2016-17 RTC National Player of the Year: Frank Mason III

Posted by Walker Carey on March 31st, 2017

One of the coolest things about collegiate athletics is when a relatively unheralded recruit develops into one of the country’s best players. College basketball has experienced this a few times in recent years with the likes of Trey Burke at Michigan, Victor Oladipo at Indiana and Doug McDermott at Creighton, but the case of 2016-17 RTC National Player of the Year Frank Mason III, though, is particularly unique. The Kansas point guard from Petersburg, Virginia, originally signed with Towson before a failing grade in a state-mandated government class torpedoed that plan. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the young player, as his stock rose considerably during a post-graduate year at Massanutten Military Academy (VA). Kansas was looking at a variety of point guard options at the time, but it was not until Cat Barber signed with NC State, Chris Jones went to Louisville, Demetrius Jackson went to Notre Dame, and Jordan McLaughlin went to USC that head coach Bill Self was willing to pull the trigger on Mason. That stroke of good fortune resulted in the development of a standout player who became a three-time all-Big 12 player and an All-American during a very successful four-season run in Lawrence.

While Mason was already a very good starting point guard during his sophomore and junior seasons, he took a superstar turn this season. What the dynamic playmaker lacked in stature – he stands at just 5’11” – he made up for it with a knack for making big plays and coming through in the clutch. Not only did Mason lead the Big 12 in scoring at 20.9 points per game, but he also became one of the country’s most reliable three-point shooters at 47.1 percent mark behind the arc. The performance that perfectly highlights how dominant Mason was this year came in Kansas’ regular season finale at Oklahoma State — in a battle with Cowboys’ point guard Jawun Evans, Mason finished with 27 points, nine assists and eight rebounds in an all-around effort. The floor leader turned in another virtuoso performance last week during the Jayhawks’ run to the Elite Eight. In their dominating Sweet Sixteen victory over Big Ten regular season champion Purdue, Mason controlled the entire game to finish with 26 points (9-of-11 FG and 4-of-5 3FG), seven assists and seven rebounds.

While Kansas’ season ended unexpectedly in a disappointing loss to #3 seed Oregon, it is difficult to characterize the Jayhawks’ season as a failure. Self’s team took home its 13th straight Big 12 regular season title – and considering its stark lack of depth, especially on the interior — this one was as difficult as any of the previous 12. The most important component of Kansas’s team success, though, was the steadying influence of Mason. The same Mason who was signed to play college basketball at Towson. The same Mason who ended up at an unknown military academy because of an academic misstep. The same Mason who needed several strokes of luck to wind up at Kansas, but made the most of the opportunity that he was given. College basketball success stories can be overblown and hyperbolic, but Mason’s rise to our 2016-17 RTC Player of the Year is truly one for the history books.

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2016-17 Rush the Court All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on March 30th, 2017

Compiling preseason All-America teams is a difficult task because nobody knows what will come during the upcoming season. There will always be several players who fall short of expectations and there will always be several relatively unknown types who will unexpectedly emerge to stardom. When our outfit of seven RTC pollsters selected their preseason All-America teams in November; nobody could have guessed that only five of the 15 players chosen would live up to their hype; Villanova’s Josh Hart, Oregon’s Dillon Brooks, Iowa State’s Monte’ Morris, Washington’s Markelle Fultz, and Kansas’ Josh Jackson. Hart was the only player projected to be a first-teamer who ended up there. The 10 other players who did not make our postseason team are Duke’s Grayson Allen and Jayson Tatum, California’s Ivan Rabb, Maryland’s Melo Trimble, Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes, Indiana’s Thomas Bryant, NC State’s Dennis Smith, Xavier’s Edmond Sumner and Trevon Bluiett, and Kentucky’s Bam Adebayo. All turned in varying degrees of productive seasons but were surpassed in achievements by the names that moved ahead of them on our list. Here are the 2016-17 RTC All-America Teams.

