Naismith Trophy

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Brian Mull | | February 27, 2017

Naismith Watch: The case for — and against — the top candidates

  Villanova's Josh Hart has Villanova ready for another NCAA tournament run.

The people responsible for selecting this season’s Naismith Trophy award winner might not agree on the identity of the person who should receive the award. What they can agree on, however, is the tightness of the race. The Watch submitted its list of 10 semifinalists to the Atlanta Tipoff Club last Friday — and by the end of play Saturday wished it could change a name or position or both.

The top five is (somewhat) clear. The order is not (at all). All five players listed here today look the part when compared to recent winners like Buddy Hield and Frank Kaminsky. They are the best performers on the best teams in the nation. It should surprise no one if Kansas, Purdue, UCLA, Villanova or North Carolina makes the Final Four. It would be a surprise only if fewer than two of those teams advance to Phoenix.  

The Watch is taking a different tact this week, providing the case for — and against — for each of the top five.

Frank Mason III, Kansas (20.2 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 4.1 apg)

For: He’s the most important player on the No. 1 team in the nation, which just wrapped up the Big 12 title for the 13th consecutive season. As the team’s primary playmaker, it’s clear where coach Bill Self wants to turn in the waning minutes of a game. No secrecy needed, Mason III remains difficult to stop. He’s been remarkably consistent, scoring in double figures in every game but one - an eight-point effort in a 30-point rout of Long Beach State way back on Nov. 29th. There aren’t any holes in his offensive game, Mason III converts 55 percent at the rim and 50 percent of his 3-pointers. He’s also an above-average defender.

MORE: AP poll reactions: Kansas takes over at No. 1

Against: It’s not an easy feat, but defenders have enjoyed mild success by forcing Mason III inside the arc. He’s in the 38th percentile, per Synergy, driving to his right, which is unusually low for a righthanded player. In the last five games, Mason III is 15-of-42 on 2-pointers (36 percent).

Caleb Swanigan, Purdue (18.6 ppg, 12.6 rpg)

  Caleb Swanigan has 23 double-doubles so far this season.
For: The 6-9 forward is a unique talent. Double-doubles are expected from "Biggie." He has 23. In addition, he’s knocked down 57 percent of 2-pointers and 46 percent of 3-pointers. At the rim he’s unstoppable, burying 80 percent. Like the frontrunner Mason III, the Boilermakers power forward has fallen shy of double figure scoring only once  in a laugher over Arizona State in December.

Against: Purdue has played 10 games against Tier A teams, which KenPom defines as the top 50. Swanigan has committed turnovers on 27 percent of possessions in those games. That breaks down to 4.5 per game and is too many.

Lonzo Ball, UCLA (14.8 ppg, 7.6 apg, 6.2 rpg)

For: The 6-6 freshman leads the nation in assists and runs the show for the nation’s most efficient and entertaining offense. He has produced 1.562 points per possession on his shots and assists this season, which is second only to Wofford’s Eric Garcia among high-volume players (more than 500 possessions). The Bruins score more points than any other team (91.1 ppg) and are the best shooting team since Duke in 1991-92, at 52.9 percent. UCLA’s defense is often criticized, but with Ball pressuring the opposing ballhandler, it has stuffed four of the last six opponents beneath the national efficiency average.

Against: Ball doesn’t score at the same level as the other contenders. The Bruins have six double figure scorers and he shoots the least (17.1 pct. of team’s shots when he’s on the floor). He’s tallied fewer than 15 points in six games since Jan. 1. Also, perhaps some of the concerns about his perimeter shooting weren’t misguided after all. He’s only 1-for-11 on 3-pointers in the last three games.

PPP - (Points + Assists) min. 450 possessions, per Synergy Sports





John Konchar




Eric Garcia




Lonzo Ball




Joe Rahon

Saint Mary’s



Austin Luke




Josh Hart, Villanova (18.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 3.1 apg)

For: The Wildcats’ leader returned to school for his senior season and improved his skills. In particular, he’s shown off a dependable deep jump shot. He’s made a career-high 61 3-pointers, converting 39.9 percent. He’s scored in double figures in every game this season. We also love Hart’s shot chart, which we will affectionately call as an homage to Seth Greenberg, 'jack-and-rack'. 

Josh Hart Shots.JPG

Against: Not the most athletic wing, some pro scouts question how his skills will fit in the NBA. He’s a winner who thinks team-first, so there’s room for those attributes on any smart roster. Hart’s free throw shooting has declined in conference action and a team with razor-thin margin will need each point to advance in March.

Justin Jackson, North Carolina (18.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg)

  Justin Jackson is a favorite to take home ACC Player of the Year honors.
For: We’re in the era of three and four-guard lineups but coach Roy Williams is still kickin’ it old school, with a traditional two-forward-and-a-center frontcourt. The key in this equation is Jackson, a prototypical 6-8 small forward. Most players with his size and skill set are playing the ‘4’ or power forward. Jackson creates mismatches of his own, often shooting right over the top of the head of a much shorter guard who is attempting to defend him. Nobody has the recipe for checking Jackson at the moment. He’s barreling toward the ACC Player of the Year trophy, averaging 21.3 points on 13 of 28 3-point shooting in the last three games. Not bad, considering he made only 35 trifectas last season.

Against: Complaining about the Tar Heels' rebounding seems silly, considering they snag misses as well as any team in the nation. Still, a 10.4 percent defensive rebounding rate in ACC games for Jackson is a touch low. Otherwise, there aren’t many faults to find.

Keeping in mind that college basketball is enjoying an offensive renaissance this season, Jackson's season still compares favorably to recent ACC POYs.




Pct. Shots

2PFG Pct.

3PFG Pct.


Shane Larkin, Miami






T.J. Warren, NCSU






Jahlil Okafor, Duke






Malcolm Brogdon, UVa






Justin Jackson, UNC





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