Freshman rankings: The top 10 freshmen in college basketball more than halfway through the season
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
JERMAINE COUISNARD, SOUTH CAROLINA: Help your team go 2-0, sure. But beat Kentucky and channel the legend, Devan Downey, in the process? That’s how you lock in for Freshman of the Week honors. Couisnard hit the biggest shot of South Carolina’s season last week when he got the big smooch off the glass to lift the Gamecocks over the Wildcats and give them a second straight home win against UK.
South Carolina followed that up with an 81-67 scorcher over Texas A&M that featured the Gamecocks shooting outrageously well from 3-point range: 16-of-30. That was aberrational, to say the least; South Carolina was shooting 28% from 3-point range heading into that game. The 16 made 3-pointers were also a school record.
For the week, Couisnard averaged 21.5 points, 3.0 assists and 2.5 rebounds. What we love about this is how Couisnard stepped up immediately; the Kentucky game was the first start of his career. Talk about earning your keep. He scored 26 in that game, then 17 against A&M (which also included — eek! — eight turnovers). Between both games, Couisnard was 7 for 12 from 3-point range. The Kentucky win came when UK ranked in the top 10, giving South Carolina its second win against a top-10 team this season (Virginia being the other).
These are the top 10 freshman performers through 12 weeks of play.
1. VERNON CAREY JR., Duke
Key stats: 17.3 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 61.2 eFG% | Last week: No. 1
Duke is 18 games into its schedule and it’s high time we discussed something a bit odd. Vernon Carey Jr. has been rating, comfortably, as the most impressive freshman in college basketball for more than a month. His per-40 averages are stellar, and he’s clearly the team’s best player. But for reasons we don’t yet fully understand, Carey is not being used extensively. He’s averaging only 24.0 minutes, which amounts to 60% of Duke’s available playing time this season. And it’s not as if Carey is a fouling disaster. He has just one foul-out this season and only three others with four. Duke finds itself behind the Louisville and Florida State in the ACC race. Seems it’s time to up Carey to 30-plus minutes every night out.
Key stats: 18.3 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 2.2 bpg | Last week: No. 4
Washington’s lost three of its last four since losing starting point guard Quade Green, but Isaiah Stewart’s been steady for this team through it all. With relentless energy and an always-hot motor, he’s humming along up to his highest ranking yet — at No. 2 — thanks in part to a monstrous 25-point, 19-rebound game against Oregon over the weekend.
3. ZEKE NNAJI, Arizona
Key stats: 16.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg | Last week: No. 2
He’s been tracking ahead of teammate Nico Mannion for awhile now as the most combustible ‘Cat on the team, but it’s official now if it hasn’t been evident for awhile: Zeke Nnaji is Arizona’s best player. He averaged 18 points and 10 boards in two Zona wins this week and is one of only four freshmen this season to average at least 16.7 points and 8.7 rebounds per game.
Key stats: 19.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.2 apg | Last week: No. 3
Georgia’s lost three of its last four — and may be on its way to more — but Edwards has been nothing if not consistent. He’s averaging 19.1 points and 4.7 rebounds on the season and averaged 22.5 points and 4.0 rebounds in a week in which his Dawgs went 1-1. Since SEC play began, he leads the conference in usage rate and ranks second in the league in taking 36.9% of his team’s shots in SEC action.
5. ONYEKA OKONGWU, USC
Key stats: 16.9 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 118.9 ORtg | Last week: No. 5
Have you been paying attention? USC has lost one game since the end of December and is now 15-3 with a 4-1 Pac-12 mark, putting it atop the conference standings. Without Onyeka Okongwu, USC would likely be 12-6 at best. Last week, the big man shot 60% across two games/wins over Cal and Stanford. Per KenPom’s MVP calculator, Okongwu has been the most important player, statistically, in nine of the 17 games he’s played this season.
Key stats: 14.2 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 2.0 bpg | Last week: No. 7
The combination of Trayce Jackson-Davis’ efficiency and production continues to be a lethal duo for Indiana. Teams are starting to recognize that — and are game-planning to take him out.
“He’s not an average freshman,” IU coach Archie Miller said this week. “He’s so impactful for our team. He leads us in scoring, rebounding, free throw attempts, free throw makes, blocked shots. He’s one of the best players in this league as a freshman.”
Key stats: 14.6 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 55.7 eFG% | Last week: No. 6
Illinois coach Brad Underwood told CBS Sports on Tuesday that Kofi Cockburn’s physicality, adaptability to the D-I game and his penchant for being so good on the glass has been helpful in completely changing Illinois’ identity. Underwood’s teams used to be pressure-oriented, not concerned with getting to the foul line and dependent upon defense at all costs. But things have changed this season in a major way. Wednesday’s Court Report will have a lot more on this, so keep an eye out.
Key stats: 15.4 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 2.0 bpg | Last week: No. 8
The Memphis big man is coming into his own defensively. In the Tigers’ past four games, Precious Achiuwa is averaging 3.5 blocks in addition to 8.3 defensive rebounds. He rates as the best defensive rebounder in the American Athletic Conference and is No. 3 in 2-point percentage, having made 70% of his 2-point field goals in league play.
9. NICO MANNION, Arizona
Key stats: 14.0 ppg, 6.1 apg, 2.3 rpg | Last week: No. 9
Arizona snapped it two-game skid with consecutive wins over Utah and Colorado, and Nico Mannion played a big role in that. He went 3-of-7 from 3-point range in Arizona’s 93-77 Utah win, then bounced back Saturday with a statistically gaudy 12 points, seven boards, five assists and no turnovers in the Wildcats’ win vs. No. 20 Colorado. He leads all major conference freshmen in assist/turnover ratio and continues to be the Wildcats’ most impactful playmaker.
10. LANDERS NOLLEY, Virginia Tech
Key stats: 17.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.7 apg | Last week: No. 10
Virginia Tech redshirt freshman Landers Nolley clings to No. 10 — edging out Texas Tech’s Jahmi’us Ramsey — as he ranks third among frosh in scoring. He’s also won six ACC freshman-of-the-week award this season. What’s more, per Virginia Tech, Nolley is one of only 15 players (out of more than 4,600 in D-I) who is averaging at least 17.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists dimes. The only other players doing it in major conferences are all upperclassmen (Timmy Allen, Utah; Tres Tinkle, Oregon State; Mason Jones, Arkansas).
Previous FOTW winners: