Frank Mason leading the pack for Wooden Award
Exhausted but unwilling to let that curb his enthusiasm level, Frank Mason III on the same night that he compiled statistics below his standards enhanced his chances of winning national-player-of-the-year honors.
Mason led Kansas to a 74-71 victory in Manhattan over a tough Kansas State squad by scoring 21 points on 7 of 17 shooting and had just two rebounds, three assists and four turnovers.
Yet, anyone who watched the way he willed his team to victory and on one play was going so fast, hustling so hard, that he ended up crashing into the second row of the press area in the end zone, had to reach the obvious conclusion: He’s leading the Wooden Award race.
Mason’s most impressive stat of the night: He played 38 minutes. That’s what third-ranked Kansas needs out of him because the roster has more holes than usual.
I would rank Mason’s chief competition for the award in this order: UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan, Villanova’s Josh Hart, Duke’s Luke Kennard.
Mason has a higher scoring average (20.4), minutes total (35.8) and 3-point shooting percentage (.519, fifth in the nation) than anyone on that list and he’s doing it in a conference loaded with standout point guards.
He puts his fingerprints on every aspect of the game.
“You know what, I’m biased, but he makes big plays, he makes hard shots, he doesn’t shoot near as many free throws as sometimes I think he should, but on-the-ball defender at game point, he’s about as good as there is,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “So he does a lot of things to give a team a chance to win.”
And he makes the most of those chances with clutch plays in all areas at the end of close games.
For Mason to play as many minutes as he does, compete so hard defensively, soar above way bigger players for defensive rebounds and still have the energy to shoot such a high percentage is a testament to his remarkable physical and mental stamina.
Ball (15.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 7.8 assists, .430 3-point percentage) is doing amazing things for UCLA in 35.2 minutes a game, but Mason is carrying an even bigger load for depth-shy Kansas than Ball is for the Bruins.