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Triumph over Tragedy: Bradley Hayes’ long road ends as a Georgetown graduate

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Life had finally dealt Bradley Hayes a good hand when he got the call.

He had missed his sophomore and junior seasons in high school due to a knee injury that left him with a broken tibia and a dislocated kneecap, but as a senior, the 7-foot Hayes had played well enough at Jacksonville’s Sandalwood HS and on the AAU circuit to draw the attention of Georgetown.

He had a falling out with his father – the man whom he was named after, the man who instilled in him a love for this game – but Brad Jr. had finally reconnected with Brad Sr. before he left Florida for Washington, D.C.

Perhaps most importantly, a kid that had missed his freshman season because of poor academics was taking classes at Georgetown University. When the call came, he was just a few months into a four-year run that was supposed change the trajectory of his family’s life. Hayes’ mother, when the family lived in Rochester, New York, worked multiple jobs to pay the bills and keep a pair of growing boys fed. She did the same after the family relocated to Jacksonville when Hayes was in eighth grade.

It was the middle of October, days before his first official college basketball practices were to start and just weeks before games began. Hayes was in study hall when his phone rang.

“My brother called me,” Hayes said. “Crying.”

His father was dead. “I had just seen him a couple of weeks before,” Hayes said. “To get a phone call like that, it would break anyone.” According to his obituary, Brad Odell Hayes had died at home in his apartment in Jacksonville.

He was just 46 years old.


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Put yourself in Hayes’ shoes for a minute.

His father had passed away unexpectedly. His brother was in the military. He was a three-hour plane ride from home, where his mother, Mary Hayes, was suddenly without the three men she was used to having in her life. Dealing with an empty nest is hard enough for any parent, but having to do so while grieving the loss of someone so close is a nightmare no one should have to live through.

And Hayes knew that. He knew what she was going through. He also knew that he was an unknown recruit on a roster that already included Otto Porter, Mikael Hopkins, Nate Lubick and Moses Abraham. No one would’ve blamed him for leaving Georgetown to transfer closer to home to a program where he would actually have a chance to play right away.

But that was never an option for Hayes.

Because his mother wouldn’t allow it.

“At the time that I found out my father passed away, the first thing in my mind was to go home and help in any type of way,” Hayes said. “But she made it clear to me that I needed to stay here and focus on what I was doing. Unfortunately something bad happened, but I had to keep pushing forward. Because that’s life. Things happen that you don’t want to happen in life but you can’t put everything on hold just because one thing didn’t go as you expected it to.”

Hayes travelled back to Jacksonville for a few days to mourn. The entire Georgetown coaching staff joined him at the funeral, but when it was done, Hayes had worn out his welcome.

“The day after the funeral, she put me right back onto the plane and said, ‘You’ve got to go back,'” Hayes said.

“He’s got a mom that’s a rock, and I’m sure she was going through probably more psychological, financial, social pressure than he was,” John Thompson Jr., the legendary former Georgetown coach and the father of current head coach John Thompson III, said. ‘Big Coach’, as he’s known within the program, is still involved with the team on a daily basis, and he and Hayes have grown close since Brad Sr.’s death. “She was the one that was stranded pretty much with the father not there, the brother going into the service, he’s coming up here. She had to survive. She’s a lady that was still living in a one room house. It got to the point where he couldn’t go home because there was no room for him to go.”

“I give her a lot of credit for how she wanted to support him psychologically for having to stay up here.”

Georgetown center Bradley Hayes (42) is greeted by John Thompson Jr., right, father of Georgetown head coach John Thompson III, after an NCAA college basketball game against Syracuse, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, in Washington. Georgetown won 79-72. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Georgetown center Bradley Hayes with John Thompson Jr. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

That support from home mattered. The love he received from the coaching staff and the team helped. But none of it alleviated the pressure, the stress, weighing on Hayes. He was taking college classes for the first time. He was going through college basketball practices for the first time. He was trying to figure out how to go on living his life without his father while 700 miles away from a woman that was struggling just as much as he was.

That’s a lot to put on the shoulders of a 17-year old.

The most difficult part? Basketball had become a double-edged sword for Hayes.

“I coped with it how I coped with everything: Basketball is my release,” he said. “I just was in the gym all the time, whenever I started feeling sad or any type of way, down on myself, I’d go to the gym. Lifting weights, shooting. Even in the gym just sitting there, it made me feel a lot better.”

But at the same time, basketball is his trigger.

“Every time I pick up a ball I think of him,” he said.

