Scott Phillips and Travis Hines join the podcast today to discuss, among other things, the Missouri job opening, whether or not one-bid leagues should hold conference tournaments, the implications of the Missouri Valley tournament final and the weirdness of the Big East’s bubble. We also roll through the NBC Sports All-American teams.
Frank Mason III, Sr., Kansas (20.5 ppg, 5.1 apg, 4.2 rpg, 49.3% 3PT)
Mason has been unbelievable this season. He leads the Big 12 in scoring and ranks fourth nationally in points-per-game among the top six leagues. He’s fourth nationally in three-point shooting amongst players that average at least four threes attempted, and he’s doing all that while playing nearly 90 percent of the minutes for Kansas this season. But there’s more to it than just the numbers. He’s the heart and soul of a Kansas team that is currently No. 1 in the country and that just won the Big 12, the toughest conference in the country, according to KenPom, by four games.
There may not be a more consistent player in college hoops this season than Hart, whose ability to defend multiple positions and rebound from the guard spot is one of the major reasons Villanova’s small-ball lineups work. This difference between Hart this season and Hart in past season is that he’s become a much better three-point shooter this year, and his assist numbers are way up. He’s had a terrific season, and it’s not done yet; the Wildcats have a real shot of repeating as national champs.
Lonzo’s stats are out of this world, and the fact that he plays on a top five team that is going to have a shot to make a run at a Final Four certainly helps his cause. But, like Mason, Ball’s numbers don’t tell the whole story. Ball totally changed this UCLA team this year. He brought a culture of unselfishness. He turned them into one of the best passing teams in basketball a year after they went 15-17 and looked incapable of sharing the ball. And he’s just a freshman?
Swanigan has carried Purdue this season, leading the Boilermakers to a first-place finish in the Big Ten standings and putting them in a position to do some damage in March. He’s posted 25 double-doubles this season. He’s the centerpiece of Purdue’s offense, the guy that the ball runs through on every possession, and he’s able to do it despite the myriad of double-teams that he faces. He’s put up numbers this season that rival that of Tim Duncan, which tells you all you need to know.
Luke Kennard, So., Duke (20.1 points, 5.3 boards, 45.0% 3PT)
Who had Luke Kennard as the best player on Duke this season? Well, he has been, and it’s really not all that close. The sophomore carried the Blue Devils for the first month of the year, as their three key freshmen and Grayson Allen all battled injuries, and he hasn’t slowed down since. Duke’s season turned around once everyone in the program accepted the fact that Kennard, whose efficiency has been off-the-charts this year, was the guy that had to touch the ball on every single possession.
Williams-Goss is the best player, the leader and the go-to guy for the only team in the country with just one loss this season. His ability to quickly adapt to Mark Few’s offense is why the Zags were able to land wins over the likes of Florida, Arizona and Iowa State earlier this season. Gonzaga is one of the deepest, most-balanced teams in the country, and Williams-Goss leads them in scoring (by a wide margin), assists and minutes.
Malik Monk, Fr., Kentucky (21.2 ppg, 41.4% 3PT)
Monk is the single-most dangerous weapon that there is in college basketball this season. No one has put together a better performance that the 47 points he had in a win over North Carolina … except for Monk, as that might not be the most ridiculous thing he’s done this season. He scored 31 points in the second half and overtime to lead Kentucky back against Georgia. He scored 30 points in the second half against Florida in a game where the Wildcats didn’t have De’Aaron Fox and earned themselves the SEC regular season title. He’s scored at least 20 points in a half six times this season.
Justin Jackson, Jr., North Carolina (18.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg)
Jackson, this season, developed into one of the elite players in the country. He was the best player in the ACC during conference play and the go-to guy for the Tar Heels, who won the loaded ACC by two games. His ability to consistently bang home open jumpers while attacking off the dribble is not something we’ve seen out of him before. He is why the Tar Heels have a chance to win a national title.
It’s weird: Frank Mason III is so clearly the Player of the Year candidate coming from the Kansas Jayhawks, but I’m not sure there’s many people out there that would argue against the idea that Jackson is the best player on Kansas. His ability to slide to the four has allowed Kansas to play small-ball, and that, in turn, is what has made this team so dangerous.
With Rico Gathers off to the NFL, things opened up for Motley in the paint this season, and he dominated there. The Bears are a Final Four contender this season because of the fact that they are elite defensively and play a ground-and-pound style offensively, and it’s Motley that allowed them to do both. He’s a hoss on the block offensively and part of their Twin Towers defensively.
THIRD TEAM ALL-AMERICAN
Jawun Evans, So., Oklahoma State (18.7 ppg, 6.3 apg)
Evans is in the conversation with Frank Mason and Monte’ Morris as the best point guard in the Big 12 this season. Think about that for a second. He’s been phenomenal, and he’s led the Pokes back to the NCAA tournament. If you get a chance, watch the highlights of the 22 points and 15 assists he put on Kansas over the weekend.
