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Brian Mull | | February 29, 2016

Naismith Watch: 10 semifinalists announced Wednesday

  Michigan State's Denzel Valentine is still one of the leaders for the 2016 Naismith Trophy.

Time is winding down for the Naismith Watch.

In this penultimate edition, we again shine a spotlight on the players who are in contention for the nation’s premier award given annually to the best college basketball player in the nation.

How about this quartet of legends who earned the honor in the decade of disco and polyester: Pete Maravich (1970), Bill Walton (1972-74), David Thompson (1975) and Larry Bird (1979).

The 10 semifinalists for the Naismith Trophy will be announced Wednesday, with the four finalists released March 20. The winner will be awarded Sunday during the Final Four in Houston.

Denzel Valentine, Michigan State (19.6 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 7.3 apg)

The Spartans have won four in a row, eight of nine and vaulted to the No. 1 spot in the ratings at No surprises there. Coach Tom Izzo’s teams are famous for hitting their stride as February turns to March and the consistent production they’ve received from their senior leader Valentine is the primary reason this group will be a popular pick to reach Houston. He’s hit 50 of 101 (49.5 percent) 3-pointers in Big Ten action. Since 2009-10, Valentine is only college player to average at least 15 points while shooting 45 percent behind the arc and assisting on 40 percent of his team’s baskets.

Buddy Hield, Oklahoma (25.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.1 apg)

Hield did all he could Saturday to help the Sooners avoid the upset in Austin. Despite his 33 points on 50 percent shooting and six rebounds, Oklahoma lost for the fourth time in seven games. Granted, all four losses came against top 50 KenPom teams and three occurred on the road, still the Sooners’ slippage can be traced to the defensive end. They’ve allowed at least 1.11 points per possession in three of those games.   

Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia (18.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.8 apg)

A consensus All-American a year ago and the favorite to win ACC Player of the Year, is Brogdon the best player to suit up for the Cavaliers since three-time Naismith winner Ralph Sampson (1981-1983)? North Carolina probably feels that way after watching Brogdon go for 26 points, six rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block in Virginia’s 79-74 victory on Saturday. In ACC action, Brogdon has hit 57 percent of 2-pointers, 41 percent of 3-pointers and 92 percent of free throws. He’s also an elite defender. Here’s how his senior year stacks up against another Virginia backcourt star:





FG Pct.

3P pct.

Bryant Stith, 1991-92






Malcolm Brogdon, 2015-16






Jakob Poeltl, Utah (17.6 ppg, 9.0 rpg)

After sweeping the visiting Arizona schools over the weekend, the Utes are a half-game out of first place in the Pac-12, a testament to the coaching ability of Larry Krystkowiak and post presence of Poeltl, the best center in the nation.

In a hoops world filled with forwards who float to the perimeter, face up and shoot 3-pointers, Poeltl is a refreshing throwback. He’s 178 of 253 (70.1 percent) on shots attempted at the rim, per, and has yet to venture out beyond the 3-point arc to launch.

Here’s his sophomore campaign compared to the freshman seasons of the top two centers chosen in last year’s NBA Draft (stats projected over 40 minutes).




FG Pct.


Jakob Poeltl, 2015-16





Karl Anthony Towns, 2014-15





Jahlil Okafor, 2014-15





Grayson Allen, Duke (20.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 3.6 apg)

Looking for a simplistic way to determine whether Duke will win or lose? Pay attention to Allen’s turnover total. In the Blue Devils last seven victories he committed 11 turnovers in 269 minutes (or one every 24 minutes) which is a remarkably steady hand considering he uses one-fourth of the team’s possessions. In the last three losses, however, he’s committed 12 turnovers in 113 minutes (one every 9.4 minutes). Duke performed much worse than its season average of 1.20 points per possession in each of those games also.

Ben Simmons, LSU (19.6 ppg, 11.8 rpg, 5.0 apg)

In two games last week, Simmons played 77 minutes, scored 45 points, grabbed 23 rebounds, made five steals, hit 12 of 21 shots and 21 of 30 free throws. That’s a terrific week. The Tigers entertain Missouri on Tuesday before heading to Kentucky on Saturday as they try to gain momentum entering next week’s SEC Tournament.

Tyler Ulis, Kentucky (16.6 ppg, 7.0 apg, 3.5 rpg)

The diminutive Wildcats point guard is a throwback, of sorts, with 44 percent of his field goal attempts coming via the mid-range 2-point jump shot. He’s made 49 percent (73 of 149) per An internet search of “Tyler Ulis floater” produces 97,000 results and dozens of images depicting the 5-foot-9 point guard lofting the ball over the outstretched arms of taller players and into the basket.

Brice Johnson, North Carolina (16.9 ppg, 10.4 rpg)

In the last 20 years, Brice Johnson has accomplished something no other North Carolina player could. Not Antawn Jamison or Sean May or Tyler Hansbrough or John Henson or any of the other elite big men who suited up for the Tar Heels in that span. Johnson, a 6-foot-10 senior, is the only one to average at least 15 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 60 percent from the field and 70 percent from the free throw line.

Georges Niang, Iowa State (19.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 3.2 apg)

The nation’s most efficient offense (121.2 adjusted efficiency per KenPom) runs through the savvy veteran forward. Niang averaged 15.5 ppg on 12 of 16 shooting with a perfect free throw effort as the Cyclones split a pair of Big 12 games last week. In conference games, Niang is top 15 in 2-point percentage, 3-point percentage and free throw percentage.


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