It put head coach John Thompson III in a difficult position. On the one hand, here was a kid that was the perfect candidate for a redshirt. Raw but promising. Stuck at the bottom of the depth chart. Far more valuable as a fifth-year senior than a rookie. A redshirt was the best-case scenario was for Bradley Hayes, the basketball player.

But that’s not what Bradley Hayes, the person, needed.

He needed to be a part of the team, which is why Georgetown burned that redshirt by giving Hayes 14 minutes of action over nine games. Five minutes here, two minutes there, three possessions in another game. These weren’t just garbage time minutes, either. He’d play in the middle of the second half of close games.

“That was part of the decision to play him in some of those games as a freshman,” a source with an understanding of Georgetown’s decision-making process told NBC Sports. “He just needed to play. We thought about redshirting him, but at that point he needed to play. Even if it was a minute here, two minutes here.”

“He needed to be on the court.”


Hayes knew he was going to end up a Hoya the first time he spoke to Thompson III.

It was right after an AAU tournament the spring of Hayes’ senior season in high school. He was with his friends when his cell phone rang.

“He said, ‘This is John Thompson III from Georgetown University,’ and in my mind I was like, ‘Did I hear this wrong?'” Hayes said, laughing as he retold the story in the bowels of the Thompson Center. “I was like, ‘For real?’ He was like, ‘Yeah, this is John Thompson.'”

“He said he wanted me to come [to Georgetown]. I went back and told my parents, and my dad was excited. He was a UNC fan but he knew the importance of going to Georgetown, the type of education you can get here, the history that comes with it. He was like, ‘That’s the place for you to go,’ and I knew right then and there I was going to go Georgetown.”

Basketball is what had helped bring Hayes and his father back together. Brad Sr. had played a little college ball in his day. He had been through the recruiting process, so when Brad Jr. started receiving calls from some of the local programs in the area, he knew it was time to bury the hatchet with his father.

“He’s a man, I was becoming a man, and we just had to get passed it,” Hayes said. “At the end of the day, that’s my father. He gave me life. It was petty for me to hold that grudge against him.”

CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 19: Bradley Hayes #42 of the Georgetown Hoyas grabs a rebound against the Xavier Musketeers at Cintas Center on January 19, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Georgetown won 81-72. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Brad Sr. knew that playing for Thompson – who had coached the likes of Roy Hibbert, Jeff Green and Greg Monroe, whose father had coached Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutumbo – would give him a shot at a professional career. But he also knew what getting that degree would mean for his son’s future, and that was more important than anything that happened on a basketball court.

That was the message the father imparted on his son when he sent him off to the nation’s capital, that getting that degree changes his life. It changes the life of his children and their children. Hayes had a modest upbringing, and this was his chance to break the cycle of living paycheck-to-paycheck.

And that message stuck.

In the last season and a half, Bradley Hayes has been a part-time starter at center for Georgetown. He missed six games at the end of the 2015-16 season due to a broken hand and he was forced to sit out the first four games of this season after the NCAA granted him a waiver for a fifth-year, but he’s played in every other game for the Hoyas during that stretch, starting 34 of them.

But it wasn’t always that easy for the big man to get minutes. After arriving at Georgetown, Hayes would spend three seasons toiling away on Georgetown’s bench. By the time his first senior season began, Hayes had amassed a grand total of 30 points in 134 minutes as a Hoya. He had more DNP-CDs in his career than games that he played in.

He was further removed from his father’s death, and after three seasons of riding the pine, it’s only natural to think about finding a better fit.

That never crossed Hayes’ mind.

“There was never any grumblings about, ‘Oh, I want to transfer,’ and that goes a lot to his character and his upbringing,” Thompson III said. “I think part of that is he understands the value of a Georgetown degree. He understand as much basketball is extremely important to him, at some point, the air is going to come out of the ball. So he values that degree. That’s one of the reasons he came here.”


Hayes went through Senior Night last season. His mom flew up from Jacksonville to attend the ceremony. He received his framed jersey, he got his standing ovation from the Georgetown crowd, he got a proper send off.

As far as Hayes knew, his college career was over.

But Thompson knew that Hayes had a case to get a waiver from the NCAA. He had only played in nine games during that traumatic freshman year – which is the magic number to be eligible for a medical redshirt, and if you think that’s a coincidence I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you – and Hayes was just one semester away from completing his degree.

So Thompson sent in the paperwork. He didn’t tell Hayes he had received the waiver until Hayes was getting ready to go on stage at Georgetown’s postseason banquet.