First Team All-America

  • Frank Mason, Senior, Kansas (consensus) (20.9 PPG, 5.2 APG, 49% FG, 47.1% 3FG). After being little more than a complementary contributor during his first three seasons in Lawrence, Mason wrapped up his collegiate career this season in spectacular fashion. What the point guard lack lacks in stature (he is listed at just 5’11”), he made up for it in big time performances. Kansas earned its 13th consecutive Big 12 regular season title and advanced to the Elite Eight this season, and neither of those would have been possible without Mason elevating his game to a superstar level. One of the coolest things about college basketball is when a relatively unheralded recruit develops into one of the country’s most accomplished players – and Mason certainly personified that in his senior season. Kansas fields a great team every year, but it is certain the Jayhawks will miss Mason’s services when they hit the hardwood again next fall.
  • Josh Hart, Senior, Villanova (consensus) (18.7 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 51% FG, 40.4% 3FG). Hart starred on last season’s National Championship team, but he took his game to another level during his senior season. The Big East Player of the Year joined Villanova legend Kerry Kittles as the only players in program history to amass 1,800 points, 700 rebounds, 250 assists, and 150 steals. Villanova’s season ended with a surprising Second Round loss to Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament, but that defeat should not cloud anyone’s perception of Hart’s season, as he was phenomenal from the opening tip of the first game to the final buzzer of the last one.
  • Lonzo Ball, Freshman, UCLA (consensus) (14.6 PPG, 7.6 APG, 6.0 RPG, 55.1% FG). Last year at this time, UCLA was coming off a very disappointing 15-17 season that suggested the 2016-17 campaign would be a make-or-break year for Steve Alford in Westwood. Luckily for the Bruins’ head coach, the arrival of Ball as the gem of a star-studded recruiting class aided significantly in morphing UCLA from a losing team to a Sweet Sixteen squad. A dynamic point guard known for his incredible court vision and ability to make his teammates better, Ball also helped had a knack for making key plays in big games – most notably in a December win at Kentucky and in a February home win over Oregon. Unfortunately for Bruins fans, they will not get to experience more of those star performances, as Ball quickly made his intention to enter the NBA Draft known following UCLA’s Sweet Sixteen loss to Kentucky.
  • Justin Jackson, Junior, North Carolina (18.2 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 2.8 APG). Following North Carolina’s heartbreaking defeat to Villanova in last year’s title game, Jackson chose to test the NBA Draft waters before ultimately returning to Chapel Hill for his junior season. At the time, Jackson stated, “The best choice for my basketball future is to return to school and play for the Tar Heels next season.” His statement turned out to be prophetic, as he became North Carolina’s go-to guy on his way to leading the team in scoring and earning the ACC Player of the Year award. The Tar Heels are a balanced unit with talent littering the roster, but Jackson’s emergence to stardom is the most important reason why Roy Williams’ team has another chance to play for the title this weekend in Phoenix.
  • Caleb Swanigan, Sophomore, Purdue (18.5 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 52.7% FG, 44.7% 3FG). The sophomore big man was a double-double machine for the regular season Big Ten champion — finishing a stellar year with 28 double-doubles and having four games where he grabbed 20 or more rebounds. A big reason for Swanigan’s increased productivity in his sophomore campaign was improved conditioning, as his minutes per game rose from 25.7 to 32.5. He also added a reliable three-point shot to his arsenal, improving his percentage in that are of the game to a robust 44.7 percent. As a result, the Boilermakers advanced to their first Sweet Sixteen since 2010, and that charge was led by a monster season from the All-American.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Oregon 74, #1 Kansas 60

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 25th, 2017

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) is in Kansas City this weekend.

Oregon Shocked Kansas in Kansas City Tonight to Advance to the Final Four (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Oregon rides explosive first half and timely second half shots to Glendale. The Ducks made every kind of shot you could think of in the early going, but unlike Purdue in its hot start against Kansas on Thursday night, Oregon was able to make it stick. The Ducks then proceeded to pour it on the Jayhawks to the tune of 1.42 points per possession in the first half, topped off by a Tyler Dorsey three-pointer from beyond NBA range just before the buzzer sounded. Though the offense regressed in the second half when the Ducks worked on killing the clock, they made shots seemingly every time Kansas appeared to go on a run.
  2. Jordan Bell stops Kansas silent at the rim. The Ducks’ hyper-athletic forward controlled the paint on defense, blocking eight shots and altering several more in addition to pulling down 13 rebounds. Bell’s presence inside was so intimidating that Kansas seemed to either think twice before attacking the lane or made costly mistakes whenever they got close to the bucket. The Jayhawks shot an uncharacteristic 8-of-17 on layups and were significantly influenced by the work inside of the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.
  3. Frank Mason gets little from his supporting cast. The leading candidate for National Player of the Year came to play tonight (21 points, four rebounds, four assists), but his teammates came well short of expectations — especially considering their performance to this point and the location in a familiar environment. Josh Jackson picked up two early fouls and didn’t crack the box score until midway through the second half. Devonte’ Graham was similarly quiet after coming into Saturday’s game on an absolute tear, and frontcourt stalwart Landen Lucas was outrebounded by every Oregon starter save for point guard Dylan Ennis. The Jayhawks had their share of looks from long range in the second half, but went just 1-of-15 from deep after halftime, sending Kansas home earlier than the Jayhawks had planned.

