The next important date on the Naismith Trophy schedule is Feb. 9th when the list will be pared to 30 finalists. With conference play heating up, we’re here every Monday to give a rundown of leading contenders for the award, which the Atlanta Tipoff Club has presented to the nation’s premier college basketball player since 1969.
Josh Hart, Villanova (20.3, 6.8 rpg, 3.5 apg)
His season shot chart looks like the Mona Lisa to a hoops analytics lover. He’s launched 176 shots and 150 were at the rim or beyond-the-arc. He’s produced 1.36 points per shot on those attempts, helping the Wildcats’ attack hum along, second in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency (120.9).
Frank Mason III, Kansas (19.8 ppg, 5.9 apg, 4.6 rpg)
It’s difficult to determine the nation’s leader in ability to ‘go-get-a-bucket’ but it’s also hard to argue against Mason III as one of the premier possessors of this quality as he showed here, late in the Jayhawks’ win over TCU on Saturday.
His quickness, strength, toughness and career-best 3-point shooting (48 percent) render him difficult to stop. Mason III had 22 points, seven assists, four rebounds and two steals against the Horned Frogs.
The offense runs smoothly when Mason III is involved in the playmaking. He’s shot or assisted on 264 Kansas possessions this season, per Synergy Sports data. The Jayhawks have averaged 1.511 points on those possessions, which places Mason in the top 10 among high-volume players. Kansas welcomes Kansas State to Allen Fieldhouse at 9 p.m. Tuesday (ESPN2).
Lonzo Ball, UCLA (14.3 ppg, 8.1 apg, 5.7 rpg)
The Bruins’ freshman point guard sputtered through the first half Wednesday night at Oregon in his Pac-12 debut. In the first nine minutes of the second half, Ball missed two 3-pointers, a layup and committed a turnover. Then, in 108 seconds he proved why he’s special, drilling three 3-pointers to flip momentum in UCLA’s favor. The Bruins, who led by eight with less than four minutes remaining, squandered the lead down the stretch.
Luke Kennard, Duke (21.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 2.7 apg)
The Blue Devils suffered a humbling 89-75 defeat at Virginia Tech on Saturday afternoon, getting outplayed from the tip to the horn. Kennard did his part, however. He scored 34 points and snagged seven rebounds. It was his second-highest point total of the season and the fourth time he’s eclipsed 24 points in the last six games.
With teammate Grayson Allen suspended and coach Mike Krzyzewski out for the next month due to back surgery, the Blue Devils can’t afford for Kennard to have a lull. Duke receives a visit from Georgia Tech on Wednesday (7 p.m., ESPN2).
Caleb Swanigan, Purdue (18.5 ppg, 13.0 rpg)
What’s next for the man called “Biggie?” At this rate, a 30-30 game isn’t out of the question. Swanigan dropped 28 points and 22 rebounds on Minnesota over the weekend, although the Boilermakers inability to stop Gophers guard Nate Mason contributed to a 91-82 defeat. Swanigan’s defense, on the other hand, has been excellent. Opponents have scored only 20 points on 50 jump shots where he’s been the primary defender.
Malik Monk, Kentucky (22.4 ppg, 2.7 rpg)
The Wildcats’ backcourt is an embarrassment of riches. How so? Monk scalded Ole Miss for 34 points on 11-of-16 shooting Thursday and nabbed six rebounds, yet his performance slipped into the back seat because teammate Isaiah Briscoe became the second Wildcats guard to record a triple-double this season.
Kentucky plays host to Texas A&M on Tuesday (9 p.m., ESPN).
De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky (15.6 ppg, 6.8 apg, 5.0 rpg)
Fox (and Washington freshman Markelle Fultz) could finish this season joining players from power 5 conference schools to average 15 points, six assists and five rebounds since 2009.
Dillon Brooks, Oregon (14.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg)
Based on overall season numbers alone, Brooks doesn’t belong on this list. The Naismith Watch prefers production to projection and just because the 6-7 forward was considered an All-American in the preseason, has he produced enough to be included? Probably not. Still, the images from last week are seared into our brain.
Oregon travels to Washington on Wednesday (9 p.m., ESPN2)
Rob Gray, Houston (20.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.1 apg)
(We’re using this spot to highlight a slightly under-the-radar performer each week).
The Houston Cougars are a mild surprise, with an 11-3 overall record and a pair of road wins to open the American Athletic Conference schedule. Gray, a 6-2 junior from Forest City, North Carolina, has an outstanding player efficiency rating of 29.2 to lead the Cougars. He’s hit 51 percent overall and 45.6 percent on 3-pointers, scored 30 points against Rhode Island and 22 against Arkansas.
It’s been a long journey for Gray, who finished his high school career at West Oaks (FL) Academy. He spent two years at Howard, a junior college in Texas, but only played one season, arriving at Houston prior to the 2015-16 campaign with three years eligibility remaining. He finished second in the American in scoring (16.0 ppg) last season. The Cougars are 23rd in adjusted offensive efficiency and play host to Tulsa on Wednesday night.