Posted Apr 16, 2013 4:32 PM
Besides the obvious drama provided by who wins and who loses in the NCAA Tournament the next couple of weeks, there will be some interesting sidelights. NBA fans will want to pay particular attention, because the brackets have provided some opportunities for potential 2013 NBA Draft picks to showcase their skills.
We'll start here because of the possibility of a Kansas vs. North Carolina game in the third round. The prize is Kansas guard Ben McLemore, who many believe will be the top pick in the draft, but Kansas center Jeff Withey is also a first-rounder, if for no other reason than his shot-blocking ability. And guard Elijah Johnson gets a chance to continue his late-season surge that coach Bill Self said "totally changes the look of our ballclub."
Clearly, the offseason knee surgery that hampered Johnson in November isn't bothering him now. His 39-point outburst against Iowa State offered proof of that. And then there's this monster throw down off a lob pass against West Virginia.
North Carolina will counter with three potential draft choices of its own: James McAdoo, Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston. McAdoo's inconsistency caused his stock to drop throughout the year, but his athleticism makes him an intriguing prospect.
Florida lost the SEC Tournament championship game to Ole Miss in part because big men Patric Young and Erik Murphy were a combined 4-for-14 from the floor. Ole Miss shot blocker Reggie Buckner had something to do with that. Murphy, one of the best face-up four men in the college game, resorted to cranking up six 3s, and Young attempted just three shots.
Young has an NBA body, but scouts are still waiting to see him deliver consistently. A potential Minnesota-Florida matchup in the third round would pit Young against the Gophers' Trevor Mbakwe, another bruiser with consistency issues.
As for Murphy, he showed with his 27-point, 12-rebound, 5-of-7 from 3 performance against LSU earlier in the SEC Tournament that he's got a Matt Bonner-like skill package.
Before we leave the region, it's worth mentioning the opportunity South Dakota State point guard Nate Wolters has against Michigan's Trey Burke. Burke is widely considered the best point guard in college, but Wolters has always performed well against power conference teams.
This region's answer to Kansas-North Carolina is a potential Indiana vs. N.C. State game in the third round.
Cody Zeller and the fast-rising Victor Oladipo helped lead the Hoosiers to a No. 1 seed. Both are considered high lottery picks.
Five of the top six players in the Wolfpack's rotation on are on the radar of NBA scouts, too, including C.J. Leslie and T.J. Warren. But 6-foot-8, 257-pound senior Richard Howell bears watching, provided underachieving N.C. State gets past Temple in the second round. It was Howell, not any of his more celebrated teammates, who earned first-team All-ACC honors after averaging a double-double and leading the league in rebounding. He's a tough competitor who could give Zeller all he can handle.
Another big man who has a chance to display his skills, Mike Muscala of Bucknell (a tough out in recent NCAA tournaments, just ask Kansas) plays Butler and its big man, Andrew Smith.
Syracuse sophomore point guard Michael Carter-Williams got off to a fast start, averaging more than 10 assists a game, and then Big East play rolled around. He wasn't quite as effective, but his package of size, vision and passing ability doesn't come along all that often.
Louisville's prize for winning the Big East Tournament and claiming the No. 1 seed in the NCAAs was a backbreaker of a region that includes No. 2 Duke, No. 3 Michigan State and fourth-seeded Saint Louis. A rematch against Duke, which handed the Cardinals a neutral floor loss in November, will be fun to watch. Louisville was without injured post man Gorgui Dieng in the Duke game. After his return Dieng averaged a double-double and racked up nearly 100 blocked shots.
Duke counters with potential lottery pick Mason Plumlee, as well as 6-foot-11 Ryan Kelly, a face-up four who can make 3s but also plays an important role in the Blue Devils' defense.
An odd bit of seeding by the selection committee placed Oregon, which won the Pac-12 tournament and would have won the regular-season title had it not been for an injury to freshman point guard Dominic Artis, in this region. Oregon was undervalued as a 12 seed and will play No. 5 Oklahoma State, which has its own freshman at the point, future lottery pick Marcus Smart.
Creighton star Doug McDermott hasn't given any indication whether he'll surrender his senior season of eligibility. Until then, he'll have at least one more chance to perform against power conference competition when the Bluejays, seeded No. 7, take on defensive-minded Cincinnati.
Some question whether McDermott will have a position at the next level and some doubt his national player-of-the-year credentials because Creighton doesn't play in the Big 12 or Big Ten. But here's a key stat to remember. This season, against Wisconsin, Arizona State, Nebraska and California, McDermott averaged 29 points and the Bluejays won all four games.
A quick glance at this bracket is all it takes to foresee a third-round matchup between Gonzaga's 7-foot Kelly Olynyk, who used a red-shirt year to transform himself from a pick-and-pop guy to an inside-outside force, and Pittsburgh's Steven Adams, a 7-foot, 250-pound freshman whose physicality and athleticism give him two certain next-level attributes.
Before that matchup, though, Pitt is going to have to dispose of Wichita State, which won't be easy.
It will be interesting to see how a couple of guards handle the spotlight. Belmont's Ian Clark hasn't shown up on a lot of top 100 prospect lists, but he's crafty and can shoot. He's launched 214 3-pointers with a success ratio of 46 percent, and he also shot 54 percent from the floor and 84 percent from the free-throw line.
Then there's Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson, an excitable type who led the Southeastern Conference in scoring this season yet didn't make the coaches' first-team all-conference team. He extracted revenge by leading the Rebels to the league tournament title and earning MVP honors.
Henderson is a volume shooter and he's scrawny, two strikes against him. He told reporters at the SEC tournament he wanted to lead his team on a run a la Stephen Curry (Davidson) and Jimmer Fredette (BYU) so he can "go get the money." Confidence, or the lack thereof, is not an issue with this guy, but Wisconsin's defense, designed to choke off 3-point shooters, might be. Lucky for Henderson he heeded coach Andy Kennedy's warning and began to mix the occasional foray to the rim in with all those 3s. He led the SEC in free-throw percentage.
Chris Dortch is the editor of the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook.
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