NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player Pick: Go with Top Heel

justin jackson

Matthew Jordan

Wednesday, March 29, 2017 7:04 PM GMT

Wednesday, Mar. 29, 2017 7:04 PM GMT

So why does the NCAA Tournament hand out the Most Outstanding Player Award instead of Most Valuable Player? Inquiring minds want to know. Let’s examine updated MOP Award odds at BetOnline and give our pick.

Early MOP Favorites Sent Packing

Entering the NCAA Tournament, the two betting favorites at most sportsbooks to win Most Outstanding Player were UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball and Kansas guard Frank Mason – both recently named AP First-Team All-Americans, incidentally. They are also two of four finalists for the Naismith Trophy, which is given to the nation’s top player for this season. The others are Villanova’s Josh Hart and Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan.

None of those guys will be playing in the Final Four on Saturday. Ball was hugely outplayed by Kentucky freshman De’Aaron Fox in UCLA’s Sweet 16 loss to the Wildcats and then Ball proceeded to declare for the NBA Draft. Mason scored at least 20 points in Kansas’ four NCAA Tournament games but was just 8-for-20 from the field in the Jayhawks’ Elite Eight upset loss to Oregon.

The Most Outstanding Player Award is supposed to be just that: taking into account the whole tournament. However, it’s largely an award for the Final Four and national championship game. To correctly pick the right player, you must accurately target which team cuts down the nets on the first Monday in April. It’s usually the best player on said team, although in 2013 Louisville’s Luke Hancock won the award and he was a reserve. It’s the only time MOP hasn’t been given to a starter.

What I find interesting is that BetOnline lists North Carolina as the +140 favorite on NCAA basketball odds to win the national title, but Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss is the betting leader for MOP at +260. Back on March 15, Williams-Goss was +1000 – but all odds were much longer back then.

Williams-Goss wasn’t very good in Gonzaga’s opening game against South Dakota State or in the Sweet 16 win over West Virginia. He was excellent in the other two games, putting up 20 points, eight rebounds and four assists vs. Northwestern, and 23 points, eight rebounds and four assists in the Elite Eight vs. Xavier. The junior transfer from Washington is clearly the team’s star. He ranks fifth in the KenPom.com Player of the Year standings.

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North Carolina’s Justin Jackson, also an AP All-American, is the +265 second-favorite. Jackson struggled in the Round of 32 a bit with Arkansas but otherwise has been terrific. He had 24 points, five rebounds and five assists in the Sweet 16 vs. Xavier, and 19 points, five rebounds and four assists in the Elite Eight thriller vs. Kentucky – although teammate Luke Maye, who hit the game-winning shot against the Wildcats, was named the South Region’s MOP over Jackson.

Williams-Goss and Jackson are followed by UNC’s Joel Berry II (+550) and Kennedy Meeks (+650), and Gonzaga’s Johnathan Williams (+650). I happen to think that Monday’s title game will be North Carolina vs. Gonzaga and both are favorites to get there. So I’ll be picking a Tar Heel or Bulldog on this prop.

That said, Oregon’s favorite for the MOP is Tyler Dorsey at +700, while South Carolina star Sindarius Thornwell is +800. Both those guys have carried their teams offensively, with Dorsey averaging 24.5 points in the tournament and Thornwell 25.8 -- most among any player in the Big Dance who played at least two games.

Don’t automatically expect a great NBA career for the MOP. The last one to win the award and amount to anything as a professional was Kentucky’s Anthony Davis in 2012. Last year’s winner, Villanova’s Ryan Arcidiacono, played in the D-League this year after going undrafted.

Free NCAAB Pick: Justin Jackson +265Best Line Offered: BetOnline
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