Saturday marks one of the premier sports events of the year, as the last remaining teams in the NCAA Tournament embark on Minneapolis for the Final Four. We’ve taken a look at each of the matchups and diagnosed the best bets of the day. Now, we are going to look at some of the individual players left in the field. Last year, Villanova’s Donte DiVincenzo exploded onto the scene and won the MOP award, parlaying it into a first-round draft pick. Here are the top five candidates to win this year’s Most Outstanding Player award.
Cassius Winston, Michigan State
Cassius Winston is the undisputed leader of the Michigan State Spartans. The junior guard averaged 18.9 points per game, which ranked fourth in the Big Ten. He also led the conference in assists, averaging 7.6 per game. He helped lead the Spartans to a share of the Big Ten regular season title, as well as the Big Ten Tournament title. At the end of the season, Winston was rewarded with the Big Ten Player of the Year award. The accolades just keep on coming for Winston, as he was just named to the AP All-American First Team earlier in the week. He’s averaged 19 points and 7.8 assists per game so far this tournament and had his biggest game of the season against Duke in the Elite Eight, finishing with 20 points, 10 assists and four steals, while playing all 40 minutes for Tom Izzo.
Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech
This sophomore guard is poised to be an NBA lottery pick this offseason and he’s shown plenty to warrant that acknowledgement. Jarrett Culver averaged 18.9 points per game this season, which trailed only Kansas’ Dedric Lawson in the Big 12. Culver ended up winning the Big 12 Player of the Year award and was named to the AP All-American Second Team earlier in the week. Culver also averaged the fourth-most assists (3.7), seventh-most rebounds (6.4) and fourth-most steals (1.5) per game in the conference. He’s averaged 21.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.3 steals per game in the tournament. If the Red Raiders make the national title game, Culver will without-a-doubt be the favorite to take home the prestigious honor. He is the heart and soul of Chris Beard’s team.
Kyle Guy, Virginia
Tony Bennett has led a consistently competitive program at Virginia, and he has finally broken through and made the Final Four for the first time. Kyle Guy has been a big reason why this team was able to overcome the devastating first-round loss to 16-seeded UMBC last tournament. Guy was on the floor for that historical upset, so he knew something would need to change if they wanted to contend this season. That something was coupling the Cavaliers’ lockdown defense with a potent offensive attack. Guy led the way, averaging a team-best 15.2 points per game, as UVA averaged nearly five more points per game this season compared to last. Guy was named to the All-ACC First Team, as well as the AP All-American Third Team.
Bryce Brown, Auburn
The only player on this list that wasn’t named to an All-American team is Bryce Brown, who the leader of the Auburn Tigers. Bruce Pearl’s team has definitely had the toughest road to the Final Four, having to defeat three consecutive Blue Bloods in Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky to get to Minneapolis. Brown was named to the All-SEC Second Team, so he certainly not a nobody. The senior guard averages 16 points per game to lead the Tigers. One thing that Brown has is big-game confidence. In the SEC Tournament, he knocked down 18 threes in four games to help Auburn capture the tournament title. This tournament, he’s averaged 18.3 points per game, including a 24-point outing against the Wildcats in the Elite Eight.
De’Andre Hunter, Virginia
A lot of people talk about Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome when they reference the Virginia Cavaliers, but arguably their most important player this year was De’Andre Hunter. The sophomore guard was named to the All-ACC First Team and All-American Third Team, joining his teammate Guy. He averaged 14.9 points and five rebound per game this season and shot nearly 52 percent from the field. After scoring 23 points to help the Cavs overcome an atrocious first half against Gardner-Webb in the first round, Hunter has only scored 31 points in the next three games and has struggled shooting from the field. With that being said, he is an explosive athlete and could very well be this year’s DiVincenzo-type.