The compelling race for national player of the year took another intriguing turn last week. The Atlanta Tipoff Club will announce on March 1 its 10 semifinalists for the award. Pay close attention to the final two weeks of the regular season. What we’ve learned this season is fluctuation is the norm.

Frank Mason III, Kansas (20.3 ppg, 5.0 apg, 4.2 rpg)

The Naismith Watch longed for a player to grab this race by the nape of the neck. While the top contenders have delivered excellent, consistent play all season, there was little separation. Enter the point guard of the Kansas Jayhawks.

The most impressive streak in college basketball — Kansas’ Big 12 regular season domination — was in doubt entering the week. Thanks to Mason and Co., the Jayhawks are on the verge of a 13th consecutive regular-season crown, leading by three games with four games remaining.

 
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Mason played 82 of a possible 85 minutes last week. He averaged 23.5 points, 6.5 assists and made 24 of 26 free throws as the Jayhawks beat West Virginia and Baylor in thrilling fashion. They erased a 14-point deficit in final 2:58 vs. the Mountaineers, with Mason hitting the two free throws that sent the game to overtime. He dominated the game at Baylor for long stretches.

Mason’s offensive strength is he has no weakness. As we mentioned earlier this season, there’s no statistic to track the nation’s best at “going-to-get-a-bucket” but the senior is certainly as capable as anyone. His coach Bill Self understands the need to let his point guard improvise at times.

“When you try to script stuff for Frank, it gets him from being aggressive,” Self said Saturday after the 67-65 win over Baylor. “He just needs to play, just play take ‘em or whatever, and he picked his spots very wisely today.”

Enjoy these highlights just for Mason’s slick feeds to Josh Jackson, master finisher. Mason assisted on six of Jackson’s seven baskets in the game, so it’s fair to say the freshman and senior have developed an on-court rapport.

Caleb Swanigan, Purdue (18.9 ppg, 13.0 rpg, 2.9 apg)

It’s not as if Biggie lost the top spot with his play last week. The aforementioned point guard from Lawrence just whisked it away from him by excelling against superior opposition. Swanigan recorded his 23rd double-double, keeping David Robinson’s NCAA record of 31 within reach.

He averaged 18 points and 16 rebounds, helping the Boilermakers stretch their winning streak to five games and remain tied with Wisconsin at 11-3 atop the Big Ten standings.

Swanigan continues to lead the nation in defensive rebounding percentage, snagging 34.5 percent of opponent’s missed shots.  

The three best places from which to score are a) at the free-throw line b) at the rim c) behind the 3-point arc. Swanigan is sharp at each spot per hoop-math.com, converting 78 percent of free throws, 80 percent at the rim and 48 percent of 3s.

Josh Hart, Villanova (18.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg)

The Wildcats’ leader averaged 17.5 points and 4.0 rebounds as his squad hammered two bottom-tier Big East opponents in Seton Hall and DePaul.

Hart has already set a career high with 56 3-pointers this season, converting 40 percent of his attempts. Kerry Kittles is the only other Villanova player since 1993-94 to average 18 points, six rebounds and shoot 40 percent on 3s. He did it in consecutive seasons.

His consistency has been remarkable, recording an offensive rating of 100 or better in 25 of the Wildcats’ 28 games for a season average of 124.8, which is second in the nation among players who use at least 24 percent of their team’s possessions (26.9).

Lonzo Ball, UCLA (15.4 ppg, 7.6 apg, 6.1 rpg)

College basketball fans are running out of chances to watch Ball orchestrate the second-best offense of the KenPom era (2002). Ball and the Bruins pushed the accelerator through the floorboard on Saturday night in Pauley Pavilion, paying back archrival Southern Cal with an impressive 102-point outburst.

The Bruins scored 1.34 points per possession, marking the fourth time in five games they’ve eclipsed the 1.20 ppp mark. Ball had 15 points on nine shots, eight rebounds and eight assists.

UCLA is 118th in defensive efficiency. No team has reached the Final Four ranked 80th or worse in that category since hot-shooting VCU blazed through the bracket in 2011.

Ball’s defense has been excellent, however. He’s been the primary defender on 232 possessions this season, allowing 0.711 ppp on those trips.  

Luke Kennard, Duke (20.0 ppg, 5.1 rpg) / Justin Jackson, North Carolina (18.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg)

If the Naismith Watch had a ballot for ACC Player of the Year, the Duke guard Luke Kennard would receive the vote. But it’s close. Here’s a comparison between Kennard and his rival from eight miles down the road.  

Player

PPP*

O-Rat.^

Usage

eFG%

PPG

RPG

Luke Kennard

1.2

131.5

22.6

61.8

20.0

5.1

Justin Jackson

1.053

124.3

23.3

55.0

18.6

4.7

*- SynergySports, ^-KenPom

The Next 4

Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga - He’s been the Zags' KenPom game MVP in six of the last eight games. He averaged 24 points, seven assists and 5.5 rebounds in a pair of victories last week.

Ethan Happ, Wisconsin - The Badgers’ forward shoots exclusively around the rim, cleans the glass on both ends and is one of the nation’s premier post defenders. He averaged 21 points in wins over Michigan and Maryland last week.

Josh Jackson, Kansas - The athletic small forward crushed rims in Lawrence and Waco last week, making key plays on both ends of the court as a catalyst in two critical victories. His KenPom comparisons include fellow Jayhawk Andrew Wiggins (‘13-14) and Duke's Luol Deng (‘03-04).

Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame - ACC opponents must feel as if the 6-foot-5, 225-pound post presence has played for coach Mike Brey for seven or eight seasons. The scary part? He’s only a junior. He averaged 16.5 ppg and 6.5 rpg as the Fighting Irish pushed its winning streak to four games.