This is shaping up as a tremendous season to follow the race for the Naismith Trophy, given annually to the nation's best college basketball player and awarded in April during the Final Four in Phoenix.
The 50-man watch list was released earlier this month. It will be trimmed to 30 in February, 10 in March and four semifinalists will be invited to the award's ceremony, held the morning prior to the national championship game.
Josh Hart, Villanova (18.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg)
It was a quiet week for the Wildcats, who handled Charleston in their only outing. Hart had 13 points and 11 rebounds in the 16-point victory and remains atop the Naismith Watch. Villanova’s next stiff test is Dec. 10th vs. Notre Dame in Newark, NJ.
Lonzo Ball, UCLA (16.0 ppg, 9.1 apg, 5.3 rpg)
It was quite a week for the freshman Ball at the helm of the Bruins electric offense. He turned in two more double-doubles, set the Wooden Legacy Classic record for assists (28) and won the tournament's MVP award after giving UCLA the lead to keep on a stepback 3-pointer with 2:38 remaining in a 74-67 defeat of Texas A&M in the title game. Oh, and his dad, Levar, guaranteed a national championship for the Bruins, on national television.
Markelle Fultz, Washington (23.0 ppg, 6.7 apg, 5.5 rpg)
If not for serious foul trouble against TCU - he picked up his fourth with 15 minutes remaining and fouled out eight minutes later - the 6-4 freshman Fultz appeared headed for a 40-point night in an eventual 13-point loss. Having him languish on the bench is the opposition's best chance of stopping Fultz, who is on pace to become the only freshman since 1993-94 to average 20 points, six assists and five rebounds per game, per sports-reference.com.
Fultz is ferocious in the open court and as the ballhandler in the pick & roll, knocking down 60 percent of 2-pointers and 44 percent of 3-pointers while assisting on 37 percent of the Huskies' field goals.
Joel Berry II, North Carolina (17.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 4.3 apg)
Besides being a terrific floor leader and dangerous scorer in spot-up situations or running the pick & roll, Berry II has also been the best defender among the point guards on this week's Naismith Watch.
Per Synergy Sports Tech, he's been the primary defender on an opponent's possession-ending play (shot or turnover) on 81 possessions this season. Opponents scored only 22 percent of the time. If the goal of basketball is to score (or help your team score) and prevent your opponent from scoring, Berry II is also excelling. He's producing 1.465 points on possessions he ends via shot, assist or turnover and has accomplished this against the 78th most difficult schedule, per KenPom.
|SOS||PPP (Pts + assists)||Defensive PPP||PPP Differential|
|Lonzo Ball, UCLA||232||1.712||0.667||1.045|
|Joel Berry II, UNC||78||1.465||0.519||0.946|
|Frank Mason III, Kansas||27||1.408||0.800||0.608|
|Markelle Fultz, Washington||302||1.496||0.939||0.557|
|Juwan Evans, Oklahoma State||233||1.371||0.961||0.410|
Frank Mason III (21.5 ppg, 5.3 apg, 4.5 rpg)
What has enabled Mason III to make the leap from solid starting piece on a Big 12 champion to dynamic backcourt leader of a national championship contender? Improved shooting, specifically at the rim.
In his first three seasons with the Jayhawks, Mason III shot 43.4 percent (368 of 848) from the floor. Through seven games against a difficult schedule (27th in nation per KenPom), he's hit 54.9 percent (45 of 82).
Peter Jok, Iowa (25.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg)
The Hawkeyes' senior set the early 2016-17 mark for most points in a game Saturday, pouring in 42 in a 100-93 loss to Memphis. Jok, a 6-6 forward, hit eight 3-pointers and sank all 12 free throw attempts to remain perfect at the line in 24 attempts this season. His offensive rating of 130.1 through six games is second in the nation among players who use at least 28 percent of possessions, per KenPom.
Part of what makes Jok so difficult to defend is his ability to score from various locations. He's comfortable beyond-the-arc, thrives around the free-throw line and on the baseline, and finishes around the basket, shown here in his season shot chart, provided by Synergy Sports Tech.
Not only is the Boilermakers 6-9, 250-pound forward a space eater in the lane and double-double machine, he's also made the expected 'sophomore leap.' He's relishing his role as a primary option in Purdue's halfcourt offense this season. Coach Matt Painter believes in feeding his big men - 39 percent of Swanigan's touches have come in post-up situations, per Synergy - and he's produced one point per possession in those situations.
The table below shows his improvement in the last year. Swanigan has also increased his assist rate and decreased his turnover rate. Swanigan and the Boilermakers face a stiff test against Louisville's long, athletic frontcourt on Wednesday (7 p.m., ESPN).
|PPG||RPG||Offensive rating||Effective FG Percentage||Fouls drawn per 40 mins|
Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State (24.7 ppg, 5.3 apg)
The Cowboys' were overmatched in the Maui Invitational semifinals against North Carolina, however, their leader provided an offensive highlight reel. He scored on 3-pointers, pull-up jumpers and finished with both hands, arching shots high off the glass over the Tar Heels' cache of long, tall forwards. ESPN analyst Jay Bilas called his play 'ridiculous' adding "is there anything this kid can't do?"
A volume shooter out of necessity (takes 37.9 pct of OSU's shots), Evans is also a trustworthy ballhandler and playmaker. He's accumulated a 2.9 to 1 assist-turnover ratio through six games.
Josh Jackson, Kansas (14.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3.2 apg)
We'll be honest: Jackson's production and efficiency probably fall shy of being Naismith Watch worthy at this point in the season. But we're confident he's one of the best nine players in the nation and he gave glimpses last week of what to expect over the next four months. Jackson scored 22 points against UAB. He snagged 11 rebounds against Georgia. He handed out seven assists against UNC Asheville.