As the NCAA tournament reaches the Final Four, 10 finalists were announced for this year’s John R. Wooden Award, which is given annually to the most outstanding college basketball player. All of these finalists have made a compelling case for earning the award, but only one competitor can receive it. Here are the 10 finalists for this prestigious honor, ranked from least to most likely to win.
10. Perry Ellis, Kansas
Kansas forward Perry Ellis has been a consistently productive player throughout his four-year collegiate career, which ended on a high note. He put himself in the conversation as one of the top players in the nation by averaging 16.9 points on 53.1% shooting, including 44.4% from three-point range, along with 5.8 rebounds. Ellis’s strong senior year played a major factor in the Jayhawks earning the top seed in the NCAA Tournament while helping him earn his second straight First-Team All-Big 12 selection and be named consensus Second-Team All-American.
Although Ellis isn’t a standout player, but he was a reliable player, scoring 20-plus points 16 times while recording three double-doubles this season. All in all, Ellis won’t win the Wooden award but he has put together one of the most productive collegiate careers at Kansas, finishing eighth on the school’s all-time scoring list (1,798) and 12th on the all-time rebounding list (834).
9. Yogi Ferrell, Indiana
Throughout his four-year career at Indiana, guard Yogi Ferrell has been a constant offensive force, averaging 17.3 points including 42.0% percent from three-point range along with 5.6 assists this year. His play on both ends of the floor, which helped him earn his second straight First-Team All-Big Ten selection and a Big Ten All-Defensive Team nod.
Ferrell was the driving force for the Hoosiers, leading them to win the Big Ten regular season championship outright (the second time in four seasons). He scored 20 or more points 11 times while becoming the first player to lead the team in points and assists in back-to-back seasons since Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas. Ferrell is also the school’s all-time leader in assists.
8. Georges Niang, Iowa State
This season, Iowa State forward Georges Niang capped off an extremely productive four-year collegiate career, averaging 20.5 points on 54.6% shooting along with 6.2 rebounds. This included averaging 28.7 points in three NCAA Tournament games, making him the fifth player in tournament history to score 28 or more points in three straight games. Niang was also the only player in the nation this season to average at least 20 points and six rebounds while shooting 50% from the field and 80% from the free-throw line.
His strong play helped him earn his second straight First-Team All-Big 12 nod, and he was named a consensus Second-Team All-American. Niang has been the heart and soul of the Cyclones over the last couple of years, helping the school reach the NCAA Tournament in each season while at Indiana. His stellar play this season puts him deservingly in the conversation for the Wooden award.
7. Grayson Allen, Duke
Duke guard Grayson Allen burst onto the national scene during last year’s NCAA Tournament, including being a major factor in helping the school capture their fifth national championship. He continued to build off of that in his sophomore season in an increased role as the primary scorer, averaging 21.6 points including 41.7% from three-point range along with 4.6 rebounds.
Allen was an extremely reliable offensive weapon for the Blue Devils; he scored 20 or more points 19 times while helping them reach the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament. His play also earned him a selection to the First-Team All-ACC. Allen may not have been the best player in the nation, but he did prove to be one of the top talents.
6. Kris Dunn, Providence
In the last two seasons, Providence guard Kris Dunn has elevated his game to another level, making himself one of the most promising NBA prospects. He has captured back-to-back Big East Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year awards and was named to two consecutive First-Team All-Big East.
Dunn put up all around numbers in his senior season, averaging 16.4 points, 6.2 assists, and 5.3 rebounds. He scored 20 or more points 11 times while notching five double-doubles helping the school capture their third straight NCAA Tournament berth. Dunn is a high-impact player on both sides of the floor. He is undoubtedly one of the best players in the nation and will be a top-10 first-round pick in next year’s draft.
5. Tyler Ulis, Kentucky
After electing to stay another season at Kentucky, guard Tyler Ulis excelled in the leading role on both ends of the floor, averaging 17.3 points, 7.0 assists, and 1.5 steals, which helped him capture the SEC Player of the Year award and Defensive Player of the Year. He was selected to the First-Team All-SEC, named a consensus First-Team All-American, and was the MVP of the SEC Tournament.
Ulis was the heartbeat of the Wildcats this season, scoring 20-plus points 15 times while recording seven double-doubles. He helped lead Kentucky to their third straight year with 27 or more wins and first SEC title since the 2011-12 season. Ulis proved to be a game-changer on both ends of the court. He rightly deserves to be a part of this select group of players.
4. Brice Johnson, North Carolina
Brice Johnson saved the best for last in his senior season at North Carolina by posting his best year, averaging a double-double with 17.1 points on 61.6% shooting and 10.5 rebounds along with 1.5 blocks. This includes recording 23 double-doubles while hauling in 15 or more rebounds six times, topped by his best performance of the season with 39 points and 23 rebounds against Florida State.
Johnson has led the way for North Carolina, helping them earn a No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and positioning them to win the school’s sixth national championship. His stellar play this season already makes him the first Tar Heels player to be named a consensus First-Team All-American since Tyler Hansborough in 2009. On top of all this, Johnson was selected to the First-Team All-ACC as well.
3. Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia
Virginia guard Malcolm Brogdon burst onto the scene last season as one of the nation’s best two-way players, winning ACC Co-Defensive Player of the Year award and helping establish the Cavaliers as a premier defensive teams. Brogdon continued to improve this season, averaging 18.2 points and 4.1 rebounds while helping lead Virginia to one of the top seeds in the NCAA Tournament.
Brogdon’s strong campaign helped him earn the ACC Defensive Player of the Year award and the ACC Player of the Year award; he become a consensus First-Team All-American and received his third consecutive First-Team All-ACC selection. Brogdon also became the first player in ACC history to be the League Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season. He played a major part in Virginia’s success over the last couple of years and is a viable candidate for the Wooden award.
2. Denzel Valentine, Michigan State
In his senior season, Michigan State guard Denzel Valentine had the best all-around collegiate campaign in quite some time. He averaged 19.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 7.8 assists, which made him the first player to notch those numbers since assists began being tracked officially in the 1983-84 season. Valentine was a force this season, scoring 20-plus points on 12 occasions and dishing out 10 or more assists nine times while hauling in 10 or more rebounds six times. In total, he had 14 double-doubles and five triple-doubles this season.
Valentine’s importance to Michigan State goes far beyond the numbers as he was their unquestioned leader and the focal point of the team on both ends of the court, which helped them become one of the best teams in the country. However, what may ultimately hurt his chances of winning the Wooden Award is the fact that the Spartans bowed out in the first round, falling to 15th-seeded Middle Tennessee State.
1. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
Following his surprising decision to return for his senior season, Buddy Hield has put together an impressive year, experiencing a significant uptick in production with career highs across the board. He’s averaged 25.4 points on 50.4% shooting, including 46.5% from three-point range, along with 5.7 rebounds and 2.0 assists. Hield is arguably the best scorer in the country this season, notching 30 points 12 times, including a career-high 46 points in a 109-106 overtime loss to Kansas.
He has been a major factor for the Sooners being one of the best teams in the nation. Thanks to Hield, they are in the Final Four with a chance to win the school’s first national championship. Overall, Hield’s huge improvements in his senior season makes him the obvious choice as the frontrunner to win the Wooden award.