College basketball: Who leads the race for the Naismith Trophy?
Since 1969, The Naismith Trophy has been given annually to the nation’s best college basketball player. Dominant center Lew Alcindor (UCLA) won the first award and scoring machine Pete Maravich (LSU) earned it the following year.
In recent seasons past winners included seniors Frank Kaminsky (Wisconsin, 2015) and Doug McDermott (Creighton, 2014), freshmen Anthony Davis (Kentucky, 2012) and Kevin Durant (Texas, 2007), guards such as Trey Burke (Michigan, 2013) and forwards like Blake Griffin (Oklahoma, 2009).
The initial 50-man 2015-16 watch list will be released Dec. 2nd. It’s pared to 30 players on Feb. 11th, the 10 semifinalists will be announced March 2nd and four finalists will be revealed on March 20th. The winner receives the award on the first weekend of April during the Final Four in Houston.
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The usual candidates will land here, although this list could fluctuate wildly from week-to-week, especially early in the season when performances and level of competition vary from game-to-game. We’ll concentrate on production rather than reputation, aim to rank the players based on their consistency, offensive efficiency and overall contributions to helping their teams win games.
9. Tyrone Wallace, California (21.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 5.3 apg)
The 6-5, 200-pound senior is the centerpiece of a potent, diverse offense that has fans in Berkeley believing they can contend for the Pac-12 championship. Through three Golden Bears victories, Wallace has converted 72 percent (18 of 25) on two-point field goals, produced an offensive rating of 136.7 (1.367 points per possession, via sports-reference.com) and scored at least 20 points each game.
Watch him: At midnight ET on Thanksgiving, when Cal faces the elite defense of San Diego State on Fox Sports 1.
8. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma (27.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg)
Another senior, the 6-4, 200-pound shooting guard landed on most preseason All-American teams because of his immense scoring ability. He poured in 30 points with eight rebounds, three assists and three steals in the Sooners’ season-opening defeat of Memphis. He’s shooting 52.9 percent on 2-pointers, 60 percent on 3-pointers and 81.8 percent on free throws. Entering the 2,000-point club is a realistic goal.
Watch him: At 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2 when the Sooners play host to Wisconsin.
7. Jakob Poeltl, Utah (20.8 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 68.6 FG pct.)
NBA scouts must fire praise-filled text messages to their front office bosses while watching the 7-foot Austrian operate as a sophomore. Temple coach Fran Dunphy most certainly did not enjoy watching Poeltl shred his defense for 32 points Sunday (10 of 12 field goal shooting and 12 of 14 free throw shooting). Five games into the season, Poeltl is thriving in his expanded role in the Utes’ offense. He’s being used on 28 percent of possessions this season, compared to 21 percent last season, yet his offensive rating has spiked from 115.2 a year ago to 137.7.
Watch him: On the Pac-12 Network at 9 p.m. Friday against Idaho State
6. Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame (20.7 ppg, 5.0 apg, 4.0 rpg)
The Fighting Irish point guard continues the theme of backcourt veterans. A 6-1 junior, he may have been lost in the shadow of teammate Jerian Grant as Notre Dame reached the Elite 8 last season. He’s stepping out into the spotlight this season. So far, he’s carved up three overmatched opponents, hitting 72 percent (18 of 25) inside-the-arc and 40 percent (6 of 15) behind it. Jackson has 15 assists and four turnovers in 101 minutes.
Watch him: Thursday through Sunday on the ESPN Networks in the Advocare Invitational.
5. Grayson Allen, Duke (24.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg)
The surprising star of Duke’s 2015 national championship game victory played himself onto Mike Krzyzewski’s bench with a dismal performance in the Blue Devils’ loss to Kentucky on Nov. 17th. Last weekend in New York City, however, the 6-4 sophomore played his way into the All-American conversation, throttling VCU and Georgetown for 62 remarkably efficient points. Allen hit 9 of 13 2-pointers, 9 of 14 3-pointers and 17 of 18 free throws to set his career-high twice and lead Duke to the 2K Classic title.
Watch him: 12:30 p.m. Sunday on ESPNU vs. Utah State
4. Tyler Ulis, Kentucky (14.0 ppg, 4.5 apg)
Statistically, the Wildcats’ 5-9 point guard is the outlier on this list. His numbers are not as gaudy as others, yet his impact on Kentucky and its pursuit of John Calipari’s second national championship is immeasurable. And, he was clearly the best player on the floor at the most important position (18 points, six assists, zero turnovers) when the Wildcats handled their lone early season test against Duke. Ulis, a sophomore, is 21 of 24 at the free throw line in four games.
Watch: On ESPN at 5 p.m. Friday at South Florida
3. Yogi Ferrell, Indiana (16.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 7.0 apg)
Ferrell, generously listed at 6-feet, is often the smallest player on the floor although his production belies this fact. He’s improved each season in Bloomington and the opening 10 days reveal this may be his best yet. Ferrell can finish among the trees (13 of 20 on 2-pointers) and assists on more than one-third of the Hoosiers’ baskets when he’s on the floor. And his five defensive rebounds per game validate the coaching adage that desire and effort define those who are the best at collecting boards.
Watch: Today through Wednesday in the Maui Jim Maui Invitational on ESPN networks.
2. Ben Simmons, LSU (18.7 ppg, 12.7 ppg, 4.7 apg)
The hype is real for this 6-10 Australian who has made LSU basketball must-watch television in 2015-16 a la Texas in 2006-07 when Durant delivered highlights every night. Granted the competition has been weak thus far, but Simmons impacts the game with his length, athleticism and skill. He’s generated a gaudy offensive rating of 142.2 by hitting 63.2 percent of his shots and controlling the defensive backboard (29.0 percent). Search the DVR, hit record, then sit back and admire a unique talent certain to be selected early in the 2016 NBA Draft.
Watch: On ESPN2 at 7 p.m. tonight vs. Marquette in Brooklyn, N.Y.
1. Denzel Valentine, Michigan State (16.3 ppg, 10.7 apg, 9.0 rpg)
Even on an awful shooting night, like his 1 of 8 effort behind the 3-point line Friday as the Spartans destroyed Arkansas Pine-Bluff 92-46, Valentine still makes a positive impact in the box score and on the scoreboard. The 6-5 forward had 11 assists, seven rebounds and two steals in 28 minutes in that game. Of course, he had the best game of the young season when he impersonated Michigan State legend Magic Johnson with a triple-double to spark Sparty’s comeback win over Kansas in Chicago. He’s assisted on 58.9 percent of the Spartans’ baskets, which is the second-best rate in the nation.
Watch: Thursday - Sunday on the ESPN networks as Michigan State competes in the Wooden Legacy Classic.