The 2016-21017 college basketball season has loads of talent. Even more than past years. Last year, it was Buddy Hield running away with the award towards the end of the season, then a two horse race in 2015 with Frank Kaminski and Jahlil Okafor.
This year? There are 5 or 6 players who could easily have a hot February and March and steal the title.
Here’s my front-runner list and why you should be watching them as March Madness creeps up on the calendar.
1. Frank Mason III – PG, Kansas
Remember how vital Perry Ellis was to last years’ Kansas team? And the year before that… And the year before that… (Yes he finally graduated) He was the rock to those teams. When Andrew Wiggins struggled in big games in 2014, or if the Jayhawks needed a bucket during a tough stretch, Perry was there. Mason has taken this role and has elevated this Kansas team to new heights, scoring more points per game than any other Kansas player under coach Bill Self.
Mason has made the game easier for his teammates, especially down the stretch of games. In a game vs. Texas Tech this year, Mason drew attention to the ball in the second half, giving super talented freshman and future top-5 pick Josh Jackson easier looks.
Take a look at his highlights and expect to watch him lead Kansas deep into the bracket.
2. Josh Hart – Villanova, G
Hart was Villanova’s most consistent player last year during their championship run and was overshadowed by the play of point guard Ryan Arcidiacono and “the shot” by Kris Jenkins.
In the most Villanova way to describe a player, he’s a prototypical two-way playmaker who finds his way to the basket and like Mason, is consistent and will push his team to a win. Villanova hasn’t seen much competition this year, so we’ll get to see exactly how good Hart is when tournament time comes around, and that’s why I give the edge to Mason, who plays in a deep Big 12.
3. Caleb Swanigan – Purdue, F
In his sophomore campaign, Swanigan may be the most improved player on this list. After watching former teammate AJ Hammonds make it to the NBA, Swanigan got in shape and improved his game, boasting 22 double doubles.
Swanigan may be the most dominant player in college basketball this year, being elite in rebounding and scoring with his back to the basket (Duke Jahlil Okafor anyone?), but…he plays for Purdue. Let’s see what he can do on the big stage.
4. Lonzo Ball – UCLA, PG
Lonzo has lived up to the hype. Despite seeing his little brother LaMelo cherrypick his way to 92 points and his outrageous dad claiming he is the second coming of MJ, Ball has BALLED in his one-and-done year. His 6’6″ lanky frame allows him to see the court like CP3 and shoot over defenders like KD (One of the few comparisons I will make).
Ball has the chance to be special and will be a top-3 pick this upcoming draft. His confidence and IQ puts him ahead of other talented guards and will translate well into late March. Don’t be surprised if his stock skyrockets after a few dominant games in the Pac-12 tourney.
(Recommendation: Don’t pay attention to his horrendous shooting form)
5. Nigel Williams-Goss – Gonzaga, G
The classic best player on the best team. Gonzaga being the best team may be a stretch, but they’re undefeated and have a bunch of talent, so hey, Williams-Goss deserves hit. Not the flashiest player on the court, but he really does everything.
Transferring from Washington to get away from the Markelle Fultz hype, he leads his team in points, assists, and rebounds for the undefeated Zags. Shooting a smooth 50.5% from the field, he has a chance to climb up the rankings.
Truthfully, this happens every year. Gonzaga has some great player that everyone falls in love with, then loses when a team other than BYU can lock up defensively. Speaking of BYU, if Williams-Goss is calling out Michael Wilbon in a postgame interview after a win vs. BYU to “shut up the haters”, you deserve to lose in the first week in March.
Markelle Fultz – Washington, PG, Johnathan Motley – Baylor, F, Sindarius Thornwell – South Carolina, G, Malik Monk – Kentuck