Naismith Watch: Villanova’s Josh Hart, Kansas’ Frank Mason III lead the way

It was an eventful week for Naismith Trophy contenders. There were two triple-doubles, a nationally televised upset of No. 1 and overall sustained excellence across the board.

So, without further ado, here is this week’s Watch featuring nine men the Atlanta Tipoff Club could honor in April as the nation’s best college basketball player.

Josh Hart, Villanova (17.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg)

Hart tackles any task for the Wildcats and excels at each one. Against Big 5 rival St. Joe’s on Saturday, his versatility produced the first triple-double (16 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists) by a Villanova player since 1986 (Harold Pressley).

“Josh is just so complete in every way,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said afterward. “He is the best competitor out there. He’s one of the best shooters on the team, one of the best finishers in the country and he’s a great decision-maker. And he’s our best defensive player. The guy is so complete; I just believe he is going to be a great player at the next level.”

Hart is 26 of 34 (76.5 percent) around the rim, per Synergy Sports data.

It was the sixth triple-double this season in a game between two Division I teams. Hart is shooting 57 percent from the field, 43 percent on 3-pointers and has a 2:38 assist-turnover ratio.

Villanova has won 14 games in a row, dating to last season.

Frank Mason III, Kansas (19.6 ppg, 5.4 apg, 4.5 rpg)

Last week, we analyzed the area where Mason III has improved the most since last season. Ignoring the mid-range is also feeding Mason III’s elite efficiency (126.0 offensive rating). He’s attempted 97 field goals this season. All but 11 were launched beyond-the-arc or at-the-rim. He’s shooting career-high percentages from each area of the court.  

Mason scored 20 points on 10 shots, had five rebounds, four assists and one turnover Saturday as the Jayhawks dispatched Stanford. His spectacular start is evoking memories of past Kansas greats, such as Sherron Collins, a point guard on the 2009 national championship team, who had 1,888 points and 582 assists in his career.

“I don’t know if I want to say Frank’s a better basketball player than Sherron, but I do think Frank’s a better athlete,” Kansas coach Bill Self told KUSports.com. “Frank’s so quick. He’s got a burst that few people have. He’s under control and he’s playing at a high level. He’s playing at about the level Sherron played at whenever Sherron was playing really well. They’re not comparable players, but they’re certainly comparable talent-wise.”

Here’s how their stats compare.

Season

Player

PPG

APG

RPG

FG Pct.

3P Pct.

2008-09

Collins

18.9

5.0

2.9

43.4

37.6

2016-17

Mason

19.6

5.4

4.5

56.1

48.4

Lonzo Ball, UCLA (14.6 ppg, 9.3 apg, 5.0 rpg)

The Bruins’ dynamic freshman floor leader committed a season-high six turnovers and was 5 of 12 from the field yet buried momentum-boosting shots to lead UCLA to a 97-92 upset of then-No. 1 Kentucky on Saturday.

All of a sudden, UCLA has earned its place in the Final Four contender conversation.

Ball is a reliable option coming out of timeouts for coach Steve Alford, producing 24 points on 19 possessions to rank in the 89th percentile per Synergy.

The Bruins face a stern test at Michigan on Saturday and a neutral court matchup against Ohio State on Dec. 17th. Clear those two hurdles and they’ll likely be unbeaten when Pac-12 play begins Dec. 28th at Oregon.

Luke Kennard, Duke (19.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 3.2 apg)

In the preseason, before injuries sidelined freshmen Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden, the 6-6 Kennard appeared to be the Blue Devils’ sixth man. He was also the most consistent player in practice, according to coach Mike Krzyzewski, and has continued to perform at a supreme level as Duke’s leading scorer in an 8-1 start. Coach K puts Kennard in position to thrive in the halfcourt, using him in isolation, pick & rolls, on handoffs and as a spot-up shooter.

“And I’m not sure, people say he is taking advantage of an opportunity, but he is an opportunity, he is good,” Krzyzewski said after Kennard scored 20 points in a 78-69 win over Michigan State. “It’s not like he’s not good, he is really good and we have guys who are good who are out and that doesn’t mean he became good because they are out, he is good. I don’t know if I make sense, but he doesn’t need opportunity, he is good.”