“When I call you up,” Thompson told him, “you’re going to let everyone else know that you’re not giving a speech. Because you’re coming back next year.”

“Literally 10 minutes before it started,” Hayes said, laughing at the memory. “Coach Thompson told me and just kept on walking.”

Hayes finished his degree during the fall semester, a philosophy major that is now working to complete his minor in Art History. He’s the first person in his immediate family to graduate from college. He’s the first person in his entire family to hold a degree from a university as prestigious as Georgetown.

“It’s not just something personal for myself that I have to do, I think it’s something that I have to do for my family,” Hayes said. “Everyone looks up to me. Uncles, cousins, nephews.”

They’re proud of him, of the man he’s grown into, of the man he’s still learning how to be.

“I’m very proud of him,” Thompson II said, “because I know what he had to deal with. I know a lot of the things that ordinarily I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t gotten close enough to talk with him and deal with him about a lot of things.”

“And it’s not like it’s over. [A parent’s death] is the kind of thing that sticks with you, that you still have to deal with, and there are other hardships that are involved with that. But he’s got people that respect who he is as a person enough to give him the support that he needs. And he’s got a mom that’s a rock.”

And because of it, he now has that Georgetown degree, too.

Xavier sophomore Edmond Sumner declares for NBA Draft

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Xavier sophomore Edmond Sumner has declared for the NBA Draft and is expected to sign with an agent.

“First let me start by saying these three years at Xavier have been the best of my life,” Sumner said in a statement. “I have certainly been presented with some ups and downs but they have only served to make me a stronger person. This decision was very hard for me because of the love I have for X. After weighing my options with my family, I have decided to enter the 2017 NBA Draft, fulfilling a lifelong dream. I want to thank Coach Mack and the rest of the staff for believing in me and giving me a chance when no one did! I’ll always be grateful for that. Xavier Nation I will always love you!”

Sumner, a 6-foot-6 point guard with dynamic athleticism and first round potential that averaged 15.0 points, but he is coming off of a torn ACL that he suffered in January. He’s likely to be a second round pick in this year’s NBA Draft.

This is a big loss for the Musketeers, but it’s one that they planned for. After his eruption last season, most expected him to put his name in the draft this season.

Duke freshman Harry Giles III declares for NBA Draft

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Harry Giles III has declared for the NBA Draft after playing just one season at Duke.

“Playing in the NBA has been my goal for as long as I can remember, and I’m so excited to take the next step in that journey,” Giles said. “My time at Duke has been a dream come true. I’ve built so many strong relationships here and I have so many people to thank, from my teammates and coaches to our medical staff and strength coach. I can’t understate how proud I am to be part of the Duke Basketball program forever.”

Giles played in 26 games for the Blue Devils. He started six games and averaged 3.9 points and 3.8 rebounds, but the numbers don’t tell the whole story with Giles. At one point considered to be the best player in the loaded Class of 2016, Giles has dealt with a pair of devastating knee injuries already. He underwent a third surgery right before the start of the season and never seemed like he was fully able to get back to being the player he was when he was in high school.

This is the right decision for Giles to make, as there is still some uncertainty regarding the health of his knees. Were his struggles due to the fact that he was tossed right into the middle of a college basketball season after having sat out for 14 straight months, or was this simply a result of knees that no longer allow him to be the player that he used to be?

He might still end up being a first round pick this year. At the very least, he’s make some guaranteed money if he can get into a camp. Maybe returning to school could have helped vault him into the lottery in 2018, but another year like this year would’ve firebombed his draft stock.

“With his uplifting personality and love for the game, Harry Giles has been a joy to coach,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He is only beginning to scratch the surface of how good he can be on the basketball court. Harry has an exciting NBA future ahead of him and we are here to fully support him as a member of our brotherhood.”

I know I’m not alone when I say I hope that Giles gets healthy and succeeds in the NBA.

Frank Mason III, Lonzo Ball headline AP All-American teams

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Frank Mason III was a last-minute recruit for Kansas. He turned into the Jayhawks’ latest All-American.

The senior guard was the only unanimous selection to the 2016-17 AP All-America team Tuesday, receiving all first-team votes from the same 65-member national media panel that selects the weekly AP Top 25.

“I love the kid and I think he knows how I feel about him, but I’ve never been more proud — not that he’s won a postseason award — but he’s done everything that he’s supposed to do,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “He’s been a great teammate, he’s been tough as nails, he’s worked his butt off, he’s loved by everyone in the academic departments, graduated, and to see him reap these benefits after putting in so much time is an unbelievable honor.”

