Impact’s Wooden Watch: Hield v. Valentine

The John R. Wooden Award is presented annually to the most outstanding men’s college basketball player.

The criteria has been laid out.

And the list has been narrowed down to 15.

November 17, 2015: The Preseason Wooden Award Top 50 is released, led by LSU freshman Ben Simmons and Gonzaga senior Kyle Wiltjer.

November 17, 2015: The then-No. 13 Michigan State Spartans defeat No. 4 Kansas behind Denzel Valentine’s triple-double of 29 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists. The award seems to have found a new frontrunner.

November 29, 2015: Valentine totals 17 points, six rebounds and five assists in the DirecTV Wooden Legacy tournament championship over Providence and one of the best guards in the country and fellow Wooden Award candidate, Kris Dunn.

December 19, 2015: Valentine leads MSU to a 12-0 start and No. 1 ranking in the country.

December 21, 2015: The unthinkable happens – Valentine is forced to undergo an arthroscopic surgery to repair cartilage in his left knee. Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield, North Carolina’s Brice Johnson, and previously-mentioned Ben Simmons and Kris Dunn now have two to three weeks to state their case for the Wooden Award.

  • Before Valentine went down, Hield averaged: 23.5 points / 4.8 rebounds / 1.8 assists.
  • In the almost three weeks Valentine is out: 30.8 points / 6.8 rebounds / 3.2 assists, including 46 points in OU’s three-overtime 109-106 loss to No. 1 Kansas.

January 13, 2016: The Wooden Award Top 25 is announced. Hield leads the race, Valentine is still trying to return to form coming back from injury, and Simmons is showing why he will be a top draft pick.

January 14-March 5, 2016: The most important time of the year for college basketball – the final run into March. After going 1-3 in Denzel’s first four games back from injury, Valentine leads MSU to a 10-1 record to finish the regular season. In the same time span, Hield and the Sooners go 9-5 to close out the season.

In those approximately seven weeks:

  • B. Hield: 23.7 points / 5.2 rebounds / 1.8 assists
  • D. Valentine: 21.5 points / 7.4 rebounds / 8.8 assists
  • B. Simmons: 18.9 points / 11.1 rebounds / 4.8 assists
  • B. Johnson: 16.9 points / 11.5 rebounds / 1.2 assists

March 5, 2016: Ben Simmons is deemed “ineligible” for the Wooden Award because he could not meet all of LSU’s academic requirements. Hield and Valentine are leading the pack.

March 10-13, 2016: Michigan State wins the Big Ten tournament and Oklahoma gets taken down in their semifinal game in the Big 12 tournament.

Denzel Valentine, Big Ten Tournament

  • Quarterfinal W vs Ohio State: 19 points / nine rebounds / eight assists
  • Semifinal W vs No. 18 Maryland: 18 points / seven rebounds / 10 assists
  • Championship W vs No. 16 Purdue: 15 points / 10 rebounds / nine assists

Buddy Hield, Big 12 Tournament

  • Quarterfinal W vs No. 21 Iowa State: 39 points / 9 rebounds / one assist
  • Semifinal L vs No. 9 West Virginia: six points / six rebounds / two assists

March 18-20, 2016: MSU is upset in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and OU advances to the Sweet Sixteen.

Denzel Valentine, NCAA Tournament

  • Round of 64 L vs 15-seed Middle Tennessee: 13 points / six rebounds / 12 assists

Buddy Hield, NCAA Tournament

  • Round of 64 W vs 15-seed CSU Bakersfield: 27 points / 5 rebounds / two assists
  • Round of 32 W vs 10-seed VCU: 36 points / seven rebounds / one assist

March 14-21, 2016: 1,000 media members place their vote for the Wooden Award. The race is so close, with the voting ending just after the second round of the tournament, Hield may have played his way ahead of Valentine.

April 8, 2016: The Wooden Award winner will be announced in Los Angeles, CA.

Zachary Swiecicki (@zachswies)

Player Reasoning
1 B. Hield Hield is primarily just a scorer, but that is okay because he is the best scorer in the nation. He has only had one game in which he did not score in double digits and he has seemingly hit every big shot for OU. In college basketball, he is the closest thing we have to Steph Curry. His absurd 62.2 effective field goal percentage is the highest since 1994 – beating out the likes of Curry (60.7) and Doug McDermott (60.3). Buddy will finish the year averaging 25.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 2.1 assists.
2 D. Valentine Valentine finished the season averaging 19.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.8 assists – first player ever to put up such numbers since assists became an official stat in 1984. Valentine is the best all-around player…probably the most valuable to his team, but not the most outstanding. Denzel is to Draymond Green as Buddy is to Steph Curry. In a race as close as this one, MSU’s early exit in the tournament and Valentine’s 5-for-13, six turnover performance, does not help his cause.
3 B. Johnson Johnson has dominated the paint all season with 21 double-doubles. Brice is the fourth UNC player since 1994 to average 16 points and 10 rebounds per game, and he is the only senior to do so. He is also the first UNC player to record a 30-point, 20-rebound game since 1976 and second since 1964. A noteworthy season that should earn him a spot in the top three. Kay Felder and Georges Niang round out my top five.