Star Of The Game. Tyler Dorsey (27 points, 9-of-13 FG, 6-of-10 3FG). There’s a very good argument for Bell in this space, but Dorsey’s shot-making and the confidence he inspired lifted Oregon in the closest thing this NCAA Tournament had to a true road game. He gets extra points here for his execution in the second half, as he became the go-to guy whenever Kansas started to get the crowd involved.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kansas 98, #4 Purdue 66

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 23rd, 2017

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) is in Kansas City this weekend.

Kansas Celebrates a Dominant Sweet Sixteen Victory (KC Star)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Explosiveness makes the Jayhawks lethal. Two backbreaking runs did the Boilermakers in tonight. The first was a 21-7 stretch over six minutes to end the first half, and the other was a 21-6 napalming midway through the second half. With shooters and athleticism up and down the roster keying its lethal transition game, Kansas has kicked its offense into a gear that no other team in college basketball can match.
  2. Caleb Swanigan gets his, but Purdue’s other scorers fail to come through. Without a classic rim protector, Kansas has allowed opposing big men to play well this season utilizing a bend-don’t-break defensive style focused on containing secondary weapons. Though Purdue opened tonight’s game with a barrage of three-pointers, it wasn’t built to last. Caleb Swanigan finished with 18 points and seven rebounds, but his teammates buried just 30 percent of their long-range attempts, including an ice-cold 2-of-11 showing in the second half as the game turned into a blowout.
  3. Devonte’ Graham’s hot shooting gives Kansas extra pop. Following a solid sophomore season, there was a reasonable expectation in Lawrence was that Graham would make a big leap forward during his junior year. Graham had a good regular season, but he’s been a completely different player in Kansas’ three NCAA Tournament games, averaging 20.0 points per game and shooting an eye-popping 59 percent from distance, including a 5-of-9 showing against the Boilermakers.

Player Of The Game. Frank Mason III. The Jayhawks didn’t need Mason to make any clutch plays tonight but that didn’t stop him from being the best scorer on the floor. The clear-cut favorite for National Player of the Year scored 26 points on 9-of-11 shooting and poured in seven assists and seven rebounds against one of the tallest frontcourts in college basketball.

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NCAA Regional Reset: Midwest Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 20th, 2017

Rush the Court is providing comprehensive coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish over the next three weeks.

New Favorite: #1 Kansas (30-4). Despite receiving a 30-minute test from #9 Michigan State on Sunday, Kansas remains the favorite to win the Midwest Region. The Jayhawks smashed #16 UC Davis 100-62 before dominating the last 10 minutes against the Spartans in the Round of 32 — a hard-fought victory that should prepare them well for an even stronger Big Ten opponent, #4 Purdue, on Thursday. If you buy into advanced metrics, this appears to be a fairly even matchup: Kansas ranks seventh in KenPom, while the Boilermakers rank 13th. Unfortunately for Matt Painter’s group, the game will be played in Kansas City, where a sea of Jayhawk faithful is sure to outnumber Purdue fans several fold. Assuming Kansas prevails, it will be a similar story against #3 Oregon or #7 Michigan. Beating Kansas is one thing, but beating Kansas in a semi-road game is something entirely different.

Kansas Rolls Into KC as the Clear Midwest Region Favorite (USA Today Images)

Horse of Darkness: #7 Michigan (26-11). The Wolverines have not lost since that epic defeat at Northwestern on March 1, a nearly three-week stretch which has included a near-plane crash, a Big Ten Tournament championship, and a pair of gutsy NCAA Tournament victories over Oklahoma State and Louisville. Michigan now boasts the third-most efficient offense in college basketball, thanks in large part to blistering performances like the one Moritz Wagner (26 points on 11-of-14 FT) put on against the Cardinals on Sunday. If John Beilein’s group can get past shorthanded Oregon on Thursday, there’s no reason to think it can’t win this region. Heck, the Wolverines have already beaten Purdue twice since February 25, and the last time they played Kansas in the Big Dance, this happened. Look out.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): #11 Rhode Island (25-10). Rhode Island entered the NCAA Tournament on an eight-game winning streak, so its victory over #6 Creighton in the Round of 64 was not that surprising. The fashion in which it whipped the Bluejays, though — winning by 14 points and trailing for exactly zero seconds in game time — was quite unexpected. So too was the Rams’ effort against #3 Oregon on Sunday night, a game in which they led by double-figures in the second half before falling victim to a cold-blooded Tyler Dorsey three-pointer in the closing seconds. For a program that had not gone dancing since 1999, Rhode Island was certainly ready for prime time.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kansas 90, #9 Michigan State 70

Posted by Chris Stone on March 19th, 2017

Rush the Court will be covering the NCAA Tournament from start to finish over the next three weeks. 