Kennard broke out of a three-game 3-point slump (3 of 20) by shredding Maine for 35 points on 16 shots Saturday. He’s committed two turnovers in the last 104 minutes.

Here’s how Kennard’s season compares to great seasons by other Duke guards:  

Player

Season

O-Rating

PPG

FG Pct.

3P Pct.

J.J. Redick

2005-06

120.2

26.8

47.0

42.1

Nolan Smith

2010-11

113.1

20.6

45.8

35.0

Grayson Allen

2015-16

124.9

21.6

46.6

41.7

Luke Kennard

2016-17

130.9

19.0

50.0

37.7

Markelle Fultz, Washington (22.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 6.7 apg)

Football fever has flooded the Huskies’ campus and rightfully so, considering coach Chris Petersen’s squad won the Pac-12 title and earned a Dec. 31st matchup against Alabama in the College Football Playoff. Petersen would probably like to borrow Fultz from Lorenzo Romar for a few weeks and use him at wide receiver against the Crimson Tide’s tenacious defense. The 6-4 freshman doesn’t have gridiron experience, but his unique combination of speed, agility and leaping ability would demand double coverage downfield.  

Fultz has flashed those skills on the basketball court in the first eight games, as he is shooting 56 percent on 2s and 48 percent on 3s but hasn’t received enough help from his Huskies’ teammates.  

De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky (15.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 5.3 apg)

John Calipari’s latest phenomenal point guard joined the triple-double club last week, with a 14-point, 11-rebound, 10-assist effort in a rout of Arizona State. On Saturday, in front of a national television audience vs. UCLA, he put on display his wicked crossover, crafty playmaking and a jump shot that needs improvement. Fox is 5 of 17 in the mid-range per Synergy and 3 of 19 on 3-pointers this season but has a near 4:1 assist-turnover ratio.

Caleb Swanigan, Purdue (17.5 ppg, 11.5 rpg)

The 6-9 sophomore recorded his fifth consecutive double-double in a 71-64 loss to Louisville in the ACC- Big Ten Challenge. He’s the first Purdue player to have such a lengthy streak since John Garrett in 1974-75.

If he continues on this pace, Swanigan will join these power forwards who led all power conference schools in double-doubles in recent seasons.

Season

Double-Doubles

Thomas Robinson, Kansas

2011-12

27

Jordan Williams, Maryland

2010-11

25

Julius Randle, Kentucky

2013-14

24

Brice Johnson, North Carolina

2015-16

23

Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State (23.6 ppg, 5.1 apg)

The Cowboys’ point guard has a higher usage rate (33.5) than any player from a power conference school. He also takes 36 percent of his team’s shots, yet doesn’t neglect his role as a facilitator, assisting on 38.4 percent of Oklahoma State’s baskets.

Stefan Moody of Ole Miss (2015-16) and Russ Smith of Louisville (2011-12) are the only other power conference guards to be used on at least 33 percent of their team’s possessions in the last six seasons.

Evans has three 30-point games for the 6-2 Cowboys. 

Ethan Happ, Wisconsin (13.7 ppg, 9.8 rpg)

The Badgers are 10th in adjusted offensive efficiency (115.1) per KenPom. Happ, a slender 6-8 sophomore, takes 27 percent of the team’s shots when on the floor – and as the Synergy Sports Tech shot chart reveals below, they’re all good ones. He’s also a premier rebounder on both backboards, snatching 3.4 offensive rebounds and 6.7 defensive rebounds per game.

Defenders cannot lure him out of his comfort zone.

“He doesn’t have to shoot a jump shot,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said after his team stomped Oklahoma by 20 points. “He’s quick enough and strong enough and he’s surrounded by enough good shooters and understands what he’s good at … he plays to his strengths. I think that’s really a credit to him.”

Happ is fourth in the nation in player efficiency rating (35.5) per sport-reference.com

Happ Shot Chart.JPG