This is a big week for the Naismith Trophy contenders.
The list will be trimmed to 30 players on Thursday, with the 10 semifinalists announced March 2nd and four finalists revealed on March 20th. The winner receives the award on the first weekend of April during the Final Four in Houston.
We’ve tracked the favorites each week this season, and will continue to offer this unofficial ranking of the top nine each Monday through the end of the regular season.
This week, we’ll peer at each player through the lens of his team and their NCAA tournament seeding projections.
Buddy Hield, Oklahoma (25.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.4 apg)
It’s Hield’s award to lose at this point.
The senior guard continues shooting at a torrid clip (53.8 pct. on 2s / 51.1 pct on 3s / 90.2 pct. on FTs) and despite their upset loss at Kansas State over the weekend, the Sooners are still in position to earn a No. 1 seed.
Oklahoma plays host to sizzling Texas at 9 p.m. tonight on ESPN. The Sooners have the third most efficient offense in the nation (120.1 adjusted offensive efficiency). The Longhorns have held six of their last seven foes to less than one point per possession - and won each game.
Denzel Valentine, Michigan State (18.6 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 6.7 apg)
The Spartans have bounced back from a three-game losing streak by winning four in a row because Valentine played near-perfect basketball during the stretch.
Valentine hit 16 of 30 3-pointers, 13 of 25 2-pointers, grabbed nine rebounds per game, dished 7.3 assists per game and scored 19.8 points as the Spartans defeated Maryland, Northwestern, Rutgers and Michigan.
The bracketologist experts project Michigan State as a No. 3 or No. 4 seed. The Spartans are 20-4 overall and 7-4 in the Big Ten entering a key matchup at Purdue, 9 p.m. Tuesday on ESPN.
Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa (18.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 2.8 bpg)
The Hawkeyes’ defensive rating improves from 96.0 to 93.7 when Uthoff is on the court, in part because he swats away roughly 10 percent of the shots launched in his presence.
And the senior stretch forward has been even more remarkable on the offensive end. He’s made 47.5 percent of 2-pointers, 45.2 percent of 3-pointers and 84.1 percent of free throws while pulling down 8.6 rebounds per 40 minutes.
After a strong March, Iowa is in a good position to earn a No. 1 seed, although they have to first negotiate a tricky trip to Assembly Hall on Thursday night for a date with Indiana (9 p.m., ESPN). The Hoosiers still must come to Iowa City, as well.
Ben Simmons, LSU (19.4 ppg, 12.3 rpg, 5.0 apg)
A couple weeks back, a friendly reader who believes in the Bayou Bengals felt the Naismith Watch had prematurely buried Simmons and his chances of competing in the NCAA tournament.
While we never felt that door had slammed shut, it’s open wider now as the Tigers sit alone in first in the SEC with an 8-2 league mark (15-8 overall). This, however is where it gets interesting for Big Ben, who dished out 14 assists in the victories over conference bottom feeders Mississippi State and Auburn last week.
LSU heads to South Carolina (7 p.m., ESPN2) and Texas A&M this week, takes trips to Arkansas and Kentucky later and welcomes Florida to Baton Rouge also.
Such a slate shall separate pretenders from contenders.
Kris Dunn, Providence (17.0 ppg, 6.7 apg, 5.9 rpg)
Last week was a forgettable one for college hoops lovers in the capital city of the nation’s smallest state.
Good news for the Friars? Wins against Arizona on a neutral site and at Villanova will ring loud and clear with the selection committee and erase the sting of last week’s seven-point loss at DePaul.
Dunn was just 9 of 27 in the two losses (Providence also fell to Villanova), though he did deliver 18 rebounds, 11 assists and six steals.
Providence projects somewhere around the 6 or 7 line according to the experts and has resume strengthening opportunities ahead against Xavier (Feb. 17th) and Seton Hall (Feb. 25th).
Yogi needs 207 points to become the sixth player in Indiana basketball history to join the 2,000-point club. (Calbert Cheaney is the Hoosiers’ all-time leader, with 2,613 points from 1990-93).
Despite an ugly loss at Penn State over the weekend, Indiana is within striking distance of the Big Ten regular season crown, pegged as a No. 7 -10 seed in the NCAA tournament, entering a brutal week - at Iowa on Thursday, vs. Michigan State on Sunday.
Ferrell has been at his best against the best competition this season, knocking down 15 of 26 on 3-pointers and assisting on one-fourth of Indiana’s baskets in its five games vs. KenPom Top 50 squads.
Brice Johnson, North Carolina (16.6 ppg, 10.4 rpg)
Undersized and upset-minded Notre Dame hauled down 20 offensive rebounds against the long, tall athletic Tar Heels on Saturday night, but Johnson did his part to protect the glass, snaring 10 defensive rebounds. Of course, his 31 percent defensive rebounding rate is sixth in the nation, per KenPom.
The Tar Heels have been tough to figure. Talented, for certain. Other than a home win over Maryland in December there’s nothing exciting in the win column. Road victories against bubble hovering Florida State and Syracuse shouldn’t be discounted, though. After expected victories this week against Boston College and Pittsburgh, the tests become tougher: Miami, Virginia, and of course the pair with rival Duke fill the last three weeks of the schedule for the Tar Heels, who still look like a No. 1 or No. 2 seed.
Grayson Allen, Duke (20.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.7 apg)
This is hardly a vintage group of Blue Devils.
They are unranked and despite recent forecasts that place them around the 6 or 7 line, the NCAA tournament is not a certain destination.
With a six-man rotation, remaining healthy is vital, as is keeping Allen as fresh as possible considering he’s played 92 percent of possible minutes during ACC games (Duke has four of the top 11 in percentage of minutes played in conference).
Allen was dialed in from deep last week, draining 11 of 17 3-pointers to average 27.5 ppg, 4.0 apg and 4.0 rpg in wins over Georgia Tech and N.C. State.
Plenty will be revealed for Duke in the next two weeks: vs. Louisville (7 p.m. tonight, ESPN), vs. Virginia, at UNC, at Louisville.
Georges Niang, Iowa State (19.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 3.0 apg)
According to KenPom, the Cyclones have played the nation’s best collection of defensive teams. Their opponents have a combined adjusted defensive efficiency of 98.9 and those quick guards and burly forwards have taken a toll on Iowa State’s top-10 offense, specifically Niang, who is scouting report target number one.
He’d recorded an offensive rating less than 100 in four consecutive games before rebounding slightly with 18 points on 50 percent shooting and six rebounds to help Iowa State past Oklahoma State on Saturday.
Iowa State, which appears headed for a No. 4 or No. 5 seed at this point, plays host to Texas and the second-best defense in the Big 12 on Saturday (8:30 p.m., ESPN).