Wooden Watch: Hield's play could end race early

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There are 38 days until Selection Sunday. Whether that seems like a long time probably depends on your perspective (or how close your favorite team is to the NCAA tournament bubble). Wherever you stand on the meaning of time, we can at least agree that a sizable and significant chunk of the 2015-16 season remains in front of us ...

Buddy Hield, Oklahoma Sooners

... and the Wooden Award race is already over. That's right: Done. Terminado. Fertig. Finito. Ov-er. Buddy Hield is winning the 2016 Wooden Award. No one else is even close.

The evidence for Hield's case is overwhelming. It comes at you from all sides. It helps to break this evidence down into three distinct subgroupings.

(Disclaimer: The Wooden Watch Reader Health Team recommends you consume the following information while seated. In some readers, a common side effect known as "melting of face" can occur. If face meltage persists for more than four hours, consult your physician immediately.)

1. Mind-blowing, historic statistics

  • Hield's 51.7 percent mark on 3s is the seventh-highest in the country.

  • Hield's made 3s per game average (4.3) is on pace to be the highest by a major-conference player in the past 20 seasons.

  • Kevin Durant averaged 25.8 points per game at Texas. Hield is averaging 25.8 points per game this season. Three major-conference players have higher numbers in the past 20 seasons: J.J. Redick, Doug McDermott and Michael Beasley.

  • A season ago, no player scored 30 points in eight different games. Hield did it by Jan. 30.

  • After Saturday's LSU game, Hield had recorded 425 plays in 2015-16. He averaged 1.209 points per play. That was the highest in Division I among players with at least 400 recorded plays, and it wasn't close. Even crazier? No major-conference player with 300 plays -- and there are many more of those -- has been more efficient with his touches than Hield.


2. Season-defining moments

Hield scored 21 second-half points in that comeback win at LSU. His entire stretch was one monster shot after the other. Five minutes into the second half, after LSU made an 8-0 run to stretch its lead to 52-38, Hield buried a face-up 3 to quiet the crowd and cut the Tigers' momentum. At the 4:41 mark, he hit a corner 3 to cut LSU's five-point lead to two. Just one possession later, Hield saw Jordan Woodard pushing the ball in semi-transition, and his instincts were perfect: He sprinted across the lane from the weak corner to the ball side, surprised Tigers' guard Keith Hornsby -- who had turned his head -- and created the space to catch, set and bang the go-ahead 3 from the exact same spot. All in a matter of seconds.

Hield would finish the game with eight 3s and 32 points. After another of those shots, he caused ESPN analyst Dick Vitale, whose engines were already at full steam, to boil over: "How good is this kid?!" Vitale said.

It wasn't even Hield's best moment of the season, either. That honor goes to his 46-point masterpiece in a three-overtime loss to Kansas, after which the Allen Fieldhouse fans gave him a standing ovation. But Vitale's reaction was eerily similar to a moment at Iowa State in January, when, as Hield erased ISU's lead with three straight 3s (and a drive to the rim) in the closing minutes of the game, a Cyclones student behind the media table just started to completely lose it. "You're so good!" the kid screamed, almost in pain. "How are you so good?! HOW?!"

3. Oh, by the way: Oklahoma is the best team in the country

Oklahoma's game-winning play Saturday began with Hield in the role of an apparent screener. He dummied a screen, faded to the 3-point line and watched as Isaiah Cousins used the recently freed space to knock home the go-ahead shot. It was 20 seconds of basketball that couldn't have existed without Hield, but OU coach Lon Kruger had to draw it up, and Cousins had to make it.

Another moment like this: Second half, 14 minutes left. Oklahoma misses a shot high off the back rim. OU forward Ryan Spangler tips the rebound out to Woodard, who immediately sees Spangler come open on the block. LSU chases the ball, and Spangler doesn't even hesitate: He immediately flips the ball to the wing, where Hield is open for one of those eight 3s. Gorgeous play.

Hield, Cousins, Woodard and Spangler took the court as a group for the first time more than two years ago, on Nov. 8, 2013. On Tuesday night at TCU, they started their 89th straight game together. The chemistry, the level of trust and the sheer pure feel of OU's basketball -- all this just doesn't happen, at least not anymore.

