Naismith Trophy

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Brian Mull | | January 16, 2017

Naismith Watch: Make room for Kansas guard Mason III at the top

  Kansas Jayhawks guard Frank Mason III (0) has been the key that starts the offense for head coach Bill Self.

It's been a long, a long time coming

But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will

Sam Cooke sang those words so sweetly and we’re living them out in this week’s Naismith Watch. After an eight-week run atop our rankings, Villanova’s Josh Hart was nudged off his perch by another senior, who nipped at his heels for the past month.

Loyal readers might also notice a slight change in format to the Naismith Watch this week. We’re focusing on the top five, our first-team All-Americans, if you will, and keeping a close eye on contenders who are one hot week from joining them.

The Atlanta Tipoff Club presents the Naismith Trophy to the nation’s best college basketball player each year during the Final Four.

  Kansas Jayhawks guard Frank Mason III (0) has been a consistent threat from deep as well this year.
Frank Mason III, Kansas (20.5 ppg, 5.5 apg, 4.4 rpg)

The durable senior claimed the top spot via exceptional performances as he led the Jayhawks to their 15th and 16th consecutive victories. Mason III averaged 25.0 ppg, 4.5 apg and 4.0 rpg to help Kansas handle Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. On the season, he’s hit 53 percent of 3-pointers and 51 percent of 2-pointers, which are both personal bests.

To this point, Mason is enjoying the best season among high-usage (minimum 24.0 pct of possessions) Kansas’ greats, dating to 2001-02:





Frank Mason III




Marcus Morris




Perry Ellis




Wayne Simien




Markieff Morris




Josh Hart, Villanova (19.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 3.6 apg)

  Villanova Wildcats guard Josh Hart (3) helped lead his team's to victories over St. John's and Xavier.
Hart scored 31 points and snagged 12 rebounds as Villanova rolled over Xavier and St. John’s last week to improve to 17-1 overall and 5-1 in the Big East. But his 3-point shooting slump continued. Hart is 9 of 32 (28.6 percent) from beyond-the-arc against conference opponents. When Hart dribbles before he shoots, his efficiency suffers. He’s scored 30 points on 42 shots (0.714 ppp) in that scenario, per Synergy Sports Data, and scored 77 points on 65 shots (1.185 ppp) in catch-and-shoot situations.

Lonzo Ball, UCLA (14.6 ppg, 8.0 apg, 5.5 rpg)

On the final play of the first half at Utah on Saturday night, Ball drove into the paint, missed the shot, grabbed the rebound and showed poise as he turned and fed Bryce Alford at the top-of-the-key for a wide open 3-pointer.

After the Utes opened the second half on an 11-2 run to build a nine-point lead, Ball buried a 3-pointer from the right corner. And, with his team trailing by two points with 1:50 remaining, he penetrated the lane and found Aaron Holiday for the go-ahead bucket. Ball finished with 17 points, eight assists and played terrific defense. He’s leading the nation - by a wide margin - in points created via shots or assists, per Synergy Sports Data (minimum 350 possessions):


Poss + Assists


Lonzo Ball, UCLA



Maurice Watson Jr., Creighton



Frank Mason III, Kansas



Denzel Ingram, UNCW



Josh Hart, Villanova



Malik Monk, Kentucky (21.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg)

On his current pace of 3.18 3-pointers per game, the spectacular freshman will need 37 games to set the UK single-season record and pass Jodie Meeks, who drilled 117 in 2008-09. Monk is in his first mini-slump of the season (5 of 17 in the last three games), but showcased other skills last week, dishing out six assists against Auburn and hitting 9 of 10 free throws in the two victories.

  Kentucky head coach John Calipari (right) has helped turn guard Malik Monk into a matchup nightmare.

Since coach John Calipari arrived in Lexington in 2009-10, there have been 30 Wildcats selected in the NBA Draft. Monk’s offensive rating of 128.4 is the highest of any UK guard in that time span, and is third overall, trailing Anthony Davis (133.5 in ‘11-12) and Patrick Patterson (128.7 in ‘09-10). Monk is a much more active member of the offense than either Davis or Patterson, however, using 25 percent of the ‘Cats possessions. Davis and Patterson both used less than 20 percent.

Joel Berry II, North Carolina (16.2 ppg, 4.4 apg, 3.7 rpg)

Since an 8-point stinker in the Tar Heels’ stunning loss at Georgia Tech, the junior point guard has played as well as any player in the country. He’s averaged 23 points and four assists as UNC has won four games in a row to seize second place in the ACC. Right now there are three Division I players in the elite 50-40-90 shooting club (minimum 10 points per game). But Berry II is standing in front of the line, waiting to enter.


FG Pct.

3P Pct.

FT Pct.


Cole Martinez, Texas A&M -Corpus Christi





Luke Petrasek, Columbia





Aaron Ross, Texas Tech





Joel Berry II, UNC





Next 4

Luke Kennard, Duke: The lone bright spot in Duke’s 0-2 week, he scored 40 points in 79 minutes, and leads ACC players in conference games with a 136.5 offensive rating.

De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky: The slick point guard averaged 17.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg and 3.5 apg in two victories as the Wildcats improved to 15-2 overall and 5-0 in the SEC.

Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: Biggie fell two rebounds shy of a ninth consecutive double-double in the Boilermakers only game, an 83-78 loss at Iowa.

Bryce Alford, UCLA: In six Pac-12 games, Alford is averaging 20.8 points per game, 29 of 48 on 3-pointers and has an effective field goal percentage of 80.2.

Somewhat-Under-the-Radar Star

Keon Johnson, Winthrop: A 5-7 senior point guard, Johnson is averaging 21.4 points per game this season. He should end his career in the 2,000-point club as the all-time scoring leader at a program with nine NCAA tournament appearances since 1999. The Eagles eye their first trip since 2010 after losing in the Big South finals the last three seasons.

  Keon Johnson (5) will be a main focus of Winthrop's Big South championship hopes.
Winthrop is 13-4 overall, 5-1 in the conference and shares first place with UNC Asheville, who visits on Thursday night (9 p.m., ESPNU). Johnson has a 60.7 effective field goal percentage in Big South games, taking one-third of the Eagles’ shots when on the floor. Jumpers off the dribble account for 35.7 percent of his shots in the halfcourt, per Synergy Sports Data, and he’s flourished, scoring 88 points on 74 possessions (1.189 ppp) to rank in the 94th percentile nationally.

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