March Madness Betting: Who Will Win Tourney MVP?
Published on March 15, 2018
March Madness isn’t just an opportunity for college basketball teams to claim a national title. It’s also a chance for the game’s brightest young stars to elevate their NBA Draft status with stellar performances on the biggest stage.
As much fun as it is trying to predict the eventual national champion, it’s also enjoyable to project which player will end up winning the NCAA Tournament most outstanding player award. The best part? The 2 bets practically go hand in hand.
Only once in the last 51 years has the March Madness MVP gone to a player whose team didn’t win the national championship, and that player was Hakeem Olajuwon. So betting on which player will win the most outstanding player award of the tournament really isn’t that much different than betting on which team will win it all. You could even argue that MVP betting is a better option since odds on players winning the MVP always pay more than their team’s odds of winning the tournament.
In case you’re interested in giving this bet a try this year, I’ve listed the odds for 2018 NCAA Tournament MVP below, along with analysis of the top favorites, value plays, and my recommended pick.
The immediate thing that jumps out when you look at the odds for most outstanding player is that 11 of the top 12 hopefuls play for teams seeded third or higher in their region. Again, that should come as no surprise, given the history of this award going to a player from the team that wins the tournament.
Top-seeded Villanova and #2 Duke each have a pair of players ranked in the top 6 on the March Madness most outstanding player odds, while #3 Michigan State has 2 players listed in the top 15. Meanwhile, Virginia, Kansas and Xavier each have 1 clear candidate for the award, reducing the likelihood of a split vote if any of those teams get to the Final Four or beyond.
Here’s a full list of odds for the most outstanding player in the 2018 NCAA Tournament:
It bears repeating that a bet on the most outstanding player award in March Madness is heavily correlated with which team you think will win the tournament. If you’re nervous about a high seed’s potential to go deep into March Madness (like I am with Kansas, for example), you’re best to avoid taking a player from that team to win the outstanding player award, especially if they’re one of the favorites.
With that in mind, here’s a closer look at the top 3 candidates for March Madness MVP.
It’s not hard to understand why Brunson, already 1 of 4 candidates to win the Naismith Trophy as the top player in college basketball this season, is the favorite to win March Madness MVP.
His Wildcats have the second-shortest odds of any team in the tournament (Villanova pays +600 to win it all, just behind Virginia at +550), and Brunson is clearly their most important player. The junior guard led Villanova in both points and assists per game during the regular season, the 2 statistical categories that voters for the award will probably value the most.
Thanks to playing at Duke and already being projected as a Top 5 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, Bagley may be the most recognizable name in the list of favorites for the outstanding player award. The freshman is coming off a brilliant campaign in which he averaged a double-double, led the Blue Devils in scoring by more than 5 points per game and shot a sizzling 60.5% from the floor.
However, Bagley’s MVP chances are hurt by the tough Midwest Region that Duke needs to come out of. The Blue Devils are on course to meet Michigan State in the Sweet 16, then could have to deal with Kansas just to get to the Final Four. And even if the Blue Devils win it all, teammates Grayson Allen and Wendell Carter, Jr., both have the potential to earn some votes as well.
If Sparty wins it all, Bridges will undoubtedly be a huge reason why. The small forward was named Michigan State’s MVP earlier this week after leading the Spartans in scoring, finishing second in rebounds and ranking third in assists during the year.
Like Bagley and the Blue Devils, however, Bridges and the Spartans have a tough road to navigate through the Midwest. Knowing that either Bagley or Bridges will be out of the tournament before the Elite Eight makes me hesitant to back either of those players at these short prices.
When looking for the best value on this prop, I’m interested in A) taking the second or third-best players on the top national title contenders, or B) picking players who are the clear superstars on darkhorses that have a legitimate shot of winning it all.
Following that criteria, here are 3 players who might be worth backing for this award at longer odds.
We already know that the Wildcats are a top threat to win the tournament. If they do, Bridges probably only needs to beat out Brunson to win this award, and I can see it happening.
When Nova won the national title in 2016, it was the unheralded Ryan Arcidiacono who claimed MVP honors, not higher-profile teammates Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins, even though the latter hit the game-winning shot at the buzzer in the final. Villanova’s opponents in the NCAA Tournament will key their defense around Brunson, opening the door for Bridges and his teammates to play bigger roles.
Villanova’s chances in the Tournament this year hinge greatly on their 3-point shooting, and Bridges is the best they have in that department. If the perimeter sharp-shooter drains big buckets in the big moments, he could end up snagging the award if Villanova wins it all.
Despite being surrounded by the FBI controversy involving coach Sean Miller and getting seeded 4th in the South Region, the Wildcats are sixth on the NCAA Tournament championship odds, paying just +1200. Virginia, Cincinnati and Tennessee aren’t exactly the most intimidating top 3 seeds to get past, and I can totally see Arizona getting to the Final Four.
Ayton will be at the center of any success Arizona enjoys in this tournament, both literally and figuratively. Not only did he average more than 20 points a game for the Wildcats during the season, he also pulled down 11.5 rebounds per game and blocked nearly 2 shots per contest. High-scoring teammate Allonzo Trier (18.4 points per game) is also a candidate to win MVP if Arizona earns a national title, but Ayton is the more complete player at both ends of the floor.
It’s pretty rare to get the best player from a national title contender at this price point, but that’s what we have here with Wagner and the Wolverines.
Michigan has come out of nowhere down the stretch of the season to emerge as a March Madness championship threat, listed ninth on the Tournament futures at +1600 odds after winning the Big Ten conference tourney. And Wagner was the biggest reason the Wolverines won 4 games in as many days in that tournament, averaging 15.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game to claim MVP honors.
There’s no clear-cut favorite for the NCAA Tournament title this year, and there really isn’t for the MVP award either.
When that’s the case, I’d much rather look for value at longer odds than take the shortest-priced options. And to me, the best value on the board while still having a strong chance of winning is Arizona’s Deandre Ayton.
I have to admit, I had my concerns about Sean Miller’s legal troubles being a distraction and sending Arizona’s seasons off the rails, but it actually seems to have had a galvanizing effect. The Wildcats have won 7 straight games since the allegations of Miller paying Ayton came out, including a decisive 75-61 win over USC in the Pac-12 championship game.
If they do win it all, expect Ayton to play a starring role and be rewarded with the March Madness MVP.