Updated Player of the Year Rankings for College Basketball in 2016-17
The competition at this point for National Player of the Year is between Kansas’ Frank Mason, Villanova’s Josh Hart and UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, and it’s hard to see that changing.
You could convince me that the sheer ridiculousness of double-double machine Caleb Swanigan’s numbers is worthy of consideration or that one of the Kentucky freshman guards could go on a run to join the race. Plausible.
But Ball, Hart and Mason have been consistently brilliant, and their teams just keep winning. Mason has started to separate himself from the other two with his brilliant play in Big 12 competition, and no one is unseating him unless he starts missing shots or his team starts losing. Based off conference play thus far and history, neither seems likely.
The competition for All-American spots, at least on the second team, is more competitive. If the season were to end today, the players on this list would make up my team.
10. Johnathan Motley, Baylor Bears
This spot was between three big men: Johnathan Motley, Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson and Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ. All three deserving. Pick a straw.
Then Motley went for 32 points and 20 rebounds Tuesday night against Texas, and his straw got longer.
Motley has been the best player on one of the best (and most surprising) teams in America, averaging nearly a double-double with 15.8 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. His length and shot-blocking, combined with 7-footer Jo Lual-Acuil, has also made Baylor the top defensive team in the Big 12.
9. Jock Landale, Saint Mary's Gaels
If any publication picks someone other than Jock Landale for most improved player in college basketball, it’s obvious their writers go to bed early and are not hip to the sweet post game of the Saint Mary’s star. (Duke's Luke Kennard would be a good pick most years, but Landale has this locked down.)
The Aussie junior was Saint Mary’s seventh-leading scorer last season (7.9 points per game), and he’s now one of the toughest covers in America on the blocks. He’s averaging 17.3 points on an efficient 63 percent shooting. The Gaels struggled to keep up with Gonzaga last Saturday, losing 79-56, but one big reason why was Landale spent the game in foul trouble and played a season-low 19 minutes.
8. Luke Kennard, Duke Blue Devils
It’s unusual for a Duke player to have a line like Luke Kennard’s (20.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 44.3 percent from deep) and not rank higher in the NPOY rankings.
But the Blue Devils are challenging Indiana for the most disappointing team in college hoops now that they’re off to a 2-3 start in ACC play. Assuming senior big man Amile Jefferson is able to return from his foot injury, the Devils still have time to put it all together and become the juggernaut we all expected.
If that happens, Kennard’s stock will benefit. He's been one of the most dangerous scorers in the country, and it's not just as a three-point bomber. He's one of the toughest covers off the bounce, always seeming to get a step on his defender even though he's not that quick or explosive.
7. Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga Bulldogs
In case anyone was questioning the legitimacy of Gonzaga’s undefeated record, the Zags went out Saturday and wiped the floor with Saint Mary’s in a 23-point win. Nigel Williams-Goss controlled the game and put up 19 points and six assists.
Some, however, will still hate on the Zags because they play in the West Coast Conference. Until they get to a Final Four, that’ll be the case. Heck, even a Final Four probably isn’t going to change that. But if you want to question the placement of Williams-Goss on this list, please take a look at his performances against Power Five schools:
- Florida: 14 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists
- Iowa State (and Monte Morris, one of the best points guards in the country): 18 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists
- Arizona: 10 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists
- Washington (and likely No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz): 23 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds
- Tennessee: 20 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists
6. Maurice Watson Jr., Creighton Bluejays
Tuesday was a lousy day for college hoops. Creighton senior point guard Maurice Watson Jr. broke the news on Twitter that he has a torn ACL.
Watson was a joy to watch throughout his career, which started at Boston University, and he finally had the talent around him to kill it on the national stage. The Bluejays could have made a Final Four. Heck, they might have won a national title. They have an elite offense and a defense that was getting better with freshman stud Justin Patton patrolling the paint.
Creighton still has the goods to go on a run, but coach Greg McDermott has a lot of adjustments to make without the nation’s assist leader. He made running offense easy…and really, really fun.
This is not a sentimental placement for Watson on this list. Based on what’s happened through the first two-plus months of the season, he absolutely belongs this high.
To close the book on Watson’s career, Creighton sports information director Rob Anderson tweeted some fun Watson numbers. These two are my favorite:
- Watson has 801 career assists. The next-closest active player is Iowa State’s Monte Morris with 651.
- Watson’s assists have led to 71 threes, 30 dunks, 46 layups and 15 mid-range jumpers.