Miles Bridges and Josh Jackson battled it out on Sunday. (Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press).

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. Nick Ward’s foul trouble played an important role. Michigan State found success against Kansas by dumping the ball inside to the freshman big man. Over the second half of the season, Ward had evolved into a go-to post threat for the Spartans and it was no different today as he finished with 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting. The problem is that Ward was on the floor for just 20 minutes as he spent much of the game saddled with fouls. In those 20 minutes, Michigan State outscored the Jayhawks by five points. In the 20 minutes with Ward’s replacement, Ryan Goins, on the court, the Spartans were outscored by 25 points. That’s the difference.
  2. Kansas hit its free throws. The Jayhawks have struggled from the foul line all season long, shooting just 67.1 percent (284th nationally) from the charity stripe — still, there always seemed to be some unshaken faith that the team would make them when they needed to. Well, Kansas today finished 14-of-15 from the free throw line with senior guard Frank Mason going a perfect 8-of-8. Even freshman Josh Jackson, a 55.9 percent free throw shooter, made all three of his attempts, including converting a crucial one-and-one late in the contest.
  3. The threes eventually fell for the Jayhawks. Michigan State kept this game close in large part because the Spartans held Kansas in check from behind the arc. They did well fighting over screens and getting out to challenge shooters on the perimeter, but eventually, the shots started falling and Kansas pulled away. The Jayhawks finished 8-of-20 from behind the arc as they nailed several threes down the stretch. Guard Devonte’ Graham led the way, scoring 12 of his 18 points from deep. The Jayhawks are at their best when they’re knocking down outside shots. It just took them a bit more time to get that part of their game going against Michigan State.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kansas 100, #16 UC Davis 62

Posted by Chris Stone on March 17th, 2017

Rush the Court will be covering the NCAA Tournament from start to finish over the next three weeks. 

Kansas advanced easily in Josh Jackson’s return to the court. (Tony Gutierrez/AP)

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. UC Davis was just totally overmatched. Not every matchup between a #1 seed and a #16 seed is a complete snoozer, but this game most definitely was. Kansas was significantly better than the Aggies tonight and it showed just about everywhere on the floor, as UC Davis looked like the team that entered the NCAA Tournament with the worst KenPom ranking of any club in the field of 68. After an early flurry of offensive fouls called on the Jayhawks, the better team settled in, moved the ball around, and picked apart the Aggies’ defense.
  2. Josh Jackson is back. The freshman has been mired in off-court controversy over the last month — and was suspended for the Jayhawks’ opening round loss in the Big 12 Tournament — but the freshman came back in a big way tonight. Jackson put together an all-around game, delivering 17 points and seven rebounds and showing the versatility that Kansas needs if it hopes to make a deep run. Few teams in the field have an equal who can match Jackson’s combination of competitiveness and athleticism.
  3. The game took a cruel turn after Jim Les’ technical foul. UC Davis was actually keeping it close for a while in the first half before things took an ugly turn when the Aggies’ head coach picked up a technical foul while arguing with an official. Ahead by only two at the time, the Jayhawks then went on a 27-7 run run to close out the half that featured plenty of alley-oops and threes. The run may have happened even without Les picking up the violation, but the four-point possession that resulted from the ensuing free throws and another pair from Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk certainly didn’t help matters.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big 12 Teams

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 12th, 2017

The Big 12 will send six teams to the NCAA Tournament, down from seven in each of the last three seasons. Kansas State may have missed the cut if not for its win over Baylor on Thursday night, but the Wildcats took care of business and the committee rewarded them with a bid despite a soft non-conference schedule. In other relevant news, Kansas lost its grip on the #1 overall seed after its quarterfinal defeat to TCU, while Baylor slipped to a #3 seed due to a 5-6 stretch entering Selection Sunday. Below is a quick look at the Big 12’s lot, including best-case and worst-case scenarios for each team over the coming weeks.

