By the end of the season, the consensus National Player of the Year had shifted, and it only took Oklahoma guard Buddy 15 minutes on Sunday to make everyone that changed their mind regret it.
For nearly two months, starting somewhere between the time that he put on show after show in the Diamond Head Classic over the Christmas Holiday and the 46 points he had in the triple-overtime loss at Kansas in early January, Hield was that guy.
He was averaging better than 25 points, and before a late-season swoon that coincided with the Sooners falling off of the top seed line in the NCAA tournament, putting up an unheard-of 50/50/90 shooting split. He wasn’t just scoring a ton of points, he was doing it as efficiently as anyone we’ve ever seen.
Throw in the big shots he hit in big moments, and it seemed obvious that Hield was the guy … until it was obvious that he wasn’t. Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine averaged 19 points, seven boards and seven assists — something that had never been done before — and, once he returned to health, had the Spartans in a spot where they were the popular pick to win the NCAA tournament.
Then the Spartans lost their opener to No. 15 seed Middle Tennessee State.
And, after going for 27 points in the opener, Hield put on one of his most dominating performances of the season on Sunday. He scored 29 of his 36 points in the second half, including a stretch over the final 15 minutes where he had 26 of the last 31 Oklahoma points in an 85-81 win over No. 10 seed VCU.
Oklahoma will advance to take on the winner of No. 3 Texas A&M and No. 11 Northern Iowa in the Sweet 16.
The Sooners were up 44-31 at the break, but VCU was able to make a run that dented that eventually allowed them to regain the lead. That’s when Hield took over. When VCU hit a pair of free throws to take a 65-63 lead, Hield answered with a three on the following possession. After a Jordan Burgess layup put the Rams up 67-66, Hield answered with another three, following that up with a layup to push the lead back to four.
The Sooners were able to create a bit of separation after that, but VCU had one last run in them, cutting the lead to just three with three minutes left. Hield’s answer — a long two followed by his final three of the night.
The National Player of the Year Award only factors in regular season games, so regardless of what Hield does the rest of the tournament, the right decision was made — at least by NBCSports.com — to give Valentine the award.
And if Hield doesn’t slow down next weekend while Valentine has already started prepping for the NBA Draft, that decision is only going to look worse and worse.