Only four college basketball players remain in the running for the Naismith Trophy, given annually to the best in the nation.
The list started with 50 candidates in January, was shaved to 30 in February and trimmed to 10 on March 10. This quartet is the best of the best, unique in their skill sets but consistently terrific, efficient and productive.
One of these four players will join past winners such as Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Bill Walton, Lew Alcindor and Ralph Sampson.
Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia (18.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg) 6-5, 217, Sr.
The Cavaliers leader was tremendous all season, steering his team to a 27-7 record entering Saturday night’s NCAA tournament second round game against Butler. He’s scored in double figures in 33 consecutive games as the key cog in the nation’s eighth most efficient offense. Just as remarkable, he generated a 121.2 offensive rating while attempting 30 percent of Virginia’s shots as it tackled the nation’s second-most difficult schedule, per KenPom.com (17 games vs. the top 50). Brogdon, an Atlanta product, was named the ACC Player of the Year and will be a consensus All-American for the second year in a row.
Best game: 28 points on 12 of 18 shooting at Miami (FL) on Feb. 22.
Buddy Hield, Oklahoma (25.0 ppg, 5.6 rpg) 6-4, 209, Sr.
The dynamic Sooners guard gave the college basketball world a plethora of unforgettable moments in 2015-16. Hield, a native of the Bahamas, led the nation in 3-pointers (130), finished second in scoring and fourth in 3-point percentage (46.4). He also became the sixth player in the last 20 years - and first from a major conference - to average 25 points and five rebounds per game while also making at least 100 3-pointers. This spectacular season marked a steady climb over his four-year career as Hield evolved from skinny defensive specialist to perimeter assassin and Big 12 Player of the Year. He had 10 30-point games.
Best game: 46 points, eight rebounds, seven assists in a triple overtime loss at Kansas on Jan. 4.
Denzel Valentine, Michigan State (19.2 ppg, 7.8 apg, 7.6 rpg) 6-5, 220, Sr.
It’s not easy for a Spartan - or any college basketball star - to earn a comparison with Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who led the program to the 1979 national championship. But Valentine, the Big Ten Player of the Year, thrust himself into that discussion early and remained there with his unique blend of deft perimeter shooting and precision playmaking. His scoring, rebounding and assist stats actually exceeded those posted by Johnson in his final season in East Lansing. Valentine had two triple-doubles early in the season and a stunning 45.8 percent assist rate. The season ended much sooner than Valentine and the Michigan State fans hoped, but that disappointment should not cloud an all-around season unlike any seen in recent college basketball history.
Best game: 30 points, 13 assists, five rebounds three steals vs. Indiana on Valentine’s Day.
Tyler Ulis, Kentucky (17.0 ppg, 7.1 apg, 3.1 rpg) 5-9, 155, So.
Kentucky coach John Calipari has had terrific point guards on his roster, including No. 1 NBA Draft picks Derrick Rose and John Wall. But the diminutive native of Lima, Ohio, had a season on par with any of his predecessors and was honored as the SEC Player of the Year. Ulis had six games with 10 assists or more and assisted on more than one-third of the field goals scored by the nation’s most efficient offense. He has a 3.77 assist-to-turnover ratio and, equally important, the trust of his teammates, which is a trait shared by all supreme floor generals.
Best game: 30 points on 10 of 17 shooting, five assists, three rebounds, three steals against Texas A&M on March 13 in SEC championship game.