We have once again teamed up with the 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 United States Basketball Writers Association. The winner of the Wayman Tisdale Award will be announced in March and presented at the Devon Energy College Basketball Awards gala April 14 at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.
Freshman of the Week for Jan. 20-26: Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell.
This was was a no-brainer, in part because Russell, on Monday, took home the CBSSports.com Player of the Week. Russell’s only continuing to get better, too. Did you see what he did last week? Well, first, there was another ridiculously angled and executed bounce pass. This is becoming his “thing” and what a marvelous thing it is. Let’s gander.
The OSU freshman helped his team to two wins, getting Ohio State to a 16-5 record and a more secure spot in chasing an NCAA Tournament bid. Against Northwestern on the road and at home against Indiana, Russell averaged 27.5 points, 8.0 assists and 6.5 rebounds. As I said on the Friday version of the Eye on College Basketball Podcast, Russell’s becoming as must-watch as any college hoops player in the game. He’s among the most well-rounded offensive weapons in the country, and the way he sees the court makes watching Ohio State a joy. (Remember this team last season?)
This is all a bit surprising, considering Russell wasn’t a consensus top-10 recruit upon graduating high school. And now he’s unquestionably a top-three freshman in the nation.
Now, our overall freshman watch, a tally of the most consistent first-year performers across college hoops.
(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.)
Here they are, the top five (and following five) freshmen in college basketball.
|RANK||PLAYER||WAYMAN TISDALE AWARD WATCH|
|1||JAHLIL OKAFOR | Duke Blue Devils
Stats:18.5 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 67.1% FG, 33.91 PER, 121.1 ORtg
Okafor’s lead on Russell is shrinking, but let’s not overreact entirely here. Duke’s rebounded from those back-to-back losses and won three straight to improve to 17-2. Okafor’s three-point play with less than four minutes remaining against St. John’s on Sunday was the point of no return for Duke, who got Mike Krzyzewski his 1,000th career win. Okafor said this opportunity, to be a part of a team that could help K reach that 1,000 mark, it played a big factor in his college decision.
|2||D’ANGELO RUSSELL | Ohio State Buckeyes
Stats: 19.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 5.1 apg, 29.57 PER, 118.8 ORtg
Since I gushed over the Ohio State phenom above, I thought I’d post a quote from Thad Matta on his Monday Big Ten conference call with reporters regarding Russell’s ability: “I think he’s very comfortable with what we’re doing. D’Angelo has a great understanding of the game of basketball. He’s a very diligent worker in terms of doing the best he can. He wants to be a great player. That’s been the biggest difference. He’s also a guy that’s fun to play with. He makes his teammates better when the basketball is in his hands.”
|3||STANLEY JOHNSON | Arizona Wildcats
Stats:15.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.6 spg, 26.26 PER, 110.2 ORtg Thinking Johnson might be cruising along, unworthy of the 3 spot? Think again. His average for points, assists, offensive rating and PER are all up from a week ago. And in the past two games Arizona’s played on the road. Johnson continues to show himself to be top 10-pick worthy. Arizona has floated ever so slightly off the national champion-talk radar, but the Wildcats are still one of the five best teams in the country, and without Johnson that wouldn’t be the case. This week Sean Miller’s team has a cozy two-game home stand against the Oregon schools.
MELO TRIMBLE | Maryland Terrapins
Stats: 16.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.9 apg, 23.71 PER, 116.4 ORtg
Trimble’s team went 1-1 last week but came so close to dropping two in a row. That 68-67 home win over Northwestern on Sunday night was a trip.
From KenPom.com, here’s the likelihood for winning the game. Maryland slip-slides away until the final few possessions.
Trimble, in terms of offensive efficiency, was Maryland’s fourth best player. Jake Layman, upperclassman and budding NBA prospect, had an ORating of 142. But Trimble had 27 points, all of them needed, and without him on the floor, the Terrapins would have fallen apart.
|5||JAMES BLACKMON, JR. | Indiana Hoosiers
Stats:16.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 41.7 3-pt%, 22.61 PER, 117.3 ORtg
Indiana is ranked 43rd in KenPom despite having won 75 percent of its game so far. Curious, and it’s got me wondering where the Hoosiers are headed. Upcoming games: at Purdue, home to Rugers, at Wisconsin. Win two of those three and you’re knocking on the door of lock status. Sweep Maryland win a win on Feb. 11 and it’s essentially a done deal. What about Blackmon? He’s still productive and contributing heavily to Indiana’s 117 points per 100 possessions offense. Blackmon had the pleasure of playing against two guys ahead of him on this list. Against Ohio State, Blackmond went for 21 points and seven rebounds; against Trimble he scored 22 points and grabbed five boards.
Next five up: Kevon Looney, UCLA; Tyus Jones, Duke (↑ from ninth); Myles Turner, Texas (↓ from seventh); Rashad Vaughn, UNLV; Devin Booker, Kentucky (↑ from unranked).
Freshman statistical leaders in major categories:
Points: D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State (19.4)
Rebounds: Kevon Looney, UCLA (10.2)
Assists: Kahron Ross, Lehigh (5.8)
Blocks: Jordan Bell, Oregon (3.4)
Steals: Nate Mason, Minnesota (2.24)
PER: Okafor (33.91)
ORtg (In highest usage block; min. 28 percent of possessions used): Okafor (121.1)
Previous freshman of the week winners:
Week 1: Stanley Johnson, Arizona
Week 2: Tyus Jones, Duke
Week 3: Jahlil Okafor, Duke
Week 4: Elijah Stewart, USC
Week 5: Tyler Ulis, Kentucky
Week 6: Okafor, Duke
Week 7: Kevin Looney, UCLA
Week 8: Johnson, Arizona