NEW ORLEANS — And the Most Outstanding Player of the 2022 Final For will be...
Well, that’s where it can get interesting. The best bet is usually to just pick the high scorer for the champion. But not always. Matter of fact, once upon a time this award could get really weird. So before the next trophy presentation Monday night, here are 21 memorable MOPs.
B.H. Born, Kansas, 1953
True, the Jayhawks lost the title game to Indiana 69-68, but what more could he do? Born had the first "unofficial" recorded triple-double in a Final Four, and it was a healthy one — 26 points, 15 rebounds and 13 blocks. The year before when Kansas won the title, he was a reserve and didn’t score a point.
Hal Lear, Temple, 1956
Temple didn’t even get to the championship game, taking third by winning the consolation contest, which was included in the Final Four until 1982. But Lear scored 32 and 48 points, so how could anyone quibble? Maybe the center from San Francisco could. The Dons finished the first perfect season in NCAA tournament history and Bill Russell scored 26 points with 27 rebounds in the championship game. But winning the title didn’t guarantee any individual award in those times. This began a streak where someone from a non-championship team would be named MOP eight of 11 years.
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Wilt Chamberlain, Kansas, 1957
The Jayhawks lost in three overtimes to North Carolina, but Chamberlain scored 23 points, after getting 32 in the semifinals. It was a harbinger of the NBA Hall of Fame career to come.
Elgin Baylor, Seattle, 1958
See Chamberlain. Another future NBA legend had another great performance in a losing effort, with 25 points and 19 rebounds in the title game defeat by Kentucky. It’s a pretty good bet that Baylor will be the first and last MOP from Seattle University, whose most recent NCAA Tournament win was 1964.
Jerry West, West Virginia, 1959
Notice a trend? This makes three second place-future NBA superstar-MOPs in a row.
Jerry Lucas, Ohio State, 1960
Finally, a champion. And since he led the Buckeyes to the title by scoring 19 and 16 points, that seemed reasonable. Lucas was a terrific player who would be MOP the next year as well. Except . . . only five Final Four triple-doubles are listed in the NCAA record book and two came in 1960, by the same player. Cincinnati’s Oscar Robertson went for 18 points, 10 rebound and 10 assists in the semifinal loss to California, then 32-14-11 in the third-place victory over NYU. That’s a pretty outstanding case to be the most outstanding player.
Art Heyman, Duke, 1963
Duke finished third, but Heyman averaged more than 25 points a game. The all-tournament team was the strange part: It included Heyman, three players from Cincinnati, and only one from Loyola Chicago. Oh yeah, the Ramblers won the championship.
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Bill Bradley, Princeton, 1965
How in the world could UCLA’s Gail Goodrich score 42 points to lead the Bruins to victory in the national championship game and not be MOP? Sorry, when it came to stat lines, the title game was only the epilogue. Bradley rolled for 58 points in the third-place win over Wichita State, and no one has approached that number before or since at a Final Four. Years later, while most participants said they loathed playing in the third-place game, Bradley said he didn’t mind so much. No wonder. He also had 29 in the semis, so his 87 points in two games are still comfortably the most ever in a Final Four. It’s not clear how many U.S. Senate votes that won him when he went into politics.
Jerry Chambers, Utah, 1966
Here’s the real oddity. Utah didn’t win the title, Utah didn’t even win the consolation game. Utah finished fourth, but Chambers scored 38 and 32 points in the two defeats and that was good enough. With the consolation game no more, he will forever be the only MOP from a fourth-place team.
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Lew Alcindor, UCLA 1967-69
Easy calls each and every year for the only MOP three-peater in history. Didn’t UCLA stand for Unstoppable Center Lew Alcindor? Had freshmen been eligible back then, it could well have been four in a row for the future Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Bill Walton, UCLA, 1973
He took 22 shots in the championship game against Memphis. He missed one. The 44 points are still a title game record, so this was a no-doubter. Walton also won in 1972 and, nearly a half-century later, is the last MOP repeater.
Kent Benson, Indiana, 1976
Benson’s dominance inside gave him an edge over teammate Scott May, who scored 26 points in the championship game for the unbeaten Hoosiers. Remember that point total for future reference.
James Worthy, North Carolina, 1982
Everyone remembers the Tar Heels won the championship game against Georgetown on Michael Jordan’s shot. But the big reason North Carolina was that close was because of Worthy’s 28 points. With a great Lakers career ahead in the company of Magic Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar, just as well Worthy got used to not being the biggest name on the marquee.
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Akeem Olajuwon, Houston, 1983
By then, the unwritten rule was clear. Your team had better win the title if you wanted to be MOP. But this was the exception to the rule. Olajuwon averaged 20.5 points and 20 rebounds in two games, and nobody was going to say no to that. Even if there is still one question that always screams out when the Lorenzo Charles replays come around again — his famous airball rebound and championship dunk at the buzzer for North Carolina State to stun Houston. Where’s Olajuwon? He remains the only MOP from a non-championship team in the past 49 tournaments.
Pervis Ellison, Louisville, 1986
His 25 points in the championship game win over Duke clinched the award, but he was already the frontrunner on nickname alone. Never-Nervous Pervis was the first freshman MOP in 42 years.
Sean May, North Carolina, 2005
Remember those 26 Scott May points for Indiana in the 1976 championship game? Like father, like son, Sean had 26 points for the Tar Heels in their championship game win over Illinois. But he was named MOP. Take that, dad.
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Kemba Walker, Connecticut, 2011
He might still be the gold standard for carrying a team through March. The Huskies won five games in five days to take the Big East tournament, then six more to be national champions. Eleven elimination games, and Walker led his team in scoring in all 11, averaging just under 25 points. Next time a team complains about how the league tournament sapped it for the NCAA, think of the Walker Run.
Anthony Davis, Kentucky, 2012
He scored six points in the championship game, and missed nine of 10 shots. By far the worst scoring production of any MOP. But the 16 rebounds, five assists and six blocks gave him a very large handprint on the title.
Luke Hancock, Louisville, 2013 and Donte DiVincenzo, Villanova, 2018
They had something in common, besides going home with the MOP award. Both came off the bench as reserves to do it.
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Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova, 2016
It was fine that he won it. The odd part was the all-tournament team. Three players from Villanova, none of them named Kris Jenkins, who you might recall buried the championship three-pointer at the buzzer and scored 18 and 14 points in the Final Four.
Who’ll be next on Monday night? Look to the winning team. One thing we know for sure. No candidate will be scoring 58 points in the third-place game.