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Friday, March 20, 2015

Keegan

Column: Frank Mason once again plays bigger than a point guard

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) pulls down one of his 9 rebounds to go with his 17 points in the Jayhawks' 75-56 win over New Mexico State Friday, March 20, 2015 at the CenturyLink Center, Omaha, Neb.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) pulls down one of his 9 rebounds to go with his 17 points in the Jayhawks' 75-56 win over New Mexico State Friday, March 20, 2015 at the CenturyLink Center, Omaha, Neb.

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— The Kansas University basketball team took the CenturyLink Center court for the second round of pre-game warmups Friday morning, meaning it was time for New Mexico State’s players to all go to the other end of the floor.

Kansas point guard Fearless Frank Mason III, a 5-foot-11 giant, stopped for an instant, locked his big eyes on one of the Aggies’ tallest players and gave him the icy glare typically seen at the center of the ring when boxers receive instructions.

If Mason’s glare had lips, perhaps they would have formed the words, “I’m going to play bigger than you.”

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Press Conferences & Post-Game Interviews

Bill Self talks KU's rediscovered 3-point shooting and balanced scoring

Kansas basketball coach Bill Self saw his team make 9 of 13 three-pointers Friday in Omaha, where the Jayhawks advanced to the next round of the NCAA Tournament with a 75-56 win over New Mexico State. KU had seven players who scored seven or more points. Self discussed those topics ...

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KANSAS 75, NEW MEXICO STATE 56

Box score

And then he did. Nobody had more points (17) and rebounds (9) than Mason in KU’s 75-56, stress-free domination of the Aggies.

Nearly every decision he made, how to attack the spread-out zone, when to drive to shoot, when to drive to pass, how to break the press, was the right one. He made 6 of 7 field goals, both three-pointers, and 3 of 4 free throws. He also had four assists, just two turnovers and two steals.

Mason’s save of a ball that had flown out of bounds didn’t raise any eyebrows among those who have seen him contorting his body so quickly without losing balance, because he does it so smoothly the shock value is totally gone. Mason’s come such a long way in such a short time in his evolution from high school scoring sensation to college point guard.

“Incredible basketball player, incredible ball-handler. Honestly, I think he’s the best ball-handler in college basketball,” said slump-busting shooter Brannen Greene, who had a big day himself. “Never gets the ball taken away from him, just always seems to make the right play. His quickness is superb, the things he can do athletically, nobody else on the team can do. He always picks on us in practice, like, ‘Man, you can’t make that play? I can make that play.’ And he’ll go and do it.”

Such physical gifts and a nice feel for the game enabled Mason to lead his team to the regular-season title in the Big 12, a league loaded with talented point guards. Sometimes he got the better of the matchup. Sometimes he didn’t, though never for lack of effort and never out of fear.

Mason aced his first test as starting point guard in an NCAA Tournament game. If New Mexico State as an entry-level course, Wichita State is advanced calculus in the point-guard department.

Mason’s Sunday matchup with Fred VanVleet ranks high among the intriguing subplots of a game brimming with so many angles. It comes with an ironic twist in that the celebrated player with a national name and All-American support is from the Missouri Valley school, not the perennial powerhouse.

Mason played in his third tournament game Friday, VanVleet in his eighth. He, more than anyone on the floor, was responsible for him being able to play in a ninth.

VanVleet has earned every ounce of his fame by consistently doing all the things asked of a point guard. He runs the team so efficiently and runs the other team into the ground.

VanVleet unloaded 27 points on Indiana, dished four assists, turned it over once and had two steals. Relentless in transition, he also played a big role defensively. Tekele Cotton plays the role of shut-down defender for the Shockers, so coach Gregg Marshall had him checking first-team Big Ten guard Yogi Ferrell to start the game. Ferrell was on fire, scoring on drives and threes on his way to 24 points. When Marshall switched VanVleet onto him midway through the first half, Yogi slowed down considerably.

“Fred just understands guarding point guards a little better,” Marshall said. “Yogi was having his way, and Fred, I thought, did a wonderful job, besides scoring all the points he did, he defended beautifully.”

Superlatives were flying about both point guards who will hear their names called in the (first) game of the century between the schools.

“You can just get the ball to him and he’s a one-man press-breaker,” Greene said of Mason. “He’s big for us. He makes plays. He gets everybody involved. He demands respect just because of what he’s done throughout the season. He makes us all better.”

Said Devonté Graham of Mason: “He’s a smart player. He makes the right decision almost on every possession, just takes care of the ball. He just does the little things for our team.”

Little’s not often a word associated with Mason, such a big part of KU’s chances of advancing. Nothing about his game is little. He even gets up for dunks as high as nearly anybody on the team.

“Oh for sure,” Greene said. “If you haven’t seen him in warmups, yeah, man, he gets pretty high. He does everything everyone else does: between the legs, windmills, all that. It’s just if he wants to bring it out. He doesn’t bring it out some days. Some days he does.”

