Before the season, I released an article predicting the players most likely to win the Wooden Award. Now, with conference play just starting, it seems like a good time to get an updated Wooden Award Watch out there. But instead of placing on odds on who could win it, here are just the main candidates up to this point in the season.
Kahlil Felder, Point Guard, Oakland
Kahlil Felder is one of the best players in college basketball and has the opportunity to lead his Grizzlies to a Cinderella run in the NCAA Tournament. He won’t get much love because he plays in a mid-major conference, but make no mistake, he’s legit. The 5’9 Felder is basically a clone of Isaiah Thomas, as he can dish, drive and shoot with confidence and efficiency. Felder is currently averaging 26.4 points (second in the nation), 4.1 rebounds and 8.9 assists (first in the nation). Felder also played big against former number one Michigan State, with 37 points and nine assists before fouling out. He’s also shooting .451/.378/.843 from each level of the field. If Felder can keep up this pace, there is no reason for him to not be on the Wooden Watch list.
Denzel Valentine, Shooting Guard, Michigan State
Early on, it looked as though Denzel Valentine was going to be the only man was going to stand in the way of Buddy Hield (more on him later) of winning the Wooden Award. Through his first 12 games, he was leading Michigan State to an undefeated record. The senior was averaging 18.5 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 7.1 apg before he injured his knee during a practice. He had two triple doubles and almost had a couple others against FAU and Boise State. If Valentine can come back healthy and produce like he did before his injury, there’s no reason for him to not jump back into the race.
Brandon Ingram, Small Forward, Duke
Brandon Ingram has really turned it on the last few games for the Blue Devils. The 6’9 freshman has scored over 20 points in four out of his last six games. His best game came against Georgia Southern (big whoop, yeah, whatever) when he put up 26 points and 14 rebounds in just 31 minutes on action. For the year he’s averaging 16.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. The lanky wing is also contributing on defense, averaging 1.5 steals per game and 1.2 blocks, really using his length to his advantage. Ingram has really raised his draft stock and his standing the Wooden Watch, and if he keeps it up, he could find himself on All-American lists as well.
Kris Dunn, Point Guard, Providence
Kris Dunn had the option of declaring for the NBA draft last year, but decided to come back for his junior season, and the decision has paid off big time. He’s having a huge year for the Friars and is the main reason they are 14-1 and ranked number eight by the AP Polls. Dunn is the best point guard in the nation and is putting up 17.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg and 7.3 apg. On the defensive end, Dunn has been nothing short of a menace. He’s averaging 3.1 steals per game and .9 blocks per game. The main questions heading into last year’s draft was his turnovers and his shooting. He’s brought up his shooting slightly, 35% to 36%, but has shown the willingness to shoot the ball from deep more. He’s also cut down on his turnovers drastically, down from 4.2 to 3.0 per game. Dunn has proved to be a top player in the country the last two seasons, and even if he doesn’t win the Wooden Award, he should have a long and successful NBA career.
Ben Simmons, Small Forward, LSU
Ben Simmons has been as good as advertised in his first, and likely only, year at LSU. The Australian import has dominated just about everyone he’s played this season. Some of his highlights are a 43, 14, 7 performance against North Florida (who could also be a Cinderella team) and a 36 and 14 game against Damian Jones and Vanderbilt. Simmons has had a double-double in every game except three. He’s filling up the stat sheet night in and night out, averaging 20.5 ppg, 13.1 rpg, apg 5.4. Like Dunn, Simmons has been incredible on the defensive end, averaging 2.1 steals per game and 1.5 blocks per game. The likely number one pick has just one concern; he doesn’t shoot from three. And in today’s NBA, spreading the floor is paramount. If he can add a three point shot, he could become a perennial All-Star in the NBA.
Buddy Hield, Shooting Guard, Oklahoma
I write way too much about Buddy Hield, but he’s just that good. By this point anyone who reads this blog should know I’m a huge fan of this guys. But he’s seriously just that good. He’s been the best player night in and night out and it’s been impressive to watch. His most recent performance came against number one Kansas, in Allen FieldHouse. Hield dropped a career high 46 points on the Jayhawks (8-15 from three, 12-14 from the line and also chipping in eight rebounds and seven assists). The defending BIG 12 Player of the Year is now averaging 24.7 points per game while having shooting numbers of .495/.494/.905. Hield has been a consistent force for the Sooners, scoring over 20 points in all but three games. As of right now, there is no one even close to Buddy Hield in this race.
The Wooden Award race is one of the funnest things to watch out for in college basketball. These collections of players are talented and are the leaders on each of their teams. Each have gotten off to great starts and show no signs of slowing down entering conference play. Buddy Hield is already far ahead of the pack, but with still two months left in the season, anything can happen.
Picture via NCAA.com
Stats via ESPN