Denzel Vs. Buddy: Who Will Dominate the (College Basketball) World?

The Player of the Year race will come down to two finalists: Denzel Valentine and Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield. Ben Simmons, Kris Dunn and Kay Felder are all outstanding players, but this is a two horse race.

Both of their respective teams are nationally ranked. Both teams could make a deep run into the tournament. So what separates them?


Valentine and Hield have gone toe-to-toe twice in their careers. Valentine is 2-0.

The first matchup came in their sophomore years in the championship game of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. MSU was ranked No. 1 in the land and undefeated at the time, while the Sooners were unranked. Hield was in the starting lineup, while Valentine came off the bench. The Spartans came out on top 87-76. Here’s how they performed:

Player Valentine Hield
Minutes 30 30
Points 7 13
FG 3-7 6-12
3-PT 1-1 1-5
FT 0-1 0-1
Rebounds 6 6
Assists 5 0

The next matchup came last year in the Sweet 16. Oklahoma entered the game as the favorite to move on as the No. 3 seed, while MSU played the role of underdog in the No. 7 seed. Valentine and Hield were both offensive forces for their respective teams, but it was Valentine who carried his squad to victory in the second half. Here’s how they performed:

Player Valentine Hield
Minutes 38 38
Points 18 21
FG 6-17 7-17
3-PT 4-11 3-10
FT 2-2 4-4
Rebounds 7 6
Assists 2 2

Incredible how similar the two players were. We should have known that an epic showdown for Player of the Year was on the horizon.

Season Stats

Let’s take a look at how the two compare statistically this season (stats as of February 19):

Player Valentine Hield
MPG 32.7 34.6
PPG 19.7 25.2
FG% 47.3% 50.5%
3-PT% 44.6% 48.8%
FT% 85.5% 89%
RPG 7.7 5.6
APG 7.3 2.2

According to College Basketball Reference, no player since at least 1994 has averaged 19 points, seven rebounds and seven assists per game like Valentine has.

On the other hand, Hield could become the first player to join the elite 50-50-90 club (50 percent field goal shooting, 50 percent three-point shooting, 90 percent three-point shooting) since Salim Stoudemire in the 2004-2005 season.

Advanced Stats

Let’s take a closer look at some of the more advanced stats for all you sabermetric fans out there.

Player Valentine Hield
ORtg 127.4 125.8
DRtg 92.7 100.3
PER 30.1 29.4

Confused? Here are some definitions:

ORtg – offensive rating, an estimate of points produced per 100 possessions. The current NCAA leader is James Thompson IV from Eastern Michigan at 139.5.

DRtg – defensive rating, an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions. The current NCAA leader is Egidijus Mockevicius from Evansville at 83.8.

PER – player efficiency rating, an all-in-one stat that factors in offensive and defensive measurements and is pace-adjusted. It also subtracts for bad stats such as turnovers. An average score is 15 and the NCAA leader is John Brown from High Point at 37.

Both players are offensive juggernauts, but Valentine clearly makes more of an impact on the defensive side of the ball. There is one area of the game that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet but might be the most important.


Valentine has been asked to do so much for this Michigan State squad over the course of this season. He routinely plays three positions throughout the game and mostly runs the point, a position he has never played before.

“As far as the versatility and being able to do everything, I don’t think [Denzel] Valentine gets enough credit for his defense,” said Coach Izzo after the Indiana game. “Everything we’ve asked that kid to get better at, he’s gotten better at. He’s become a better shooter, he’s become more disciplined with the ball, but he can guard people. He can guard and rebound on the one end and pass and score on the other end. I don’t know anyone that I’ve had that can do that as thoroughly as he does it.”

Not so say that Hield isn’t versatile. You don’t get into the conversation for Player of the Year by being a one-trick pony. But Valentine makes much more of an impact on his team. Hield has had a steady, outstanding point guard in the backcourt with him all year in Isaiah Cousins. That stability has meant that Hield hasn’t been shuffled through the lineup and put in unfamiliar positions. The fact that Valentine’s performance has not dropped since being moved around is unbelievable.

Bottom Line

If you are looking for a pure scorer, Buddy is your guy. If you are looking for a facilitator of the offense, Denzel is your guy. If you are looking for the most well-rounded player in America, well that just might be Denzel too.

What do you think?

Originally Posted:


Author: Blake Froling

I am currently the Sports Director at ESPN UP in Marquette, Michigan, where I host a daily sports talk show called The SportsPen. I am also the play-by-play voice for Westwood High School football and boys and girls basketball. I graduated from Michigan State University in December 2016 with a degree in journalism.

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