The Naismith Trophy trimmed its list to three dozen standouts last week.

 
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The next dates to remember are March 2, when the 10 semifinalists will be announced, and the final cut on March 20 when the four finalists will be named. The winner receives the award during the Final Four in Houston and joins a prestigious list that includes Tim Duncan, Kevin Durant, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Bill Walton and Lew Alcindor.

While there's not a change at the top this week, from our perspective the gap between No. 1 and No. 2 narrowed significantly.

Buddy Hield, Oklahoma (25.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.3 apg)

The Naismith frontrunner scored 12 points in the final 3:11, capped by a 3-pointer from the corner with 1.3 seconds remaining as Oklahoma rallied for a 63-60 win over Texas.

He started slowly in a loss to Kansas on Saturday, missing all six shots in the first half in what ended up as a 5-of-15 afternoon.

“I was trying to feel out and see what they were doing. They guarded me really well. They threw a lot of bodies at me,” Hield said. “I had some good shots I should’ve made in the first half.”

For the week, Hield hit 8 of 21 from beyond the arc, which is 38 percent and above the Division I national average of 34.6. However, it was a step back in his pursuit of the 50-50-90 club, as he fell to 49.8 percent on 3-pointers (sorry, no rounding up allowed). It’s the first time he’s dipped below 50 percent in 2016. He remains in good shape in the other areas, hitting 52.5 percent of 2-pointers and 90.4 percent of free throws.

Denzel Valentine, Michigan State (19.5 ppg, 7.7 apg, 7.1 rpg)

The Spartans senior isn’t ready to concede the award to Hield or anyone else. Last week against Big Ten contenders Purdue and Indiana, Valentine played 80 of 85 minutes. He scored 57 points on 50 percent shooting, was perfect on five free throws, handed out 23 assists, grabbed 13 rebounds and committed three turnovers. Such an incredible effort also lifted his offensive rating to 126.5, which leads the nation among players who use at least 28 percent of possessions (Hield is second at 125.0).

On Sunday, he recorded only the third 30-point, 10-assist game of 2015-16 (and the 16th since 2010-11). It was Valentine’s Day, after all.

 

 

Date

Opponent / Result

Points

Assists

Denzel Valentine, Mich. St

2/14/16

Indiana, W 88-69

30

13

Andrew Andrews, Washington

1/16/16

Ariz. St., W 89-85

30

12

Corey Sanders, Rutgers

2/03/16

Illinois, L 110-101

39

12


Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa (18.8 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 2.9 bpg)

Unlike the NBA, the NCAA doesn’t recognize the game’s Most Improved Player, however, as discussed last month, if the award existed the spindly forward has build a strong case. He only enhanced his status last week, averaging 24 points, 10 rebounds and 3.5 blocks as the Hawkeyes, who are 20-5 overall and ranked 4th at KenPom, split two Big Ten games. Compare these stats from Uthoff’s junior and senior seasons while keeping in mind that he’s taken 30.8 percent of Iowa’s shots this season after taking 25.3 percent last season:

 

 

PPG

RPG

BPG

2P Pct.

3P Pct.

FT Pct.

2015-16

18.8

6.7

2.9

48.0

42.4

82.9

2014-15

12.4

6.4

1.6

46.8

37.2

73.7

 

Ben Simmons, LSU (19.3 ppg, 12.0 rpg, 5.2 apg)

The Tigers picked up a valuable resume building win over Texas A&M on Saturday, to rebound from a loss at South Carolina earlier in the week. Simmons continued his incredibly consistent season. He averaged 18 ppg, 8.5 rpg and 6.5 apg in the two games and his 20-point effort against the Gamecocks marked the 13th time he’s reached that barrier this season. He’s dished at least five assists in seven of eight games and recorded at least eight rebounds in all but the last one.

In the 76-71 win over No. 15 Texas A&M, Simmons played all 40 minutes and hit 8 of 9 free throws to help seal it.

Kris Dunn, Providence (17.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 6.6 apg)

The Friars snapped a three-game losing streak over the weekend, trimming Georgetown 76-72 in the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. Dunn had 20 points, six rebounds and five assists in that one, and here’s a fantastic read on the point guard’s incredible playmaking. Dunn remains top five nationally in assist rate and steal percentage for the second season in a row. Another important week awaits. Providence travels to face Big East opponents Xavier and Seton Hall.

Grayson Allen, Duke (20.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.7 apg)

Allen missed more free throws (four) Saturday against Virginia than in any other game this season. He failed to hit a 3-pointer for only the third game this season. But those lowlights were erased when he hit a tough - and controversial - bank shot at the buzzer to lift the Blue Devils to a 63-62 win over the Cavaliers, who had won seven in a row. Allen added seven assists and seven rebounds, and as he has all season, leads the nation in offensive rating (130.0) among players who use at least 24 percent of the possessions. Stony Brook senior Jameel Warney - one of the three dozen to make the Naismith midseason list - is second in that category at 129.0

Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia (17.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.8 rpg)

Last season Brogdon made first-team All-ACC. This season the 6-5 senior is shooting a higher percentage on 2-pointers and 3-pointers, taking more shots, doling out more assists, committing fewer turnovers and rebounding better. Hence, his offensive rating has increased from 110.4 to 117.7. Also, his suffocating defense on Duke wing Brandon Ingram helped Virginia erase a seven-point second-half deficit, not to mention the ridiculous layup he converted that gave his team the lead on the penultimate possession.

Jakob Poeltl, Utah (17.8 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 1.8 apg)

The Utes dismissed two visitors from Washington over the weekend. Neither had anything resembling an answer for how to stop the 7-footer, Poeltl, who is shooting 66 percent from the field this season. In the two victories last week, he hit 22 of 26 shots, scored 48 points and snared 16 rebounds to help Utah improve to 19-7 overall and 8-5 in the Pac-12. The Utes are tied with Colorado and one game behind co-leaders Arizona and Oregon. Poeltl has scored at least 20 points in six of the last seven games.

Georges Niang, Iowa State (19.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 3.2 apg)

Niang needs 10 points to join the 2,000-point club and should arrive there Tuesday night when the Cyclones travel to Baylor. He averaged 21 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists in a 1-1 week with his trio of 3-pointers pushing Iowa State past Texas on Saturday night. In Big 12 action, Niang has played an even more significant part in the nation’s fourth most efficient offense. He’s taken 30.7 percent of the shots when on the floor and recorded an effective field goal percentage of 56.6, seventh in the conference. He shoots more frequently than all the players who shoot a higher percentage.

 

Pct. shots taken

effective FG pct.

Hield, Oklahoma

29.2

65.1

Graham, Kansas

17.4

61.6

Gray, Texas Tech

20.9

61.2

Thomas, Iowa State

16.2

59.7

Morris, Iowa State

20.6

58.6

Lattin, Oklahoma

11.9

58.2

Niang, Iowa State

30.7

56.6