Hoops player of year:
Player of the year contenders may have fate tied to teams’ success
Sizing up top college candidates.
This season has had no clear favorite, as multiple teams have taken turns atop the national polls and even the very best teams sport a handful of losses.
The national player of the year race is equally fluid, as a number of talented players have emerged as leaders, with no single player taking control. Let’s examine
The seven most viable candidates heading into February:
DENZEL VALENTINE, MICHIGAN STATE
Michigan State’s best player contributes to the team’s success in every way. He has two tripledoubles and is a threat to do so every night out — averaging 18.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 6.7 assists a game, entering the week. Tom Izzo’s teams are no strangers to Final Fours, and if this group makes another run, it will be on the back of the talented senior. He has made all of his teammates more effective. If the Spartans wins the Big Ten, expect Valentine to be many voters’ choice.
BUDDY HIELD, OKLAHOMA
Hield is probably the current front-runner. He is the nation’s second-leading scorer at 26.2 points a game and hits threepointers at a scorching 52.4%. Even his rivals have taken notice. After a classic three-overtime loss to Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse, Hield — who dropped 46 points on 23 shots — received a standing ovation from Jayhawks fans. Thanks in large part to Hield’s hot hand, Oklahoma is the No. 1 team at the moment. The Big 12 schedule is brutal, but if Hield keeps up his Stephen Curry-like shooting at the college level, he will rank first on many ballots.
BEN SIMMONS, LSU
Most of the focus on the LSU freshman has been as a future NBA player, but he has also made plenty of headlines with his oneman show in Baton Rouge. At 6-10, 225 pounds and with the passing and ballhandling skills of a guard, he offers a unique challenge for opposing defenses. The LSU forward ranks among the top 75 in the nation in scoring (19.5 points a game), rebounding (12.5), and assists (4.9). Despite all of his elite tools, LSU has disappointed with eight losses. If the Tigers could go on a run over the next six weeks, Simmons could play his way into the conversation.
JARROD UTHOFF, IOWA
Iowa basketball hasn’t looked this strong in years, as big recent wins against Michigan State and Purdue have elevated the Hawkeyes to among the nation’s best. Uthoff, a senior, leads the Big Ten in scoring at 18.4 points a game and averages 6.4 rebounds and 2.8 blocks a contest to help Iowa rise quickly up the national polls. No Hawkeye has ever won Big Ten player of the year, much less the national award, but Uthoff will be in the mix if the Hawkeyes continue to make waves.
KRIS DUNN, PROVIDENCE
The versatile point guard has dominated on both ends of the floor as the Friars have risen up the Big East standings. His impact was on display when he had 13 points, five rebounds, 14 assists and four steals in a win against conference-leading Villanova. Just another night at the office for the player who leads the Big East in assists with 6.9 a game and ranks second nationally with 3.2 steals a game. If Providence can make a run to the top of the conference, Dunn will be the driving force.
GEORGES NIANG, IOWA STATE
The heady senior forward uses craftiness and positioning as well as anybody in college basketball. He scores 19 points a game from all over the court and was a big reason why the Cyclones put together recent eye-opening wins against Big 12 leaders Oklahoma and Kansas. Niang will remain in the award discussion as long as Iowa State hovers near the top of the nation’s most competitive conference.
KAHLIL FELDER, OAKLAND
One deserving standout from the midmajor ranks always seems to get overlooked, and Felder is that guy this season. The guard might be small (5-9), but he has big-time game. He’s third in the nation at 25.6 points a game, and a December three-game streak of 34, 38 and 37 points introduced him to the nation. He shows his versatil- ity with a nation-leading 8.7 assists a game. While it’s unlikely he’ll get the necessary publicity in the Horizon League to make a serious run at the national award, keep an eye out for his name in March.
With 18.4 points and 7.8 rebounds a game, Denzel Valentine has Michigan State in strong position.