Every year, the NCAA hands out the John R. Wooden award to the best college basketball player. Many of the all-time greats have won this award — Jordan, Duncan, Bird, Durant — and it’s recognized as one premier awards that a college basketball player can receive. Earlier this year, the NCAA released the 20 finalists for the award, highlighted by many of the NCAA’s superstars.
Of those 20, six are listed below in the order of who’s most deserving.
VI. Brice Johnson, Senior F, UNC
After finishing fifth in the ACC and losing a heartbreaker to Wisconsin in the tournament, forward Brice Johnson decided to come back for his senior year at UNC. It was a great decision for Johnson, who has emerged as a game-changer on defense, and a monster on the boards. For coach Williams, Johnson is averaging career-highs with 16.4 points & ten rebounds per game, while shooting an ACC-leading 61.4% from the field. His PER is also first in the conference at 32.4, and his DRtg is 89.2 which is good for second in the conference.
Best Game: 1/4/16 @ FSU – 39p/23r/1a/3s/3b, 14/16 FG, 11/16 FT (W 106-90)
V. Grayson Allen, Sophomore G, Duke
As a freshman, Grayson Allen barely saw the court. As a sophomore, Grayson Allen owns the court. Duke has had a rocky season this year, but Allen has remained a constant for them. It’s a rarity to watch the Blue Devils play and not see Allen put up huge scoring numbers; with an average of 20.6 PPG, it’s almost a given. Grayson is also very efficient when it comes to scoring and has high shooting percentages across the board: 48.9 FG%, 42.5 3P%, 84.6 FT%. His ORtg of 134.0 is second in the ACC, and Allen’s top ten in almost every other major offensive category.
Best Game: 11/22/15 v. G’Town – 32p/5r/4a/2s, 9/12 FG, 5/6 3P, 9/9 FT (W 86-84)
IV. Kay Felder, Junior G, Oakland
Playing for a mid-major doesn’t usually get you on Wooden Watch. Being one of the best playmakers in college basketball does. What Kay Felder is doing on the west coast is marvelous, and it’s even better because he’s a little guy. Standing at 5-9, Felder is leading the NCAA in assists per game with 9.2, and is fourth in scoring at 24.4. Statistically, he’s more valuable to his team than anyone else in college, and his offensive win shares sit at 5.1; his PER of 29 is the best in the Horizon League. You could argue he’s the best player in college basketball because of what he does at his size, and he could have a legitimate case as a Wooden Award winner.
Best Game: 12/22/15 v. (1) Mich. St. – 37p/3r/9a/2s, 10/22 FG, 3/7 3P, 14/18 FT (OT L 99-93)
III. Denzel Valentine, Senior G, Michigan State
There isn’t a more perfect combo guard in college basketball. (click here for a full breakdown of Valentine). Valentine, much like Johnson, is a senior who is having the best year of his career. There’s nothing he can’t do on a basketball court — shoot, score, pass, rebound, facilitate — and Denzel Valentine has emerged as a college basketball superstar. In Big Ten rankings, Valentine is first in PPG (19.5), sixth in RPG (7.7), and first in APG (7.1); since 1994, no one has averaged those stats for a season. He is the most valuable player on the Spartans, and without him, Coach Izzo would be having a lot of misfortune this year.
Best Game: 11/17/15 v. (4) Kansas – 29p/12r/12a, 10/23 FG (W 79-73)
II. Ben Simmons, Freshman F, LSU
Ben Simmons has fascinated everyone since arriving at LSU, and with good reason. He’s a 6-10 positionless player than can do everything. Everything — well, except shoot. But he doesn’t need to right now. He’s the SEC’s leading rebounder (12.0) and shot maker (168 2 pt-FGM), and is third in scoring (19.3), second in steals (1.9), and fourth in assists (5.2). He also boasts a PER of 30.8 (first in the SEC) and has all but solidified himself as the first overall selection. There have been countless times this year where Simmons just flat out blows you away with his game, and once you remember he’s only a freshman, your jaw drops even lower. (click here for a full breakdown on Ben Simmons).
Best Game: 12/2/15 v. North Florida – 43p/14r/7a/3b/5s, 15/20 FG, 13/15 FT (W 119-108)
I. Buddy Hield, Senior G, Oklahoma
If I were giving out the Wooden Award, there’s no question that Buddy Hield would be the recipient. Hield is the best player in college basketball, no question. All the other Wooden Award candidates are good players, but Buddy is in a class all of his own. He’s scintillating to watch because he scores with such ease and he’s exceptionally efficient on offense. Not only does he average 25.6 PPG (2nd in NCAA), he does it while shooting 51% from the field, 50% from three, and 90% from the free throw line. He also rebounds well for a guard and plays relatively good defense — not a commodity amongst great scorers. (click here for a complete breakdown on Buddy Hield).
Best Game: 1/4/16 @ (1) Kansas – 46p/8r/7a, 13/23 FG, 8/15 3P, 12/14 FT (3OT L 109-106)
*All stats courtesy of Sports-Reference & ESPN*
*Photo Credit: USATSI*