Zach Barnes (@Forrest_Barnes)

1 D. Valentine Hield was my No. 1, and then I realized you gotta be a fool to not think Valentine is the POY. He does everything for his team. Hield is too one dimensional. Valentine is in on every scoring play and he’s not afraid to scrap for the ball on the glass.
2 B. Hield You won’t see a guy who can create his own shot like Hield for a while. I don’t like making Steph Curry comparisons, but Hield, no matter where on the floor or how close a guy is to his face he will drain it. Always a constant threat on the floor which allows other players to shine when defenses are focused on him.
3 B. Simmons [Even though he is ineligible…] Not totally sold on him being the 3rd best player, but I am fascinated with how much of a transcendent he is. Back to the comparisons, (I swear I really don’t do it that often) but he is shaped like a Lebron. Same body type, same lack of shooting Lebron had when he entered the league. He has the IQ of a superstar and makes everything look easy. His ability to get to the hoop will take him a long way. Just a victim of poor coaching and lack of talent around him.

Davey Segal (@DaveyCenter/@harvicknut_4)

1 D. Valentine I previously had Valentine at No. 2 behind Hield. However, due to Valentine’s across the board game (more assists and rebounds, and better FG percentage than Hield), I believe he has surpassed the OU guard.
2 B. Hield He’s still one of the best players in America — just the second best to Denzel Valentine, IMO.  Scoring is all he’s got.  He’s one dimensional.
3 B. Johnson Puts up HUGE numbers.  A proven scorer in the post who can also rebound like nobody else in the nation can.

 

Blake Froling (@BFroling)

1 D. Valentine Valentine is the most versatile player in the country without a doubt. No one has averaged at least 19 points, seven rebounds and seven assists per game since at least 1994. The Wooden Award should not go whoever is the best scorer, it should be to the best all-around player, and that’s Valentine.
2 B. Hield Hield is an unstoppable scoring machine. He not only scores in volume but is also very efficient. This combination is almost unheard of. He has a chance at a 50-50-90 season, which hasn’t been accomplished in a decade.
3 B. Johnson Talk about an unstoppable force down low. Johnson ranks second in the ACC in field goal percentage and first in rebounding, and his player efficiency rating has skyrocketed to 32.4. He just edges out Ben Simmons for third on my ballot.

 

Ryan Cole (@ryan_cole9)

1 D. Valentine For Denzel, every day is Valentine’s Day. He was simply the best all-around player in the nation this year. His game covered every position except for center. He’s the first player since 1983 to average 19 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists, and he seemed to quietly put those stats up every game. His biggest knock is his turnover-prone final contest, a shocking upset loss to Middle Tennessee State.
2 B. Hield Hield is definitely the nation’s best scorer. The Sooner put up huge scoring numbers in likely the nation’s best conference this season. He always stepped up when his team needed a crucial bucket. The knock against Hield is that he has not amassed double-digit rebounds or assists in any game this year, so his all-around game isn’t enough to pass Valentine.
3 B. Johnson North Carolina’s veteran big man is a double-double waiting to happen. Even though he didn’t win ACC Conference Player of the Year (that was Malcolm Brogdon), Johnson’s stats are eye-popping. His 39-point, 23-rebound game against Florida State was enough to boost him into my top three. He’s closely followed by Brogdon, Tyler Ulis, and Ben Simmons.

 

Kyle Turk (@KyleTurk5)

1 D. Valentine At risk of sounding like a homer, two things stand out for Denzel Valentine in his quest for the Wooden Award: better defensively (Defensive efficiency of 94.0 to Hield’s 100.5) and better team player. Did you know that Valentine is fourth in the nation in assists per game? No contest for me.
2 B. Hield Best pure scorer in the nation, undoubtedly. But Hield uses too many of Oklahoma’s possessions, which could be the difference between making the championship game and crashing out in the Sweet 16. Still, give Buddy his due for coming close to a 50/50/90 season.
3 B. Johnson Not many better two-way players in the nation than the senior from North Carolina. Johnson is currently fifth in the nation in player efficiency and one of the few players in the nation currently averaging a double-double throughout the season.

 

Joey Ellis (@jellis1016)

1 B. Hield The best pure scorer in the country. Averaged 25 points a game which was second in the country and the Big 12 Player of the Year is averaging almost 32 points again thus far in the NCAA tournament.
2 D. Valentine Although I don’t think he will win it, I think he is the best player in the country. Missing those four small games could’ve hurt his chances. He became the first player ever to average 19 points, seven assists, and seven rebounds.
3 T. Ulis This guy is for sure an NBA player. With seemingly no weaknesses to his game, this guard plays much bigger than his size, and never backs down from anyone. Statistically, Ulis is having the best season of any point guard who’s played under Coach Calipari.

 

Zane D’Souza (@zane23d)

1 D. Valentine Valentine is the most complete player in college basketball. I look at this like I do the MVP in the NBA; take him off the Spartans and what are they? Not the championship contender they are now.
2 B. Hield The second leading scorer in the nation has won games for the Sooners by himself. His offensive game is versatile in that he can attack in multiple ways. What makes him so great is that teams plan for him, and he still gets what he wants.
3 B. Johnson Brice has been a double-double machine all year. He has 18 so far, including a monster 39 point and 23 rebound effort against Florida State. He has been a major force and the reason the Tar Heels have had success this season.