Pre-game style from Mason won’t be needed Sunday, just in-game substance. For a guy with his gifts, Mason isn’t very flashy.

“He keeps the same facial expression all the time,” Graham said. “Coach talks to him about that: ‘You need to show emotion.’ But that’s just the kind of guy he is. He’s playing great, so I don’t care what kind of face he makes.”


More news and notes from Kansas vs. New Mexico State in the NCAA Tournament


By the Numbers: Kansas beats New Mexico State, 75-56

By the Numbers: Kansas beats New Mexico State, 75-56

Comments

Bill Pitcher 2 years, 7 months ago

Frank Mason and Perry Ellis are two of the finest young men to represent KU on or off the court, ever. Ever.

Jerry Collins 2 years, 7 months ago

I was traveling with the team in the early 70's and we were going through the Memphis Airport and a older worker there came up to me and asked who the team was. After telling him it was the Kansas University basketball team, he remarked it was the most 'polite group of young men' he had seen come through the airport since he had worked there. I remember that comment every time I see the Jayhawks represent KU with class.

Joe Joseph 2 years, 7 months ago

As a fan, it's very comforting to know that Kansas is rock solid at the point for at least three more years. Mason has been a stud and Devonte has shown a lot of promise. Really appreciate the attitudes of both of those guys.

Mark Lindrud 2 years, 7 months ago

I am happy to see that Mason is becoming and all around point guard who leads in a variety of ways to help the team. He is truly becoming the leader of this team since his shooting is improving and his ability to distribute the ball is becoming more consistent. The future with him and Devonte make the point guard spot very solid for the next few years. The teamwork amongst these two is growing quickly, and that in itself will only get better, which is very exciting.

Doug Cramer 2 years, 7 months ago

I'll take Mason over Collins, Taylor, EJ, and Tharp anyday.

He might be one of the best PGs we've ever had.

Craig Alexander 2 years, 7 months ago

Don't know if I'm ready to put him over Sherron yet but he is definitely getting there. His bulldog mentality is fun to watch. I like him ripping boards down from 6' 9"+ dudes.

Micky Baker 2 years, 7 months ago

Mason leads Collins in every statistical category but one, comparing both as sophomores.

Aaron Paisley 2 years, 7 months ago

Frank Mason has played 34 mpg this season and Sherron played 24 mpg as a 6th man as a sophomore. Frank Mason has better total numbers because he has played 10 more minutes per game. The actual numbers per 40 minutes say Collins was a better player as a sophomore. Plus, I'll take the team success of Sherron's sophomore year all day everyday and twice on Sunday.

Points per 40 minutes

Sherron Collins: 15.6

Frank Mason: 14.8

Assists per 40 minutes

Sherron Collins: 5.2

Frank Mason: 4.8

Assist to Turnover ratio

Sherron Collins: 1.54

Frank Mason: 2.04

Rebounds per 40 minutes

Sherron Collins: 3.7

Frank Mason: 4.6

Steals per 40 minutes

Sherron Collins: 1.9

Frank Mason: 1.7

Numbers lie Micky, Sherron had better per 40 minute numbers than Mason in everything except rebounds which isn't that important out of a PG.

Len Shaffer 2 years, 7 months ago

As great as Sherron could be at times, he also forced things a lot. When his shot was falling, he was one of the best I've ever seen. But when it wasn't falling, he would often take bad shots or try to force the ball in among a double- or triple-team.

Frank did a lot of that last year (and Devonte still does too much of that), but at this point Frank is much more consistent than Sherron ever was. I'd put him at the same level of Tyshawn in the last half of the 2012 season. Unfortunately, he may have to face UK in the Elite 8 instead of the championship game.

Aaron Paisley 2 years, 7 months ago

Says the guy who 6 months ago was saying Connor Frankamp should be the starting PG of KU this year. When exactly did Mason go from not good enough to start to "one of the best" PG's in KU history?

Arthur Ankeney 2 years, 7 months ago

I have been so surprised and impressed with Mason this season. I solidly thought Frankamp would be our starter this year. Seeing the way Mason and Graham have played though this year, I can totally understand his decision to transfer (even if I would like to have seen him here, particularly to help Mason out when Graham was injured).

Mick Allen 2 years, 7 months ago

Doug, the Sherron-Mason choice is the toughest, but you know my long held opinion of Mason, so I won't disagree with you.

Mick Allen 2 years, 7 months ago

Arthur, you and several others thought Frankamp and possibly even Graham, would start over Frank. I'm thrilled with Graham's play also. As others have said, our guard situation looks solid for the next 2 to 3 years.

Arthur Ankeney 2 years, 7 months ago

Yup. My worry going into the season was about his decision making with the ball in his hands (the single most important characteristic as a PG). As a freshman, he penetrated deep and got blocked 50% of the time. I believe this stemmed from his high school career where he was a primary scorer. I have been VERY impressed with his development into a collegiate point guard. He can penetrate and get off a layup or stop a step earlier for a nice floater or drop off to a big man, he puts lobs right on the money, and can shoot from deep. Very impressed with his development.

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