PLAYER OF THE YEAR POWER RANKINGS: Has Buddy Hield really locked this thing up?

Hield (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki) and Valentine (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

Buddy Hield is the favorite to win the National Player of the Year award as of today, and anyone that would tell you otherwise is just making the argument for the sake of arguing.

Because there’s really no justification for anyone else being picked over him.


In bullet form:

  • A recent “slump” (he’s 14-for-37 from three in the last four games) has dropped his season-long three-point shooting to 49.8 percent; he’ll get back above 50 percent if he hits his next three. For comparison’s sake, only two players have shot better than 50 percent from two, 50 percent from three and 90 percent from the free throw line for a full season: Matt Kennedy of Charleston Southern (’13-’14) and Salim Stoudamire of Arizona (’04-’05). Kennedy averaged 3.2 3PAs and 8.5 FGAs that year. Stoudamire averaged 6.6 3PAs and 11.6 FGAs. Hield? He’s taking 16.1 FGAs and 8.5 3PAs.
  • Hield is averaging 4.21 threes made per game. Only three major conference players have bested that in the last 21 seasons: Michigan State’s Shawn Respert (’94-’95), Virginia’s Curtis Staples (’96-’97) and Ole Miss’ Marshall Henderson (’13-’14). Respert shot 47.4 percent from three. Staples shot 39.0 percent. Henderson? 34.2 percent.
  • He’s averaging 25.6 points this season, which is second nationally and the fifth-most of any major conference player since 1994-95, behind only J.J. Redick(’05-’06), Doug McDermott (’13-’14), Michael Beasley (’07-’08) and Kevin Durant (’06-’07).
  • Hield’s also been at his best in the biggest moments. There was the 46 points in the No. 1 vs. No. 1 game in Phog Allen Fieldhouse. There were the 21 second half points in the win at LSU. There was the comeback he led at Iowa State and against Kansas on Saturday (we’ll forget about that missed free throw for now). There was the late-game takeover and game-winning three against Texas last Monday. Big performances in big moments is the reason that the Sooners look to be headed for a No. 1 seed line on Selection Sunday.

So yes, Hield is the favorite for the award.

But I just can’t wrap my head around the idea that the race is over for two reasons:

1) Hield is the nation’s most ruthless spot-up shooter in the same way that Oklahoma has become the best three-point shooting team in the country. But jump shots can be fickle, and at the end of a long season, one where Hield is averaging 37.3 minutes in 13 games since the turn of the calendar, it’s not outlandish to think that could eventually catch up to him. It may not be a coincidence that he’s shooting “just” 37.8 percent from three the last four games, and that’s before you factor in that four of his last six games are on the road, including the long and tiring trip to Morgantown.

2) Denzel Valentine has been damn good this season as well, and if it wasn’t for an ill-timed surgical procedure on his knee, people may not have forgotten about that. Valentine missed four games with the injury, and those four games were bookended by the four or five worst — or least productive — games that Valentine has turned in this season. That’s nearly 30 percent of the regular season that was affected or wiped away by this knee procedure.

And if you want to use that as an excuse for why Valentine should be excluded from the Player of the Year race, then that’s your prerogative, even if it is somewhat silly. Because he’s still on pace to average 19.5 points, 7.7 boards and 7.1 assists, which is something that hasn’t been done since at least 1994-95. Hield’s not the only one that’s having a statistically historical season.

There’s more.

He’s played his best in Michigan State’s biggest games as well. Remember the 29 points, 12 boards and 12 assists he had against Kansas in the Champions Classic? I do. I also remember that he scored 21 of those 29 points in the second half and helped erase an 11 point deficit with less than 10 minutes left. Or what about when he led Michigan State back from down 13 points against Louisville, scoring 11 of his 25 points in the final 5:06 of a game the Spartans didn’t lead until their were less than seven minutes left.

That was in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, which is kind of a big deal, no?

Just this past week, Valentine had 27 points, 10 assists and eight boards in a one-point overtime loss at Purdue. He had 15 of those points and seven of those assists in the second half as Sparty rallied back from an 18-point deficit. On Sunday, he went for 30 points and 13 assists in a win over Indiana that was a nationally televised game on CBS.

The point is this: in any other year, Denzel Valentine would be the favorite to win National Player of the Year, injury or no injury. He’s still got some ground to make up, but acting like he’s out of the race already is premature.

