Wednesday, March 20, 2013

10 Prospects With The Most To Gain From NCAA Tournament

1. Nate Wolters - For any mid-major prospect, the NCAA tournament presents a great stage to show off exactly what got you in the dance to begin with. For Wolters he gets to do that, while also going up against the best point guard in the country in Michigan's Trey Burke. Its an outstanding opportunity for him and one that will carry great weight on his stock - for better or worse. The only time Wolters has faced NBA level guards in his career so far was last season against Washington (Tony Wroten/Terrence Ross) where all he did was score 34 points en route to a blowout victory. This game will be much tougher for him to get the win, but a win is not necessary to greatly help his stock. One great game against Trey Burke will turn even more NBA scouts into believers. As it stands right now, Wolters is somewhere in the second round mix. A bad game could put him at risk of going undrafted, while a Cinderella-esque performance could get him into the late first round discussion.

2. Michael Carter-Williams - Carter-Williams has had an up and down season. He dominated early against weak competition, only to give in to the pressures of the Big East in conference play. He had a strong Big East tournament however, and looked good up until the final half of play against Louisville. But that half left a bad taste in onlookers mouths and he'll need a good NCAA tournament showing. Its obvious what Michael Carter-Williams can bring physically to the point guard position in terms of uniqueness and playmaking, but it remains to be seen if he can handle the nuances of the game. Syracuse is capable of a final four run and if MCW is the rock in that run, he could cement himself as a lottery pick. Otherwise, he could see himself fall on draft day if no team trusts him enough to pull the trigger early.

3. Marcus Smart - For Smart, this is a chance for him to embellish his story as a winner and a leader. There is no greater stage to show off those kind of traits than in front of a bunch of national media members in search of a feel good story. If Smart loses early on, scouts will spend the next month breaking down tape and questioning his first step, shooting, and explosiveness around the rim. They'll ask if he is really a point guard or just a shooting guard who can create his own shot. A tournament run, however, will make it much easier for evaluators to buy into his reputation as a winner and leader. In a weak draft like this, taking a guy like that could be the safest pick a general manager could make to keep his job.

4. Kelly Olynyk - Olynyk's stock continues to rise as he's basically played college basketball's version of a perfect season. Olynyk has made scoring look easy in the West Coast Conference and has done so at incredible efficiency. Scouts remain split on him though - as some are wary if he can defend and rebound at a NBA level. Getting away from WCC competition and possibly facing a tough Pittsburgh frontcourt in the Round of 32 will give him a chance to silence even more critics. If Gonzaga makes a final four run he will be the main reason and it will mean Olynyk lead them through a South Region that has a lot of tough, physical teams. A chance to face Plumlee/Dieng in the Final Four and possibly Cody Zeller or Jeff Withey in the Finals would be HUGE for him. Right now, Olynyk has enough believers that he could go at the tail end of the lottery, but a Final Four run could place him even higher.

5. Mike Muscala - Bucknell's Mike Muscala has been on NBA radar's all year, but the game against a NBA frontline came against Missouri where he had 25 points and 14 rebounds in a 2 point loss. Since then, Muscala had little trouble navigating his team through the CJ McCollom-less Patriot League. Now Muscala has his toughest test since Missouri in the Butler Bulldogs. Bucknell is the popular upset pick, but they will need Muscala to have a huge game. Andrew Smith could prove to be a tough matchup for Muscala though, as he's a legit 7 footer who moves his feet well. Smith is a finesse center who struggles against physical play inside, but that isn't Muscala's style either. Smith gave Cody Zeller a tough time earlier this year - a similar style player who prefers to face up and use his ball handling skills against slower bigs. Muscala certainly doesn't have the stars aligning for a perfect matchup in this one, but a good showing could vault him into the late first round in a similar way Nikola Vucevic did with USC. At worst, Muscala will hear his name called in the second round.

6. Shabazz Muhammad - With Jordan Adams out, this is now Shabazz's time to shine. The NCAA tournament lights and all the naysayers predicting an upset at the hands of Minnesota are exactly the recipe that Shabazz needs to get going. Expect his competitive nature to takeover against the Gophers and for him to deliver a strong showing whether they win or lose. A tournament run would of course be huge for Shabazz to get back into good graces with scouts, but even a solid performance would be a decent way to go out. Shabazz's stock may be effected more in the coming months as he has a chance to prove how good of an athlete he is and also get in better shape - which would give scouts a reason to give his struggles this season a pass.

7. Gorgui Dieng/Jeff Withey/Mason Plumlee - Three centers, all playing for title contenders, all of whom have a good chance of being first round picks in June. While they have plenty of work already filed into their resume, none of them have truly sold themselves as the real deal. It seems Plumlee is the favorite among most , as he's currently projected to be selected in the lottery. My favorite, however, is Gorgui Dieng, who didn't have a chance to face Plumlee during the early season matchup between their two teams. They very well could meet again and the winner of that game could ultimately go on to face either Jeff Withey or Cody Zeller. However it plays out, I think we will have a better picture of each player's stock once the nets are cut down. Personally, I see Dieng coming out on top and going in the top 20 with Plumlee, while Withey finds a home in the latter part of the first round.

8. Tony Snell - Snell is reportedly serious about entering this draft and is looking to capitalize on some positive momentum he has gained from a strong MWC tournament. Snell's name is just starting to get mentioned in unison for this draft, so scouts will pay special attention to his tournament games to see if he is worth a flier. His intrigue is based on his defensive tools and he could get a chance to defend Solomon Hill and Deshaun Thomas in the South Region. Locking those two down and advancing deep in the tournament would definitely turn some heads. This draft is lacking quality small forwards in the late first round and beyond and Snell could take advantage of that.

9. Spencer Dinwiddie - Apparently Dinwiddie could "test the waters" this year, although testing the waters isn't really a thing anymore. Still, he's been flying under the radar this season as most scouts would expect him to be back in school, but if he does declare he is a guy to consider in the late first round. Dinwiddie will be competing against other scoring guards like Brandon Paul, who he will get the opportunity to shutdown in the Round of 64. Shutting down a senior draft prospect like Paul will help, but he will also have to provide some offense as he's been really struggling from the field as of late. Dinwiddie will have another great opportunity the following round against the Miami backcourt of Shane Larkin and Durand Scott. He is certainly capable of earning some fans over the next few days and once scouts review the tape of this season, I think they will find a player worth late first round consideration.

10. CJ Fair - When talking about Syracuse, you often hear Michael Carter-Williams and James Southerland's names come up right off the bat. And rightfully so, but Fair has been their most consistent performer to date. With Southerland back, Fair has had more room to operate and he's been taking advantage of that by getting plenty of shots off in a variety of ways. He's taken at least 10 shots in every game except one in 2013. He's had mixed results in terms of efficiency, but is more than capable of putting up a string of strong games during the NCAA tournament. Fair has a smooth stroke from the field and an even smoother mid-range game. There aren't many players that can compare to Fair at the college level and he could present some intrigue in the later part of Round 1.

Also look out for Tim Hardaway Jr, Glenn Robinson III, Allen Crabbe, Durand Scott, Steven Adams, Brandon Paul, Matthew Dellavedova, Adriean Payne, Adonis Thomas, and Will Clyburn.

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