That’s the dream point guard in an analytical world. (CC: the NBA. Assuming he recovers from the ACL tear, someone should give that dude a chance.)
5. De'Aaron Fox and Malik Monk, Kentucky Wildcats
It’s too hard to decide which Kentucky freshman guard deserves to be a first-team All-American (and one of them will likely get a spot), and it’s still mid-January, so I’m not picking.
They’re both deserving and have been awesome in their own way.
Malik Monk puts up the points (21.4 per game) and has the signature performance of the season, 47 points in a win over North Carolina.
De’Aaron Fox makes the Cats go and fills up the stat sheet across the board (16.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.7 steals per game). John Calipari has had some awesome backcourts, but this one has already done enough to justify putting them at the top of the list.
4. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue Boilermakers
When I watched Caleb Swanigan on the Nike EYBL circuit, I fell in love with his game. He had great feet, soft hands and a big backside that he knew how to use. That combination is rare to find. He was also a rebounding monster.
The one criticism I had of Swanigan as a freshman was he took too many outside shots, like he was trying to prove something to scouts when he should have just been dominating from the blocks.
I’ve got an apology to make. Sorry, Biggie.
Swanigan is proving this year that the time he spent working on his perimeter game was worthwhile. He’s made 47.2 percent of his threes this season, and a Swanigan shot from anywhere on the court is a good shot.
Swanigan is putting up huge numbers (18.4 points and 12.5 rebounds), and he’s finished with a double-double in 15 of 19 games. He’s also one of the best passing big men in college basketball (2.7 assists per game). Biggie has also slimmed down but kept the strength that made him so dominant back in his EYBL days, evolving into the best big man in college basketball.
3. Lonzo Ball, UCLA Bruins
- UCLA’s offense is currently scoring 122.9 points per 100 possessions, which is the highest efficiency of any team in the KenPom.com era, which dates back to 2002. Only Wisconsin’s 2014-15 team has a higher adjusted mark: 127.0 to UCLA’s 124.3.
- From my man Rob Dauster over at NBCSports.com: Ball has 96 baskets this season. He’s made 46 threes and 49 twos at the rim. He has one basket that’s not a three, layup or dunk. (H/t to Hoop-Math.com, where I’m assuming Dauster got these numbers.)
- Synergy Sports has a fun stat that combines a player’s possessions (when he ends a possession with a shot or turnover) and his assists. These possessions for Ball result in 1.611 points per possession.
- UCLA went 15-17 last year. The Bruins are 18-1 this season.
I could write all day about how fun Lonzo Ball is to watch play the game of basketball, but let’s just allow the numbers to tell the story of Ball’s value to the Bruins.
2. Josh Hart, Villanova Wildcats
Josh Hart is pivoting and spinning his way to a first-team All-American spot. There’s nothing overly flashy about these Wildcats or their star. They just do not mess up and execute the fundamentals better than everyone else.
Hart has always been a strong slasher with a spin move when he gets in the lane that always seems to set him free, and he’s shooting better from the beyond the arc (37.1 percent) than he ever has. That’s a big reason he’s also scoring the ball easier than he ever has before, averaging 18.8 points per game.
His offensive rating (128.9) is the best in the country among players who use at least 24 percent of their team’s possessions, per KenPom.com.
The Nova senior is also one of the best defenders in the country. The dude is a rock, and the Wildcats just keep winning and winning. The year before Hart arrived, they were 20-14. In his four years: 115-14.
1. Frank Mason, Kansas Jayhawks
This is the time of year when absurd statistics start to return to the mean. The competition increases in conference play, and those silly numbers racked up against patsies turn out to be sort of fake.
Frank Mason, apparently, does not give a hoot about the competition. Mason is tearing up the Big 12 to the tune of 21.5 points per game and 61.5 percent three-point shooting in conference play. 61.5 PERCENT! Mason missed an open three Monday night against Iowa State, and I felt obliged to explain to my two boys that nothing in this world is a given, even a Frank Mason open three.
Mason has season averages of 20.3 points per game, 5.3 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 53.8 percent shooting from deep, and it’s getting to the point where we might as well figure those numbers are going to stay steady. He has one of the most clutch shots of the season on his resume (the game-winner against Duke) and he’s piloting the best offense Bill Self has ever coached.
He’s the front-runner for National Player of the Year, and his campaign probably deserves a hashtag. I’m here to help, KU fans: #BIFM4NPOY. That was as easy as an open Mason three-pointer.
C.J. Moore covers college basketball and football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @CJMooreBR.