College POY candidates
The Associated Press
Three losses in four games will surely send Oklahoma plummeting down the polls and end the Sooners’ bid to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Those games may also have sprung the door wide open in the national player of the year race.
Once a strong front-runner, Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield now has some company in the conversation as college basketball’s best player. The Sooners’ senior may still sweep top honors with all the special things he’s done, but there are several players who can still give him a run.
A quick look at some of the top candidates for player of the year:
BUDDY HIELD, OKLAHOMA
He’s put up big numbers, hit clutch shots, had signature moments — everything you could want in a player of the year. Hield is second nationally — first among power programs — with 25.6 points per game and is shooting 48 percent from 3-point range while averaging 5.6 rebounds per game. The senior had 46 points, eight rebounds and seven assists against Kansas in January, and two weeks ago beat Texas with a last-second 3-pointer. He wasn’t quite his usual clutch self in third-ranked Oklahoma’s three recent losses, though, hitting 18 of 47 shots.
DENZEL VALENTINE, Michigan State
The senior forward was the front-runner for POY early in the season after posting a 29-12-12 triple-double against Kansas the second game of the season. Valentine’s bid was derailed a bit when he missed four games in December due to minor knee surgery and needed a few more games to get back in the groove. He’s been stellar since then, making a case for being the best all-around player in the country, averaging 19.5 points while shooting 47 percent — 44 percent on 3s — 7.7 rebounds and 7.1 assists for the eight-ranked Spartans.
BEN SIMMONS, LSU
Though his team inexplicably struggled early in the season, the Tigers’ multitalented freshman has lived up to the hype that followed him into the season. Simmons has been criticized at times for not being aggressive enough on offense, particularly after a close loss to Oklahoma, but that talk has quieted down as he’s led the Tigers toward the top of the SEC. Simmons averages 19.3 points and 12 rebounds, but also has exceptional court vision for a 6-foot-10 forward, dishing out 5.1 assists per game. He’s also been projected to be the No. 1 pick in next year’s NBA draft, should he decide to come out early.
JARROD UTHOFF, Iowa
The Hawkeyes’ 6-9 senior is unlike any player in college basketball, a lanky, athletic force who causes opponents problems at both ends of the floor. Uthoff is a threat inside and out on offense, averaging 18.8 points on 45 percent shooting. He also averages 6.5 rebounds and just under three blocked shots per game for a team that’s contending for the Big Ten championship. He showed off his versatility in a win over Minnesota on Sunday, finishing with 24 points, 15 rebounds and six blocked shot, but wasn’t much of a factor in Wednesday’s surprising loss to Penn State.
MALCOM BROGDON, Virginia
Statistics don’t tell the entire story with the seventh-ranked Cavaliers senior guard. Brogdon’s numbers are still solid: 17.8 points, 46 percent shooting, 4.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists. Virginia’s style of play skews the appearance of Brogdon’s impact. The Cavaliers are defensive-oriented and have one of the fewest possessions-per-game averages in Division I, keeping his numbers below some of the other POY contenders. He’s also one of the nation’s perimeter defenders, able shut down out the opponent’s best scorer while still keeping his scoring up.
KRIS DUNN, Providence
As fill-the-stat-sheet players go, the Friars’ junior is right there with Valentine. A preseason All-American, Dunn averages 17.1 points while shooting 44 percent, grabs 6.1 rebounds as a 6-4 guard, dishes out 6.6 assists per game and nabs nearly three steals per game. He has labored as teams have shifted their defensive focus on him, averaging 4.6 turnovers during an 11-game streak, but still is one of the best defensive guards in the country. Providence’s slide from the AP Top 25 to losing seven of 11 games will not help his POY chances.