Yet here they are, with Hield at their center, making it all go. Even if someone else was having a better all-around individual season or putting up crazier stats -- say, a player like LSU's Ben Simmons -- Hield's team success would elevate him in this conversation.

No player is having a better season. No candidate plays for a better team. The Wooden Award race is over. No one else comes close.

Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa Hawkeyes

Uthoff's worst game of the season just so happened to coincide with Iowa's first loss in six weeks ... and OK, we're being facetious: Obviously the two are deeply related. That said, though Uthoff's 2-of-13 performance at Maryland included one of the strangest probably-a-shot-shots of all time (a weird half-cooked hook thing that missed by five feet and that a high school buddy aptly described as "a video game glitch"), his struggles in College Park also helped highlight just how good he has been all season. Last Thursday was Uthoff's first game of 2015-16 in which he didn't reach double digits. It was the third time all season that his offensive rating fell below 100. He rebounded with 23 points, six rebounds and three blocks against Northwestern.

Denzel Valentine, Michigan State Spartans

Denzel Valentine wasn't pleased with the Spartans' defensive performance against Rutgers on Sunday. His response -- to chew out his teammates and take control of timeouts to the point that Tom Izzo said he didn't have to get involved -- was born of a sudden realization that just eight regular-season games remain in Valentine's career at Michigan State. Being a senior is tough. You were once a freshman, and you feel like you'll be in college forever, and then all of a sudden it's spring semester of your senior year and you and your buddies are counting the days down.

"It's kind of depressing," Valentine told MLive.com.

Truth. In related news, MSU beat Rutgers 96-62. So much for senioritis.

Brice Johnson, North Carolina Tar Heels

Louisville's 71-65 win over the Tar Heels on Monday night said a lot more about the former than it did the latter. After Saturday's embarrassing home loss to Virginia, the Cardinals needed to prove their bona fides on their own floor. Job done. As for Johnson: He was, per usual, the Tar Heels' most productive player, with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Awfully good, yet, like Uthoff, somehow telling. Johnson has been so good "15 and 11" almost sounds like an off night.

Ben Simmons, LSU Tigers

There was plenty of recrimination and anger following LSU's loss to Oklahoma, which is a funny thing to write, given how good the Sooners are (see: "Hield, Buddy") and how close the Tigers were to beating them. Yet this discussion was happening long before Cousins' game-winner, as Simmons -- who finished the game 6-of-7 from the field -- took just one shot in the final 10 minutes of the game. That's obviously unacceptable. The question is: Whose fault is it? Is it LSU coach Johnny Jones' fault? Or is it Simmons' fault? The film reveals numerous post-ups that LSU tried to feed to Simmons that either, (A) ended in turnovers or (B) LSU just gave up on trying to enter. Where does demanding the ball begin and end? Should Simmons run to the ball handler like a 6-year-old and ask him to hand it over?

If you want to find faults in the home team's outing, look at the defensive end, where Hield was offered a host of wide-open 3s -- including a couple he didn't make -- and OU's second-half comeback was at least in part a function of the way the Tigers scrambled around, totally disorganized, in almost every non-half-court situation.

Simmons rebounded from Saturday's furor with a 21-point, 13-rebound, seven-assist game at Auburn on Tuesday night. He was noticeably more assertive. It was also Auburn. In the end, some of the same reasons why Hield is the Wooden winner -- his team's excellence -- are the ones holding Simmons back. His team just isn't there in ways that "demanding the ball" won't solve.

Honorable mentions

Kris Dunn, Providence Friars
Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia Cavaliers
Georges Niang, Iowa State Cyclones
Josh Hart, Villanova Wildcats
Melo Trimble, Maryland Terrapins

On the radar

Perry Ellis, Kansas Jayhawks
Gary Payton II, Oregon State Beavers
Yogi Ferrell, Indiana Hoosiers
Michael Young, Pittsburgh Panthers
Kahlil Felder, Oakland Golden Grizzlies