Observations: Buddy Hield is the clear-cut choice for player of the year

It’s one thing to be the best player on arguably the best team in the country.

It’s another thing to the be the best player on arguably the best team in the country and be unbelievably efficient on offense.

Oklaoma’s Buddy Hield isn’t getting enough credit for how much he’s improved since last season, but when you look at the numbers, it’s staggering.

The 6-foot-4 guard is averaging 26.2 points and 5.9 rebounds while shooting 52.8 percent from the field, 52.4 percent from 3-point range, and 90.5 percent from the free throw line.

A year ago, Hield averaged 17.4 points and 5.4 rebounds while shooting 41.2 percent from the field, 35.9 percent from 3-point range, and 82.3 percent from the stripe.

What’s most impressive about those field-goal percentages?

The majority of Hield’s points are coming from the perimeter and not off the bounce when he’s attacking the rim.

Last season, Hield made a total of 93 3-point shots. He’s already made 87 this season.

For a while, Providence’s Kris Dunn and Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine looked like they had a legitimate chance to be the National Player of the Year, but those days are over.

This award is all but a lock to go to Hield.

And it’s not even close.

Dorian Finney-Smith has emerged as Florida’s alpha dog

Mike White inherited a talented and balanced team from Billy Donovan, but the big question for the Gators early in the year was whether or not this squad had an alpha dog.

That has now been answered.

Finney-Smith is quietly playing the best basketball of his college career and is averaging 19.4 points and 10.0 rebounds over his last five games while shooting 13-of-25 from 3-point range during that span.

The versatile forward torched West Virginia for 24 points and five rebounds in Saturday’s win and that type of victory should boost Florida’s confidence moving forward in the SEC.

The Gators (14-7) are starting to look like a team that will earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament and Finney-Smith’s emergence is one of the main reasons why.

The Big East is now divided into tiers

Things always seem to become more concrete during the middle of conference play and that’s exactly what’s happened in the Big East.

Villanova, Xavier, and Providence have separated themselves as the three best teams in this league and are clearly are in a tier above the rest of the conference.

After that, Georgetown (6-3), Seton Hall (5-4), Creighton (5-4), Marquette (4-5), and Butler (3-6) find themselves bunched together and will essentially be playing “life and death” games down the stretch as they attempt to build a resume to reach the NCAA Tournament.

The Big East safely looks like it has three locks to reach the field of 68, but after that, everything is very much in question.

Expect this league to have its healthy share of white-knuckle contests in February.

Buddy Hield is set to runaway with the National Player of the Year award. (USATSI)

This and That

  • Ben Simmons’ lack of assertiveness down the stretch in Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma could wind up costing LSU an NCAA Tournament bid. The freshman forward didn’t touch the ball during the game’s final three possessions with the Tigers needing a basket and only wound up taking seven shots in the entire game. If the Tigers could have found a way to beat the Sooners, then they would have owned victories over both Oklahoma and Kentucky. That’s a tough pill to swallow for Johnny Jones’ squad, which is now 13-8 overall and 6-2 in SEC play.
  • Providence’s duo of Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil has emerged as the premier inside/outside combination in college basketball. The tandem combined for 52 of the Friars’ 73 points in Saturday night’s win at Georgetown and will be a nightmare for opponents to deal with in the NCAA Tournament. Ed Cooley’s team is 18-4 overall and 6-3 in Big East play.
  • Kentucky fans don’t believe in moral victories, but the Wildcats showed tremendous promise in Saturday’s overtime loss at Kansas just 14 days after falling at Auburn. John Calipari still has six weeks to get this team ready for the NCAA Tournament and this team appears to be heading in the right direction at the right time of year. Kentucky next visits Tennessee on Tuesday in Knoxville.
  • San Diego State is holding opponents to just 58.5 points during Mountain West Conference play. People can say winning with defense is ugly, but that doesn’t mean it’s not effective. The Aztecs are 9-0 in league play and 16-6 overall.
  • Utah has quietly won five straight games and six out of its last seven. Larry Krystkowiak’s team started Pac-12 play a little slow, but has regained some of the promise it showed in November and December. The Utes have a big week on the horizon with back-to-back games at Oregon State and Oregon.
  • Virginia’s Devon Hall now has just two turnovers in his last 123 minutes played. You think Tony Bennett knew what he was doing when he put Hall into the starting lineup alongside London Perrantes and Malcolm Brogdon?
  • Texas A&M’s Tonny Trocha-Morelos didn’t make a single 3-point shot last season as a freshman, but has already nailed 17 shots from long distance this year as a sophomore. The 6-10 big man had eight points and five rebounds in the Aggies’ win on Saturday over Iowa State as part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
  • VCU’s average margin of victory during its 11-game winning streak is 15.7 points. The Rams’ haven’t lost since Dec. 19th against Cincinnati and are in sole possession of first place in the Atlantic 10. Will Wade’s squad next visits La Salle on Sunday in North Philadelphia.
  • It’s going to be really tough for the American Conference to get off the ground on an annual basis if both UConn and Memphis aren’t regularly ranked in the Top 25. The Huskies should take a step forward with Amida Brimah back in the lineup, but the Tigers look like a NIT team at best. That’s not good for the perception of this league.
  • People in the Northeast better buckle up for the MAAC Conference Tournament. This league has been defined by two teams — Iona and Manhattan — over the past few seasons, but the MAAC is deeper than it’s been in years. Monmouth has emerged as the conference’s best team, but Fairfield, Siena, and St. Peter’s are all vastly improved and the Saints will host the conference tournament at the Times Union Center. It’s going to be an interesting couple of days in Albany in mid-March.

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