I hope you've enjoyed this season-long race for college basketball's most valuable player, because it might be another decade before we see something this close.
Doubt that? Here's how the past nine chases played out for college hoops' best.
2015: Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky was a decided victor over Duke's Jahlil Okafor.
2014: Creighton's Doug McDermott a runaway selection.
2013: Michigan's Trey Burke was a clear choice over Indiana's Victor Oladipo.
2012: Kentucky's Anthony Davis a dominant winner over Michigan State's Draymond Green.
2011: BYU's Jimmer Fredette was a popular pick over UConn's Kemba Walker and Ohio State's Jared Sullinger.
2010: Ohio State's Evan Turner was a big winner, beating out Kentucky's John Wall.
2009: Blake Griffin swept the awards, beating out UNC's Tyler Hansbrough.
2008: Hansbrough was a runaway selection.
2007: Texas' Kevin Durant was a runaway selection.
How was that for a walk down memory lane? Putting all of those POY awards into context, it's quite clear that the Buddy Hield vs. Denzel Valentine duel has become the most captivating and closest-to-call national player of the year battle since 2006, the year of J.J. Redick vs. Adam Morrison. The pair split two of the long-standing, major national honors -- the Oscar Robertson and National Association of Basketball Coaches awards. (Redick won the other four major ones: AP, Naismith, Wooden and Sporting News; Rob Dauster at NBCSports.com has an oral history on that terrific year.)
Back to 2016. Which player has had the bigger year? There are strong cases for both, and that's a big part of why this has been such a fun season. Oklahoma has a microsite dedicated to Hield's historic campaign. Here's a taste.
Durant and Beasley. That's good company. Hield has been reasonably referred to as college basketball's Steph Curry, and it's basically true. (Plus, Hield shoots it better from deep than Curry ever did in college.)
I'll note many people and media members were declarative as late as mid-February that Hield was going to win the award in a runaway, but that was always premature thinking. I asked MSU coach Tom Izzo about Denzel vs. Buddy two weeks ago, when Hield was seemingly still out in front. We got to discussing Draymond Green, who fell in Anthony Davis' shadow 2011-12 for Player of the Year, yet in most years would have taken the honor. I've condensed some of Izzo's thoughts here.
"They're two of the more cerebral players I've had," Izzo said. "Denzel's a better shooter, Draymond's a better rebounder. They both became very good defenders and it happened cerebrally more than athletically. Day-Day was a leader that liked to hear his own voice and challenge people, like me. Denzel does it more quietly. I think we rely on Denzel more than we did Day-Day. You got two guys that have these qualities that make the difference: High basketball IQ, an incredible will to win, an incredible appreciation and obligation to the university they play at. I don't know if it's been the four-year thing and Draymond growing up close, and Denzel's dad who played here and wants to have his own legacy. They're guys who are incredible in that respect, and at winning time, guys you could really rely on. I keep telling him (Valentine) he's done such a good job but I'd like him to be more demanding, like a (Mateen) Cleaves, like a (Travis) Walton, like a Draymond. Day-Day was special and still is. When 'Zel leaves here, he'll leave his own mark."
Very much so. This blows mind my mind. The NCAA has tracked assists since the 1983-84 season (why so late to the game, NCAA?), and yet Valentine is set to become the first player in that time -- in all of D-I -- to put up a 19-7-7 average across one season. It's a strong stat line.
I just can't believe no one's done it in the modern era until now.
Now let's take a quick tour of how the players compare on a more in-depth statistical level. (All of these stats, except where otherwise noted, are via Sports Reference.)
You might think of Oklahoma as the 3-point-flaring firehose of college basketball, but it's Valentine-led Michigan State that's the No. 1 offense in the sport, per KenPom.com.
• Hield probably can't capture the points crown, as his 25.1 PPG clip is two full points behind Howard's James Daniel, but he is No. 2 in the nation. I feel like Hield averaging 25/game has been overlooked as to how hard that is to achieve at the college level. He has the most 25-point games (15) of any player in a major conference.
