Buddy Hield’s heroics have clouded our collective memory, but he wasn’t always the consensus frontrunner for player of the year. Through the season’s first 12 games, Michigan State senior Denzel Valentine was widely considered college basketball’s best player, and he was leading the country’s best team. His 18.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 7.0 assists per game helped Michigan State get off to the best start in program history, and his Spartans were No. 1 in both polls when he was forced to undergo minor knee surgery in late December.
But while Valentine recovered for four games, Hield had his signature performance of the year in what will likely be remembered as the best regular-season game of 2015–16, scoring 46 points and adding eight rebounds and seven assists in a Jan. 4 loss at Kansas. When Valentine returned, Michigan State lost three of its first four games as it adjusted again to him in the lineup, and the momentum remained with Hield.
But now, with the Spartans having picked up five wins in their last six games, Valentine is making a compelling case for his candidacy again. On Sunday night against Indiana, he had perhaps his best performance ever at home, scoring 30 points, dishing 13 assists and snagging five rebounds.
On Tuesday, Valentine joined me on Wooden Watch to discuss his player of the year candidacy and his coach Tom Izzo’s Hall of Fame credentials, and why he thinks the Spartans are still national-title favorites.
Here are my top 10 candidates for player of the year this week:
1. Buddy Hield, senior guard, Oklahoma — 25.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.3 apg
2. Denzel Valentine, senior guard, Michigan State — 19.5 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 7.1 apg
3. Jarrod Uthoff, senior forward, Iowa — 18.8 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 3.0 bpg
4. Malcolm Brogdon, senior guard, Virginia — 17.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.9 apg
5. Ben Simmons, freshman forward, LSU — 19.3 ppg, 12 rpg, 5.2 apg
6. Josh Hart, junior guard, Villanova — 15.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1.7 apg
7. Brice Johnson, senior forward, North Carolina — 16.4 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 1.2 bpg
8. Kris Dunn, junior guard, Providence — 17.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 6.6 apg
9. Georges Niang, senior forward, Iowa State —19.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 3.2 apg
10. Melo Trimble, sophomore guard, Maryland — 14.2 ppg, 5.3 apg, 3 rpg