Morris has been around forever it seems, but he had the best year of his outstanding career this season, leading an Iowa State that doesn’t exactly have a great roster into a tie for second in the Big 12. Over his last 11 games, Morris had 73 assists and just seven turnovers. That just about sums him up.
Brooks missed some of the early part of the season coming back from a foot injury this summer, but his return marked the return of Oregon to being a national title contender. He’s hit three game-winning threes this season and has rightfully earned the reputation of one of the best big-shot makers in the country. In league play, he averaged 17.9 points.
John Collins, Wake Forest (19.1 ppg, 9.8 rpg)
Who saw this coming from Collins, who averaged 7.3 points on a bad Wake Forest team last season? A foul-plagued performance in a win at Virginia Tech on Saturday snapped a string of 12 straight games where Collins scored at least 20 points. He’s the biggest reason the Demon Deacons appear to be tournament-bound.
Lauri Markkanen, Arizona (15.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 42.8% 3PT)
Markkanen is a true seven-footer that’s shooting better than 42 percent from three. And he’s European. How often do you think he’s heard his name followed by the words “next Dirk Nowitzki”? Whatever the case may be, Markkanen helped to carry Arizona, the Pac-12 co-champs, during the 19 games that Allonzo Trier missed.
NBC Sports 2017 College Basketball Player of the Year: Frank Mason III, Kansas
Picking the Player of the Year in college basketball this season wasn’t the easiest thing to do, not when there were a handful of candidates that put together deserving seasons, but for us at NBC Sports, Frank Mason III wasn’t just the obvious pick, it was the consensus pick.
Mason’s numbers speak on their own. He averaged 20.5 points, which was tops in the Big 12, top 30 nationally and fourth — behind Markelle Fultz, Malik Monk and Sindarius Thornwell — among players in one of the top seven conferences, what are commonly known as high-major leagues. He finished fourth in the Big 12 in assists at 5.1 per game while also averaging 4.2 boards and shooting 49.3 percent from three, which, again, topped the conference and ranks him fourth nationally among players that averaged more than four threes attempted per game.
That, alone, puts him into the All-American conversation, particularly when you consider that he’s doing that for the team currently ranked No. 1 in the country that won the best conference in college basketball, according to KenPom, but four games.
Kansas isn’t as dominant as Kansas teams in the past have been. They’ve actually had some struggles this season, too often finding themselves trailing by double-figures in games they shouldn’t be trailing by double-figures. Ask people around that program, however, and what they’ll tell you is that Mason is probably the biggest reason why they were able to win some of the games that they won. He led the charge in the two biggest Kansas comebacks this season — coming from 14 points down in the final three minutes against West Virginia, or six points down in the final two minutes at Baylor — and was the guy who had the ball in his hands on the biggest possessions of a close game.
He was great in the biggest games of the year. He’s had his ‘Player of the Year Moments,’ whether it be the game-winning bucket against Duke, or the 21 points he had at Kentucky, or the 23 points and eight assists he had at Baylor.
There are, without question, better NBA prospects in college basketball this season.
But I don’t think there are any better college basketball players.
NBC Sports 2017 College Basketball Coach of the Year: Mark Few, Gonzaga
The National Coach of the Year was without a doubt the most difficult award of the group to pick.
Arizona’s Sean Miller has a very strong argument to receive the award, as does Villanova’s Jay Wright, even though he may not even be the guy to get the award in the Big East, not with what Butler’s Chris Holtmann has done this season. Baylor’s Scott Drew, Kansas’ Bill Self, SMU’s Tim Jankovich, Florida’s Mike White and Northwestern’s Chris Collins deserve to have their name in the mix as well.
But we went with Mark Few.
And the reason is actually fairly simple.
Few couldn’t quite get Gonzaga to the NCAA tournament with an unblemished record, but he did get the Zags to 29-1 in the regular season in a year where his top five scorers played a total of six games last season. Nigel Williams-Goss and Johnathan Williams III both sat out last season as transfers. Jordan Mathews was a grad transfer, having played for Cal his first three years in college. Przemek Karnowski may not be fair to have on this list — he’s a fifth-year senior that was given a medical redshirt for last season — but Zach Collins not only may be better than Przemek, he’s only a freshman.
Few is far from the only coach that has to deal with roster turnover like that, but he is the only one doing it that plays the most important games of his season in November and December, when the team was still figuring out each other — their roles, when they get shots, how many minutes they’re going to receive, etc.
That’s the part of this equation that isn’t getting enough attention.
Gonzaga plays in the WCC, which means that they have to earn their seeding — in a different year, they have to earn their at-large bid — in the first two months of the year. They don’t have a dozen games against top 50 teams available to them in league play. Gonzaga had to. And despite playing with, essentially, an entirely new team, he still managed to beat Florida, Iowa State and Arizona before the calendar turned.
You can think whatever you want about the Zags’ chances of getting to the Final Four.
But there really is no denying the fact that Few has done a marvelous job with this group.