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There have been only nine players that have won March Madness and the Naismith College Player of the Year (POTY) award in the same season.
As crazy as it sounds, that means that just 14.5% of POTYs have tasted glory on college basketball’s biggest stage—at least, in the same season they were deemed the most excellent player in the country.
The most recent player to hit the double-whammy was Villanova’s Jalen Brunson in 2017-18. Only he and Kentucky’s Anthony Davis have pulled off the feat in the last 20 years, meaning that recent odds are even worse than the overall percentage.
There are a few clear-cut front-runners for the POTY honor, but the field of national champion hopefuls is much harder to weed out. So what are the chances that the college basketball season concludes with one of the rarest double-achievements in sports? Let’s take a look.
First, a moment to honor those that have been so dominant individually and so excellent overall that they were able to win March Madness and the Naismith POTY in the same season. Those lucky few are:
Jalen Brunson: Villanova 2017-18
Anthony Davis: Kentucky 2011-12
Shane Battier: Duke 2000-01
Christian Laettner: Duke 1991-92
Danny Manning: Kansas 1987-88
Scott May: Indiana 1975-76
Bill Walton: UCLA 1972-73 and 1973-74
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor): UCLA 1968-69
Notably, the only player to pull off the feat twice was Bill Walton. Abdul-Jabbar (Alcindor) would have also won twice if the award had been around for the 1966-67 season, for which he was named the Associated Press player of the year.
The selection committee began seeding teams in 1979. Since then, there have been five players to pull off the POTY-March Madness double, and four of them were on No. 1 seeds. The exception to the rule was the first player to win both in the seeding era, Danny Manning, whose sixth-seed Kansas Jayhawks defeated the No. 1 Oklahoma 83-79 in the championship game. Manning had 31 points and 18 rebounds in the close-out effort.
So, while having the POTY on your roster may not drastically increase your chances of winning March Madness, having them on a top-ranked squad certainly does.
The main candidates to win this year’s POTY award, per DraftKings sportsbook, are:
Zach Edey (-1400): Purdue
Jalen Wilson (+1400): Kansas
Trayce Jackson-Davis (+2200): Indiana
Brandon Miller (+5000): Alabama
Azuolas Tubelis (+6000): Arizona
Oscar Tshiebwe (+10000): Kentucky
Marcus Sasser (+10000): Houston
Drew Timme (+10000): Gonzaga
Obviously, Edey is an overwhelming favorite to claim the award, and for good reason. He is an unstoppable 7-foot-4 center averaging 22.1 points, 13.1 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game. He is also shooting 61.6% from the field and is the anchor of a Boilermakers defense that ranks top 20 in fewest points allowed per game.
Edey’s dominance does not mean that he is a shoo-in for the award—after all, college basketball and the month of March especially are renowned for upsets.
Last year’s POTY, Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe, is sixth in the odds at +10000. That could be a net positive for him and the Wildcats, however, as they were ousted by 15-seed Saint Peter’s in the first round of the 2022 tournament. That marked just the 10th time in tournament history but ironically the second year in a row that a 15 seed beat a two seed in the opening round.
Omitted from the list of top favorites on FanDuel, Caesars, BetMGM, and other top sportsbooks is Detroit Mercy’s Antoine Davis. He is hovering around +20000 odds to win POTY despite nearly pulling off the greatest career achievement in college basketball.
Davis is only four points away from breaking Pete Maravich’s career college scoring record. He entered his most recent game, a loss to No. 1 seed Youngstown State in the Horizon League Tournament quarterfinal, averaging 28.1 points on the season and needed 26 to break the “Pistol’s” record. Unfortunately, he only managed 22 on 7-26 shooting and missed a three near the end of the game that would have drawn him level with the record.
In five years with the school, he averaged 25.4 points and 4.1 assists on 37.5% three-point shooting. The problem is that he does not have any more games left to play—kind of.
Detroit Mercy finished its season 14-19 without a conference title, meaning that it is ineligible for March Madness and the NIT. However, Davis could get his shot to break the record if his school is invited to a postseason tournament like the CBI or The Basketball Classic. Detroit Mercy took part in The Basketball Classic last season after it dropped out of its conference tourney with a 14-15 record.
Houston, who does not have a representative atop the odds for player of the year, is the favorite to win March Madness at DraftKings at +650. Marcus Sasser is the school’s best hope to win POTY, but his odds are only at +10000.
The full list of favorites as of March 3 reads:
We can use implied probability to figure out the likelihood of a team winning March Madness and then use that to see the chances of a player on a March Madness-winning team also winning the POTY.
For example, Houston’s odds of +650 suggest it has a 13.3% chance of winning the NCAA Tournament. Not overwhelming, but better than everyone else. Once we have that figure, we can do the same to calculate the probability of a player winning POTY and multiply those numbers together to find the combined implied probability.
Here are the most likely College Player of the Year-March Madness winner combos
Edey, as previously mentioned, is a clear favorite for the award. He and the Boilermakers were another unfortunate victim of Saint Peter’s in 2022 but have been near or atop the national rankings for most of the season.
Wilson stayed at Kansas after winning the national title last year and made strides as a player but now has to prove he can be the alpha of a tournament winner.
Miller’s on-court play has caused his stock to increase dramatically in the months leading up to the NBA draft, and this is Alabama’s best chance in recent years to make noise in March.
Sasser, a fourth-year guard, is a model of excellence on offense and defense. He plays with unmatched energy and is the captain of the nation’s best team and has a strong chance to win his school’s first-ever March Madness title.
Tubelis, a 6-foot-11 junior from Lithuania, leaped into the national spotlight this season as a dominating interior force. His Wildcats get after it on both ends and will be a tough out for anybody given they are 5-0 against ranked teams.
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Grant is a sports and sports betting journalist who prides himself on delivering breaking news and insightful analyses of the industry. Grant graduated from Virginia Tech in 2021 and is feverishly pursuing his ambitions in the sports betting field.
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