Sportsbooks have narrowed the 2017 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Most Outstanding Player race down to two horses; Kansas Jayhawks senior point guard Frank Mason III and North Carolina Tar Heels junior forward Justin Jackson – at least for the time being. Up until this past weekend there was a five-way tie for MOP favourite, but Villanova’s Josh Hart and Duke’s Luke Kennard are no longer in consideration, for reasons that are obvious to anyone with a pulse. Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss remains in the running though lagging a little behind FM3 and Jackson.
Frank Mason III
Bill Self has such faith in FM3 that the University of Kansas head coach could be said to have become a francmason, as the Spanish would say. Mason is averaging 21 points, 6.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds while shooting 46.7% through the first two NCAA tournament contests. In the evolutionary arms race between FM3 and opposing defenders, the latter would go under screens to keep the former from driving, but Mason countered that by developing a deadly three-point shot. The senior shoots 47.2% from beyond the arc this season, and has failed to hit a trey in only one game. Mason was named the 2017 Big 12 Conference Men’s Basketball Player of the Year as well as the 2017 Sporting News Men’s College Basketball Player of the Year. Moreover, the Atlanta Tipoff Club recently announced FM3 as a finalist for the Naismith Trophy for the top player in men’s college basketball, along with Hart, Caleb Swanigan, and Lonzo Ball.
The other sportsbooks’ MOP favorite has picked up the slack for Joel Berry II, averaging 18.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game, and shooting 57.1% from the three-point line during March Madness. Those numbers are quite the qualitative leap from the ACC tournament, in which Jackson shot just 33% from the field and 27.8% (5 of 18) from the three-point line. Jackson was one of just 28 ACC players to record at least 100 catch-and-shoot possessions in the 2016-17 season. He has shot 38.3% on that kind of possessions, joining Syracuse’s Andrew White as the only two players in the ACC to record more than 200 points off of catch-and-shoots this year.
FM3 and Jackson are co-favourites as far as sportsbooks go, but the latter may have a hole in the ace. More often than not, the MOP award is reserved for the best player in the championship-winning school, and since UNC is currently favoured to win the 2017 NCAA tourney… since 1939 only 12 players who did not play for the championship team, most recently Hakeem – then known as Akeem – Olajuwon in 1983. This was a more common occurrence in the early 50s to mid-60s, including several multi-year stretches, but then again we’re talking bona fide legends here, such as Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, and Jerry ‘Logo’ West. Of course, there is no telling whether Mason or Jackson will go on to become a Jerry West or Jerry Chambers, either.