Freshman Watch: Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan is Freshman of the Week

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 next Wednesday, while a ceremony for all USBWA honors will take place in early April.

CBS Sports Freshman of the Week for March 1-8: Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan.

The final Freshman of the Week winner goes to a guy who, quite clearly, played above expectations throughout the course of this season. Swanigan was a highly touted recruit, yes, but he was also joining a front line with two towers in A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas. And Hammons has been first team-good in the Big Ten.

Meantime, Swanigan’s amassed a 10.4-point, 8.2-rebound, 1.9-assist season with a Purue team that will wind up as a No. 4 or No. 3 seed come Selection Sunday.

Swanigan put up 37 points and 12 rebounds in Purdue’s wins over Nebraska and Wisconsin last week. And he was 11-of-18 from the field in the process. Very productive, and if you caught the Wisconsin game (Swanigan had a season-high 27 points), you saw how pivotal he was.

For Matt Painter to know he can rely on “Biggie” more and more, it’s a very good thing at a critical time of the year. He’s rebounding 27 percent of Purdue’s misses when he’s on the floor, which is among the best rebound rates in the nation.

And with this recent run, Swanigan finishes in the top 10 of the Frosh Watch. The top 10 below is the final listing for the season. Truth be told, listing out No. 9 and No. 10 was very tough, because there were five other guys in the running. But hey, better to have more than less.

Swanigan has been steady and will be a big factor for Purdue in the NCAAs. (USATSI)

Below, the final edition of our top 10 for Freshman of the Year.

(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:

19.6 ppg, 11.9 rpg, 5.0 apg, 30.14 PER, 114.4 ORtg

I’ll use this space to echo the sentiment that the handwringing over Simmons’ GPA is obviously blown out of proprotion. I do believe that, despite all the awards Simmons has and clearly still will win, his career is going to be remembered more for its shortcomings than his incredible stat line. That’s too bad, but in an era of 68-team tournament fields, if you wind up being the No. 1 pick and can’t get to the Big Dance, it’s just something that will stick to your legacy.

2 BRANDON INGRAM | Duke Blue Devils

Stats:

16.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 22.65 PER, 111.6 ORtg

Ingram won the ACC Freshman of the Year, which of course makes sense. In Jerry Palm’s most recent bracket projection, he slots Duke on the 3 line. And Duke’s done this without Amile Jefferson, who will not play again this season. But without Ingram, I doubt Duke is even a 5 seed this season. I think he’s meant that much to the team. He’s long but strong, has a good handle, even if he dribbles the ball a little too high. The key thing to watch here is, Without him, I don’t think have a huge few games in the NCAAs. I feel like it’s inevitable..

3 JAMAL MURRAY | Kentucky Wildcats

Stats:

20.0 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 42.1 3PT FG%, 22.81 PER, 117.2 ORtg

Another really good week for Murray, who finishes just a hair behind Ingram for second in the Frosh Watch. He averaged 21.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists in UK’s games at Florida and vs. LSU. He would have won Freshman of the Year in just about any season — it’s just that he happened to play at the same time as Simmons. Given UK’s success, you could make the case he deserves the award, but in reality, Simmons’ numbers were historic, and Freshman of the Year is not tied to team success. I think Murray is going to have a tremendous SEC and NCAA Tournament, for what it’s worth.

4 HENRY ELLENSON | Marquette Golden Eagles

Stats: 16.8 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 1.6 bpg, 21.02 PER, 102.3 ORtg Ellenson was the natural pick for Freshman of the Year in the Big East. He was one of the five best players in that conference, and should go down as one of the 10 or 15 best players in Marquette history, which is saying something. But like Simmons, and like the guy listed below, it’s a shame such strong years will not, in all likelihood, end in the NCAAs. Ellenson put up 19.5 points and 9.5 rebounds last week, as Marquette beat Georgetown then lost to Butler.
5 MALIK BEASLEY | Florida State Seminoles

Stats:

15.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.5 apg, 21.30 PER, 115.0 ORtgThe gap between Simmons and Murray in the SEC was much closer than the gap between Ingram in Beasley in the ACC. But if you missed it, Beasley closed out the regular season well, totaling 33 points and nine rebounds in FSU’s must-win outcomes against Boston College and Syracuse. The Seminoles will need at least two more ACC tournament wins in order to have hopes on the bubble. Beasley has been in the top five of the Frosh Watch from the start of this season. If anything, he’s been underrated elsewhere. Don’t be shocked if he declares and gets taken in the first round. Personally? I’d love to see him and Bacon come back and turn FSU into a clear-cut top 25 team next season.

Next five up: Dwayne Bacon, Florida State; Dedric Lawson, Memphis; James Thompson IV, Eastern Michigan; Marcus Evans, Rice; Caleb Swanigan, Purdue.

Freshman statistical leaders in major categories:

Points: Marcus Evans, Rice (21.2)
Rebounds: Ben Simmons, LSU (11.9)
Assists: Joseph Chartouny, Fordham (6.2)
Blocks: Kassoum Yakwe, St. John’s (2.60)
Steals: Laquincy Rideau, Gardner-Webb (2.23)
PER: Mike Daum, South Dakota State (3327)
ORtg (In highest usage block; min. 28 percent of possessions used): Daum (125.2)

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
Week 15: Jaylen Brown, Cal

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