Naismith Watch: Upperclassmen taking their turn this season
Upperclassmen are making a comeback in 2015-16. There are five seniors, two juniors, one sophomore and one freshman on this week’s Naismith Watch, which stabilized somewhat because many individuals on this list had a solid week even as their teams struggled.
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The list will be pared to 30 players on Feb. 11, the 10 semifinalists will be announced March 2 and four finalists will be revealed on March 20 The winner receives the award on the first weekend of April during the Final Four in Houston.
Each Monday for the remainder of the regular season we’ll publish a nine-man watch list, ranking the favorites to win the award if the season ended today.
Buddy Hield, Oklahoma (26.0 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 51.6 3pfg pct.)
The 6-foot-4 senior scored 43 points, hit 10 of 20 3-pointers and made key defensive plays down the stretch to steer the top-ranked Sooners to a pair of two-point victories last week. He bounced back from a 10-turnover disaster at Oklahoma State to commit only three in 39 minutes against the frenetic West Virginia fullcourt pressure. The Big 12 road remains treacherous this week, as Oklahoma visits Iowa State (9 p.m, ESPN) and Baylor. On the season, Hield is shooting better than 50 percent from the field and on 3-pointers, also 90 percent at the line. That trio of percentages has been reached twice in the last 20 years by players who averaged at least 20 minutes per game (Matt Kennedy, Charleston Southern 2013-14 and Salim Stoudamire, Arizona 2004-05).
Denzel Valentine, Michigan State (17.9 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 6.6 apg)
It was a rough week for the Spartans, who were blown out at home by Iowa and lost by one at Wisconsin. Winning is important to the Naismith Watch, however, it’s hard to fault Valentine for Sparty’s troubles. The versatile wing averaged 18.5 points, five assists and hit 7 of 16 3-pointers in the two games. Maybe time at home will help Michigan State, which receives visits from Nebraska and Maryland this week.
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Kris Dunn, Providence (17.8 ppg, 6.7 apg, 6.3 rpg)
Dunn’s turnovers have increased in Big East play (21 in last four games) causing the nation’s premier point guard to post a sub-100 offensive rating in three consecutive games for the first time. Still, he continues to defend at an elite level -- the Friars tough defense grows even stingier during the 31.7 minutes per game he’s on the floor (86.7 defensive rating).
Ben Simmons, LSU (20.0 ppg, 12.9 rpg, 5.1 apg)
Simmons told nola.com he studied film of LeBron James, Magic Johnson and Scottie Pippen to better understand how to apply his unique combination of size, skill and basketball IQ on the court. The preparation is paying off in a remarkably consistent freshman season. He’s scored in double figures in all but one of the Tigers’ 17 games. He’s reached double figure rebounding 13 times. And he’s the best candidate in recent history to become the first college basketball player ever to attain a 5 x 5 game (five or more points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks).
Similar to Valentine, it was not a fun week for Allen and his teammates. Duke vanished in the second half at Clemson on Wednesday and couldn’t match pace with Notre Dame in a home loss Saturday. Allen did his part on the offensive end, at least. He scored 35 points on 12 of 20 shooting and dished out 10 assists. Coach K probably expects more than two rebounds from Allen in 78 minutes, however, and Duke’s already mediocre defense (100.0 rating) suffers further when their leading scorer is on the floor (103.0 individual rating).
Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa (18.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 3.1 bpg)
Unranked in the preseason poll, the 14-3 Hawkeyes are the surprise team in the nation this season, No. 4 at KenPom and certain to crack the top 10 of the AP poll after beating Michigan State and Michigan last week. Uthoff, a 6-foot-9 forward, is one of four seniors in the starting lineup and he’s been a steady hand, scoring in double figures in every game. He’s knocked down 44.9 percent of 3s and 82.0 percent of free throws -- both career highs. The Hawkeyes visit Rutgers on Jan. 21 and return home on Jan. 24 to play Purdue.
Georges Niang, Iowa State (19.6 ppg. 6.6 rpg, 3.2 apg)
Niang cooled off slightly in the Cyclones’ win over Kansas State on Saturday (15 points on 15 shots, five rebounds, five turnovers) but not enough to jeopardize his position as one of the nation’s best players this season. It was only the second time in 17 games that he’s had an offensive rating less than 108, which is considered an efficient, productive outing. He’s shooting a career-high 60.7 percent on 2-pointers and 83.6 percent at the line.
Yogi Ferrell, Indiana (17.1 ppg, 5.9 apg, 4.5 rpg)
The Hoosiers point guard is 12 of 26 on 3-pointers in leading his team to a 5-0 Big Ten start and share of first place in the standings. He’s the only Indiana player in the last 20 years to shoot at least 50 percent on 2-pointers and 40 percent on 3-pointers while averaging 17 points per game. And, he’s the primary playmaker, assisting on 29.7 percent of the team’s field goals. It’s another manageable week for Yogi and the Hoosiers, as they entertain Illinois and Northwestern.
Josh Hart, Villanova (15.5 ppg, 7.1 rpg)
The Wildcats are 16-2, 6-0 in the Big East and No. 1 in KenPom. They have a lot of weapons but none quite like Hart, who is also the team’s soul and backbone. The winning streak has reached eight games now and the 6-5 forward keeps purring along, finishing with authority around the basket and working the baseline to get free. Mired in a 3-point shooting slump (0-for-10 over last three games) Hart has managed to keep his double figure scoring streak alive at 18 games. He had 15 points, 11 rebounds in a low possession five-point win over Georgetown on Saturday. Villanova faces Seton Hall and Providence this week.
Next nine: Perry Ellis, Kansas; Jack Gibbs, Davidson; Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame; Brice Johnson, North Carolina; Melvin Johnson, VCU; Jaysean Paige,West Virginia; Gary Payton, Oregon State; Alec Peters, Valparaiso; Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga.