The leader hasn’t changed in eight weekly editions of the Naismith Watch, but as we reach the season’s halfway point, the race remains extremely competitive. Teams are entering the meaty part of their conference schedules. Each player listed here is public enemy number 1 (or 1A) on an opponent’s scouting report. The assistant coaches responsible for assembling those game plans aren’t getting much sleep.

RELATED: Everything we expected and didn't expect in the first half of the season

The Atlanta Tipoff Club trims the list to 30 players on Feb. 9, announces 10 semifinalists on March 1, four finalists on March 19 and the winner on April 2 in Phoenix.

Josh Hart, Villanova (19.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 3.7 apg)

Despite a rough shooting night (3-for-11) and a critical late turnover in the Wildcats’ first loss of the season at Butler, the 6-foot-5 wing maintains a slim lead in this week’s Naismith Watch. Hart is enduring a mild 3-point slump (7-for-26 in his last five games). Still, his value to the Wildcats and role in the nation’s most efficient offense extend beyond his ability to make shots. Villanova rebounded Saturday with its second-best offensive game of the season (1.43 points per possession) to beat Marquette 93-81. Hart scored 19 points and delivered seven assists against the Golden Eagles. The 15-1 Wildcats face another difficult test at 7 p.m. Tuesday on Fox Sports 1 when Xavier visits.

Hart continues to lead the nation in offensive rating among players who use at least 24 percent of their team’s possessions -- although two Naismith contenders are in hot pursuit.

Player

Offensive Rating

Usage

Josh Hart, Villanova

134.7

26.2

Frank Mason III, Kansas

129.6

24.6

Malik Monk, Kentucky

127.1

25.3 

Frank Mason III, Kansas (19.9 ppg, 5.7 apg, 4.5 rpg)

The Jayhawks’ senior point guard entered the season as an adequate 3-point shooter (38.7 percent). He’s become elite, drilling 34 of 65 (52.3 percent) from beyond-the-arc. Last week he missed only two of nine in wins over Kansas State and Texas Tech.

Kansas has won 14 in a row since a four-point loss in overtime to Indiana in the season opener. The Jayhawks visit struggling Oklahoma (9 p.m. Tuesday, ESPN2) and play host to Oklahoma State this week. If you’re wondering, their first matchup with Baylor occurs Feb. 1 in Allen Fieldhouse. It’s the last game in a brutal three-game stretch that includes trips to Kentucky and West Virginia. That's three games in nine days against teams in the top seven at KenPom.   

Lonzo Ball, UCLA (14.7 ppg, 8.0 apg, 5.6 rpg)

UCLA coach Steve Alford describes his freshman point guard as a “competitive shooter” in this clip.

While the form is unorthodox, the results are excellent: Ball has made 41 of his 95 3-pointers (43.2 percent),  including five in the first half of the Bruins’ 14-point win over Stanford on Sunday night. His versatility also places him in elite company in the Conference of Champions, joining these players from the last 24 seasons who averaged 14 points, six assists and five rebounds. (Sports-reference.com)

Player

Season

PPG

APG

RPG

Markelle Fultz, Washington

2016-17

22.1

6.4

5.9

Jason Kidd, California

1993-94

16.7

9.1

6.9

Luke Walton, Arizona

2001-02

15.7

6.3

7.3

Kyle Anderson, UCLA

2013-14

14.6

6.5

8.8

Lonzo Ball, UCLA

2016-17

14.7

8.0

5.6

Caleb Swanigan, Purdue (18.3 ppg, 12.9 rpg, 2.7 apg)

Sun sets in West. Birds fly South for winter. Biggie records a double-double.

Swanigan’s 18-point, 13-rebound effort in the Boilermakers’ 66-55 defeat of Wisconsin on Sunday would be remarkable for most players. For Swanigan, however, it was just another average game that helped Purdue snap the Badgers’ nine-game winning streak. The nation’s leading rebounder and best double-double producer (he's hit that mark in 14 of 17 games) unleashed his entire offensive arsenal, scoring on baby jump hooks, mid-range pull-ups and 3-point shots (2-for-2). Although he tied a season-high with eight turnovers, he also snagged 12 defensive rebounds. Swanigan has ripped down 36 percent of possible defensive boards in Big Ten action, which leads the conference.

