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Mike Lopresti | | January 13, 2016

College basketball: Handing out mid-season awards

  Michigan State's struggles without Denzel Valentine have proven just how valuable he is.

Two months ago Wednesday, the college basketball season began. Two months from Wednesday is Selection Sunday. And so . . .

Welcome to the halftime show. No musical acts or dogs catching Frisbees, but rather awards for the first half. The envelopes, please.

Player of the half year: In a crowded field, Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield. Exhibit A is his line from the Kansas game: 46 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and 54 minutes. Exhibit B is he’s scored at least 30 points six times this season. So has the rest of the Big 12 combined. 

Coach of the half year: Nobody calls Oklahoma "Kentucky West" when it comes to stacking top recruits on the roster. But Lon Kruger has the Sooners on the cusp of No. 1 after Kansas lost Tuesday night. He’s still the only man to take five – count ‘em, five -- different schools into the NCAA Tournament.

Freshman of the half year: This can be handed out faster than you can say Ben Simmons.

Game of the half year: Think of this.  USC went four overtimes to beat Arizona 103-101 in an absolute classic, and that wasn’t even the best game of the WEEK. That would be Kansas, needing three overtimes, 13 ties and 13 lead changes to get past Hield and Oklahoma 109-106 in a 1-2 match that lived up to every inch of hype. They were still ranked Nos. 1 and 2 going into this week, and will meet once again. Or twice (Big 12 title game). Or three times (in April).

Houston, We’ve Got A Problem Award: Unless something changes drastically and quickly, Wisconsin – an NCAA tournament invitee for 17 consecutive years -- will not have to worry about the Final Four in Houston. Or any other round anywhere else, for that matter. The Badgers have dropped from the customary top-20 spot in the preseason to a 9-9 record that includes seven losses by a combined 20 points. And Bo Ryan is gone. ``I told them there is no pity party here,’’ interim coach Greg Gard said. ``Nobody feels sorry for us.’’

The John Dillinger ribbon for accomplished thievery: West Virginia leads the nation in steals and turnovers. Perhaps you noticed the Mountaineers latest deed; the Great Kansas Heist. The Jayhawks committed 22 turnovers Tuesday night. By the way, has anyone noticed West Virginia is 15-1? And what is the Mountaineers ranking going to look like if they win at Oklahoma Saturday, meaning they will have beaten No. 1 and No. 2 in five days?

The MVP Award. Which stands for either Most Valuable Player or More Valentine Plaudits: Denzel Valentine. With him, Michigan State rolled to the No. 1 ranking. Without him four games because of a knee issue, the Spartans were beaten by Iowa by 13 points, went to overtime to escape Oakland, and struggled with Minnesota.

Winter storm warning issued for . . . Kansas. The West Virginia loss will knock the Jayhawks from No. 1. And beginning Jan. 25, they enter a 20-day trial by fire with games against No. 17 Iowa State, Kentucky and rematches with West Virginia and Oklahoma.

The Nobody Expected You Award for most surprising team so far: Providence has gone from unranked to the edge of the top 10, and Kris Dunn might be the nation’s best player not named Hield or Simmons. He just buzzer-beated Creighton Tuesday. Plus, coach Ed Cooley, thriving in his hometown, is a grand story. ``You’re talking about someone who never had two nickels, you’re talking about someone who wanted to play at Providence College, and would do anything to see Providence College play,” he said. ``So for me to be the head coach is a dream, and I never want someone to wake me up.’’

The How’d This Happen Award for upset of the half year: Miami went charging into the top 10 with 13 of 14 victories by double digits, toasting the likes of Utah, Butler, Florida an Syracuse. But the Hurricanes lost at home against Northeastern, who hadn’t beaten a ranked opponent in 29 years.

Layups Are Old-fashioned Award: In the first 17 games, Oakland’s Max Hooper took 133 shots. All of them 3-pointers.

RELATED: More on Hooper's incredible run

The YNGTSTOAY Trophy. As in, You’re Not Going To Squander This Opportunity Are You? LSU, for sputtering along at 9-6 with Simmons.

Light At The End Of The Tunnel Award: Northwestern, still looking for a first NCAA Tournament berth, is 15-3. Repeating, Northwestern is 15-3.

Cinderella Glass Sneaker Award: Monmouth. The wins over UCLA, Notre Dame, USC and Georgetown got nearly as much buzz as the celebration skits of the bench. Nearly.

The Jekyll and Hyde Memorial Trophy: Northern Iowa, for managing to upset No. 1 North Carolina and No. 5 Iowa State, but lose seven times, including to 6-10 Missouri State.

The Size Doesn’t Matter Award: Howard’s James Daniel III, leading the nation in scoring, at 5-11.

The Never Need A Rebound Award: Eastern Michigan’s James Thompson IV, a 6-10 freshman who has a 71.8 field goal percentage, and tied an NCAA record by hitting 26 shots in a row.

The Football Is King Award: Alabama and Clemson. This was only the second time since college football championship games began in 1998 that neither school had ever been to the Final Four.

Trend of the year: Think more points. At the halfway mark, 57 teams were averaging at least 80 points a game. At the end of last season, there were only five.

Business As Usual Award: Duke tossed nine more Cameron non-conference victims on the pile. That makes 125 in a row.

The Frequent Flyer Prize: Pittsburgh, for flying 16,500 miles to play one half of basketball. The second half against Gonzaga in Okinawa was cancelled due to floor conditions.

Statistic you might never see again: In beating The Citadel 144-71, Butler scored 92 points in the paint.

Quantity Over Quality award: The Pac-12. At the halfway mark, No. 18 (AP) Arizona was the only league member in the top 25, but ESPN’s Joe Lunardi was predicting eight would be in the NCAA Tournament.

Special citation for being the last place on earth Clemson wants to play a basketball game: Chapel Hill, where the latest loss means the Tigers are now 0-58 there against North Carolina.

Questions for second half: Who’s really No. 1? Or is there one? What if SMU never loses? When’s Kentucky going to start looking like Kentucky?

Six teams most likely to have to be squeezed into four No. 1 seeds: Kansas, Maryland, Michigan State, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Duke.

Most intriguing bubble possibilities: LSU and Monmouth. You want to be the one to tell Ben Simmons to take his ball and his 20.6 points and 13.1 rebounds and 5.1 assists a game and go to the NIT? Or slam the door on Cinderella?

Halftime is over. The second half could be a circus. Three top-10 teams lost Tuesday night.

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