• Hield is also top-20 nationally in effective field goal percentage, which takes into account the value of 3-point shooting and fairly measures what both your 2-point and 3-point attempts equate to. Hield is fourth in the nation in 3-point percentage (47.3), while Valentine is better than you might realize: 45.4 percent. (Valentine's teammate and best friend since childhood, Bryn Forbes, leads the country at a cool 50.5 percent.)
• Valentine is fourth nationally in assists (7.5) and second in assist rate (44.6). Hield averages 2.1 assists. In terms of player efficiency rating, Valentine checks in at 30.2, a pace or two ahead of Hield's 28.7. (Exceeding 30 in PER is exceptional.) The two are tied in win shares (6.4). In offensive plus-minus, they are the top two players in the nation: Valentine is plus-12.5, Hield is plus-10.3. Valentine's overall plus-minus is 17.3, No. 1 in the country, to Hield's 11.9 (11th).
• Hield has made more 3-pointers (124) than anyone this season. If he continues at his four-3s-per game clip and Oklahoma plays another six games this season (a reasonable expectation, considering the Big 12 tournament and NCAA Tournament), he'll finish with 148 3s, which would be good for third-most in one season in the history of D-I basketball. (Hield needs 32 3s to pass Akeem Richmond, who hit 155 two seasons ago, to get second. The all-time record is by -- who else? -- Curry, who sank 162 treys in 2007-08, the year Davidson made the Elite Eight.)
• If foul shots mean something to you, Hield shoots 89.3 percent from the stripe (No. 8 in the nation), while Valentine is a plenty steady 84.1 percent. What's remarkable about Valentine is how much better's he's gotten from the free throw line since his first year at MSU, when he was a 67-percent foul shooter.
• Valentine had two triple-doubles this season. Hield went for 46 on the road against the team that will be the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. According to KenPom.com's offensive rating, Valentine has a 126.9 to Hield's 121.8. In Pomeroy's POY algorithm, the award as of now should go to Valentine, with Hield in second. The margin is slim.
What might make the difference? Oklahoma is 5-4 in its last nine games, while Michigan State has lost once since Jan. 20. And Valentine did not play in MSU's 83-70 loss at Iowa on Dec. 29, something that has slightly helped his case, I think.
While some publications have already started awarding player of the year, many won't announce until the league tournaments are finished. That's probably how it should be, especially in a season like this. The sentiment and vote could turn depending on how Buddy and Denzel play ove rthe next few days and how far their teams get in their conference playoffs. Hield and the Sooners have a really tough test against Iowa State in the Big 12 quarterfinals on Thursday; Valentine and MSU get going in the Big Ten tourney on Friday.
More reason for an all-time toss-up: both players' teams are projected as No. 1 seeds. Again, what an awesome season this has been.
One last thing: Let's agree not to have any ties or co-players of the year. There is a three-time precedent for this with the NABC award. In '02 Kansas' Drew Gooden and Duke's Jay Williams split. Two years later, Saint Joe's Jameer Nelson and UConn's Emeka Okafor. And then again two years later with Redick and Morrison. Redick/Morrison remains the only time in the history of the USBWA's Oscar Robertson award that the vote ended in a tie, and that decision came with much criticism and backlash.
As a member of the USBWA, I can assure you it will not be happening this year. We're gonna pick one or the other.
Who's my pick? As of this post's publication, I go Valentine. Barely. I mean barely. My reason is Valentine's overall value to his team and his ability to do more on the floor for MSU. But if Hield goes nuts in the Big 12 tourney and Oklahoma wins the auto bid, I would have no issue switching to the Bahamian baller. If you're curious, CBS Sports will not be announcing its national Player of the Year for a couple more weeks. So sit tight!
Also, for posterity's sake, I'm going to continually update and keep a list of which national publications and websites award POY to which player. For now, here's what we've got, in alphabetical order:
Sporting News: Hield
USA Today: Valentine
Sports Illustrated: Valentine