Purdue travels to Iowa on Thursday, (9 p.m., Big Ten Network)

De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky (16.3 ppg, 6.7 apg, 5.1 rpg)

Saturday’s game between Kentucky and Arkansas featured two of the top three "high-volume" transition teams in the nation. The Wildcats led 41-38 at halftime, but the Razorbacks' full-court pressure accelerated the game’s pace in the second half. Fox and the Wildcats flourished, rolling to a 97-71 victory to improve to 13-2.

“De’Aaron Fox was ridiculous,” Kentucky coach John Calipari told Kentucky.com after his star point guard scored 27 points on 10-of-16 shooting, handed out six assists and snagged six rebounds.

Fox handled the ball for 36 minutes in a 72-possession game and committed two turnovers. He said he smiled when the Hogs ratcheted up the pressure. His slick passing and high basketball IQ steer the nation’s second-best offense (1.21 points per possession).

Here’s where the Wildcats rank among teams who spend at least 20 percent of possessions in transition, per Synergy Sports Data:

Team

Pct. of Poss. in Transition

PPP

Memphis

22.8

1.233

Kentucky

26.9

1.189

Arkansas

22.2

1.188

Creighton

26.5

1.184

La. Tech

21.7

1.177

Luke Kennard, Duke (20.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.5 apg)

If Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski (or interim coach Jeff Capel) handed out a team midseason MVP award, Kennard would receive it. The Blue Devils have the nation’s fifth most efficient offense, per KenPom.com, in part because their smooth sophomore is threatening to join the elusive 50-40-90 shooting club.

Still, in Duke’s two games last week, it became apparent Kennard’s scoring role is likely to diminish in the second half of the season.

Kennard averaged 13.8 shots per game in Duke’s first 14 games and has attempted a team-high 207 for the season -- 47 more than teammate Grayson Allen. But Kennard attempted only 13 in two games last week, hitting eight in 54 minutes as Duke showed the scoring depth and balance that made it the national championship favorite in the preseason. There were seven Blue Devils in double figures against Georgia Tech and six against Boston College.

Granted, the Blue Devils enjoyed a comfortable margin in both games. The emergence of Jayson Tatum (28.6 percent of Duke’s shots when on the floor) and Harry Giles (29.9 percent) help Duke’s national title chances but hurt Kennard’s candidacy for individual honors.

Duke travels to Florida State on Tuesday (8 p.m., ESPN3).

Malik Monk, Kentucky (21.9 ppg, 2.5 rpg)

Kentucky crushed two opponents expected to finish in the top half of the SEC last week, defeating Texas A&M and Arkansas by a combined 68 points in Rupp Arena. Monk scored 26 points on 5-of-7 3-point shooting in the romp over the Aggies but struggled to an 0-for-5, 12-point effort against the Razorbacks.

Those blowouts, troubling for the rest of the SEC, are pleasing to those with UK interests because Monk played only 51 minutes in the two games. Fresh legs are essential for any long-range shooter. If the "freshman wall" exists, additional rest could help Monk crash through it.

Per Synergy Sports, Monk loves to leak out in transition when a teammate has secured the defensive rebound. He’s 12-of-13 for 27 points on those occasions.

Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s (19.8 ppg, 10.0 rpg)

The 6-foot-11, 255-pound junior from East Malvern, Australia focused on conditioning during the offseason, coach Randy Bennett told CollegeInsider earlier this season.

Improved fitness has allowed him to double his playing time (from 14.5 minutes to 28.5 minutes per game). And his added production has helped the Gaels to a 14-1 record entering Thursday’s West Coast Conference game at Portland.

Landale, who rarely leaves his comfort zone around the rim, scored 47 points on 19-of-27 shooting in double-digit defeats of BYU and San Francisco last week. He also snared 20 rebounds, had seven assists and played 65 minutes.

Denzel Ingram, UNCW (15.2 ppg, 5.8 apg)

(We’re using this spot each week to highlight a slightly under-the-radar performer).

Listed generously at 6-feet, the Seahawks’ senior point guard has played a significant part in the team’s school-record 15-2 start. He helped UNCW to the Colonial Athletic Association championship last season, earning a reputation as a big-shot taker -- and maker. He solidified his place in program history earlier this season, nailing this tough baseline jumper to beat the buzzer and St. Bonaventure.

Ingram has a 2.7 assist-turnover ratio on the season. In the Seahawks’ four CAA games, has drilled a league-best 5.3 3-pointers per game, connecting on 44.7 percent. Want to hear the scary part? He’s the third-leading scorer in an attack ranked 18th in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency (116.9 pts. per 100 possessions), per KenPom.com.