Evalutating the Midseason National Player of the Year Candidates

Posted by Andy Gripshover on January 1st, 2016

In the spirit of the New Year and the start of conference play, this post will count down the top candidates for National Player of the Year to this point in the season. It’s a diverse list that features a couple players who are putting up strong traditional numbers for low-major teams, a couple of teammates who are putting up fantastic efficiency numbers on one of the top teams in the country, and a few of the standouts that you’ve already heard so much about this season.

10. Jameel Warney, F, Stony Brook — Warney gets the Keenan Reynolds career achievement spot on this list. He’s a four-year starter for the Seawolves who has led the team in scoring each year, going from the America East Rookie of the Year in 2013 to an honorable mention All-American last year while leading the nation in double-doubles with 24 of them. He’s back at it again this season, averaging 20.0 points and 10.8 rebounds per game and contributing a third-best nationally 3.5 blocks per game.

Fighting among the "Big Boys" - Kahlil Felder has been spectacular this season. (Oakland Athletics)

Fighting among the “Big Boys” – Kahlil Felder has been spectacular this season. (Oakland Athletics)

9. Kahlil Felder, G, Oakland — The kid known as “Kay” is the nation’s second leading scorer (26.6 PPG) and its leading assist man (9.3 APG). He’s a classic little man (5’9″) doing big things for the Golden Grizzlies. He exploded for 37 points and nine assists in last Tuesday’s overtime loss to No. 1 Michigan State and put up 30 on Wednesday night against Virginia’s vaunted defense. Greg Kampe’s breakneck offense (12th in adjusted tempo) allows Felder to get what he wants when he wants, and he can both score and set up teammates from anywhere on the floor.

8. Anthony Gill, F, Virginia & 7. Malcolm Brogdon, G, Virginia — These two seniors rank 4th and 5th in the KenPom Player of the Year rankings and are the undisputed leaders of the Cavaliers this season. Brogdon, a second-team All-American a year ago, is the more well-known player and has been a contributor for Virginia since his freshman year, whereas Gill transferred in from South Carolina two years ago. Both have evolved into the prototypical Tony Bennett players at Virginia: cerebral, fundamentally sound (few turnovers; 80%+ from the line), and highly efficient.

Grayson Allen is starting to make his move. (Khloe Kim/The Chronicle)

Grayson Allen is starting to make his move. (Khloe Kim/The Chronicle)

6) Grayson Allen, G, Duke — Brogdon and Gill were each a slot higher in the KenPom Player of the Year rankings earlier this week but they were leapfrogged by Allen after his career-high 33 points that came against Long Beach State. The sophomore has gone from a little-used bench player a season ago to THE offensive weapon for this season’s Blue Devils, having taken double-figure shots in each game this season and averaging a hair under 20 points per game (19.8 PPG). The stereotype of gunners is that they’re generally inefficient players, but with the exception of an ugly 2-of-11 performance against Kentucky in the Champions Classic, Allen has been anything but.

5) Ben Simmons, F, LSU — He’s the best rebounder in college basketball and has often been the sole bright spot on a very disappointing LSU squad this season. An utterly freakish athlete, his 43-point, 14-rebound, 7-assist, 5-steal, 3-block performance against North Florida in early December represents the best all-around individual performance in college basketball this season. He stands out as a man among boys with his unique point forward game (he leads all forwards with 5.5 assists per game), but it’s a shame that his team is unlikely to see significant time in the postseason.

4) Jarrod Uthoff, F, Iowa — Speaking of truly unique players, the Big Ten Network posted a great statistic about Uthoff during Iowa’s upset of No. 1 Michigan State on Tuesday night. It turns out that Uthoff is the first college player since Duke’s Shane Battier (and just the second in the past 20 years) to average more than two three-pointers and two blocks per game. Aaron White’s understudy over the past two years, the 6’9″, 210-pound Uthoff might be even better than him (and he was the best Iowa player in a long while). He’s truly deadly when he catches fire, such as in a 30-point first half against rival Iowa State in mid-December. He hasn’t gotten nearly the attention of the top three guys on this list (or the two right behind him) because Iowa has been hard to read, but he most certainly deserves it.

3) Kris Dunn, G, Providence. To stand out from a point guard crowd that includes Melo Trimble, Fred VanVleet, Tyler Ulis and many others is incredibly impressive. But that’s what you get when an NBA-quality point guard is still playing in college. Dunn nearly recorded the first quadruple double ever against a Division I opponent on November 23 against NJIT, logging 22 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and seven steals. He does each of those things at an elite level and he also makes his teammates better — Providence’s overall improvement and sophomore Ben Bentil’s quantum leap so far are prime evidence of such.

Buddy Hield And The Sooners Will Pose A Serious Question To The UCLA Perimeter Defense

Buddy Hield has been simply the best so far this season. (AP)

2) Denzel Valentine, F, Michigan State. Simply put, Valentine has been the MVP of college basketball this season. The No. 1 Spartans have played two games without him and they were taken to overtime by Oakland before winning and trailed for all but the opening 44 seconds against Iowa in a loss. Without Valentine’s heroics to save the day, Michigan State was unable to come back from a big deficit against the Hawkeyes like it had against Kansas and Louisville. He has a knack for the clutch, dating back to his Valentine’s Day game winner against Ohio State last season, and his outstanding averages of 18.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game speak for themselves.

1) Buddy Hield, G, Oklahoma. Had this piece been written a few weeks ago, Valentine would have been in the top spot without question. But since then, the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year has exploded for 30 points three times and 27 and 25 points in his other two games. He’s the best pure scorer in the Power 5 conferences and ranks fourth in the country at 24.9 points per game, having connected on 37 of his 70 threes this season for a 52.9 percent clip. That level of shooting probably isn’t going to continue through Big 12 play, but he’s led the charge of the nation’s second best three-point shooting team (46.2%) and is playing like a senior on a mission. His first two seasons in Norman ended with first round NCAA Tournament losses before breaking through to the Sweet Sixteen last season. This year, Oklahoma seems primed for more national success and Hield appears ready to put himself into Sooners basketball lore along with names like Hollis Price and Wayman Tisdale. As of New Year’s Day, Buddy Hield is the leading candidate for the National Player of the Year.

Andrew Gripshover (15 Posts)

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