The rest of the All-America team includes guards Josh Hart of Villanova and Lonzo Ball of UCLA, plus forwards Caleb Swanigan of Purdue and Justin Jackson of North Carolina. Votes were based on the regular season and conference tournaments.

Mason averaged 20.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 5.1 assists while shooting 48.7 percent from 3-point range.

“My goals were always just to be successful as a team, do whatever I can do to make sure we’re successful and really change it at the defensive end and get after it,” Mason said. “Yeah, that’s pretty cool to see my name alongside those great KU players, it means a lot to me, but nothing would be possible without my teammates and coaching staff.”

Mason is the first All-American from Kansas since Thomas Robinson in 2012.

Hart, a senior who was key to Villanova’s 2016 national championship, averaged 18.9 points and 6.5 rebounds for the Wildcats. He received 62 first-team votes.

“It was definitely a goal,” Hart said of the All-America recognition. “Now that it happened, it’s humbling. A great honor. I’ve got to thank everyone that voted for me.”

Coach Jay Wright called Hart “the perfect combination of talent, hard work, intelligence and humility.”

“He never let any single year’s accomplishment deter him from getting better,” Wright said. “I think he’s one of the most complete basketball players in the country.”

The sophomore Swanigan led the nation with 26 double-doubles and was the only player in Division I to average 18 points (18.5) and 12 rebounds (12.6) while shooting 53.4 percent, 43.1 percent on 3s.

“He’s a very knowledgeable guy, now he’s been through it in terms of experience, understanding scouting reports and those types of things,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “He really gets it. I think he really separated himself from a lot of people with the consistent play.”

Ball, who has already declared for the NBA draft, took the country by storm as a freshman. He averaged 14.6 points, 6.1 rebounds and 7.9 assists while putting UCLA back on the national map in a hurry. He received 54 first-team votes.

Coach Steve Alford called Ball “very deserving of the recognition.”

“He’s been special for us all year,” Alford said. “He’s been an incredible teammate, and everything that he’s done has been contagious throughout our team.”

The last All-American from UCLA was freshman Kevin Love in 2008.

Jackson, who received 24 first-team votes, helped lead the Tar Heels to a second straight Final Four. The junior averaged 18.1 points and 4.6 rebounds this season.

“He’s a better player overall,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “He’s better defensively, better rebounder, he can score the basket and he’s just had a year for us.

“He’s been the leader of our team on the court, on the stat sheet. I couldn’t be happier for him because he’s really got it the old-fashioned way,” Williams said. “He’s worked, he’s put in the sweat.”

Nigel Williams-Goss of Gonzaga led the second team and was joined by fellow juniors Dillon Brooks of Oregon and Johnathan Motley of Baylor, sophomore Luke Kennard of Duke and freshman Malik Monk of Kentucky.

The third team included freshmen Josh Jackson of Kansas, Markelle Fultz of Washington and Lauri Markkanen of Arizona, junior Bonzie Colson of Notre Dame and sophomore Ethan Happ of Wisconsin.

There has been at least one unanimous All-America pick the last four seasons.

First Team

· Frank Mason III, Kansas, 5-11, 190, senior: 20.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 5.1 apg, 48.7 3-pt fg pct, 36.2 minutes (65 first-place votes, 325 points).

· Josh Hart, Villanova, 6-5½, 215, senior: 18.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 3.1 apg, 50.8 fg pct, 40.7 3-pt fg pct, 1.6 steals (62, 319).

· Caleb Swanigan, Purdue, 6-9, 250, sophomore: 18.5 ppg, 12.6 rpg, 2.9 apg, 53.4 fg pct, 43.1 3-pt fg pct (61, 308).

· Lonzo Ball, UCLA, 6-6, 190, freshman: 14.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 7.9 apg, 54.4 fg pct, 41.0 3-pt fg pct, 2.0 steals (54, 296).

· Justin Jackson, North Carolina, 6-8, 210, junior: 18.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.7 apg (24, 223).

Second Team

· Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga, 6-3, 195, junior: 16.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 4.8 apg, 52.1 fg pct, 91.0 ft pct, 1.8 steals (13, 191).

· Luke Kennard, Duke, 6-6, 202, sophomore: 20.1 ppg, 5.3 pg, 2.5 apg, 44.3 3-pt fg pct, 84.9 ft pct (10, 189).

· Malik Monk, Kentucky, 6-3, 200, freshman: 20.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.4 apg, 40.3 3-pt fg pct (7, 165).

