Being an NBA fan, my primary interest in watching the NCAA Tournament, besides general entertainment value, is to get a close look at some of the top prospects in the NBA Draft. I certainly don't profess to be as up on scouting college players as the guys who do it the whole season, so take all these observations with a grain of salt. Still, here are some thoughts on top prospects that played in last weekend's games.
- You see that photo? That's the kind of defense Purdue played against Thomas Robinson all night. The Kansas forward saw double and triple teams even when he didn't have the ball, and because Kansas' supporting cast kind of stinks, they barely got by Purdue. Now, granted, this doesn't excuse all the bunnies Robinson missed inside. He definitely got a bit frustrated with all the attention he was getting. But despite all that, he still snared 13 rebounds, made a huge block on Lewis Jackson late after being forced to switch onto him and closed out hard on Robbie Hummel's game-tying three-pointer without fouling. His offensive skills aren't quite there yet -- his jumper is improving and his low-post game is a bit raw -- but he plays with incredible intensity on the glass and on defense. You can teach skills. You can't teach the way he plays. That's why he's a clear No. 2 on my board.
- Anthony Davis, meanwhile, is still the clear No. 1. Fifteen points and 12 rebounds while shutting off the paint against Iowa State is impressive. You have to be a bit creative with how you view his game, because he projects more as a Kevin Garnett-like stretch four than a straight five. In that role, though, I think he's going to be game-changing. Might not happen right away, but it will. One thing I like is seeing him take more jumpers. He's got a nice stroke and in the NBA, he'll need to take those shots.
- Draft guys who know a bit more than me: can you explain why Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is more highly regarded than Bradley Beal? I realize they're different players playing different positions, but Kidd-Gilchrist has been invisible far too often for Kentucky, while Beal continues to make things happen for Florida. Both are freshmen, so the age thing doesn't explain it either. Honestly, I think it comes down to people using intangibles that may or may not have a direct impact on the game. To me, they're right in the same tier.
- What I love about Beal: his ability to rebound. I know you don't always ask your shooting guard to grab boards, but when I try to evaluate a prospect, I'm looking for a guy with one exceptional skill and no real weaknesses. That describes Beal to a T. His jumper is starting to come along, and he can handle and make plays in pick and roll. Throw in good size and wingspan, and he's a prototypical two in a league that doesn't have many.
- One more point on Beal: sure, the rebounding is a bit of a unique skill, but it also shows me that he's really smart at cutting into open space. You can see that skill translating to playing off the ball in the NBA. One of the sets I envision is John Wall and Nene running a pick and roll, with Beal and a good-shooting small forward in the corners. From there, Beal can hit the three if you help off him, cut backdoor if you turn your head and serve as an outlet to make a play off the dribble if the initial play breaks down. That kind of versatility is invaluable.
- Still not impressed with either of the Connecticut guys. Andre Drummond plays too small and Jeremy Lamb isn't nearly as impressive creating plays off the dribble as Beal is. The thing about Lamb that bugs me is he doesn't really do much of anything when his shot isn't falling. UConn did a lot of screening to free Lamb, and yet, that was really the only time he moved well without the ball.
- Perry Jones has the look of a top prospect, but not the game. I can see why general managers like him. He has great size and frame to play either forward position, and he has the skills. But he too often floats and does nothing, letting his teammates make the plays. I'd be very scared to draft him. Too inconsistent.
- Jared Sullinger's a tough one. On the one hand, the comparisons to Kevin Love aren't that out of whack, even though Love was a far better rebounder. On the other hand, how is he going to get these kinds of shots up against NBA big men? Unlike Robinson, Sullinger's impact off the ball is pretty minimal. When he's not catching the ball in his post, what kinds of plays is he making? That's my concern with him. On the flip side, I think he's playing hurt, which explains some of why he isn't going for the ball quite as much as last year.
- One of the games I have circled for the next round is Ohio State vs. Cincinnati. The Bearcats have Yancy Gates to bang with Sullinger and a bunch of tough, physical defenders to throw at him on double teams. If Sullinger can produce in that environment, it'll make me feel better about his NBA chances.
- Harrison Barnes was kind of invisible until hitting a couple big threes to put Creighton away. What I like about him: his offensive game is really refined, especially the way he creates space to get his shot off. What I don't like: the shots he creates aren't always good looks, and unlike Beal, he doesn't quite cut into open space as fast as I'd like. He feels like a high-floor, low-ceiling pick.
- I still don't quite understand why Tyler Zeller is rated ahead of his younger brother.
- I'm actually not that wild about any of the UNC guys. I do kind of like John Henson, but he's so skinny that it's hard to see him being an impact player on the next level. If he puts on weight, watch out, but right now, he's even too skinny to be a stretch four. Kendall Marshall should carve out a good career in the pros simply because of his incredible court vision, but I have trouble seeing him as a better point guard than, say, Ty Lawson.
- Two guys who played really well last weekend: Dion Waiters of Syracuse and Royce White of Iowa State. Waiters doesn't really have a position and forces shots, but he's so refined on the pick and roll already, which means he'll have a place in the NBA. White had a really big game, all things considering, against Kentucky's elite frontcourt. He has some baggage in his past and I don't think he'll be able to play point forward in the pros, but the dude makes plays. Worth a look later on in the draft.