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Brian Mull | | January 23, 2017

Naismith Watch: Tough tests ahead for Kansas, Villanova, Kentucky stars

  Frank Mason III maintained the top spot by averaging 16.5 points, four assists and four rebounds as his squad won twice.

Strong opponents fill the calendars this week for the nation's top Naismith Trophy candidates. 

The list narrows to 30 players on Feb. 10 as the Atlanta Tipoff Club prepares to hand out the award during the Final Four in Phoenix.

Frank Mason III, Kansas (20.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 4.4 apg)

The Jayhawks' senior point guard maintained the top spot by averaging 16.5 points, four assists and four rebounds as his squad won twice and stretched its winning streak to 18 games.

Kansas faces a brutal three-games-in-nine-days stretch beginning Tuesday against West Virginia (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2), Kentucky and Baylor. The first two are on the road, and all three opponents are top five in the KenPom ratings.

Conquering three top-15 defenses (per adjusted efficiency) in succession could launch Mason into firm control of the Naismith race. If he — and the Jayhawks — stumble, however, the closest contenders are in position to pass him.

Kansas, which has the nation’s fourth best offense, has played five teams who have top-40 defenses: Duke, Georgia, TCU, Iowa State and Texas. Even against the best, Mason has been productive. Rest assured all three coaches will try to make Mason beat them with 2-pointers (he’s 18-of-30 on 3s vs. Big 12 opponents).








Vs. Top 40 defenses







Vs. All opponents







Josh Hart, Villanova (19.2 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 3.6 apg)

The Wildcats are 19-1 and 7-1 in the Big East, leading Butler and Creighton by one game in the loss column. The defending national champs have a challenging pair of games this week, traveling Tuesday to Marquette — which won by 12 at Creighton on Saturday — and facing Virginia’s elite defense in Philly on Sunday. Marquette is No. 36 in KenPom and desperate for another tournament résumé-building win. The Cavaliers have a top 30 offense and defense for the fourth consecutive season.

Never fear ‘Cats fans, Hart has excelled against the best competition this season. In the five games Villanova played versus KenPom top 50 teams, Hart has an offensive rating of 139.5 (compared to 129.9 on the season), averaged 24 points, shot 61 percent on 2s and 52 percent on 3s.

Put it this way: If he had similar against all competition, this weekly Naismith Watch would be unnecessary.

 Lonzo Ball, UCLA (14.9 ppg, 8.2 apg, 5.6 rpg)

Arizona came into Pauley Pavilion and humbled Ball and the Bruins 96-85 on Saturday, proving despite the excitement and attention around the UCLA program and it’s electric offense this season, as it pertains to the Pac-12 race not much has changed. The Wildcats exposed UCLA’s defense, rolling to 1.32 points per possession.

“We’ve got to guard,” Ball said afterward.

He was talking about the team, collectively, of course. But in reality Ball’s defense has been stout. The 6-foot-6 point guard has been the Bruins’ primary defender on 135 possessions, per Synergy Sports Data, and opponents have mustered only 0.73 ppp, placing Ball in the 83rd percentile nationally. He’s ably handled pick-and-roll ballhandlers, spot-up shooters and players coming off screens.

His contribution to the best shooting offense in the history of advanced metrics (dating to 2002) is obvious. Ball’s shots and assists are worth 1.626 points per trip.   

Malik Monk, Kentucky (21.7 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 2.3 apg)

With teammate De’Aaron Fox on the bench due to injury, Monk poured in 27 points on 9-of-14 shooting Saturday to lead the Wildcats past South Carolina in a battle of SEC unbeatens.

“[Monk’s] been doing unbelievable work the last week,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “Man, he's put in his time. He's mastering his craft. We had a great practice film session. I go up to my office and I shower and I look back and he and Isaiah Briscoe are like in a full body sweat getting a workout in. That's what we need to see. My job is to get them to come together. Their job is to be responsible for themselves.”

Barring a late scoring drought, Monk will become only the fourth UK player in more than 20 years to average 18 points per game for a season, joining Ron Mercer (‘96-97), Jodie Meeks (‘08-09) and Jamal Murray (‘15-16). Good luck finding a game this season with better backcourts than Saturday night's KU - UK battle in Lexington (ESPN, 6 p.m. ET)

Caleb Swanigan, Purdue (18.5 ppg, 12.5 rpg, 2.8 apg)

Navy’s David Robinson owns the Division I season record for double-doubles with 31 in 1985-86. Swanigan has 16 after adding two more last week and leads Bryce Washington of Louisiana by one.

While breaking The Admiral’s 31-year-old mark is unlikely, “Biggie” is keeping good company by averaging 18 points, 12 rebounds and two assists for the season — three of the other players who accomplished the feat since 1993-94 were picked first overall in the NBA draft. Also, Swanigan is making more 3-pointers (1.9 per game) than the others.






Caleb Swanigan, Purdue





Blake Griffin, Oklahoma





Jason Thompson, Rider





Andrew Bogut, Utah





Brandon Hunter, Ohio





Tim Duncan, Wake Forest





Tim Duncan, Wake Forest





Gary Trent, Ohio





Next 4

Markelle Fultz, Washington: Talented freshman point guard poured in 67 points as Huskies split two games last week. Averaging 23.4 points, 6.1 assists and 5.8 rebounds.

Luke Kennard, Duke: Quiet week for the Blue Devils, who rallied to beat Miami (Fla.) 70-58 on Saturday. Kennard started the second half on the bench and finished with 11 points.

De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky: Scored 21 in win at Miss. State and twisted an ankle in the first half Saturday vs. South Carolina, but coach John Calipari said injury isn’t serious.

Justin Jackson, North Carolina: The Tar Heels have won six in a row and are the most complete team in the ACC. Jackson averaged 20.5 ppg and 7.0 rpg in the two victories.

Somewhat Under-the-Radar Star

Peyton Aldridge, Davidson (21.7 ppg, 7.5 rpg)

Often overshadowed by talented teammate Jack Gibbs, the junior forward Aldridge has emerged as one of the nation’s most consistent shooters and scorers. He’s drilled 57 percent of 2-pointers, 42 percent of 3-pointers and 85 percent of free throws and is top six in the Atlantic 10 in scoring and rebounding.

Aldridge (6-8, 225) erupted for 33 points, nine rebounds and four assists in a loss to La Salle last week. His offensive rating of 130.0 in A10 games leads — by a wide margin — those used on at least 24 percent of possessions.

Davidson coach Bob McKillop is one of college basketball’s brightest offensive minds. He puts Aldridge in position to flourish all over the court. But Aldridge is particularly efficient as a spot-up shooter or posting up around the basket. This shot chart reveals his productivity on those types of plays, per Synergy Sports Data, and his affinity for the right side of the court.




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