Thursday, January 20, 2022

Freshman rankings: Duke’s Paolo Banchero back to No. 1; Notre Dame’s Blake Wesley is Freshman of the Week

Notre Dame started the season 3-4 and hit something close to rock bottom with a loss to lowly Boston College to open ACC play on Dec. 3. After the 73-57 loss to the Eagles, it seemed that perhaps the Fighting Irish were headed for a second straight losing season, despite having a veteran-laden roster. It turned out that the solution for Notre Dame was to give its star freshman more responsibility. 

Since Blake Wesley has become a focal point of the Notre Dame offense, the Fighting Irish’s fortunes have improved dramatically. The 6-foot-5 former four-star prospect scored 18 points in a win over North Carolina on Wednesday, followed by a 22-point outing in an overtime win at Georgia Tech on Saturday. For his efforts, Wesley is this week’s CBS Sports/USBWA Freshman of the Week. 

Behind Wesley’s strong play, the Fighting Irish have rallied to 9-5 (3-1 ACC) entering Wednesday’s game against Clemson. During Notre Dame’s 3-4 start, he was averaging just 21 minutes per game. Since then, he’s been logging 32.4 minutes per contest and adding life to the Fighting Irish. In addition to his scoring prowess as a driver and outside shooter, Wesley owns great instincts. They were on display in overtime on Saturday as he drove, drew the attention of the Georgia Tech defense and then kicked to teammate Prentiss Hubb for a wide open 3-pointer in the corner. Hubb hit the shot to put Notre Dame ahead, and the Fighting Irish never relinquished the lead.

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: 17.3 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 34.1% 3PT

Banchero solidified his place atop the ranking with two solid performances in Duke’s win over Georgia Tech and in a loss to Miami. Banchero posted his second double-double of the season with 17 points and 11 rebounds against Georgia Tech on Tuesday before finishing with 20 points and seven rebounds in the 76-74  loss against the Hurricanes. Banchero’s steal and dunk put Duke ahead 74-71 with 45 seconds left, but surprisingly he did not get another shot attempt after the Blue Devils squandered the lead.

2. Jabari Smith | Auburn

Stats: 15.5 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 45.3% 3PT

Smith had a quiet week, but the 6-10 forward continues to play a pivotal role for Tigers, who are looking more and more like the SEC favorites and a potential national title contender. Even a “quiet” week still consisted of two double figure outings against league competition for Smith, as he scored 10 in a win against South Carolina and 13 in a victory over Florida.

3. Chet Holmgren | Gonzaga 

Stats: 13.4 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 3.2 BPG, 35.9% 3PT

Holmgren was great Saturday as Gonzaga played its first game since Dec. 28, crushing Pepperdine 117-83. The 7-footer finished with 18 points, eight rebounds, two blocks and two steals in just 21 minutes. He will be an absolute force on both ends as the Zags navigate WCC play, and he’s going nowhere as it pertains the conversation around who will be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.

4. TyTy Washington | Kentucky

Stats: 13.6 PPG, 4.8 APG, 40% 3PT

With staring point guard Sahvir Wheeler out due to injury, Washington took over ball-handling duty for the Wildcats in their 92-77 win over Georgia on Saturday and handled it masterfully. His 17 assists set a new single-game Kentucky record, and Washington added 17 points on 8 of 13 shooting for good measure. We’re still waiting for Washington’s breakout performance against a big-time opponent, but it’s on the way.

5. Kendall Brown | Baylor

Stats: 11.4 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 69.2% FG

It was a relatively slow week for Brown, who has surged into the lottery pick conversation while embracing a utilitarian role for the nation’s No. 1 team. Brown is incredibly efficient and uses his elite athleticism to make plays all over the floor. He’d be averaging ridiculous numbers for a lesser team, but his willingness to fit where needed for an elite team showcases his maturity and efficiency.

6. Blake Wesley | Notre Dame

Stats: 14.3 PPG, 2.1 APG, 34.2% 3PT

Wesley’s inclusion in the top-10 is overdue. He’s the player of the week after scoring 18 points in a win over North Carolina on Wednesday and 22 in an overtime victory at Georgia Tech on Saturday. The 6-5 guard has been huge all season for Notre Dame and is only getting better as the season goes on. He is averaging 16.4 points and 3.8 assists over Notre Dame’s five-game winning streak.

7. Aminu Mohammed | Georgetown

Stats: 14.3 PPG, 2.1 APG, 34.2% 3PT

Mohammed was just 5 of 17 from the floor in a 92-64 home loss to Marquette on Saturday that enraged coach Patrick Ewing. It’s been a rough season for the Hoyas, but Mohammed continues to be a bright spot for the most part. The 6-5 wing is a physical scorer and rebounder who can get to the basket and finish with either hand. His outside shot is a work in progress but good enough to keep opponents honest.

8. Kennedy Chandler | Tennessee 

Stats: 13.8 PPG, 5.2 APG, 34% 3PT, 2.3 SPG

Tennessee’s offense is sputtering, and some of that falls on Chandler as the primary ball-handler. But he’s not getting much help. The Vols’ other perimeter players are shooting poorly, and they are not getting consistent play in the post. Without Chandler, things would be much worse, but if he would get a little bit more aggressive attacking the basket, it might open things up for the entire offense.

9. Malaki Branham | Ohio State

Stats: 10.4 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 41.9% 3PT

Branham earned Freshman of the Week honors last week but finished outside the top-10 of the season-long rankings. Now, after scoring 24 points in Sunday’s 95-87 win over Northwestern, he is in. Branham went 9 of 10 from the free-throw line in the second half, which was crucial in rebuffing Northwestern’s attempts to rally. His emergence on the perimeter elevates the ceiling for Ohio State’s season.

10. Ryan Nembhard | Creighton

Stats: 12.1 PPG, 4.4 APG, 34.7% 3PT

Nembhard struggled in Creighton’s 75-41 loss at Villanova on Thursday. But to be fair, so did everyone else. The 6-foot point guard has been solid this season in a key role and has a bright future ahead of him in college basketball. In the mean time, he may be able to lead Creighton to an NCAA Tournament appearance if he can withstand the rigors of the Big East.

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