERWAYMAN TISDALE AWARD WATCH
1 JAHLIL OKAFOR | Duke Blue Devils

Stats:
18.3 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 1.5 bpg, 35.31 PER, 120.6 ORtg

With Duke still undefeated, and with Okafor having a December in which he's made 72 percent of his shots, the gap seems to be widening here. And this is no surprise. I expected Okafor to be the best player in the country, let alone the best frosh. He's been both to this juncture, which is 11 games deep for the Blue Devils. His numbers are prime to increase again, as the next week brings two home games: Wofford and Boston College. His 17.2 offensive rebounding percentage is 15th in the nation. His strongest tempo-free stat category: effective field goal percentage (66.9), which is 13th best.
2 D'ANGELO RUSSELL | Ohio State Buckeyes

Stats: 17.7 ppg, 5.3 apg, 4.7 rpg, 28.72 PER, 117.9 ORtg

Russell's points and rebounds average, PER and offensive rating have jumped since last week. No way he can fall. Ohio State has a lot to prove. It doesn't have a win against a KenPom team ranked 98th or better. Russell has performed well but done it against an easy schedule. If he can stay top three is still very much a question. I don't see him dropping out of the top five, but here comes the real basketball, young fella.
3 JAMES BLACKMON, JR. | Indiana Hoosiers

Stats:
17.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 44.3 3-pt%, 25.98 PER, 125.6 ORtg

Indiana looked wild (and fun!) in a 91-87 overtime-losing road effort against Georgetown over the weekend. Troy Williams was the star for IU in the game, yet Blackmon did what he does. He casually put up 22 points and seven rebounds. Though the Hoosiers are 10-3, there's some wary fans wondering how the team will play in the mercurial Big Ten. Not much mystery to Blackmon's game to this point. He's been reliable and a perfect fit for Tom Crean's system.
4 STANLEY JOHNSON | Arizona Wildcats  ( from fifth)

Stats:
14.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.8 spg, 24.69 PER, 104.6 ORtg

Arizona lost its first game of the season, at UNLV last week, but it wasn't because of Johnson. The freshman forward/guard combo had 13 and 13 (to go with three steals and three assists) in the 71-67 losing effort. Arizona more and more looks like the runaway team in the Pac-12. Johnson is battling with No. 5 on this list for the league's best freshman title. Potential for a big game is coming Sunday, as I don't think Arizona State has anyone to match up with Johnson.
5 KEVON LOONEY | UCLA Bruins (↓ from third)

Stats:
12.8 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 1.6 bpg, 23.83 PER, 110.3 ORtg

Team performance eventually has to lampoon Looney, who's still the only freshman averaging a double-double but is unable to lift UCLA to a solid reputation/record on the whole. The Bruins, now 8-5, have lost three straight. Not Looney's fault, mostly, but he's not looked like one of the five best freshmen in American over the past two weeks. His play prior to that keeps him in the top five for now, but the players below are absolutely charging.

Next five up: Melo Trimble, Maryland; Myles Turner, Texas; Tyler Ulis, Kentucky ( from unranked); Rashad Vaughn, UNLV; Tyus Jones, Duke.

Freshmen statistical leaders in major categories:

Points: Jontrell Walker, Incarnate Word (18.8)
Rebounds: Kevon Looney, UCLA (10.4)
Assists: Kahron Ross, Lehigh (5.8)
Blocks: Jordan Bell, Oregon (3.31)
Steals: Nate Mason, Minnesota (2.46)
PER: Myles Turner, Texas (36.77)
ORtg (In highest usage block; min. 28 percent of possessions used): Okafor (120.6)

Previous freshman of the week winners:

Week 1: Stanley Johnson, Arizona
Week 2: Tyus Jones, Duke
Week 3: Jahlil Okafor, Duke
Week 4: Elijah Stewart, USC

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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