College basketball: Three favorites emerge in Naismith Trophy race
There’s separation atop the Naismith Trophy watch list this week, as three players emerged from the pack with their excellent play in November. Fans who stayed up late Sunday night watched two of the frontrunners battle head-to-head, although foul trouble stole some spirit from the game.
The initial 50-man watch list will be released Wednesday.
The list is pared to 30 players on Feb. 11th, the 10 semifinalists will be announced March 2nd and four finalists will be revealed on March 20th. The winner receives the award on the first weekend of April during the Final Four in Houston.
Each Monday during the regular season we’ll publish a nine-man watch list, ranking the favorites to win the award if the season ended today.
The usual candidates will land here, although this list could fluctuate wildly from week-to-week, especially early in the season when performances and level of competition vary from game-to-game. We’ll concentrate on production rather than reputation, aim to rank the players based on their consistency, offensive efficiency and overall contributions to helping their teams win games.
9. Caris LeVert, Michigan (18.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4.3 apg)
Last Week: NR
As the most experienced piece on coach John Beilein’s roster, the 6-7 guard must score, rebound and pass while also shepherding his less experienced teammates. LeVert combined for 50 points against Xavier and Connecticut, the two best opponents on a stringent early schedule. And he helped seal a victory over Texas in the Battle 4 Atlantis by scoring six of the Wolverines’ final 11 points. Healthy after missing the latter half of last season due to a broken foot, LeVert is reaching the free throw line more frequently, has improved his assist rate (26.6 percent), turnover rate (12.9 percent) and is on point from long range early this season (14 of 25 on 3-pointers).
Watch: Tuesday, 7 p.m. vs. N.C. State on ESPN2
8. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma (22.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg)
Last Week: 8
Not even a clunker Sunday afternoon in the Sooners romp over Wisconsin could knock the 6-4 senior guard out of contention. He’s still taking more than one-third of the Sooners’ shots when in the game and connecting on 50.0 percent from the field, 52.4 percent on 3-pointers and 89.5 percent on free throws - career-best accuracy in each case.
Watch: Thursday, 8 p.m. vs. Central Arkansas on ESPNU
7. Yogi Ferrell, Indiana (15.3 ppg, 7.0 apg, 6.5 rpg)
Last Week: 3
The Hoosiers trip to Hawaii didn’t go as planned. Departing the mainland as the No. 13 team in the nation, Indiana’s defense was exposed in losses to Wake Forest and UNLV. Ferrell’s offensive production suffered as well. He hit only 2-of-8 3-point tries on the soft rims inside the Lahaina Civic Center, and is connecting on 33.3 percent from deep this season.
Watch: Tuesday, 9:15 p.m. vs. Duke on ESPN
6. Tyler Ulis, Kentucky (13.2 ppg, 4.3 apg)
Last Week: 4
The Wildcats’ floor general suffered a hyperextended elbow and missed the second half of Kentucky’s 84-63 win over South Florida. He left the arena with his arm in a sling. Ulis remains in the rankings because he’s the most important player on the nation’s best team and was the best player on the floor in Kentucky’s lone game against an opponent (Duke) in the top 100 of the Pomeroy ratings. The Wildcats will need Ulis full strength as December unfolds. Dates with UCLA, Arizona State and Louisville are on the horizon.
Watch: Thursday, 9 p.m. vs. UCLA on ESPN
5. Jakob Poeltl, Utah (20.5 ppg, 10.0 rpg)
Last Week: 6
It was a light week for the Utes and the Pride of Vienna, Poeltl, who is shooting 67 percent this season. The 7-foot sophomore pumped in 19 points in 24 minutes of a 32-point blowout victory over Idaho State, putting on display the post moves he refined over the summer.
“It's been a concerted effort with him slowing down and relying on some power moves,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak told the Salt Lake Tribune. “A couple simple moves: a jump hook, a counter. A couple of great moves where he got guys lifted. He's not afraid to be fouled now.”
Poeltl has hit 17 of his last 20 from the free throw line.
Temple observed Poeltl’s improved footwork earlier this season.
Watch: Wednesday, 10 p.m. vs. BYU on Pac-12 Network
4. Grayson Allen, Duke (22.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg)
Last Week: 5
After a torrid two games in New York City, Allen was bound to cool off. He returned to Earth as the Blue Devils came back to Cameron and handled Yale and Utah State in advance of this week’s ACC - Big Ten Challenge. Still, the sophomore guard’s shooting splits remain strong. He’s connected on 52.5 percent of 2-pointers, 48.6 percent of 3-pointers and 91.8 percent of free throws, making seven trips to the line per game.
Watch: Tuesday, 9:15 p.m. vs. Indiana on ESPN
3. Kris Dunn, Providence (19.0 ppg, 6.7 apg, 6.1 rpg)
Last Week: NR
An inconsistent start to the season nudged this preseason All-American point guard just outside the rankings last week. He surged toward the top this week, thanks to a near quadruple-double against NJIT and by guiding (19 points, eight assists) the Friars’ upset of Arizona despite playing only 21 minutes due to foul trouble.
"Kris had a very hard-fought night. We weren't giving him anything," Arizona coach Sean Miller said. "That also tells you how good he is. At the end of the game, you're kind of at his mercy. He was tremendous down stretch."
Dunn, a 6-3 junior, is using 31.3 percent of the Friar’s possessions, assisting on 44.6 percent of their baskets and committing a turnover on only 12.6 percent of possessions.
Watch: Saturday, 7 p.m. vs. Rhode Island on ESPNU
2. Ben Simmons, LSU (16.2 ppg, 14.4 rpg, 6.2 apg)
Last Week: 2
Not only is the 6-10 freshman leading the nation in rebounding, he’s also routinely performing acts rarely seen from a 240-pound man - or anyone else for that matter. Simmons became the fifth player in the last 20 years to record a 20 point / 20 rebound game in LSU’s loss to Marquette.
He has 31 assists and six turnovers and snares a rebound every 2.4 minutes.
After watching Simmons record the rare assist / rebound double-double in the Tigers’ loss to N.C. State, coach Johnny Jones is urging his star to look to score more often.
Watch: Dec. 13th, 8 p.m. vs. Houston on ESPNU
1. Denzel Valentine, Michigan State (19.9 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 8.6 apg)
Last Week: 1
The numbers are so good they don’t seem real. The Spartans guard is less than two rebounds and two assists per game from averaging a triple-double. The most famous Michigan State alum likes what he sees from Valentine, who leads the nation in win shares (1.9) and has a 34.5 player efficiency rating.
Magic told us before the game that Valentine is the best all-around guard in college basketball and that he'll make a similar impact in NBA.— Shawn Windsor (@shawnwindsor) November 30, 2015
Valentine fought through foul trouble to produce 17 points, six rebounds and five assists as the Spartans defeated Providence in the finals of the Wooden Legacy. He’s shooting 42.6 percent behind-the-arc and hitting 3.3 per game, and his play has enabled Michigan State to vault from No. 13 in the AP preseason poll to No. 3 last week.
Watch: Wednesday, 7:15 p.m. vs. Louisville on ESPN