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Brian Mull | | February 22, 2016

Michigan State's Denzel Valentine vaults to top of Naismith Watch list

  Michigan State's Denzel Valentine averages 19.7 ppg, 7.7 rpg and 7.3 apg.

After several weeks where the gap between the top two spots in the Naismith Watch shrunk, this week we have a change. But like yesterday’s Daytona 500, expect a photo finish.

The Naismith Trophy has been awarded to the best college basketball player in the nation since 1969. Frank Kaminsky of Wisconsin won in 2015 and other past champions include three-time winner Ralph Sampson (1981-83, Virginia), Wake Forest coach Danny Manning (1988, Kansas) and Maryland forward Joe Smith (1995).

The midseason list was announced recently. The 10 semifinalists will be announced March 2 and four finalists revealed on March 20. The winner receives the award on the first weekend of April during the Final Four in Houston.

Denzel Valentine, Michigan State (19.9 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 7.3 apg)

With his third consecutive double-figure assist performance, the Spartans 6-foot-5 playmaker climbed into first place in offensive rating this season among players who use at least 28 percent of their team’s possessions -- and also returns to the top of the Naismith Watch. He’s also one of only five high-usage players in the last decade to record an offensive rating of at least 125.0, per





Nelson Spencer, Utah St.




Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin




Denzel Valentine, Mich St.




George Hill, IUPUI




Nick Fazekas, Nevada




Buddy Hield, Oklahoma (25.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.2 apg)

For the first time on a Monday this season, Hield fell out of the illustrious 50-50-90 club (shooting percentages for 2-pointers, 3-pointers and free throws) in two categories. He’ll need a furious finish to return, though his current season remains in an exclusive spot in recent college basketball history. Only three players shot as well and averaged at least 12 ppg in a full season, since 1995-96.




2P Pct.

3P Pct.

FT Pct.

Buddy Hield, Oklahoma






Jaycee Carroll, Utah St.






Matt Kennedy, Charleston So.






Grayson Allen, Duke (21.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.6 apg)

The Blue Devils have the nation’s second most efficient offense per, producing 1.22 points per possession, adjusted for strength of schedule and location of games. Allen is responsible for 1.29 points per trip for Duke, and plays 35.5 minutes per game. He had played all but four minutes in Duke’s previous four games -- all victories -- before being disqualified on fouls after playing 36 minutes in Saturday’s loss at Louisville. Only Oakland guard Kay Felder (5.4 offensive win shares) plays a larger role in his team’s production, per


Offensive Win Shares

Kay Felder, Oakland


Grayson Allen, Duke


Dallas Moore, North Florida


Jameel Warney, Stony Brook


Jakob Poeltl, Utah


Buddy Hield, Oklahoma


Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia (17.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.9 apg)

It was a one-game week for the Cavaliers, who are 14th in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency and sixth in adjusted defensive efficiency entering tonight’s pivotal ACC game at Miami (Fla.). Brogdon, an All-American last season, has improved in almost every area in 2015-16, as he moved into a new residence. He’s shooting 50.7 percent on 2-pointers, 40.0 percent on 3-pointers and 87.6 percent on free throws.

Kris Dunn, Providence (17.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 6.6 apg)

The Friars have lost 4 of 5 but a strong strength of schedule and quality wins against Villanova (on the road), Butler (twice) and Arizona (neutral court) are still solid elements on their postseason resume. Dunn averaged 21.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists as Providence split two games last week.

Jakob Poeltl, Utah (18.1 ppg, 9.0 rpg)

The Utes rolled into Los Angeles on Sunday night and manhandled Southern Cal, and Poeltl was a star. The 7-foot center had 29 points on 11 of 13 shooting, 13 rebounds, four assists and four steals. He’s hit 66.8 percent of his shots this season and recorded an offensive rating of 128 or better in eight of Utah’s last 10 games. The Utes have won four games in a row and at 10-5 sit a half-game behind Pac 12 co-leaders Arizona and Oregon.

Ben Simmons, LSU (19.4 ppg, 11.9 rpg, 5.0 apg)

Back-to-back losses are bad news for LSU, as is a report that guard Keith Hornsby could miss the remainder of the season after aggravating a hernia injury. Simmons averaged 20.5 ppg and 9.5 rpg for the Tigers last week, but only handed out five assists, matching his lowest output in consecutive games this season.

Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa (18.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 2.8 bpg)

Cold 3-point shooting led to consecutive sub-100 offensive rating games for Uthoff for the first time this season. The Hawkeyes lost to Penn State on Wednesday as Uthoff was 2-for-7 on 3-pointers and committed four turnovers -- his second highest total in Big Ten action this season. Still, Uthoff is one of only three college players in the last 20 years to average 15 points per game while shooting 40 percent on 3-pointers and blocking 2.5 shots per game (minimum 1 3-pointer made per game).

Georges Niang, Iowa St. (19.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 3.1 apg)

The venerable forward entered the 2,000-point club in an overtime loss at Baylor and also topped 500 points in a season for third year in a row. He added 27 points in a weekend win over Texas Christian, hitting 9 of 10 shots inside-the-arc. It was Niang’s 36th game in a row scoring in double figures. (dating to last season).


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