Sunday, January 23, 2022

College basketball freshman rankings: Ohio State’s Malaki Branham earns Freshman of the Week honors

Ohio State desperately needed some offensive help Sunday as the No. 13 Buckeyes played at Nebraska in their first game since Dec. 11., and Malaki Branham provided plenty of it. The Buckeyes’ freshman guard poured in a career-high 35 points on 13 of 19 shooting, including a 6 of 10 mark from 3-point range, to propel OSU to an 87-79 overtime win against the Cornhuskers.

The breakout performance from the former No. 38 prospect in the 2021 247Sports Composite rankings was enough to earn him this week’s CBS Sports/USBWA Freshman of the Week honors. With Nebraska negating Ohio State’s post stars E.J. Liddell and Zed Key and the Buckeyes working through conditioning issues following a long layoff, Branham’s perimeter prowess came through at the right time.

“That’s a phenomenal effort by Malaki,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. “We knew there were going to be some opportunities for other guys because of how they were going to collapse on Zed and E.J. It created some opportunities for Malaki. He took full advantage of it.”

Branham entered the game averaging 6.3 points, having hit 5 of 15 attempts from 3-point range for the season. Making his outburst even more unexpected was the fact that he was held scoreless for the first time this season in Ohio State’s previous game, a win against Wisconsin on Dec. 11. But the 6-foot-5 guard knocked down more 3-pointers against Nebraska than he had in the first 10 games of his college career and gave future opponents another dimension to consider when plotting how to defend the Buckeyes.

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’ll start by announcing the national Freshman of the Week honoree. The cycle for FOTW runs Tuesday-Monday.

Previous FOTW winners

Frosh Watch

These are the top 10 freshman performers in college basketball this season.

1. Paolo Banchero | Duke

Stats: 17.1 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 2.2 APG

Banchero reclaimed the top spot in last week’s ranking after a stellar 23-point performance in Duke’s 76-65 win over Virginia Tech to begin ACC play on Dec. 22. The 6-10 forward is on his way to being one of the top selections in the 2022 NBA Draft, and he is proving to be an excellent college player in the mean time. The Blue Devils can deploy him at power forward or center depending on their opponent, and Banchero is versatile enough to be a matchup problem for everyone in the ACC in either slot.

2. Jabari Smith | Auburn

Stats: 16.2 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1.7 SPG, 42.9% 3PT

Smith is a 6-10 forward with positional versatility who is proving to be a quality volume shooter while leading the way for a No. 9 Auburn team that began SEC play with an impressive 70-55 win over LSU last week. He ceded the No. 1 spot in the season-long rankings to Banchero last week, but Smith is absolutely meeting the hype of his No. 7 overall prospect ranking. Thanks largely to his standout play, the Tigers are looking like one of the nation’s top bounce-back teams.

3. Chet Holmgren | Gonzaga 

Stats: 13.0 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 3.3 BPG, 2.3 APG, 35.1% 3PT

Holmgren ranks first nationally among freshmen in blocks per game, is leading Gonzaga in rebounding and his 3-point shot is coming along. The 7-footer’s best basketball is still ahead of him this season, and as he continues to improve, Gonzaga will start to look more and more like a national title contender. The sky is the limit for Holmgren, and he should wreak havoc on the Bulldogs’ WCC opponents.

4. Kendall Brown | Baylor

Stats: 12.3 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.2 SPG, 69.1% FG

Brown had one of his quietest outings of the season in Baylor’s big win over Iowa State on Saturday as he finished with just four points. But his ability to seamlessly fit in with the nation’s No. 1 team is reminiscent of how Jalen Suggs slotted in with Gonzaga last season. They play different positions but are both human highlight reels unbothered by the unselfishness required to thrive on a Final Four-caliber team that features other stars.

5. TyTy Washington | Kentucky

Stats: 14.0 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 3.9 APG, 41.3% 3PT

Washington continued his impressive run of offensive consistency by going 12 of 22 from the field in UK’s wins over Missouri and High Point last week. That included a combined 5 of 9 mark from beyond the arc in the blowout wins. For good measure, he contributed six rebounds against Missouri and nine assists against High Point. Kentucky is playing excellent basketball, and Washington is a major reason why.

6. Aminu Mohammed | Georgetown

Stats: 14.6 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.5 SPG, 39.1% 3PT%

Mohammed is incredibly physical for a freshman wing, and that shows up in his rebounding numbers. The former five-star prospect’s shooting mechanics are a work in progress, but he’s been effective from deep on 2.1 attempts per game. He’s at his best off the dribble and can use either hand to attack and finish with an arsenal of crafty moves. 

7. Kennedy Chandler | Tennessee 

Stats: 14.0 PPG, 5.3 APG, 2.0 SPG, 37.2% FG

Chandler missed Tennessee’s narrow loss at Alabama last week due to health and safety protocol. That hiccup aside, he’s been great this season for the No. 18 Volunteers. The former five-star prospect is adept at reaching the paint and forcing defenses to collapse, and when defenders sag off Chandler, he can knock down 3-pointers.

8. Ryan Nembhard | Creighton

Stats: 12.5 PPG, 4.6 APG, 3.5 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 37.8% 3PT

Nembhard has been thrust into a key role for a program that lost a ton of talent after a Sweet 16 appearance. So far, he’s handled it quite well. The former four-star prospect is facilitating the offense for a Creighton team in position to make a run at another NCAA Tournament appearance.

9. Terquavion Smith | NC State

Stats: 14.4 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.1 SPG, 36.7% 3PT

It’s been a frustrating season for the Wolfpack, but Smith has been a bright spot. The 6-3 guard is averaging 19.1 points on 41.1% 3-point shooting over NC State’s last seven games. Smith had 23 points and hit 7 of 13 attempts from deep in an 83-81 loss to Florida State on Saturday.

10. Jalen Duren | Memphis

Stats: 11.1 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 2.6 BPG, 67.6% FG

Duren missed Memphis’ loss at Tulane last week but returned for a huge win at Wichita State in which he recorded 14 points on 7 of 10 shooting to go with six rebounds and a block. The 6-11 center’s overall offensive game is a work in progress. But he’s proving to be a great rim protector and rebounder who is a reliable finisher when he gets the ball next to the rim.

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