Our writers make their picks for college basketball's Player of the Year

There’s typically some clarity to the national player of the year race by the final week of the regular season, but that’s not the case this year.

As the calendar turns to college basketball’s most important month, you can reasonably make a case for a handful of guys, each of whom have been instrumental to leading their teams into national title contention.

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With Selection Sunday only 11 days away, we asked four of our college basketball writers to give their Player of the Year picks so far. A consensus emerged regarding who the leading candidates are but not the order in which they should be ranked.


  1. Frank Mason III, Kansas

  2. Josh Hart, Villanova

  3. Lonzo Ball, UCLA

  4. Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga

  5. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue

I hated this list as soon as I finished it, because I had to leave off the entire Atlantic Coast Conference and Oklahoma State’s Jawun Evans, and neither of those things feels right. However, the assignment was a top five, so there will be notable omissions.

The most important thing about all five players on this list is that their teams would be drastically diminished without them: Purdue isn’t leading the Big Ten without Swanigan’s double-doubles; Gonzaga is not 27-1 without Williams-Goss’ ability to fill all parts of a box score; Ball has elevated UCLA to national contender status; Hart is the embodiment of Villanova’s championship toughness; and Mason has a will to win that stands out even among other hyper-competitive athletes.

Mason gets the top spot not just because he averages 20 points, four rebounds and five assists for the nation’s No. 1 team — it’s the endless array of big plays at big times, for a team that has found itself in a surprising number of close games. Bill Self has leaned hard on Mason this year, piling on the minutes and the responsibilities at both ends of the floor, and he’s handled it all.

By now, Kansas fans have to believe they’re always going to win, because Frank Mason is always going to find a way.

Frank Mason (AP)
Frank Mason (AP)


  1. Josh Hart, Villanova

  2. Frank Mason III, Kansas

  3. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue

  4. Lonzo Ball, UCLA

  5. Johnathan Motley, Baylor

There is a great argument for the best player (and point guard) on the nation’s top-ranked team, and there is a solid argument for a dominant big who has recorded 24 double-doubles and four 20-20 games. But I’ll take the player who combines the most compelling aspects of both arguments. That player is Villanova’s Josh Hart.

Hart admittedly isn’t putting up the per-game scoring numbers of a typical Player of the Year favorite, and hasn’t been as prolific over the past three weeks. He is, however, like Mason, the best player on arguably the nation’s best team, and he is, like Swanigan, a multi-dimensional monster who is outstanding on both ends of the court.

Hart’s per-game numbers are also deceptive. Whereas Kansas and Purdue (and UCLA and Gonzaga) rank in the top 100 nationally in offensive pace, Villanova’s adjusted tempo ranks 320th. The Wildcats average fewer than 65 possessions per game; Kansas, on the other hand, averages more than 70. Hart’s 18.6 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game are therefore more impressive than Mason’s 20.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.9 assists.

That is reflected in per-possession numbers. Hart is a more efficient offensive player than Mason. His effective field goal and true shooting percentages are higher. His block and steal rates are higher. And his assist rate — especially coupled with his turnover rate — is great for a non-point guard.

Hart is also doing all of this on a team that has effectively been reduced to a six-man rotation lately. He’s led that team to a 27-3 record, a fourth consecutive Big East title, and a likely No. 1 seed. That’s POY material.

Josh Hart (Getty)
Josh Hart (Getty)


  1. Frank Mason III, Kansas

  2. Lonzo Ball, UCLA

  3. Josh Hart, Villanova

  4. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue

  5. Dillon Brooks, Oregon

It’s tough to go against the versatile wing who embodies Villanova’s championship mettle or the transformative point guard who pilots UCLA’s prolific offense. It’s also hard not to pick the rapidly improving Purdue big man who’s a double-double machine or the high-scoring Oregon forward with a knack for sinking clutch shots.

But as great as Josh Hart, Lonzo Ball, Caleb Swanigan and Dillon Brooks have been this year, none has made as big an impact as a player who once attracted zero attention from major college basketball programs.

Kansas point guard Frank Mason Mason was committed to unheralded Towson five years ago until he failed a government class his senior year of high school and failed to qualify. Only after he reopened his recruitment did he happen to catch the attention of a Jayhawks assistant coach who was in the gym to watch another point guard that day.

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That was a fortuitous break for Kansas because Mason has been the Jayhawks’ heartbeat for the past few seasons. He’s averaging 20.3 points, 4.9 assists and 4.0 rebounds for the nation’s top-ranked team, yet his stoic intensity, mental toughness and will to win are as big a reason he’s a player of the year candidate as his impressive statistics are.

There was his jumper over Matt Jones to topple Duke back in November. Or the improbable 14-point rally he spearheaded to beat West Virginia. Or the other comeback he led a few days later to beat Baylor in Waco.

Without Mason, there’s no way Kansas would have won its record-setting 13th straight Big 12 title, let alone done it with a couple games to spare. For that reason, he should be player of the year.

Frank Mason (AP)
Frank Mason (AP)


  1. Lonzo Ball, UCLA

  2. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue

  3. Frank Mason, Kansas

  4. Josh Hart, Villanova

  5. Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga

It is hard to think of a player who has been as transformational to his program’s — and, in this case, his regime’s — rise as Ball has been to Steve Alford at UCLA. The Bruins are No. 3 in the AP poll (and No. 2 in the coaches’ poll) and tops in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency, per KenPom, with Ball being the primary reason for all of this.

The five-star freshman leads the nation in assists (7.6) without sacrificing his scoring load, as he averages 14.8 points per game. Ball shoots 54.6 percent from the field, which is fourth nationally among guards — and which allows so many open looks for a UCLA team that leads the nation in team field-goal percentage (52.9).

Additionally, Ball averages 1.9 steals, 6.4 boards and nearly a block per night (0.8) despite a modest frame of 6-foot-6, 190 pounds. He gets it done on both ends of the floor, and he has come up with big shot time and time again for the Bruins, from his late-game barrage against Texas A&M to his step-back 3 late against Oregon.

No one in college basketball has been as integral to his team’s identity and success as Ball has. And, as an added bonus, no one has been as highlight-reel worthy, either.

Lonzo Ball (Getty)
Lonzo Ball (Getty)

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