If there's something the Wooden Award has prioritized over the past two decades, it's winning.
In the past 20 years, no one has won the award on a team that didn't win at least one NCAA tournament game. In that span, only two winners were on teams that didn't advance to at least the Sweet 16, and Kevin Durant, at Texas in 2007, is the lone recipient from a team that finished with double-digit losses.
With that as a backdrop, the candidate pool took a beating over the past week as some high-profile players exited right away.
Young, who was the favorite for most of the season, could have played his way back into contention if he regained his midseason form or propelled Oklahoma to the Sweet 16 -- voting for the award ended on Monday. It wasn't meant to be. Despite a strong showing by Young in what was his final game, the Sooners were bounced by Rhode Island in the first round, ending any chance he still had to win the award.
Ayton's departure was more surprising, both because of the opponent Arizona lost to and how it looked in the process. The Wildcats were heavy favorites against 13-seed Buffalo but were run off the floor. And Ayton, who we advocated for to win the award last week, was almost nowhere to be found. Unlike Young, Ayton could still win -- he has been good enough to justify the selection -- but it would break from precedence.
That leaves three players who figure to be in the mix: Brunson, Graham and Bagley.
Bagley is the most talented of the three, has the numbers (21.2 points per game, 11.3 rebounds) and will clearly be the most sought-after by NBA teams, but Duke hasn't won anything of note -- no regular-season or conference tournament title. Because the voting deadline has passed, his résumé is complete.
With both Brunson and Graham, though, that's not the case. Graham led Kansas to yet another Big 12 regular-season title and then to a conference tournament title, and Brunson guided Villanova to the Big East tournament title after the Wildcats finished behind Xavier during the regular season. They both were named their respective conference's player of the year.
Statically, the pair of point guards are comparable: Brunson averages 19.1 points, 3.1 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 0.9 steals per game, and Graham goes for 17.4 points, 4.0 rebounds, 7.5 assists and 1.6 steals.
With Brunson and Graham matching up so closely, it seems possible they could cancel out each other's candidacy, leaving Ayton an avenue to still take home the award despite the Wildcats' first-round flop.
Keenan Evans, Texas Tech
Had Evans remained healthy down the stretch for Texas Tech, the Red Raiders could very well have won the Big 12. Alas, he did not and they faded down the stretch. But with him seemingly back at full strength, Texas Tech advanced through the opening weekend and is a win away from its first Elite Eight in program history. Evans scored 23 and 22 points in wins against Stephen F. Austin and Florida, respectively, to advance.
Deandre Ayton, Arizona
Not only were the Wildcats bounced in the first round by 13-seed Buffalo, they failed to keep it even mildly competitive in the second half. If it was someone's first time watching Arizona play this season, the idea that Ayton was the front-runner to be the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft would have been laughable as there seemed to be no concerted effort to get him the ball. If someone was on the fence about whom to vote for, Ayton's final impression didn't do him any favors.
Big week ahead
Jevon Carter, West Virginia
Carter was the catalyst behind a ho-hum opening weekend of the tournament in which he led the Mountaineers to a pair of lopsided wins -- 85-68 against Murray State and 94-71 against Marshall. Next up: Villanova, which promises to give Carter the stage to showcase why he's, again, a candidate for national defensive player of the year.