Cal’s Jaylen Brown wins Freshman of the Week, in top 10 of Frosh Watch

We here at CBS Sports have once again teamed up with the United States Basketball Writers Association and its Integris Wayman Tisdale Freshman of the Year Award, meaning our weekly feature on the best freshman in the country will work hand in hand with the Tisdale committee and the USBWA. The winner of the award will be announced in March, while a ceremony for all USBWA honors will take place in early April.

CBS Sports Freshman of the Week for Feb. 23-29: California’s Jaylen Brown.

Cal is now a lock to make the NCAA Tournament, and the primary reason is Jaylen Brown. The bruising freshman led the Golden Bears to a sweep of USC and UCLA last week, improving Cal to 21-8 and matching the longest in-league win streak (seven games) in three seasons.

Brown — who had the most important month of any freshman in February, I think — averaged 17 points and nine rebounds in the USC and UCLA games. Brown is averaging 17.8 points and 5.9 boards in his last nine games. He constantly draws fouls and is involved in 31.2 percent of Cal’s possessions, per KenPom.com, which explains the stat like this: “A measure of personal possessions used while the player is on the court. [It] simply assigns credit or blame to a player when his actions end a possession, either by making a shot, missing a shot that isn’t rebounded by the offense, or committing a turnover.”

To be fair, Brown does turn it over a bit more than he should, but he’s becoming the alpha dog Cuonzo Martin needs in order to have Cal be a second-weekend threat in the NCAAs. Brown’s mounting performances have landed him in the Freshman of the Year Watch below, coming in at No. 10. With a big week, finishing as high as No. 8 in next Tuesday’s final Frosh Watch posting isn’t out of the question.

Cal finishes up its season this week with a tricky road trip: the Arizona schools. A split there, two wins in the Pac-12 Tournament and this team should be looking at a 5 seed, I think. Brown has become the best freshman in the league, and if February was any indication, March is about to get even better for him.

Jaylen Brown had perhaps the most important February of any freshman. (USATSI)

Below, the top 10 in our Freshman of the Year Watch.

(Quick key for two critical stats listed below: PER = player efficiency rating. ORtg = offensive rating. Explanations for both are in those links. Anything above 30 in PER is exceedingly good; topping 35 is elite. And anything above 120 in ORtg is undeniably great, while cracking 130 is absolutely remarkable.)

RANK PLAYER WAYMAN TISDALE AWARD WATCH
1 BEN SIMMONS | LSU Tigers

Stats:

19.8 ppg, 11.6 rpg, 5.0 apg, 30.16 PER, 115.0 ORtg

Will be winning national Freshman of the Year, no matter what LSU does from here on out. The numbers across the board have been too good, too consistent, and Ingram and Murray — unless either guy averages 40 points in the next two games — aren’t going to make up the ground. If you missed it, I wrote about Simmons’ paradoxical season last week.

2 BRANDON INGRAM | Duke Blue Devils

Stats:

17.0 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 23.21 PER, 113.4 ORtg

Ingram isn’t going to win national Freshman of the Year, but he’ll take the title in the ACC. He put up 16.5 points last week between Duke’s games against Florida State and Miami. Grayson Allen is Duke’s MVP, but with the tournament two weeks away, I can’t help but wonder if Ingram won’t really step up and have a huge few games in the NCAAs. I feel like it’s inevitable..

3 JAMAL MURRAY | Kentucky Wildcats

Stats:

19.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 41.2 3PT FG%, 21.64 PER, 116.0 ORtg

Murray has climbed at least one spot in the Frosh Watch in the last five weeks — and he could wind up being No. 2 in the final edition a week from today. To me, he’s become the most entertaining freshman in the nation to watch. Simmons has a lot of tools and looks special, but Murray is the only guy on this list who is a danger to just go off and score 12 points in two minutes. Kentucky is a Final Four player because of him alone.

4 HENRY ELLENSON | Marquette Golden Eagles

Stats: 16.6 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 1.6 bpg, 20.61 PER, 101.4 ORtg Had 22 and 10 in Marquette’s gotta-have-it win over Creighton, then was held to a mere 13 and 6 (still decent for most players) in Marquette’s home loss to Villanova. Ellenson will almost certainly be one-and-done, and I’ve said it before: His production and importance at Marquette will probably be forgotten too easily. He’s been really nice this season. If the Golden Eagles had a little more around him, even one playmaker, they’d be in this year’s Big Dance.
5 MALIK BEASLEY | Florida State Seminoles

Stats:

15.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.5 apg, 21.07 PER, 114.8 ORtgI can promise you this will be the top five next week, too. These five freshmen have been the most consistent, most valuable frosh in the naiton from November into March. Beasley’s played himself into a possible first-round pick, something nobody thought possible five months ago. He has been sliding as of late though, failing to score in double digits in four of his past five games. FSU is 17-12 and is gonna spoil two really good freshmen seasons from Beasley and Dwayne Bacon. Noles the NIT favorites?

Next five up: Dwayne Bacon, Florida State; Diamond Stone, Maryland; James Thompson IV, Eastern Michigan; Dedric Lawson, Memphis; Jaylen Brown, Cal.

Freshman statistical leaders in major categories:

Points: Marcus Evans, Rice (20.8)
Rebounds: Ben Simmons, LSU (11.8)
Assists: Joseph Chartouny, Fordham (6.0)
Blocks: Kassoum Yakwe, St. John’s (2.81)
Steals: Laquincy Rideau, Gardner-Webb (2.2)
PER: Mike Daum, South Dakota State (32.16)
ORtg (In highest usage block; min. 28 percent of possessions used): Daum (125.8)

Previous winners this season of the CBS Sports Freshman of the Week:

Week 1: Ben Simmons, LSU
Week 2: Tyler Lydon, Syracuse
Week 3: Brandon Ingram, Duke
Week 4: Henry Ellenson, Marquette
Week 5: Dwayne Bacon, Florida State
Week 6: Edmond Sumner, Xavier
Week 7: Diamond Stone, Maryland
Week 8: Brandon Ingram, Duke
Week 9: Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State
Week 10: Henry Ellenson, Marquette
Week 11: Matt Morgan, Cornell
Week 12: Ben Simmons, LSU
Week 13: Nick Emery, BYU
Week 14: Marcus Evans, Rice

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