Welcome 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 open with the national Freshman of the Week honoree.
CBS Sports / USBWA Freshman of the Week
RYLAN JONES, UTAH: The freshman point guard has been an under-the-radar sensation since the start of the season, and last week he had his best back-to-back game stretch yet, helping Utah go 2-0 over Washington and Washington State. The 6-footer out of Salt Lake City averaged 18.5 points, six assists, five rebounds and 2.5 steals in a pair of home wins.
Utah edged Washington and then beat Wazzu by 12. Jones was a second-half stud, scoring 26 of his 37 total points in those games in the final 10 minutes of the second half of each contest. His foul shots with 14 seconds to go were the difference in getting Utah over the hump against Washington. In that game, he had 13 points, nine assists and seven rebounds and was the best player on the floor.
Utah is just 11-7 this season, but it’s the second-youngest group in college hoops (Memphis being the youngest). Jones has been the best of the newbies, averaging 11.1 points, 4.9 assists, 3.4 rebounds and shooting 40.7 percent from 3. He’s been consistently within our top-20 list of the best freshmen in America, but just hasn’t been able to crack the Frosh Watch just yet. But a couple more games like he had last week, and he’ll be in the top 10.
These are the top 10 freshman performers through 13 weeks of play.
1. VERNON CAREY JR., Duke
Key stats: 16.9 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.7 bpg | Last week: No. 1
Carey was on the verge of stamping himself as a POY frontrunner and Frosh Watch superstar just weeks ago, but now he’s hanging on to the No. 1 spot by a relatively thin margin. His efficiency has dipped in recent weeks as has his consistency, with low-impact scoring nights sprinkled in with his 20+ point blow-ups becoming more regular. Nonetheless, Carey’s track record this season as a two-way big for a top-10 Duke team keeps him holding steady at the top spot.
2. ZEKE NNAJI, Arizona
Key stats: 16.9 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 66.2 eFG% | Last week: No. 3
There is no danger of Nnanji falling outside the top three at this stage. He’s scored double figures and had at least eight rebounds in eight consecutive games, and has definitively turned into Arizona’s most important player. Heading into the season, Nnaji was viewed as a good piece but third-at-best in terms expected value. No more. Nnaji ranks top five in the Pac-12 in offensive rating, effective field goal percentage, true shooting percentage, offensive rebound percentage, defensive rebound percentage, foul rate and free throw rate.
Key stats: 18.2 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 2.5 bpg | Last week: No. 2
Stewart is tracking to be the second stellar UW freshman in four seasons to have a one-and-done college career, be a lottery pick … and miss out on the NCAA Tournament. Stewart isn’t exactly toiling in obscurity, but it is a shame to see his Washington team tailspin. The Huskies are 2-6 in the Pac-12, 12-9 overall and have won just two of their past nine games. Amid this, Stewart has still been solid, averaging 16.6 points and 8.8 rebounds in league play. UW has the Arizona schools coming to town this week, and both are must-win.
4. ONYEKA OKONGWU, USC
Key stats: 17.3 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 3.1 bpg | Last week: No. 5
Here’s the entire list of major conference players averaging, at minimum, 17.0 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game this season: Onyeka Okongwu.
That’s the entire list.
Okongwu’s been a force for the Trojans all season and has managed to take his game to an even higher level in recent weeks, with 23 points, six blocks and 14 boards against Oregon this past week highlighting his complete skill set. Don’t look now, but USC is 5-2 in Pac-12 play and winners of 10 of its last 12.
Key stats: 18.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.1 apg | Last week: No. 4
Georgia has entirely drifted off the radar, having lost three straight and five of six. At 11-8 with a 1-5 SEC record, Edwards is now in Markelle Fultz/Ben Simmons territory, having a strong freshman season but likely not including an NCAA Tournament trip. Edwards is hell bent on trying to prove he’s got a long-range shot: Tom Crean is permitting his star freshman to shoot seven 3-pointers per game; Edwards is shooting 31 percent.
Key stats: 14.5 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 1.5 bpg | Last week: No. 7
Only one Big Ten freshman has ever won more Big Ten Freshman of the Week awards: Jared Sullinger. Cockburn moved into a five-way tie for second all time in that category, winning his seventh on the season this week to tie him with D’Angelo Russell, Noah Vonleh, Trey Burke and Cody Zeller.
Best of all for the Illini: his sustained excellence has coincided with his team’s rise. Cockburn’s team has won six straight and are tied atop the Big Ten standings with Michigan State.
Key stats: 14.1 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 127.1 ORtg | Last week: No. 6
Indiana fell on the final possession Sunday at home vs. Maryland, the result of a nice post-up by Jackson-Davis that clunked off the back of the rim.
Despite the result, it was good to see Archie Miller call the play for Jackson-Davis while going up against a Maryland team with a formidable big in Jalen Smith. Jackson-Davis is this team’s most important player. Had he been on the floor more than 19 minutes, maybe IU wins on Sunday.
Key stats: 15.1 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 1.8 bpg | Last week: No. 8
Here’s an ugly turn of events for the Tigers: due to back-to-back losses, Memphis is now 61st at KenPom. Not inspiring. Achiuwa was just OK in Memphis’ past two games, averaging 12.5 points and 7.5 rebounds. Achiuwa has a 27.2 defensive rebound percentage, which is the highest rate in the American Athletic Conference.
9. NICO MANNION, Arizona
Key stats: 14.1 ppg, 5.8 apg, 2.5 apg | Last week: No. 9
Arizona’s lost three of its last five and is suddenly battling uphill in the Pac-12. Mannion, meanwhile, is fighting through an offensive funk in which his turnovers have been up and his efficiency has been down along with his offense creation, too. He’s fallen below season averages in four of Zona’s last five in at least one of those categories. If the Wildcats are going to get off the mat, they’ll need Mannion to step up and be Nnaji’s co-pilot from here out.
10. LANDERS NOLLEY, Virginia Tech
Key stats: 17.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.7 apg | Last week: No. 10
Nolley leads all power conference freshmen in usage rate, a testament to how the hybrid guard/forward/center has been able to positively impact a 14-6 Virginia Tech team that many considered one of the worst in the ACC coming into the season. His 3-point shooting has trailed off the last few games, going 8 of 33 in his last four, but he remains the only freshman from a major conference to average at least 17.5 points and shoot at least 36.5 percent from 3. The Hokies get a chance to rebound Tuesday after two close losses the last 10 days with a winnable roadie against Miami.
Previous FOTW winners: