League player of the year races down to final weekend
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Some of the best college basketball players around the country have just a few more days to make their case for player of the year in their respective leagues.
This weekend marks the end of regular-season play in the five power conferences - Atlantic Coast, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Southeastern - as well as the Big East, which features highly ranked Villanova and Xavier.
Here's a look at the players contending for honors in those leagues:
Virginia's Malcolm Brogdon and North Carolina's Brice Johnson are the leading candidates, though Brogdon might have an edge after scoring 26 points in the Cavaliers' win last weekend against the Tar Heels.
The 6-foot-5 Brogdon is a fifth-year senior and ranks among the league leaders in scoring (18.5 points) and 3-point percentage. He's also one of the league's top defenders for No. 4 Virginia entering Saturday's finale against No. 11 Louisville.
The 6-10 Johnson is averaging 16.8 points while leading the ACC in rebounding (10.4), shooting percentage (61.6 percent) and double-doubles (18) - including a 39-point, 23-rebound effort at Florida State. His eighth-ranked Tar Heels can clinch the No. 1 seed in the ACC Tournament by winning at No. 17 Duke on Saturday.
The ACC longshot is North Carolina State point guard Anthony ''Cat'' Barber, a three-time league player of the week and runaway ACC scoring leader (23.2 points) for the struggling Wolfpack.
This leading candidate and seemingly the likely choice: Oklahoma's Buddy Hield.
The 6-4 senior ranks second nationally in scoring at 25.3 points per game and third in 3-point shooting (47.6 percent). Hield's play has been a big reason why the Sooners have spent three weeks at No. 1 in the Top 25 and been a fixture in the top 10 for the program's highest rankings since the 2008-09 season with Blake Griffin.
Providence's Kris Dunn, the preseason player of the year, is averaging 16.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 2.8 steals. But the Friars struggled with five losses in seven games in February, and forward Ben Bentil has emerged as the top scorer (21.1 points) entering Saturday's trip to St. John's.
That could open the door for Villanova's Josh Hart and Xavier's Trevon Bluiett, whose teams finished 1-2 in the league.
Hart is averaging a team-high 15.2 points with 7.3 rebounds and eight double-doubles for a team that recently earned its first No. 1 ranking and earned a third straight league regular-season crown. Bluiett is averaging 15.1 points to lead the Musketeers' balanced attack.
This battle features two senior candidates who are also have garnered national player of the year consideration: Michigan State's Denzel Valentine and Iowa's Jarrod Uthoff, though Valentine appears to have the edge.
The 6-5 Valentine averages 19.3 points, 7.6 rebounds and 7.3 assists while shooting 44 percent on 3-pointers. He's a four-time league player of the week and had a triple-double in a marquee November matchup with Kansas entering the No. 2 Spartans' home game against Ohio State on Saturday.
Uthoff, a 6-9 forward, is averaging 18.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.7 blocks while shooting 39 percent on 3s as a matchup nightmare, though the Hawkeyes have lost four straight entering Saturday's game at Michigan.
A Big Ten longshot could be Indiana senior Yogi Ferrell (17.1 points), a two-time league player of the week who led the Hoosiers to the Big Ten regular-season crown.
While LSU freshman Ben Simmons grabs headlines, Tyler Ulis is having a terrific season for ascending Kentucky.
Ulis, a sophomore, has won SEC player of the week a league-best three times while averaging 16.7 points and ranking among the national leaders in assists (7.1). And along with high-scoring freshman Jamal Murray, the Wildcats have won six of eight to climb into a first-place tie.
Simmons was a preseason AP All-American and SEC player of the year, and the potential one-and-done star hasn't disappointed. The 6-10 forward is averaging 19.7 points, 11.9 rebounds and 5.1 assists for a team trying to improve its NCAA Tournament hopes entering Saturday's trip to No. 22 Kentucky.
Utah sophomore Jakob Poeltl appears to be the front-runner. The 7-foot Austrian ranks in the top three of the Pac-12 in scoring (17.6 points), rebounding (9.0) and shooting percentage (66.7). He's been named league player of the week four times, tied for second most in league history.
But Oregon sophomore Dillon Brooks is also in the mix, leading the Ducks to at least a share of the regular-season title by averaging 17.2 points and 5.8 rebounds.
Another candidate is Washington's Andrew Andrews, the Pac-12's top scorer (21.2 points). The 6-2 senior has seven 30-point games - including a career-high 47 in Wednesday's home finale against Washington State - while averaging 5.8 rebounds and 4.7 assists.
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