Anyway, here is the rest of the top ten:

NCAA tweaks rules on block/charge calls in men’s basketball

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INDIANAPOLIS — The NCAA is tweaking how block/charge calls are made in men’s basketball.

The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved rule changes on Thursday that require a defender to be in position to draw a charge at the time the offensive player plants a foot to go airborne for a shot. If the defender arrives after the player has planted a foot, officials have been instructed to call a block when there’s contact.

Defenders had to be in position to draw a charge before the offensive player went airborne under previous rules.

NCAA Men’s Basketball Rules Committee members made the proposal after NCAA members complained that too many charges were being called on those types of plays.

The panel also approved reviews of basket interference calls during the next media timeout – if the official called it on the floor – a shot clock reset to 20 seconds on an offensive rebound that hits the rim, and players being allowed to wear any number between 0 and 99.

A timeout also will be granted to an airborne player with possession of the ball, and non-student bench personnel will be allowed to serve as peacekeepers on the floor if an altercation occurs.

Charlotte head coach Ron Sanchez resigns after winning CBI title

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Ron Sanchez resigned as head coach of the Charlotte 49ers.

Sanchez took over the 49ers on March 19, 2018, inheriting a team coming off a 6-23 campaign. In five years Charlotte went 72-78 under Sanchez, highlighted by winning the College Basketball Invitational championship this past season, the Niners’ first post-season tournament title in school history.

The 22 wins this past season are the most for Charlotte since 2001.

“Ron took over a proud but struggling program and carefully rebuilt it into a 22-game winner. He has led with class, dignity and devotion to our young men,” Charlotte director of athletics Mike Hill said. “His decision to step down from Charlotte was a difficult one for him and everyone associated with our program. We wish him and his family every happiness.”

Hill said the team has already begun a national search for a replacement.

“This is a bittersweet day for me and my family as I step down to pursue other opportunities,” said Sanchez, who came the 49ers after working as an assistant coach at Virginia under Tony Bennett. “It has been a tremendous privilege to lead the 49ers basketball program over the past five years and I want to thank Niner Nation for its support. I will be forever grateful to my staff, players and the university.”

Marquette extends Shaka Smart’s contract through 2029-30 season

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MILWAUKEE — Marquette coach Shaka Smart has received a contract extension after leading the Golden Eagles to their first outright regular-season championship and tournament title in the Big East.

Smart’s contract now runs through the 2029-30 season. This is the first extension Smart has received since signing a six-year deal when he took over as Marquette’s coach in 2021.

Marquette didn’t release financial terms of Smart’s deal.

“In a very short period of time, Shaka and his staff have done a tremendous job of establishing a winning culture, both on and off the court,” athletic director Bill Scholl said in a statement. “Shaka’s vision for the program is focused on extended, sustainable success. The individuals who interact with the team on a daily basis are able to observe frequent examples of growth and the excitement around the program is contagious.”

Marquette has gone 48-20 in Smart’s two seasons and reached the NCAA Tournament each of those years.

The Golden Eagles went 29-7 and won the Big East’s regular-season and tournament championships last season after the league’s coaches had picked them to finish ninth out of 11 teams. Marquette’s season ended with a 69-60 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.

Purdue’s Edey returning to school at NBA draft deadline; Kentucky’s Tshiebwe stays in

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Purdue’s Zach Edey decided it was the right call to go back to school instead of staying in the NBA draft. His predecessor as national player of the year, Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe, is sticking with his pro pursuit.

And Connecticut’s reign as NCAA champion will begin with multiple starters having left for the NBA draft and one returning after flirting with doing the same.

The 7-foot-4 Edey and UConn guard Tristen Newton were among the notable names to announce that they were withdrawing from the draft, the NCAA’s deadline for players who declared as early entrants to pull out and retain their college eligibility.

Edey’s decision came in social media posts from both the center and the Boilermakers program that earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament behind Edey, The Associated Press men’s national player of the year.

But Tshiebwe announced late in the afternoon that he would remain in the draft after a college career that included being named the AP national player of the year in 2022.

For the current champions, Newton (10.1 points, 4.7 assists, 4.5 rebounds) is returning after being one of four Huskies to declare for the draft after a run to UConn’s fifth national championship in early April. He scored a game-high 19 points to go with 10 rebounds in the victory over San Diego State in the title game.