Frank Mason gets one last shot to deliver a national title for Kansas. (Aaron Doster/USA Today Sports)

Kansas (#1 Midwest) – Bill Self‘s team opens on Friday against the winner of North Carolina Central and UC Davis. Assuming a win there, the Jayhawks will either face Miami (FL) or Michigan State, a familiar foe from the Champions Classic rotation.

  • Best Case: Powered by a deathly combination of hot three-point shooting, Josh Jackson‘s dynamic athleticism and Frank Mason‘s knack for closing games, the Jayhawks compartmentalize their off-court issues and cut down the nets in Glendale on April 3.
  • Worst Case: Foul trouble from Landen Lucas and a poor shooting night lead to the Jayhawks underperforming versus their seed for the fifth straight NCAA Tournament.

Baylor (#3 East) – Baylor’s sputtering finish definitely cost them. Not only did the Bears drop from a #2 to a #3 seed, but they received a very tough potential draw in the form of SMU in the second round. That match-up would neutralize (to some degree) the advantage the Bears gain by playing in nearby Tulsa.

  • Best Case: The Bears put the last two seasons of disappointing finishes in the rearview mirror, stifling offenses with their amoeba zone and riding Johnathan Motley‘s all-around game to the team’s third Elite Eight appearance under Scott Drew.
  • Worst Case: With Manu Lecomte compromised by ankle problems, Motley faces constant double-teams and the Bears once again fail to beat a double-digit seed in the opening round.

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Four Storylines Heading into the Big 12 Tournament

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 8th, 2017

While the Big 12 figures to take a step back from 2016 in terms of NCAA Tournament participation, the league has once again enjoyed a stellar season. You could certainly look at Kansas winning the regular season championship by four games and conclude that it wasn’t all that great, but a look under the hood reveals a different stance. Of the 90 league games that were played this season, 43 were decided by five points or fewer (or in overtime) and just two were decided by 20 points or more. Although the majority of the league’s NCAA Tournament fates are already sealed, we should be in for more several more exciting finishes over the next four days. Here are the four biggest storylines worth following this week in Kansas City.

Frank Mason takes his POY campaign to Kansas City for the Big 12 Tournament (Reed Hoffmann/Getty Images)

  1. Kansas State has everything to play for. After losing eight of 10 games, the Wildcats rejoined the bubble conversation by closing its regular season with victories in must-win games against TCU and Texas Tech. Bruce Weber also appears to have received a temporary reprieve from the hot seat with athletic director John Currie stepping down, so things are trending in the right direction in Manhattan. A win over Baylor in Thursday’s quarterfinals should remove any lingering doubts over an NCAA Tournament bid, and senior D.J. Johnson is the most important piece of that puzzle. The injury-prone big man was healthy and, more importantly, productive in the team’s regular season finale, scoring 19 points on an efficient 8-of-11 shooting against the Red Raiders. He also helped contain standout Bears forward Johnathan Motley to 6-of-17 shooting in the Wildcats’ win over Baylor in early February.
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What Makes #13 Different For Kansas

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 23rd, 2017

Kansas‘ 13th consecutive regular season Big 12 title became a formality after its comeback win over Baylor last weekend, but it’s felt like an inevitability in practical terms since February 4 when the Jayhawks’ closest challengers failed to capitalize on a rare loss at Allen Fieldhouse. That doesn’t make The Streak (TM) any less impressive, however. In fact, this season’s run to the regular season title — a share of which was clinched in Wednesday’s 87-68 win over TCU — represents Bill Self‘s best coaching job since taking the reins at Kansas in 2003. Here are three reasons why.

Josh Jackson and Kansas battled challenged both internal and external on its way to a record-tying 13th consecutive regular season Big 12 title. (Orlin Wagner/AP Photo)

  • Conference Strength – The Big 12 has been the nation’s best conference for several years now, but it’s never been as deep as this year even if it only sends six teams to the NCAA Tournament this time. The residents of the conference’s cellar help tell the story, too. Oklahoma at 3-12 is the worst team in the league, but the Sooners still rank among KenPom’s top 75 with a resume that includes a win at West Virginia and close losses to Baylor, Oklahoma State (twice), TCU and Wichita State. All five of those opponents are either safe bets to make the NCAA Tournament or right on the periphery, which goes to show that the also-rans of the other power leagues simply can’t compare. With just two league losses to date, Kansas leads the Big 12 by three games and could add even more padding before the regular season ends.

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