Sharp long-range shooting and high-scoring games propelled Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield to the 2016 Naismith Trophy.Grayson Allen of preseason No. 1 Duke is another perimeter player favored to unleash a similar skill set, follow Hield’s path and claim the award given annually since 1969 to the nation’s best college basketball player. Then again, Villanova’s Josh Hart could hear his name when the winner is announced April 2 in Phoenix. Washington guard Markelle Fultz hopes to become the third freshman listed on the Naismith Trophy, joining Kevin Durant (2007) and Anthony Davis (2012).
Allen, Hart, Fultz and 47 other college basketball stars appear on the 50-man Naismith Trophy watch list, selected by a national panel of voters and released today by the Atlanta Tipoff Club.
The field will be trimmed to 30 players on Feb. 9, 10 semifinalists on March 1 and four finalists on March 19. The award will then be presented at the Naismith Awards banquet during the Final Four. The players hope to join past winners such as Lew Alcindor (1969), Pete Maravich (1970), Bill Walton (1972-74), Larry Bird (1979), Ralph Sampson (1981-83), Michael Jordan (1984) and Danny Manning (1988).
Hart, a 6-foot-5 forward, averaged 15.5 points and 6.8 rebounds in helping Villanova to the national championship last season. He’s one of 16 seniors on the initial Naismith watch list. Hield was the third consecutive senior to win, joining Frank Kaminsky (Wisconsin, 2015) and Doug McDermott (Creighton (2014).
Iowa State guard Monte Morris is another senior pegged for a breakout season after producing 13.8 points and handing out 6.9 assists per game a year ago.
Duke guard Allen, who averaged 21.6 and 4.6 rebounds last season, is one of 12 juniors to make the 50-man cut. He’s the primary option on a potent Blue Devils roster and an efficient scorer, hitting 47 percent from the field and 42 percent on 3-pointers last season.
Oregon forward Dillon Brooks (16.7 points per game, 5.4 rebounds per game) is another junior expected to play a vital role in a deep March run. His interior scoring and strong defense steered the Ducks to the Elite 8 last season.
California center Ivan Rabb (12.5 points per game, 8.6 rebounds per game) is an AP preseason first-team All-American and leads the sophomore nominees. Indiana center Thomas Bryant is a classmate primed for a monster season down low after scoring 11.9 points per game on 68 percent shooting in 2015-16.A strong batch of freshmen enters college basketball this season and they’re well represented on the Naismith watch list. Dynamic and diverse forwards Josh Jackson of Kansas and Jayson Tatum of Duke are singular talents playing for teams with national championship goals. They are two of the dozen rookies recognized by the national panel.
Stay tuned to NCAA.com each Monday during the season as we follow the top candidates in pursuit of a prestigious award named for Dr. James Naismith, who invented the game of basketball 125 years ago in Springfield, Massachusetts.