Shabazz Napier Wins Most Outstanding Player of 2014 NCAA Tournament

Steven CookFeatured Columnist IVApril 8, 2014

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When Connecticut came out on top of Kentucky, 60-54, in Monday's NCAA tournament championship, it was clear as day that Shabazz Napier would bring home the tournament's Most Outstanding Player award. 

Napier took the MOP award after scoring 22 points with six rebounds, three steals and three assists as the Huskies won their fourth national title in program history.

Confident as usual, Napier didn't shy away from his feelings moments after the Huskies' improbable title was attained. The New York Daily News' Kevin Armstrong noted Napier's feelings about UConn's recent academic ban:

The senior guard was at his absolute best early on against Kentucky on Monday, showcasing the all-around effort and Swiss-army-knife skill set that has allowed him to make his mark in an unforgettable way this past month. 

He scored 15 of his 22 points in the first half, hitting three of his first five three-point attempts and collecting two steals.

Napier did it in typical fashion, flying around the backcourt to disrupt Kentucky's offense, finding all of the holes with the ball in his hands and playing cohesively next to fellow dynamic guard Ryan Boatright. 

As the Wildcats fought and clawed back, as they had done throughout the tournament, Napier cooled down a bit in the final frame, at least from the field. But as he usually does, Napier controlled the game in other ways. 

David J. Phillip

He went just 2-of-5 from the field in the second half and scored seven points, but Napier kept UConn in the lead all game and shut down Kentucky's guards late when it needed baskets.

He made some uncharacteristic mistakes and ended with four turnovers, but UConn's fearless leader made up for every gaffe and then some. 

Oh, and his only three of the second half came from so deep that his heels were just short of the Final Four logo. 

Napier averaged more than 21 points per game in UConn's six NCAA tournament appearances, but perhaps more associated with Napier than scoring is his unique play. He outhustles his opponents, takes charge of any situation and ripped the hearts out of elite team after elite team en route to Monday's championship.

That sort of success had Napier releasing all of the pent-up anger of the last two postseasons right on the AT&T Stadium court.

But as Westwood One's Jason Horowitz put best, be on the lookout for more restrictions from the NCAA:

The 6'1" standout faced a rocky road back after UConn won the national title during his freshman season in 2011, only to see the NCAA levy a postseason ban for poor academic performance and Jim Calhoun retire.

Napier even admitted to nearly transferring after those developments, before new head coach Kevin Ollie convinced him to stay. 

But as Napier unleashed his thoughts on the NCAA to the world and cut down the net Monday night, it became apparent that sticking around Storrs, Conn., was the right choice.

The next step for Napier after this fairy tale of a journey is the NBA draft. 

Shortly after the tourney ended, B/R NBA lead writer Jonathan Wasserman logged Napier at No. 28 on his 30-player big board. As if there was any question that Napier was ready for the next level, he answered it by blasting through bigger matchups and overcoming insurmountable odds. 

The UConn guard's overall body of work as a senior is the real reason why he may go in the first round, but he's only solidified that notion with this stellar March run.