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Wooden Watch: Simmons joins cast of experienced stars on Wooden Watch

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Hield the front runner for Wooden Award (1:27)

Chris Hassel and Dan Dakich examine player of the year candidate Buddy Hield's performance against Oklahoma State on Wednesday night. (1:27)

For a season with a revolving door at No. 1 and a generally agreed-upon lack of great teams, there sure are a lot of great players.

Take Michael Young. The Pittsburgh forward is averaging 17.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game while shooting 61.4 percent from inside the arc. He's drawing nearly seven fouls per 40 minutes, posting a 130.1 offensive rating and using 28.2 percent of the Panthers' available possessions ... and he's merely on our proverbial radar.

Melo Trimble is an honorable mention! So is Georges Niang! And don't even get us started on Kay Felder.

See? There are a lot of really good players this year. So many that we can't do them all justice in this space every week. So many that the Wooden Award midseason watch list, released Wednesday evening, failed to note the all-around quality of Villanova's Josh Hart. So many that we had to bump Brice Johnson (who had a 39 points and 23 rebounds at Florida State last week and then shredded Syracuse from the high post in UNC's road win Saturday) and Kris Dunn (who leads the nation in assist rate and made the game-winner at Creighton Tuesday) in order to have much-needed discussions about two players we overlooked, to varying degrees, last week.

As we get into late February and early and March, the order of this list will get more and more definitive. In the meantime? Embrace the change.

Buddy Hield, Oklahoma Sooners

Last week we paid homage to Hield's insane 46-point, 23-shot, eight-rebound, seven-assist, 54-minute masterclass at Kansas. Two days after that ode accompanied Hield's debut at the top of the Wooden Award race, Kansas State came to Norman, Oklahoma, and was promptly treated to basically the same level of brilliance. Hield scored 31 points on 11-of-14 shooting against the Wildcats, including a 6-of-8 mark from beyond the arc, with eight rebounds and five assists. Which, carry the one, solved for the following one-week, two-game line: 38.5 points, eight rebounds and six assists per game on 24-of-37 from the field, 14-of-23 from 3, and 15-of-17 from the free throw line.

That's insane.

Whether those heights are sustainable or not -- it looked that way for one half Wednesday, when Hield had 20 first-half points only to cool off during a close second half at Oklahoma State -- they are nonetheless the product of a player who stripped out the least efficient parts of his volume-scoring game (namely midrange shots), and replaced them with foul-drawing drives straight to the tin. The results have been spectacular.


Ben Simmons, LSU Tigers

After Jan. 5's win over Kentucky, LSU's supporting cast finally seemed to be on the same page. Simmons was great, obviously. But he didn't need to be for LSU to beat a top-10 team on its own floor, and that was the most encouraging sign of the Tigers' season to date.

Saturday, less so. Florida's stout defense held LSU's four non-Simmons starters to a combined 26 points and 14 rebounds. Simmons had 28 and 17. The Tigers lost. Wednesday's home home win versus Ole Miss was a minor return to the Kentucky form: Simmons didn't dominate while Tim Quarterman, Antonio Blakeney, Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor combined for 57 points. That's better. Simmons is the best talent we've seen in almost a decade, and maybe longer, and he's producing at an obscene level. With an NCAA tournament bid still very much in doubt, Simmons' brilliance has to be complemented by his squad.


Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa Hawkeyes

To say Uthoff has been an All-American-level performer feels slightly obvious, given how good he's been. It's worth reinforcing, though, considering Uthoff's relative lack of fame. Before this season, the former Wisconsin transfer was best known as the subject of a rancorous transfer split with former coach Bo Ryan; even after two solid years at Iowa, he didn't make our #CBBRank top 100 in November. Now the 6-foot-9 Uthoff is recording 18.6 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. He's also shooting 53 percent from 2 and 46 percent from 3 -- while taking 30 percent of Iowa's shots, by the way -- with an 80 percent mark from the free throw line. That is, indeed, All-American level stuff.

What really makes Uthoff's senior season crazy, however, is what he's doing on the defensive end, where he's blocking 11.7 percent of opponents' available shots. Actually, to be more precise, the truly mind-blowing thing about Uthoff's senior season is what he's doing on both ends of the floor.

Last week, the Hawkeyes devotees at Black Heart Gold Pants noticed Uthoff was averaging three blocks and two 3s per game, and wondered what kind of company that mix of statistics put Uthoff among. The answer? There is none. The closest any player in the College Basketball Reference database came to averaging three blocks and two 3s per game was Duke legend Shane Battier, who averaged two blocks and three 3s per game. Which is to say: Uthoff's combination of skills is literally unprecedented.

No one man should have all that power.


Denzel Valentine, Michigan State Spartans

Even crazier? Uthoff isn't the current Big Ten Player of the Year favorite. Nor is Trimble, who (despite a 1-of-7 showing at Michigan this week) is having a sensational sophomore season. That status likely still belongs to Michigan State forward Denzel Valentine despite the four-game absence from which he returned this week. That's how good of a passer, lead scorer, and (defensive) rebounder the Spartans' star guard was in his first 12 games. His official return came Sunday at Penn State, but he played just 23 minutes in MSU's 92-65 rout. The real return comes Thursday night, when Uthoff and the aforementioned Hawkeyes come to town.


Wayne Selden Jr., Kansas Jayhawks

We admit it. We goofed. On Jan. 4, we spent a whole morning compiling Kansas wing Wayne Selden's statistics, detailing the remarkable gulf between his inefficient sophomore season and excellent junior seasons. We lamented the idea that Selden wasn't getting quite as much credit as he deserved, that he was merely one more bullet point on the "Why Kansas is good" to-do list. And then the first Wooden Watch rolls around, and Selden is playing as well as ever, and we just straight up forget to include him.

Fortunately, ESPN Insider and colleague John Gasaway guided us once more into the path of the righteous. You could feel a disturbance in the college hoops punditry force this past week, as a consensus formed suddenly, unmistakably and perhaps even irrevocably. The national player of the year race is now down to just four players: Ben Simmons, Buddy Hield, Kris Dunn and Denzel Valentine. Period.

Great players all, but what, exactly, is going on here? Consider Selden, who has had a virtually perfect first nine weeks. Why is he not part of this discussion? Could it be because, a bit like the college football polls, where you were slotted on media day continues to matter well into the regular season? Let's hope not. A combo guard shooting 56 percent on 2s and 53 percent on 3s as a featured scorer for the nation's top-ranked team surely merits a seat at the table with Ben, Buddy, Kris and Denzel.

Does it feel awkward to include Selden two days after an 11-point, six-turnover outing in a loss? A little bit. Does it feel as awkward as going two days without recognizing his overall performance in 2015-16? Not even close.

Honorable mentions

Brice Johnson, North Carolina Tar Heels
Georges Niang, Iowa State Cyclones
Melo Trimble, Maryland Terrapins
Kris Dunn, Providence Friars
Perry Ellis, Kansas Jayhawks

On the radar

Josh Hart, Villanova Wildcats
Michael Young, Pittsburgh Panthers
Kahlil Felder, Oakland Golden Grizzlies
Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia Cavaliers
Nic Moore, SMU Mustangs