The Naismith Trophy race is fast and furious these days. The level of competition increased last week for each of the primary candidates. They all experienced bumps in the road, targeted by primary defenders who intended to turn strengths into weaknesses. The midseason list of 30 players will be announced Feb. 9.

Frank Mason III, Kansas (19.9 ppg, 5.1 apg, 4.3 rpg)

As expected, Mason played like a savvy road warrior Saturday night in the Jayhawks marquee matchup at Kentucky. He hit nine of 18 shots and scored 21 points, helping Kansas erase a double-digit deficit in the second half. The steady senior also had four assists, three rebounds and two steals as the conductor of an offense ranked fifth in the nation in adjusted efficiency.

Mason faces another challenge Wednesday night, when Baylor visits Allen Fieldhouse (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2) in a battle for first in the Big 12. Trey Burke of Michigan was the last point guard to win the Naismith Trophy, claiming the award in 2013 as he steered the nation’s most efficient offense. Here’s how Mason’s season compares to Burke’s.    

 

PPG

APG

2P Pct.

3P Pct.

O-Rating

Mason ‘16-17

19.9

5.1

50.8

51.6

123.8

Burke ‘12-13

18.6

6.7

50.6

38.4

121.2

Josh Hart, Villanova (18.7 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 3.4 apg)

Hart continues to be lethal in transition, producing 110 points on 77 possessions (1.429 ppp) according to Synergy Sports data. Because he’s an excellent finisher around the rim (78.4 pct. per hoop-math.com), opposing teams have focused on turning him into a jump shooter in the halfcourt. Hart delivered two key 3-pointers Sunday as Villanova erased a nine-point halftime deficit to defeat Virginia 61-59 on Donte DiVincenzo’s tip-in at the buzzer and avoid an 0-2 week.

RELATED: Watch Villanova top Virginia with last-second tip-in

The Wildcats and Cavaliers are two of four teams ranked top 20 in offensive efficiency and 300th or higher in average offensive possession length (Saint Mary’s (Calif.) and Michigan are the others). Hart and Mason are each vying to become the fourth consecutive senior to win the Naismith Trophy, joining Buddy Hield, Frank Kaminsky and Doug McDermott.

Caleb Swanigan, Purdue (18.5 ppg, 12.7 rpg, 2.9 apg)

Swanigan added two more double-doubles last week, pushing his nation’s best season total to 18. His 14-point, 14-rebound effort against Nebraska on Sunday is what we’ve come to expect from Swanigan, a 6-foot-9 forward. However, he missed 10 of 15 shots and committed two crucial turnovers in the closing minutes as the Cornhuskers rallied for an 83-80 upset victory.

The Cornhuskers double-teamed Swanigan, often sending a guard down to apply the pressure. He found open shooters on the perimeter (six assists) but also committed four turnovers, giving him 15 in the last three games.

Still, he’s 22-of-44 on 3-pointers and second in the nation in rebounding.

Luke Kennard, Duke (20.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.5 apg)

Whether or not Kennard saved Duke’s season with his performance Saturday against Wake Forest remains to be seen. The Blue Devils have a stout schedule ahead, beginning with a trip to Notre Dame on Monday night (7 p.m. ET, ESPN) and myriad defensive issues to solve after allowing the Demon Deacons to rip off 1.19 points per possession.

Regardless, the 6-foot-6 sophomore delivered a unforgettable second half, hitting all 10 shots — including five 3-pointers — pouring in 30 of his game-high 34 points and sinking the game-winning 3 from the right wing to cap Duke’s comeback. Kennard also had four rebounds and four assists. As January turns to February, it’s obvious he’s the Blue Devils’ best player.

He’s the only player from a Power 5 conference school averaging 20 points, five rebounds and hitting 55 percent of 2-pointers and 45 percent of 3-pointers. Past Naismith winners Buddy Hield and Doug McDermott also met those minimums.

 

PPG

RPG

2PFG pct.

3PFG pct.

Mike Daum, SD State

23.5

7.7

55.3

45.5

Tim Kempton, Lehigh

21.4

8.6

57.6

45.5

Evan Bradds, Belmont

20.9

8.7

61.8

57.1

Luke Kennard, Duke

20.4

5.4

59.9

46.8

Lonzo Ball, UCLA (14.9 ppg, 8.0 apg, 5.8 rpg)

Ball has had better weeks. The Bruins defense was exposed yet again in their only game, an 84-76 loss to dreaded rival USC. Ball committed seven turnovers although he also finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds, earning a season-low offensive rating of 84 which was only his second outing less than 100.

Ball has dished out 176 assists this season as the point man of the nation’s most efficient offense (1.22 points per possession). Here's what his passes have led to: 

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Justin Jackson, North Carolina: The Tar Heels' slippery small forward poured in 47 points but snagged only four rebounds in a 1-1 week. His 125.2 offensive rating is second only to Kennard among ACC players who use at least 20 percent of possessions.

Malik Monk, Kentucky: An erratic week for the freshman shooting guard as the Wildcats stumbled to two losses and plummeted from the top 10. Monk averaged 21.5 ppg but fell in love with long range, hitting five of 19 from beyond-the-arc.

Josh Jackson, Kansas: As if Jackson's defenders needed something else to worry about, now the freshman small forward is knocking down 3-pointers (8-of-14 the last three games). He was a difference-maker versus UK, providing 20 points and 10 boards.

Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga: The Zags deserve the No. 1 ranking and the play of Williams-Goss is a primary reason. The transfer from Washington has hit 55 percent of 2-pointers and assisted on 26 percent of Gonzaga's baskets.

Somewhat under-the-radar star

Brandon Goodwin, Florida Gulf Coast: Thriving in his first season as the Eagles' point guard after two uneven campaigns at UCF, Goodwin, a 6-foot-2 junior, has helped coach Joe Dooley's squad to a 17-6 overall mark and 6-1 in the Atlantic Sun, one game ahead of Lipscomb. Florida Gulf Coast has only been a full Division I member since 2008, yet has a 3-2 record in the NCAA tournament, making the remarkable run to the Sweet 16 as a 15 seed in 2013. Great guard play is necessary to bust brackets in March, and Goodwin is a name worth noting for future reference. He averages 16.4 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game and has finished 67 percent of his shot attempts at the rim.