With the 2015-16 season over, let’s take note of something we might not see again for years, if not decades: the closest Player of the Year race we could ever ask for.
How close? Well, Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield and Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine each took home their fair share of national player-of-the-year trophies. The 2015-16 season amounted to the closest race in college hoops since Adam Morrison vs. J.J. Redick in 2005-06, but really, this one was even closer than that — and among the toughest calls (as of the end of the regular season) ever.
Both were consensus All-American first-teamers. Valentine seemed like the pick for many (just barely) as of the end of the regular season. With the benefit of the postseason? Hield was certainly helped by OU’s run to the Final Four. On Friday night, Hield was named winner of the Wooden Award. By my count, between the six traditional awards, plus four other player-of-the-year honors from four mainstream media outlets, the two split their honors 5-5.
Hield led all players in college hoops this season with 12 30-point games. He was second in scoring nationally. Valentine, meanwhile, became the first player since the NCAA began tracking assists (1983-84 season) to average at least 19 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
Stats-wise, this is how each player did against each other.
POINTS: Hield (25.0) over Valentine
REBOUNDS: Valentine (7.5) over Hield (5.7)
ASSISTS: Valentine (7.8) over Hield (2.0)
BLOCKS: Hield (0.5) over Valentine (0.3)
STEALS: Hield (1.1) over Valentine (1.0)
O RATING: Valentine (125.7) over Hield (121.5)
PER: Valentine (29.7) over Hield (28.2)
2-POINT PERCENTAGE: Hield (55.2) over Valentine (48.1)
3-POINT PERCENTAGE: Hield (45.7) over Valentine (44.4)
FREE THROW PERCENTAGE: Hield (88.0) over Valentine (85.3)
Here’s the breakdown between the biggest end-of-year honors.
The six traditional, major awards:
Associated Press: Valentine
Naismith Award: Hield
National Association of Basketball Coaches: Valentine
Oscar Robertson Award: Hield
Sporting News: Hield
Wooden Award: Hield
POY awards from mainstream outlets:
CBS Sports: Hield
USA Today: Valentine
Sports Illustrated: Valentine
As you can see, it’s 5-5. Still to be named: The Adolph Rupp Trophy. So the tie will be broken. (If you’re curious, ESPN, Fox Sports and Yahoo Sports do not/did not post a national player of the year.)
And although it was a close call, we did dodge a split vote with the United States Basketball Writers Association (Oscar Robertson Award) and the NABC’s. The latter has split the award thrice: In ’02 Kansas’ Drew Gooden and Duke’s Jay Williams split; in ’04 with Saint Joe’s Jameer Nelson and UConn’s Emeka Okafor; in ’06 with Redick and Morrison, which also split the USBWA the first and only time in the history of that award.
Hield and Valentine: studs with incredible careers and standout swan song senior seasons. We’ll most remember 2015-16 for two things: the player of the year chase between these two, and of course that Villanova-UNC epic of a title game that concluded with Kris Jenkins’ all-time shot.