· Dillon Brooks, Oregon, 6-7, 225, junior: 16.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.7 apg, 51.3 fg pct, 41.4 3-pt fg pct, 1.2 steals, 24.0 minutes (15, 152).

· Johnathan Motley, Baylor, 6-10, 230, junior: 17.3 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 2.4 apg, 51.7 fg pct (4, 143).

Third Team

· Josh Jackson, Kansas, 6-8, 207, freshman: 16.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 3.1 apg, 51.1 fg pct, 1.1 blocks, 1.7 steals (1, 96).

· Markelle Fultz, Washington, 6-4, 195, freshman: 23.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 5.9 apg, 41.3 3-pt fg pct, 1.6 steals, 1.2 blocks, 35.7 minutes (3, 74).

· Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame, 6-5, 225, junior: 17.5 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 52.3 fg pct, 1.4 blocks, 1.1 steals (1, 70).

· Ethan Happ, Wisconsin, 6-10, 232, sophomore: 13.9 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 2.8 apg, 58.2 fg pct, 1.1 blocks, 1.9 steals (1, 66).

· Lauri Markkanen, Arizona, 7-0, 230, freshman: 15.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 43.2 3-pt fg pct, 82.4 ft pct (1, 50).

Honorable Mention (in alphabetical order)

Ian Baker, New Mexico State; Trae Bell-Haynes, Vermont; Evan Bradds, Belmont; Gian Clavell, Colorado State; T.J. Cline, Richmond; Patrick Cole, N.C. Central; Mike Daum, South Dakota State; Angel Delgado, Seton Hall; Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State; Nana Foulland, Bucknell; De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky; Jerome Frink, LIU Brooklyn; Kevin Hervey, Texas-Arlington; Isaiah Johnson, Akron; Keon Johnson, Winthrop; Peter Jok, Iowa; Przemek Karnowski, Gonzaga; Marcus Keene, Central Michigan; Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s; TJ Leaf, UCLA; Paris Lee, Illinois State; Zach Lofton, Texas Southern; Donovan Mitchell, Louisville; Dallas Moore, North Florida; Monte Morris, Iowa State; Luke Nelson, UC Irvine; Semi Ojeleye, SMU; Alec Peters, Valparaiso; Justin Robinson, Monmouth; Devin Sibley, Furman; Dennis Smith Jr., N.C. State; Erik Thomas, New Orleans; Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina; Melo Trimble, Maryland; Spencer Weisz, Princeton; Jacob Wiley, Eastern Washington; JaCorey Williams, Middle Tennessee; T.J. Williams, Northeastern.

N.C. State’s Dennis Smith Jr. will declare for the NBA Draft

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Dennis Smith Jr. announced on Tuesday that he will be declaring for the NBA Draft.

“I would like to announce my decision to declare for the 2017 NBA Draft,” said Smith on ESPN’s SportsCenter telecast Tuesday morning. “I believed I had a good chance (to turn pro) when I entered college. It was definitely an attainable dream for me and I knew I would chase it with all of my might. It meant a lot for me (to play at NC State). I’ve been a State fan my entire life, as well as my family, so it was definitely a dream come true to play in the red and white. I have the utmost respect for everybody I was there with. I’m thankful for the opportunity.”

Smith averaged 18.1 points, 6.2 assists and 4.6 boards as a freshman this season.

This decision is not a surprise, as Smith was considered a potential top five pick in the NBA Draft.

2017 Final Four: Rankings the starters left in the NCAA Tournament

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Today, we’re going to rank the top 20 players left in the NCAA tournament.

But instead of ranking them solely based on who the best players are we’re going to rank them based on the likelihood that they end up being the Final Four Most Outstanding Player. 

I’m sure this won’t cause any arguments:

1. Joel Berry II, North Carolina: For my money, Berry is the most important player on North Carolina. Justin Jackson deservedly was named ACC Player of the Year, and if anyone from UNC finds their way onto an all-american team, it’s going to be him. But UNC goes as Berry goes. When he is at his best, the Tar Heels are at their best, and the Tar Heels are going to need to be at their best if they are going to run through Oregon and whoever comes out of the left side of the bracket. I know he’s got a bum ankle right now, but I fully expect him to be ready to play come Saturday.

2. Przemek Karnowski, Gonzaga: When Gonzaga played West Virginia last week, the Zags had to run their offense through Karnowski because the pressure on their back court was too much for the guards to handle. While South Carolina doesn’t play the same kind of pressing defense that West Virginia does, the goal is the same: They want to overplay everything and take you out of what you want to do offensively. What that means is that there should be some space in the lane for Karnowski to operate.