The others were Final Four Most Outstanding Player Adama Sanogo, wing Jordan Hawkins and versatile guard Andre Jackson Jr. Sanogo (17.8 points) and Hawkins (16.3) have made it clear they have closed the door on their college careers, while team spokesman Phil Chardis said that Jackson (6.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists) would remain in the draft.

The Huskies have 247sports’ No. 3-ranked recruiting class for next year to restock the roster, led by McDonald’s All-American point guard Stephon Castle.

The NBA’s withdrawal deadline is June 12, but is moot when it comes to college players returning to school due to the NCAA’s earlier timeline to retain playing eligibility.


TREY ALEXANDER: Creighton gets back a 6-4 guard who averaged 13.6 points and shot 41% from 3-point range in his first full season as a starter.

ADEM BONA: The 6-foot-10 forward and Pac-12 freshman of the year is returning to UCLA after starting 32 games as a rookie and averaging 7.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks – with coach Mick Cronin praising his toughness for “competing through multiple injuries for as long as he could” in a statement Wednesday.

EDEY: He averaged 22.3 points, 12.9 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.5 assists while shooting 60.7% from the field. His presence alone helps Purdue be a factor in the Big Ten race.

JOSIAH-JORDAN JAMES: The 6-6 guard went through the NBA G League Combine and had workouts with multiple teams before opting to return to Tennessee for a fifth season alongside teammate Santiago Vescovi.

JUDAH MINTZ: The 6-3 freshman averaged 16.3 points and 4.6 assists for Syracuse, ranking third among Division I freshmen in scoring behind only Alabama’s Brandon Miller and Lamar’s Nate Calmese.

OWLS’ RETURNEES: Florida Atlantic got good news after its surprise Final Four run with the return leading scorers Johnell Davis (13.8) and Alijah Martin (13.4). ESPN first reported their decisions, while Martin later posted a social media statement.

TERRENCE SHANNON JR.: Illinois got a big boost with Shannon announcing his night in a social media post. The 6-6 guard is returning for a fifth college season after averaging 17.2 points.

SPARTANS’ RETURNEES: Michigan State announced that guards Jaden Akins and A.J. Hoggard have withdrawn from the NBA draft. Standout guard Tyson Walker had previously withdrawn in April, setting up Tom Izzo to have five of his top scorers back.


KOBE BROWN: Missouri’s 6-8 swingman opted against returning for a fifth college season after being an AP first-team all-Southeastern Conference pick averaging 15.8 points last season.

JAYLEN CLARK: The third-year UCLA guard averaged 13.0 points and 6.0 rebounds while leading the Pac-12 with 2.6 steals en route to being named Naismith national defensive player of the year. Cronin called him a winner with strong intangibles who made UCLA “a better program because he chose to be a Bruin.”

BRICE SENSABAUGH: The Ohio State freshman averaged 16.3 points and 5.4 rebounds in 31 games before missing his final two in the Big Ten Tournament due to a knee injury. He’s a potential first-round prospect.

TSHIEBWE: The 6-9, 260-pound forward is a tough interior presence who led the country in rebounds for two straight seasons (15.1 in 2022, 13.7 in 2023) while racking up 48 double-doubles. But he faces an uncertain next stop and is projected at best as a second-round prospect.

North Carolina transfer Caleb Love commits to Arizona

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Caleb Love is now headed to Arizona.

The North Carolina transfer tweeted, less than a month after decommitting from Michigan, that he will play next season with the Wildcats.

“Caleb is a tremendously talented guard who has significant experience playing college basketball at a high level,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said in a statement. “We look forward to helping Caleb grow his game at Arizona. And as we near the completion of the roster for the upcoming season, we feel great about how everything has come together. Now it’s time for the real work to start.”

A 6-foot-4 guard, Love averaged 14.6 points and 3.3 assists in three seasons at North Carolina. He averaged 17.6 points in seven NCAA Tournament games, helping lead the Tar Heels to the 2022 national championship game.

Love entered the transfer portal after leading North Carolina with 73 3-pointers as a junior and initially committed to Michigan. He decommitted from the Wolverines earlier this month, reportedly due to an admissions issue involving academic credits.

Love narrowed his transfer targets to three schools before choosing to play at Arizona over Gonzaga and Texas.

Love will likely start on a team that will have dynamic perimeter players, including Pelle Larsson, Kylan Boswell and Alabama transfer Jaden Bradley.