In a year where college basketball has been relatively top-heavy, it's fitting that the Final Four consists of four of the past decade's premier programs. With a trio of No. 1 seeds and a Michigan State program that has reached five Final Fours since 2000, it's hard to imagine a more intriguing heavyweight quartet.
Unlike past years, there's no clear Kemba Walker-type standout in this year's tourney. Sure, All-Americans like Frank Kaminsky and Jahlil Okafor may be centerpieces, but even their respective squads have used a relatively egalitarian effort to reach Indianapolis.
Below is the TV schedule for the final three games, but in the meantime, let's take a look at the Final Four's most crucial players and predict who is most likely to walk away with the Most Outstanding Player award.
|Final Four TV Schedule|
|Date||Game||Start Time (ET)||TV|
|Saturday, April 4||No. 1 Duke vs. No. 7 Michigan State||6:09 p.m.||TBS|
|Saturday, April 4||No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 1 Wisconsin||8:49 p.m.||TBS|
Frank Kaminsky, F, Wisconsin
Justise Winslow, F, Duke
Kaminsky and Winslow have probably been the two most consistently excellent all-around players in the tournament thus far. Working against both is the fact that neither the Badgers nor Blue Devils are favored to win the national title, and the last player to win MOP from a non-title winning team was Hakeem Olajuwon back in 1983.
Nevertheless, if either Wisconsin or Duke can upset Kentucky, Kaminsky or Winslow would likely be in line for the award.
The Badgers' 6'10" forward may have been a gangly, lightly recruited high school prospect, but that hasn't stopped him from becoming one of the nation's best post scorers and a general terror on the boards. Last year's Final Four Wisconsin squad was more balanced at the top, but this year Kaminsky has proven capable of being the Badgers' undisputed Alpha dog:
In the tournament, Kaminsky has averaged a robust 22.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, at times carrying the Wisconsin offense.
Sam Dekker might also garner MOP considerations, given that he has set career-high scoring marks in consecutive games, but if the Badgers knock off Kentucky and its massive front line, it will likely stem from a signature effort from Kaminsky.
Winslow might not have the same publicity as potential top overall NBA draft pick Okafor, but the small forward has been Duke's best all-around player this tournament.
He poured in 37 points, 15 rebounds and five three-pointers in the Blue Devils' last two games against Utah and Gonzaga, often bailing out the offense when the opposition centered its efforts on containing Okafor:
Wing play is the top weapon in the NBA, but the college game is still largely revolved around the backcourt and big men. Winslow represents one of the exceptions to that rule, and his unique skill set serves as Duke's biggest mismatch against the other three remaining squads.
The Dark Horses
Denzel Valentine, G/F, Michigan State
Trey Lyles, F, Kentucky
The bruising Denzel Valentine (6'5", 220 lbs) is an impossible matchup for most guards, and the inconsistent Spartan has harnessed his game just in time for Michigan State to make an unlikely Final Four run.
Valentine stuffs the stat sheet unlikely any other player remaining and has become significantly more assertive on offense after a quiet opening weekend:
|Denzel Valentine NCAA Splits|
Travis Trice and perhaps Branden Dawson would provide challenges for the MOP, and ultimately, Michigan State is probably the biggest underdog at Indianapolis. But if the Spartans can become the second-highest-seeded champion in NCAA history, Valentine's relentless style against opposing guards will likely be the catalyst.
As for the heavy favorite at Indianapolis, it's a little surprising that Kentucky doesn't have a clearer MOP leader.
All-American Willie Cauley-Stein has been relatively invisible throughout the tournament, averaging just 7.5 points per game, while Karl Towns, Jr. has experienced persistent foul trouble, which limited his minutes against Cincinnati and West Virginia.
Fortunately for Kentucky, inserting freshman Trey Lyles into the starting lineup has provided just the edge the Wildcats needed:
With Lyles, Towns Jr. and Cauley-Stein, Kentucky boasts a jaw-dropping trio of 7-footers in their starting lineup, more size than any NBA team can claim. Despite holding the smallest regular-season role, Lyles has been the most consistent of the three, averaging 11 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game during the tournament while shooting 44 percent from the field.
If Kentucky does finish a perfect 40-0, its best Final Four performer will likely take home the Most Outstanding Player award. Lyles isn't the biggest name, but the Wildcats' newest starter is also an impossible guard for wings who are six-to-eight inches shorter and 20-to-30 pounds lighter.
Don't be surprised if Lyles' insertion into the starting lineup pushes Kentucky over the top in the final stages of its historic season.