Wooden Watch: Hield separates from the field

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Buddy Hield, Oklahoma Sooners

As a column that called the Wooden Award race over seven weeks, let's just say the Watch understands the irony in what it is about to propose, but still ... that'll do it, right? The first round, we mean? Of the NCAA tournament?

You saw it. You saw what happened. While No. 2 Michigan State was suffering maybe the most unlikely first-round NCAA tournament upset ever (emphasis on maybe), No. 2 Oklahoma was watching its star guard throw up a tidy 27 points on 5-of-8 from 2, 3-of-6 from 3 and 8-of-9 from the stripe against Cal State Bakersfield.

Which, if you look at it closely, is basically the average Buddy Hield game in 2015-16. No, seriously. Peruse previous Wooden Watches. Or just look up his numbers. Or trust us. He's been that good.

Naturally, Buddy immediately followed that up with a 36-point, 11-of-20, six-3-pointer-draining and seven-rebound-adding effort in OU's 85-81 second-round win over No. 10 VCU ... in a game in which the rest of the Sooners' shooters made just two of their 12 3s. (Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard combined for 2-of-10 in their own right.)

Last week, we said Wooden voters faced a close race heading into the first two rounds of the tournament -- closer than any since 2005's J.J Redick/Adam Morrison shootout. It was like an election (minus polling data and people saying horrible things). It would be a mistake to ignore the entirety of the race or the months and months of data we've sifted through already in favor of one or two games in the tournament. But when the case is this close, closing arguments matter. Buddy's was, let's say, convincing.

Denzel Valentine, Michigan State Spartans

Denzel's, on the other hand? Not so much.

We won't not dwell too much on MSU's 90-81 loss to Middle Tennessee on Friday. Honestly? It's hard to blame Michigan State. The Blue Raiders, a generally mediocre offensive team, experienced some sort of hallucinogenic enlightenment on Friday, making everything in sight en route to a 1.32 points-per-trip performance against the Spartans. Anyone who has ever played basketball at any level has walked onto a basketball floor against a laughably inferior team -- like, yo, these guys? sigh -- only to watch that team bury one unlikely jumper after another. Before you know it, game over. It's rare, sure. But it does happen. (And anyone claiming Michigan State was overrated or its defense was suspect need only look at MidTenn's next shooting night, when it put up a sub-30 percent outing against Syracuse. Please. Stop it.)

That said, for as many times as we've noted that Tom Izzo's team had a great offensive night and how on any other night it wins with the same efficiency numbers and so on and so forth, it has to be said: Valentine did not play well. He had 12 assists but six turnovers. His 13 points were the fewest he had scored since Jan. 10 against Penn State, when he played 23 minutes in his first game back from a knee injury. Could a better night have stopped Kermit Davis' team? Probably not. Will Valentine be asking himself that question for the rest of his life? Probably. We hope not. But probably.

Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia Cavaliers

So here's what Malcolm Brogdon did in Virginia's second-round win over Butler: 22 points, 8-of-11 from 2, five rebounds, five assists, two steals, one block, which was yet another star turn for a team that scored 77 points in 64 possessions. Great game, sure, but ho-hum by Brogdon's remarkable 2015-16 standard.

What separated Saturday's effort was a late switch by Virginia coach Tony Bennett to move Brogdon to guard Butler's Andrew Chrabascz -- who is, in case you're wondering, Butler's center. Granted, Chrabascz is an undersized forward. Even so, Brogdon is nominally a point guard. The sheer idea was a miniature college version of LeBron James guarding Kendrick Perkins in the NBA Finals -- and it totally worked.

In his first 24 minutes on Saturday:

Chrabascz had carried the offense with 24 points on 9-of-10 shooting and had not missed any of his 3-point attempts. Butler didn't have any other scorers in double figures at that point, and its leading scorers -- Kellen Dunham and Kelan Martin -- had combined for just four points.

After that, Brogdon didn't allow Chrabascz to score another basket.

That's what else Brogdon did in Virginia's second round win over Butler. Not too shabby.

Brice Johnson, North Carolina Tar Heels

Indiana assistant coaches are in the process of devising a game plan for Johnson even as you read this, which is a fascinating subplot to this contest. Because Indiana, all things considered, simply does not have the players to match up with North Carolina's frontcourt. Thomas Bryant, talented as he is, couldn't check Johnson for 40 minutes one-on-one; UNC happens to have approximately 542 other talented big men to throw on with and around their All-American big. The Hoosiers schemed Kentucky guard Jamal Murray with OG Anunoby, a meteorically improving defender who seems like a good candidate to draw much of the work against Johnson. Unless, you know, Indiana plays zone -- depending on what kind of zone it is and how often the Hoosiers use it. See? Fascinating!

Perry Ellis, Kansas Jayhawks

Perry Ellis in Kansas's round of 32 win over UConn: 21 points, 7-of-9 from 2, 2-of-3 from 3, eight rebounds, one assist, one turnover. No big deal.