3. Justin Jackson, North Carolina: Jackson is UNC’s all-american, and he’s played like it through the first two weekends, averaging 19.8 points and 4.3 assists through four games. He was also tasked with chasing around Malik Monk during Sunday’s showdown with Kentucky, and did a good job with it. Will he draw the assignment of slowing down Tyler Dorsey?

4. Dillon Brooks, Oregon: Brooks, believe it or not, has been the third-best player on Oregon through the tournament. Jordan Bell has turned into Ben Wallace and I’m not sure that Tyler Dorsey has actually missed a shot yet, but I’m going with Brooks here because I think that if the Ducks are going to win a title, it’s going to be him that is the star. North Carolina, Gonzaga and South Carolina all use lineups that feature two bigs while Brooks plays a small-ball four role for the Ducks. If Oregon is going to win the national title, it’s going to be because Brooks forces whoever Oregon is playing to go small to matchup with him.

5. Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga: Williams-Goss is the all-american for the Zags, but he played what may have been his worst game as a collegian against West Virginia in the Sweet 16. He was 2-for-10 from the floor with five turnovers and a pair of offensive fouls. South Carolina, like West Virginia, plays a defense that dares guards to make plays against them, and I just don’t think that Williams-Goss is athletic enough to make plays against them. Can he be the Final Four MOP if he doesn’t play well in Gonzaga’s first game?

6. Tyler Dorsey, Oregon: No one has shot the ball better than Dorsey during the month of March. He’s yet to score fewer than 20 points in a game since the start of the Pac-12 tournament and has a game-winner and countless daggers during that time frame. How long will this run last? He has to miss eventually, right?

7. Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina: Thornwell has been the best player in the tournament over the course of the last two weeks, averaging 25.7 points, which leads all scorers, and playing stout defense. South Carolina would not be anywhere near the Final Four if it wasn’t for Thornwell and they have almost no chance of winning the National Title if he doesn’t play well. That said, I have him seventh on this list for one, simple reason: South Carolina is the ‘Cinderella’ in this Final Four. They have to win it for Thornwell to be named MOP.

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

8. Johnathan Williams III, Gonzaga: Williams has probably been Gonzaga’s best player in the tournament. At the very least, he’s been their most consistent.

9. Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina: Hicks is going to have a chance to be a game-changer for North Carolina against Oregon, as he’ll likely go head to head with a smaller Oregon defender. Meeks was terrific for UNC against Kentucky, grabbing 17 rebounds. He’ll have his work cut out for him against Bell on Saturday.

10. Jordan Bell, Oregon: Bell was absolutely dominant on the defensive end of the floor against Kansas and Landen Lucas. If he can do the same thing to North Carolina’s front line, he’ll be in the mix for Final Four MOP.

11. Jordan Mathews, Gonzaga: Mathews has turned into Gonzaga’s big shot maker turning this tournament. He hit a number of big threes, including the game-winner, against West Virginia.

12. Theo Pinson, North Carolina: Pinson is UNC’s secondary playmaker and their best perimeter defender. He’s going to be called into action quite a bit with the likes of Tyler Dorsey, Dillon Brooks, Sindarius Thornwell and Nigel Williams-Goss in this Final Four.

13. Luke Maye, North Carolina: He was the South Regional MOP. He deserves mention here as much as anyone else on UNC even if he does come off the bench.

 (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

14. Josh Perkins, Gonzaga: If Williams-Goss struggles against South Carolina the way he did against West Virgina, Perkins is going to be asked to play a bigger role as a secondary ball-handler.

15. Dylan Ennis, Oregon
16. Payton Pritchard, Oregon: Both Ennis and Pritchard have had big games for Oregon this season, and if defenses can slow down Brooks and Dorsey, there are the guys that are going to be asked to carry the load for the Ducks.

17-20. P.J. Dozier, Chris Silva, Maik Kotsar and Duane Notice, South Carolina: This is not a shot at these four kids. All four were terrific in the regional. Dozier and Silva made huge plays in the second half against Florida, Kotsar made the game-clinching jumper and Notice has played sensational on-ball defense all tournament long.

But this isn’t a ranking of the best players. It’s a ranking of the most likely to win Final Four MOP. That gets given to the best player on the team that wins the national title, and I just don’t see any feasible way that South Carolina can win a national title without Thornwell doing what he’s been doing for the last two weeks.