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Let's be Frank: Mason's importance vs. Michigan State goes well beyond scoring
By now, everyone in the country knows that Kansas senior Frank Mason III is a stone-cold scorer.
His 3-point shot is a bona fide weapon, his transition game is relentless and flat-out frightening and his willingness to throw his body into, over, through and around bigger, stronger, taller opponents is the stuff of legends inside KU circles.
So there’s no questioning that another good scoring day from Mason would go a long way toward helping the top-seeded Jayhawks stand tall against tough No. 9 seed Michigan State at 4:15 today in a second-round, NCAA Tournament clash at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.
But this appears to be one of those match-ups in which it might best help the Jayhawks (29-4) if Mason scores only when he has to and focuses on the rest of his game the rest of the night. Mason knows that. And, as he has been all season long, he’s more than willing to do exactly that if that’s what gives his team the best shot of heading to the winner’s circle.
“I would say creating easy shots for my teammates, getting them involved early, playing great defense and making me feel me every possession,” answered the seemingly-always-stoic Mason when asked what, from his position, was the key to beating the Spartans (20-14). “It starts with the point guard and (I just want to focus on) getting out in transition, running and trying to get easy baskets before their defense sets up, showing great leadership skills and just being coachable and leading our younger guys.”
Looking at it through those words alone, Mason carries a huge load into the Jayhawks’ second game of what they hope will be a long NCAA Tournament run. But, as anyone who has followed this team — up close or from afar — has seen all season, no weight has proven to be too heavy for the Jayhawks’ bulldog point guard and no challenge has been too stiff for him to answer.
In 33 games this season, Mason has tallied 20 points or more 20 times, including seven of the last eight. What’s more, in the 13 games in which he did not reach the 20-point mark, Mason came within a single shot of touching 20 six different times.
While numbers like that, which have Mason racking up national player of the year honors left and right, certainly seem solid, it’s the rest of the stat sheet that shows not only how valuable Mason is to this Kansas team — even just writing that carries that, ‘OK, Captain Obvious’ vibe with it — but also just how impressive his ability to deliver, day after day, week after week, game after game, from start to finish, has been.
The rebounds (4.2 per game), the assists (5.2 per game), the minutes (36.1 per game) and the long list of clutch shots. All have been crucial for Kansas in reaching this point. And they’ll need more of all of them to continue to advance.
But the one thing that does not show up on the stat sheet, the one thing that can’t be measured or stacked up against anybody else’s numbers in any advanced metrics or projected numbers is the one thing that Mason’s teammates value most about their veteran leader.
“Big comfort level," said junior running mate Devonte' Graham when asked what Mason brings to this team. "We know we can give him the ball at any time and he can make a play, late clock, early clock, transition.... At this time of year, the best players gotta be on the court making plays and doing whatever we can to help the team win.”
Added freshman phenom Josh Jackson: “We all have a lot of confidence in Frank. And just to have him on the team makes us so much more comfortable. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like being on the opposite team, trying to guard that guy. He’s a monster.”