Russ Smith-Led Louisville Squad Tabbed as NCAA Tournament Favorites Entering Sweet 16

Rick PitinoThe University of Louisville is the 3-1 favorite at Bovada to win the national championship heading into the Sweet 16.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that Cardinals star guard Russ Smith is the 5-1 favorite to take home the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player award.

It’s pretty much a guarantee that a player from the team that cuts down the nets will win the MOP award. The last to do so from a school that didn’t win the national championship was Houston’s Akeem Olajuwon (he wasn’t Hakeem yet) when his Cougars were stunned in the 1983 title game by Jim Valvano’s NC State Wolfpack.

Louisville’s Smith, a 6-foot-1 junior from Brooklyn, led his team in scoring this year with 18.4 points per game. In U of L’s 79-48 blowout of No. 16 North Carolina A&T in the round of 64, Smith scored 23 points and had eight of Louisville’s NCAA Tournament-record 20 steals. Louisville wasn’t challenged by No. 8 Colorado State in the round of 32 either, winning 82-56. Smith again led the Cardinals with 27 points.

The Cards play No. 12 seed Oregon on Friday in Indianapolis and are 10-point favorites. Louisville has won 12 straight since that epic loss at Notre Dame in five overtimes. They would play either No. 2 Duke or No. 3 Michigan State on Sunday for a trip to the Final Four. Louisville reached last year’s Final Four, losing to eventual national champion Kentucky. Smith’s backcourt mate, Peyton Siva, is 8-1 to win the Final Four MOP. The last Louisville player to win it was freshman Pervis Ellison in 1986.

Indiana’s Victor Oladipo (6-1) is the second-favorite to win the award. The Hoosiers are 5-1 third-favorites to win the title. Oladipo, a finalist for the Wooden Award as the nation’s top player, had 11 points and six rebounds in IU’s 83-62 win over No. 16 James Madison in their opening game of the tournament. Oladipo had 16 points and eight rebounds in the round of 32, a 58-52 win over No. 9 Temple. Teammate Cody Zeller is 8-1 to win MOP. He has totaled 26 points and 10 rebounds in the two tournament wins. Indiana faces No. 4 Syracuse on Thursday.

Ohio State’s Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas are each 9-1 to win Final Four MOP. Thomas has totaled 46 points in the Buckeyes’ wins over No. 15 Iona and No. 10 Iowa State. Craft was held to four against the Gaels but had one of the signature shots of this tournament so far, a game-winning three-pointer against the Cyclones. He’s also perhaps the best defensive guard in the country. OSU faces No. 6 Arizona in Los Angeles on Thursday.

No. 3 Florida is 19-4  to win the title, and the Gators’ top MOP candidate is forward Erik Murphy at 18-1. The senior from South Kingstown, R.I., had 18 points and eight rebounds in Florida’s opening win over Northwestern State and 15 points and four rebounds in the third-round win over Minnesota.

The Gators play the Cinderella of this tournament, Florida Gulf Coast, on Friday at Cowboys Stadium outside Dallas. The Eagles are the only No. 15 seed to ever reach the Sweet 16. Their MOP award betting option is leading scorer Sherwood Brown at 125-1.

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