Frosh Watch: Auburn’s Sharife Cooper is Freshman of the Week as Tigers guard vaults into rankings

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

Freshman of the Week: Sharife Cooper, Auburn

Five-star guard Sharife Cooper arrived on the Auburn campus last year as the highest-rated signee in program history. Buzz was afoot about the diminutive-yet-dominant guard whose talent put him squarely in the one-and-done conversation before he ever played game. But through 11 games as a team, that was, in part, the problem — he still hadn’t played a game as he awaited NCAA eligibility clearance.

Ahead of Game 12, though, the NCAA had indeed given him the green-light to play. And in a blink, he proved why there was so much hype surrounding him. Against rival Alabama, he began his career with 26 points, nine assists and three steals. He then followed it up by proving it was no fluke, posting a career-high 28 points and 12 assists in his first career road game, against Georgia, which netted the Tigers a 95-77 win last week. Three days later he led them to a win over Kentucky in which he had 11 points and eight assists.

Cooper’s stupendous start to his career was enough to earn him our weekly honors as Freshman of the Week based upon his Georgia performance alone, and it’s clear his impact on Auburn’s fortunes is very real. The team is 2-1 since he was cleared for action, with the one loss against Alabama looking more and more in hindsight like it may have come to the SEC frontrunner.

Cooper will have his chances to make up for lost time, but he’s already done enough to warrant our weekly honors and has vaulted himself squarely into the conversation as a potential top-five freshman in short order.

Frosh Watch

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

Key stats: 17.8 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.2 SPG

Cunningham maintains his grip on the top spot after going for 18 points and seven rebounds in a win over Kansas last Tuesday. The do-it-all 6-foot-8 forward hit an efficient 6-of-12 shots in the game, including 3-of-6 attempts from 3-point range. The Cowboys’ eligibility for the NCAA Tournament is still in question as the program appeals a postseason ban. But with Cunningham leading the way, this is looking like a tournament-caliber team. Cunningham is averaging 17.2 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists in six Big 12 games so far. Last week: No. 1

2. Hunter Dickinson, Michigan

Key stats: 16.8 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 1.4 BPG, 32.7 PER

Dickinson’s ridiculous start to Big Ten play finally slowed down a bit last week as he averaged just 10.5 points and 5.5 rebounds while the Wolverines split a pair of games with Wisconsin (win) and Minnesota (loss). The Gophers made life hard on the 7-footer with double teams, forcing him to commit five turnovers as they handed Michigan its first loss of the season. But Dickinson’s dominant interior play continues to stand out as a primary reason why the No. 7 Wolverines are off to an 11-1 (6-1 Big Ten) start entering Tuesday’s game with Maryland. Last week: No. 2

3. Evan Mobley, USC

Key stats: 16.2 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 3.1 BPG, 119.1 KenPom ORTG

USC is off to an 11-2 start (5-1 Pac-12) and has won six straight games as Mobley continues to demonstrate why he was considered the No. 3 overall prospect in the 2020 class.  The 7-footer averaged 17.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.3 blocks and 3 assists in three victories last week and continues to be arguably the most consistent player on this list. Utah showed on Jan. 2 that double-teaming Mobley can slow him down as he did not attempt a shot in that game, but the Trojans won anyway, and he’s made at least five shots from the field in every game since. Last week: No. 3

4. Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga

Key stats: 14.3 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 4.7 APG, 35.9 3P%

Suggs might be the most exciting player to watch in college basketball this season, freshman or otherwise. The explosively athletic 6-foot-4 guard turned in another strong week for the Bulldogs by averaging 16 points an 52% shooting in wins over Pepperdine and Saint Mary’s. If you want to nitpick, Suggs has hit just 2-of-15 3-pointers since Christmas and had nine turnovers in last week’s victories. But none of that changes the fact he’s proven to be a next-level competitor who is deservedly climbing NBA Draft boards. Last week: No. 4

5. Cameron Thomas, LSU

Key stats: 22.1 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 30.8 3P%

The SEC’s leading scorer made just 12-of-34 shots from the floor in wins over Arkansas and South Carolina last week, but he continued to get it done at the free-throw line. Thomas made 15-of-18 free throws in those games and is now shooting 89.5% from the line on 7.2 attempts per game this season. That knack for the game and manipulating defenses at this stage in his career may be the most impressive part of his explosion onto the national scene for a really solid LSU team. Last week: No. 4

6. Sharife Cooper, Auburn

Key stats: 21.7 PPG, 9.7 APG, 2.0 SPG

In two big conference showdowns this week, all Cooper did was drop a career-high 28 points and 12 assists on the road in a win over Georgia, followed up by 11 points, eight assists and a steal in a win over Kentucky. Now, it’s unreasonable to expect him to keep this torrent pace up, and the sample on him is indeed small, but he leads the country in assists per game and is the second-highest scoring freshman in the country behind only Cameron Thomas. Last week: NR

7. Moses Moody, Arkansas

Key stats: 17.6 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 1.6 APG, 38.9 3P%

Arkansas took two tough losses by a combined 47 points this last week, but Moody was one of the few bright spots. He scored a career-high 28 points in a loss to Alabama in which he nearly accounted for half the team’s points and also had 18 points in a duel against fellow standout frosh Cameron Thomas. Moody’s scoring ability will no doubt be the first bullet point on his NBA Draft resume, but his size and activity level — which he showed this week in averaging 7.5 boards — is proof that he’s no one-trick pony. Last week: No. 8

Key stats: 13.1 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 2.1 APG, 35.0 3P%

After a brilliant start to his season, Jalen Wilson has come crashing down hard as he falls two spots in our rankings this week. In two games this past week, he put up four points in two KU losses, going 0-of-6 from 3-point range and 4-of-14 from the field overall. It’s clear Kansas needs Wilson’s best efforts to compete at the highest level, but he’s in the midst of a mini-slump as a shooter. Last week: No. 6

Key stats: 11.8 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 1.4 BPG

Texas continues to ramp up Greg Brown’s role, and Brown continues to ramp up his production as a result. But a week after playing a career-high 33 minutes in a win over West Virginia, Brown this week in Texas’ lone game played only 22 minutes in a loss to Texas Tech — and yet he still found production. Brown scored nine points and grabbed nine boards while posting a career-high four blocks in the close loss and came up clutch with some huge shots in the second half after a cold start. Last week: 7

10. Ziaire Williams, Stanford

Key stats: 12.5 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.8 APG, 32.1 3P%

Aggressiveness as a scorer has never been something Ziaire Williams has lacked, but efficiency has been. But, finally, the two married this past week as Williams put together one of his best two-game stretches in which he posted consecutive 17-point outings. Williams went 6-of-13 from distance in that stretch, too. Turnovers continue to plague him, but he’s looking more comfortable as his role expands and his impact on both ends of the court continues to ramp up as the season goes along. Last week: No. 9

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