The Naismith Trophy will be awarded to the nation’s best college basketball player on April 2 in Phoenix. Each week during the regular season, we’ll analyze the top candidates to join a list of recent winners that includes Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin.
Josh Hart, Villanova (19.5 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 3.8 apg)
Hart’s 37-point, 11-rebound performance against Notre Dame on Saturday either thrust him into the Naismith Trophy conversation or cemented his spot atop the list, depending on perspective. Regardless, the 6-foot-5 junior leads the pack again this week because he propelled the top-ranked Wildcats past the Fighting Irish in one of the more entertaining games of the 2016-17 season. Hart was so phenomenal that the adept CBS Sports analyst Bill Raftery ran out of superlatives to describe the proceedings.
Here’s how Hart’s first 10 games compare to full seasons by recent perimeter-oriented Naismith Trophy winners.
Frank Mason III, Kansas (20.5 ppg, 5.5 apg, 4.5 rpg)
In the last seven games, Mason is 21-of-32 on 3-point shots. That’s 65.6 percent, which basically makes the 5-foot-11 senior unguardable. Defenders have two choices, and neither is appealing: Guard him snugly beyond-the-arc and he drives to the rim, where he’s converted 69 percent, per hoop-math.com, or back off and he’ll bury a 3-pointer. Mason draws five fouls per 40 minutes because he’s tough, savvy and strong. Mason had 48 points on 23 shots and dished out 12 assists — with no turnovers — in Kansas victories over UMKC and Nebraska last week.
Lonzo Ball, UCLA (15.0 ppg, 8.8 apg, 5.2 rpg)
The 6-foot-6 point guard and the Bruins show no signs of slowing down. They’re scoring 97.5 points per game, which is second in the nation, and 3-point shots are fuel for the engine. Ball’s distribution and court vision creates wide-open looks. His teammates, and he, knock them down — 11.1 per game at a 47 percent clip.
Ball’s shot attempts and assists are producing 1.672 points per possession, per KenPom and Synergy, which is third among point guards from the top six conferences.
|Player||Usage||Possessions||PPP (Pts. + Assts.)|
|Riley LaChance, Vanderbilt||13.7||121||1.793|
|Tyler Lewis, Butler||18.0||116||1.750|
|Lonzo Ball, UCLA||21.2||204||1.672|
|Lourawls Nairn, Michigan St.||12.0||99||1.636|
|Frank Mason III, Kansas||23.6||197||1.558|
Luke Kennard, Duke (20.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 3.2 apg)
Kennard is the leading scorer and second leading rebounder for the Blue Devils, who are looking more and more like the best team in the nation. It’s not unrealistic to expect Kennard’s production to decline in the months ahead. Jayson Tatum has taken 28.2 percent of Duke’s shots when on the floor in the last three games. Grayson Allen takes 27 percent and looked sharp in a career-high 34-point explosion against UNLV on Saturday. And freshman power forward Harry Giles will return soon. Still, to this point, Kennard has been outstanding and Duke’s best player. He scored 29 points on 11-of-16 shooting last week against Florida and wields a retro game in this era of 3-pointer and layup exclusivity. Kennard masters the mid-range, hitting 15 of 27 shots, primarily on pull-up jumpers, per Synergy.
De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky (15.1 ppg, 6.9 apg, 5.4 rpg)
John Calipari has coached a cast of talented point guards during his stint at Kentucky. Fox is as fast as any of his predecessors and is proving to be a gifted distributor who values the ball.
Here’s how his statistics stack up against those who ran the show in Lexington in recent years. It’s worth noting that only Ulis was a sophomore. The rest were freshmen.
|Season||Player||O-Rating||PPG||Assist Rate||TO Rate|
Amile Jefferson, Duke (15.1 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 2.3 apg)
The fifth-year senior has played 77.3 percent of available minutes for Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and has immeasurable value on each end.
On offense, he gives the Blue Devils a low-post option. He’s effective with his back-to-the basket on the block, scoring over his left shoulder, and he can also catch the ball facing the basket and drive past defenders. Jefferson has had six double-doubles in the last eight games as a key cog in the nation’s best offense, per KenPom.
Because he’s mobile for his size (6-foot-9, 224 pounds), Duke can switch on all screens at every position when Jefferson is on the floor. His presence in this interchangeable lineup is the tangible explanation for Duke’s dramatic improvement on defense. Last season, the Blue Devils allowed 1.06 points per possession (219th). This season, they’ve allowed 0.88 ppp (14th).
Josh Jackson, Kansas (14.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 3.4 apg)
Jackson’s versatile skill set is rare. He’s striving to become only the fourth freshman since 1993-94 to average 14 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.5 steals. He also has 15 blocks in 10 games.
Kansas coach Bill Self praised the 6-foot-8 forward’s coachability, court vision and unselfishness in a recent interview
“It’s his natural instinct to be slithery,” Self told KansasCity.com “I think he’s going to be a good shooter … and he’s understanding his effectiveness when he puts pressure on the defense.”
Markelle Fultz, Washington (23.0 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 5.8 apg)
As a team, the Huskies have been a disappointment. But Fultz is having a terrific individual season. Despite not having a plethora of offensive options around him, he’s still averaging nearly six assists and leading the Pac-12 in scoring. Frankly, he’d average two or three more assists per game if his teammates could finish after he delivers a perfect feed.
Fultz has made 49 percent of 3-pointers and draws 6.9 fouls per 40 minutes.
Marcus Keene, Central Michigan (30.8 ppg, 5.1 apg, 4.6 rpg)
For the next two months, we’re using the ninth spot in the Naismith Watch to illuminate the game of a college basketball star whose ability might otherwise go unnoticed. Keene, a 5-foot-9, 175-pound junior, reminds the Watch of former Oakland guard Kay Felder, who finished top five in the nation last season in scoring and assists and is a rookie with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Keene played two seasons at Youngstown State, sat out 2015-16 and introduced his game to the nation last week with 40 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists in a victory over Green Bay. Keene is leading the nation in scoring, efficiently, shooting 56 percent on 2-pointers, 44 percent on 3-pointers and 85 percent on free throws against Division I teams.
Central Michigan is 8-3 and second in the nation in avoiding turnovers (13 percent of possessions). Per Synergy Sports Data, the Chippewas have used Keene in isolation or as a pick and roll ballhandler on 149 possessions, and he’s scored 175 points, which slots him among the nation’s elite. The shot chart reveals Keene’s proficiency in the mid-range and aversion to the baseline.