Early season 2016 John R Wooden Award top candidates
Ben Simmons, LSU
The versatile Australian point forward has not disappointed through the first month of the season, though his team has. The 6-foot-10 Simmons leads the Tigers in almost every offensive category: minutes, points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals. However, that production could not stop a three-game losing streak, which included an embarrassing loss to College of Charleston. Simmons got LSU back on track with a 43-point performance against North Florida, attempting more field goals than he had any other contest, giving the indication that he’s more aggressive looking for his own shot.
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY SportDerick E. Hingle
Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
The Sooners proved they were for real with a statement win over Villanova in a clash of top-10 teams on Monday night in the Pearl Harbor Invitational. Hield, the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year, scored 18 points, matching the entire Villanova team with four 3-pointers. While he didn’t have his best outing against Wisconsin – 5 of 16 from the field for a season-low 12 points – he is averaging 20.8 points per game and is leading an Oklahoma team that could put Kansas’ Big 12 streak in jeopardy.
Justin Ford-USA TODAY SportsJustin Ford
Denzel Valentine, Michigan State
In an era of one-and-dones, the top player in college basketball after the first month of the season is the Michigan State senior wing. Valentine became an early favorite for National Player of the Year, recording a triple-double in a win against Kansas in the Champions Classic. He hasn’t slowed, notching another triple-double against Boston College and leading the Spartans to a No. 1 ranking. Michigan State is off to its best start since 2000-01 thanks to Valentine’s 19.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game and his 40 percent 3-point shooting.
Getty ImagesRey Del Rio
Georges Niang, Iowa State
The senior forward is coming off his best game of the season on Monday, as the Cyclones remained undefeated. The 6-foot-9 Niang scored 31 points and grabbed 12 boards in an 84-63 win over Buffalo. Niang is averaging 18.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game.
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY SportsJeffrey Becker
Grayson Allen, Duke
The sophomore guard is averaging 21.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game while shooting 50 percent from the field and 46 percent from three. Yes, he certainly has the numbers, but he struggled mightily in Duke’s biggest game to date, scoring six points off 2-of-11 shooting a loss to Kentucky in the Champions Classic. Allen responded to that with back-to-back 30-point games against VCU and Georgetown in the 2K Classic.
Getty ImagesGrant Halverson
Kris Dunn, Providence
The Providence redshirt junior point guard is another nightly triple-double threat (flirting with a quadruple-double in a win over NJIT). Dunn’s return to the Friars was surprising, but his production through nine games hasn’t been. The 6-foot-4 future lottery pick is posting 18.2 points, 6.4 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 3.6 steals per game. More importantly, he’s taken a young Providence team from fringe NCAA tournament team to the top 15 of the AP poll.
Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY SportsMark L. Baer
Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga
The Gonzaga big man is averaging 21.3 points and 7.1 boards per game. The 3-point shooting has picked up over the past four games, knocking down 14 of 31 (45 percent) from beyond the arc. Wiltjer is coming off the best performance of the season: a 33-point outburst against Arizona, however it came in a losing effort.
James Snook-USA TODAY SportsJames Snook
Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia
The Cavaliers are beginning a difficult portion of their nonconference schedule– West Virginia, Villanova and Cal – a three-game stretch that could cement Brogdon as a serious National Player of the Year candidate. The 6-foot-5 shooting guard is averaging 17.3 points , 4.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game, improving on his field goal and 3-point shooting percentages from a season ago.
Getty ImagesMitchell Layton
Marcus Paige, North Carolina
He’s only played two games, but Paige was one of the preseason picks to be National Player of the Year before he suffered a broken bone his right hand less than two weeks before the season began. In his debut, the senior showed why the Tar Heels were ranked No. 1 to start the year, dropping 20 points, dishing five assists and connecting on 4 of 5 3-pointers in a huge win over Maryland in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. If he remains healthy, he’ll stay in the conversation and UNC will stay in the title hunt.
Getty ImagesGrant Halverson
Tyler Ulis, Kentucky
In his first game back since suffering an elbow injury, Ulis had nine points (2-of-12 shooting) and nine assists in Kentucky’s loss to UCLA last Thursday. The Wildcats are a different team when Ulis is in the lineup and when he’s healthy, he’s one of the best floor generals in the nation.