BOZICH | Louisville's Lee, Kentucky's Ulis and Murray chasing na - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Louisville's Lee, Kentucky's Ulis and Murray chasing national awards

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Louisville's Damion Lee and Tyler Ulis of Kentucky are contending for national recognition. (Photo by Jeff Reinking, GoCards.com.) Louisville's Damion Lee and Tyler Ulis of Kentucky are contending for national recognition. (Photo by Jeff Reinking, GoCards.com.)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Ten days ago it all seemed so simple in college basketball:

Buddy Hield of Oklahoma was the game’s player of the year. Jay Wright of Villanova was the coach of the year. Ben Simmons of Louisiana State was the freshman of the year -- until this week.

Good luck faking the outrage to argue against those three selections.

Hold all ballots.

Hield has missed more than 61 percent of his shots in his last six games as the wobbly Sooners have lost three times. Xavier fans are not the only ones prepared to argue that Wright isn’t even the best coach in the Big East after the Musketeers toppled Villanova, 90-83, Wednesday in Cincinnati.

If Simmons is truly as other worldly as ESPN demands that we believe, why has LSU lost a dozen games and why is Simmons currently missing from the Top 10 player of the year candidates in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings.

Play on. It’s too soon to award any trophies.

Not only is the 2016 national championship wide open, so is the competition for the game’s best player, coach, freshman and transfer.

Let’s get to the candidates.

Player of the Year: Hield, Oklahoma; Denzel Valentine, Michigan State; Tyler Ulis, Kentucky; Grayson Allen, Duke; Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia.

As I noted, Hield was primed to win by proclamation until his jump shot stopped falling. Not only has his shooting percentage (39-102, .382) in Oklahoma’s last six games been questionable, his ball-handling numbers do not scream: Player of the Year.

Credit Hield with 19 turnovers and eight assists in OU’s last six games. I know. He’s a shooter, not a playmaker. Well, stop turning it over, sir. It’s enough to make me consider the other candidates.

Valentine is averaging better than 19 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists while shooting 45 percent from distance for the surging Spartans. When he brings his Magic Johnson impersonation, the Spartans look like the best team in the nation.

With 61 assists and 10 turnovers in his last games, Ulis has averaged 18.5 points while running a team the way Isiah Thomas did it at Indiana. The guy never rests.

Grayson Allen makes you grumble. I get that. But he’s also playing nearly 36 minutes per game for Mike Krzyzewski. He is also capable of scoring 30 or more whenever necessary. To truly love Brogdon, you must truly love defense.

Coach of the Year: Chris Mack, Xavier; Jim Larranaga, Miami; Wright, Villanova; Lon Kruger, Oklahoma.

This is always a tricky discussion. The ballots are routinely collected too early. Way too early. Ridiculously too early.

Don’t believe me? The last coach to win the US Basketball Writers coach of the year award as well as the NCAA title in the same season was Norm Sloan.

He delivered at North Carolina State in 1974.

Mike Krzyzewski has five NCAA titles and zero Hank Iba awards. Rick Pitino has never won the Iba award. Neither has Billy Donovan. Nor John Calipari.

Translation: I’m not sure what the folks in my profession value.

But I’ll predict that after Xavier defeated Villanova Wednesday and everybody started falling in love with the Musketeers, Chris Mack has become the Flavor of the Month.

Freshman of the Year: Simmons, LSU, Jamal Murray, Kentucky; Henry Ellenson, Marquette.

ESPN cut the field to one in October, but I’ve made an executive decision to expand it to three. It’s going to be difficult to topple Simmons because he leads all freshmen in scoring average (19.5), rebounds (11.9) and Sports Center hype videos.

His team is not going to make the NCAA Tournament but everybody will blame that on Johnny Jones.

If you’re looking for an alternative, you must consider Murray, whose team is winning. He leads all freshmen with 85 three-point field goals and is also capable of a Grayson Allen-type explosion. Or if you’re OK with another guy whose team is going to play in the NIT, consider Ellenson, who is averaging 16.7 points and 10 rebounds for Marquette.

Transfer of the Year: Damion Lee, Louisville; Ryan Anderson, Arizona.

Remember where Louisville was picked to finish in the Atlantic Coast Conference prior to the season? Try seventh, behind Florida State. The Cards were not ranked in the national Top 25. With three games to play, they remain a game back of North Carolina. Lee has been better than advertised – as a player and the willing face of the program.

So has Anderson, who left Boston College to play his final season for Sean Miller. Arizona has rallied from a mid-season slumber to move within a game of Oregon at the top of the Pac-12. Anderson is averaging a double-double – 16 points and 10 rebounds.

Play on.

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