Ranking college basketball’s best freshmen: Arkansas’ Nick Smith Jr. earns Freshman of the Week honors

We’re five weeks into the college basketball season and the pecking order for the top freshmen in the sport is more difficult to decide on than ever. The best freshmen to start the season continue to pop up in our rankings again this week — you’ll notice there are a few mainstays like Brandon Miller, Gradey Dick and Kyle Filipowski — but the competition is suddenly very crowded with Baylor’s Keyonte George coming on strong and both Cam Whitmore of Villanova and Nick Smith Jr. of Arkansas returning from injury and making their presence felt.

Two of the three as a result pop into our top five of the weekly Frosh Watch below while the other, Nick Smith Jr., earns recognition as the Freshman of the Week for his recent play.

The Frosh Watch is a season-long tracker that accounts for production throughout the year and ever-so-slightly is weighted based upon recent showings. That’s why Whitmore, who has played in only three games and looks like a top-two freshman, snuck into the rankings this week but was left at No. 5. That’s also why Smith Jr. just missed the cut this week while steady producers all season who have played in double-digit games paced ahead of him. . . for now.

Let’s dive into this week’s results.

Freshman of the Week: Nick Smith Jr., Arkansas

Welcome back to the Frosh Watch, our weekly ranking of the five 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.

Smith Jr. has played in just three games thus far for Arkansas — four if you count his five minutes off the bench in debuting against troy in late November when he logged only one rebound and no points — and yet he’s already dazzling in his one (and likely done) season with the Hogs. His Frosh of the Week honors come after 22 and 21 point performances against UNC-Greensboro and Oklahoma, respectively, both of which resulted in wins during the Tuesday-Monday cycle. In that two-game span he went 14-of-30 from the field, 13-of-15 from the free throw line and added six rebounds and four assists to boot.

“Nick can score at the rim, he can score midrange, and he can score it from 3,” said OU coach Porter Moser after the Sooners’ loss on Saturday. “Three-level scorer. I thought we did a good job in ball-screen defense, and then [Arkansas] just starts spacing you [out].”

Excluding Smith Jr.’s zero-point debut against Troy in which he played just five minutes, he actually leads all freshmen in points per game at 19.7 — nearly two points clear of Brandon Miller — after pouring in 16 points, 22 points and 21 points in three straight games for the Razorbacks.

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Let’s jump into this week’s rankings. But first, here’s a look back at the previous rankings thus far this season and the winner of each Freshman of the Week.

Dec 6: GG Jackson | Nov 29: Fletcher Loyer | Nov 22: Anthony Black

Frosh Watch: Top five freshmen rankings

1. Brandon Miller, Alabama

stats: 17.9PPG | 8.4 RPG | 1.7 APG | 42.9% 3PT

It was an interesting week for Miller, who has been the No. 1 in our rookie rankings each of the first five weeks of the season, as his Alabama team took down No. 1 Houston on the road in its second win over an AP-ranked No. 1 team this season. Miller was money from the free-throw line — he made eight of his nine attempts — but for the first time all season was held without a field goal, missing all eight of his attempts. His scoring and production on a now-ranked No. 4 Bama team all season has earned him some cushion in our rankings to maintain his status at the top of our rankings.

2. Gradey Dick, Kansas

stats: 15.4PPG | 4.4 RPG | 1.9 APG | 46.6% 3PT

Dick continues to prove his consistency as a deep threat. Most recently, he sank 3 of 5 attempts from 3-point range in Kansas’ road beatdown of Missouri, finishing with 16 points, seven rebounds and five assists. While Dick’s outside shot is what stands out, his all-around game as a two-way player is what makes him one of the nation’s top freshmen. He is a dynamic wing who helps open up KU’s offense with his playmaking ability and perimeter prowess.

3. Kyle Filipowski, Duke

stats: 14.8PPG | 9.2 RPG | 33.3% 3PT

Even as some of Duke’s other touted freshmen start to blossom, Filipowski continues to stand out for his consistency. The seven-footer has reached double digits in all 12 of the Blue Devils’ games this season, and he recorded his sixth double-double in a big win over Iowa last week. With a nice perimeter shooting touch for a player of his size and the ability to play the four or five, Filipowski is a versatile weapon. There aren’t many others like him in the country, and he’s a significant part of the reason why Duke is off to a 10-2 start under first-year coach Jon Scheyer.

4. Keyonte George, Baylor

stats: 15.7PPG | 4.4 RPG | 4.2 APG | 32.9% 3PT

Some long overdue shine in this space for Baylor’s breakout freshman. George’s 15.7 points per game ties for the third-most among players in this week’s top five and it’s third-highest on a loaded, deep and experienced Baylor team to boot. He’s been a microwave scorer as billed but also stepped up as a playmaker, averaging 4.2 assists per game — third-most among all freshmen in the power conference structure this season.

5. Cam Whitmore, Villanova

stats: 15.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 35.3% 3PT

Whitmore has played just three games since returning from a thumb injury that forced him to miss the first few weeks of the season. But he’s quickly provided the injection of life that Villanova needed following a 2-5 start. The Wildcats are back to .500 with a perfect 3-0 record since Whitmore’s debut. He’s scored 47 points on just 30 attempts from the floor so far, which is remarkably efficient for a player who is just acclimating to college basketball. The 6-foot-7 forward is looking like an All-Big East type of player in a small sample size.

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