March Madness: Who Has Been the Most Valuable Player Through the First Two Rounds?
It's not easy to nail down one player as the Most Valuable Player of the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Why? Well, it has a lot to do with the competition those players face. Top seeds usually have the advantage of facing some of the worst teams and defenses in the field. On the flip side, 3 through 14 seeds have to face off against above-average to elite NCAA squads.
nERD is our in-house metric that, for individual performances, provides us with the sum of a player's overall contributions, based on efficiency. numberFire Live is our platform where we track player performance in addition to various advanced stats and real-time win probabilities. This is where we can find the nERD for each player for each individual game throughout the tournament.
In combining players' nERD scores from the Round of 64 and Round of 32, here's a list of those who have had the biggest impact on the tournament to this point.
First, let's be clear -- the player's team has to have made it to the Sweet 16. Winning the whole thing is the goal so nothing is more valuable than advancing.
Outside of that, the only two qualifiers here are that the sum of a player's two nERD scores needs to be at least and that each individual game nERD is at least 10. The latter is to ensure that one performance doesn't catapult an unworthy player above those players who have consistently brought it in both rounds.
With that said, here are the players who meet our standards but come up short of the top three.
|Player||Team||Round 1 nERD||Round 2 nERD||Total nERD|
|Sindarius Thornwell||South Carolina||60.86||18.41||79.27|
|Frank Mason III||Kansas||45.33||24.70||70.03|
|Justin Jackson||North Carolina||49.75||15.75||65.50|
|Kennedy Meeks||North Carolina||36.36||20.56||56.92|
The Jacksons (unrelated) are joined by other top prospects like UCLA's Lonzo Ball and Arizona's Lauri Markkanen, who both come in with nERD totals of at least 60 across two games. Ball's 18-point, 9-assist, 7-rebound performance in the Bruins' 79-67 win over Cincinnati in the Round of 32 is the highest single-game nERD among all players not named Sindarius Thornwell.
Speaking of Thornwell, the South Carolina Gamecocks' senior guard tops the list and is just one of six players with 70-plus nERD heading into the Sweet 16. His 29 actual points against Marquette in Round 1 is the highest single-game scoring performance of the 16 players meeting our criteria.
Devin Robinson, Florida Gators
According to ESPN's Who Picked Whom data, less than half (47.8%) of those people competing in the Tournament Challenge selected the Florida Gators to emerge from the Round of 32. And who can blame them? Coming into the big dance, the Gators were just 3-3 without big man John Egbunu, who suffered a season-ending injury in the team's February 14th game against the Auburn Tigers.
It's apparent that the Gators figured out a thing or two in the five days between their SEC Tournament appearance and their first game of the NCAA Tournament. Maybe one of those things was the revolutionary idea that Devin Robinson is one of their best players.
In the tourney, Robinson has a total nERD of 84.35, with a nERD of at least 42 in each of his two appearances. He's averaging 19 points and 9 rebounds a game on an effective field goal percentage of 68% and a total rebounding rate of 17.3%.
Devonte' Graham, Kansas Jayhawks
For the 1-seeded Jayhawks, there's been no surprises or sneaking up on teams. They've won by an average of 29 points in their first two tournament games, fulfilling the prophecy of 85.7% of bracket participants.
Surprisingly, among Kansas' uber-talented backcourt, Devonte' Graham has played the largest role, with two performances earning a nERD of 37 or higher. The better of his two (47.86 nERD) came in the Jayhawks' first-round matchup with the California-Davis Aggies. In that game, the junior put up 16 points along with 4 assists and 4 steals in 31 minutes of action.
Overall for the tournament, Graham is shooting 64.7% from the field, 61.5% from three and a perfect 100% from the line. All that has amounted to an absurd true shooting percentage of 89.9%, an average of 17 points per game and a total nERD of 85.34.
Sean O'Mara, Xavier Musketeers
Not even half of America (43.5%) expected the 11 seed Xavier Musketeers to get out of the first round, let alone make it out of the Round of 32 (15.3%). Here they are, though, in the Sweet 16 awaiting a matchup with the 2 seed Arizona Wildcats.
As we saw above, junior guard Trevon Bluiett has played well and has been as valuable as almost anyone. One of the exceptions has been his own teammate, Sean O'Mara, who has proven to be a difference-maker during Xavier's tournament run.
Through two games, O'Mara has a total nERD of 93.15, with a score of 53.9 in the Round of 64 and a score of 40.25 in the Round of 32. This is crazy considering O'Mara -- who has averaged 6 points in 13.4 minutes a game -- has played just 21 minutes in both contests.
O'Mara's impact has been felt through his production and efficiency. With nearly a point per minute, the junior big has averaged 14.5 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. Thanks to 15-of-16 shooting from the line, O'Mara's true shooting percentage is 95.2%. He is Xavier's secret weapon, and he's also the tournament's unlikeliest of MVPs through two rounds.