With the NCAA Tournament down to just four teams, college basketball fans can begin to look ahead to the championship game as well as the professional futures of some collegiate stars.
After two weeks of the tournament, here’s a quick look at how the draft stock of seven players has been affected by the Madness of March.
Shabazz Muhammad – SG/SF – UCLA
Nobody’s draft stock took a hit quite like Muhammad’s this month. First, there’s the issue of the one time projected No. 1 pick just not being able to live up to the hype in his freshman season with the Bruins. Then there’s the elephant in the room – a Los Angeles Times report that revealed Muhammad is actually 20-years-old, not 19 as was previously believed.
Overall, Shabazz had a good individual season at UCLA, but he was nowhere near as good as a 20-year-old projected No. 1 should be against NCAA competition. Muhammad should hear his name called in the 5-to-10 range, but given all that has transpired over the last couple of weeks (including his 6-of-18 game in a UCLA tournament loss to Minnesota), it’s not that much of a stretch to have him outside of the top-10.
Ben McLemore – SG – Kansas
In a weak, wide open draft that was made more unpredictable by the knee injury suffered by Kentucky big man Nerlens Noel, many came into the NCAA Tournament thinking McLemore could go first overall if he had a good showing and led the Jayhawks on a deep run. Instead, the No. 1 seed in the South Region crashed out of the tourney with a Sweet Sixteen loss to Michigan and McLemore scoring just 33 points combined over Kansas’ three games. In addition, the freshman guard shot under 35 per cent from the field and was a disappointing 4-of-16 from behind the arc.
McLemore will still be a top-five pick and could go as high as No. 2, but I can’t see an NBA general manager taking him over Noel, regardless of Nerlens’ knee injury.
Marcus Smart – PG – Oklahoma State
Smart is unanimously regarded as the best point guard in the 2013 draft class and like McLemore, was considered a potential replacement at No. 1 when Noel went down. Also like McLemore, however, Smart didn’t do enough in his brief showing in the tournament to justify calling his name first in June. Smart posted impressive numbers of 14 points, nine rebounds, four assists and five steals in the Cowboys’ loss to Oregon, but he also turned the ball over five times and was a disappointing 5-of-13 from the field.
As intriguing as Smart’s potential is, the fact remains that he’s viewed as a shoot-first point guard. That’s fine, unless you shoot just 40 per cent from the field and under 30 per cent from deep in your only season of college ball.
Cody Zeller – C – Indiana
Zeller is yet another one of many players who were at one time projected to go No. 1 overall this year, but the truth is that I rarely (if ever) walked away from watching an Indiana game thinking that Zeller would be any more than a solid rotation player in the NBA. The seven-footer struggles when faced with a physical defender and isn’t as much of a defensive presence as you would hope for a player of his size playing against fellow college players.
After averaging about 16 points, eight rebounds and 56 per cent shooting for the Hoosiers in the regular season, Zeller averaged just 12 points, 6.7 rebounds and 42 per cent shooting in three tournament games as Indiana suffered a disappointing loss to Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen. In a stronger, deeper draft, you could argue against Cody even being a lottery pick, but his status as a lottery pick and likely top-10 pick in 2013 seems safe.
Either way, Zeller definitely played his way out of any chance at the No. 1 selection.
Trey Burke – G – Michigan
Burke hasn’t shot the ball particularly well in the tournament (34.9%), but he’s been the catalyst for a Michigan team that earned the school its first Final Four bid in 20 years and has seemingly been able to find his jumper when the team needs it most. Through four games, the sophomore guard is averaging 15.5 points, 7.8 assists, 3.0 assists and 1.5 steals, and his poor shooting in the last couple of weeks is off-set by season averages of 46.4 per cent from the field and over 38 per cent from deep.
Whether you agree with evaluating players on intangibles such as “leadership” or not, the fact remains that many NBA executives put some serious weight on those immeasurable character traits, and Burke is an intangibles guy’s dream. While the players all mentioned above have seen their stock fall recently, Burke may have done enough to vault himself from potential lottery pick to surefire top-1o pick and possibly even top-five pick.
Michael Carter-Williams – G – Syracuse
Carter-Williams was already seen as a likely lottery pick heading into the tournament, so there’s no telling how high he can go now that he’s stood out on both ends of the floor in leading Syracuse all the way to the Final Four (at least). MCW has averaged 13 points on 48.7 per cent shooting to go along with 5.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 3.3 steals and just 2.3 turnovers in the Orange’s four tournament games so far.
He’s never going to be a traditional point guard, but Carter-Williams has proven that he can score in a variety of ways while impacting a game on both ends of the floor and rebounding well for a guard (his 6-6 frame helps). If he can finish the tournament off with another impressive showing and possibly even a national championship game appearance, there won’t be any doubt about his top-10 candidacy.
Jeff Withey – C – Kansas
Withey has long been considered a late first round pick and he’ll likely never be a serious offensive threat in the NBA, but his tournament performance proved that he’s a strong, physical seven-footer who rebounds and defends exceptionally well, and there will always be jobs out there for players like that in the NBA.
The 22-year-old senior, who upped his averages in minutes, points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks in every year of his college career, posted very impressive averages of 15 points, 10 rebounds and 5.7 blocks in three tournament games for Kansas this year. In addition, while his offensive game is limited, his patience and smarts on the offensive end allow him to take advantage of easy scoring opportunities, as evidenced by his 61 per cent shooting in the tourney and 58 per cent shooting for the season.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t see Withey as a lottery pick, but his performance in the tournament should see him go in the 20-25 (or even 15-20) range instead of the 25-30 range.