Sunday, March 17, 2013

NCAA Tournament Preview - Midwest

Filling out brackets and reading statistical analysis of every single analysis may not be for you. Maybe you are more of a NBA fan that turns to college basketball during the month of March in order to get a look at the next wave of pros. If so, this is for you. In a four part series, I'll examine the top prospects to watch in each region as well as some surprise players and matchups.

The Midwest region is the unanimous choice for toughest region and it holds true in terms of prospects as well. The region is home to Marcus Smart, Gorgui Dieng, Mason Plumlee, Gary Harris, Doug McDermott, and plenty of other NBA players.

Games to Watch

Colorado State vs Missouri

Colorado State is a team many aren't familiar with but have been very good in the competitive MWC. Colorado State has a very physical frontline led by Minnesota transfer Colton Iverson, who is starting to garner interest from NBA teams. Iverson is a huge presence inside and is very well schooled on defense. He moves well and could be a Greg Stiemsma type in the NBA. Against Missouri, he will face two senior big men in Laurence Bowers and Alex Oriakhi that have a shot to be drafted. Oriakhi is a banger type himself, who you should remember from the UCONN National Championship team. It will be interesting to see how those two fare against each other as they could legitimately be battling for a spot in the second round of the NBA draft.

Missouri also features Phil Pressey whose decision making and ability to perform in the clutch has been ridiculed as of late. A physical Colorado State team will certainly test him, but if they do win, seeing him matchup against Louisville's suffocating defense in the round of 32 could make or break his stock.

Oklahoma State vs Oregon

Oregon was a better team earlier in the season when freshman point guard Dominic Artis was 100% healthy, but his backup Johnathan Loyd did step up in the Pac-12 Title game with a MVP level performance. Both are sub-6 feet and very quick playmakers who will put Marcus Smart's defense to the test. Smart as you probably know, is a potential top 5 pick in this upcoming draft and is known for toughness and leadership. He's a great team defender, but it will be interesting to see if he has the lateral quickness to stay with the Duck's two speedsters. 

On the inside, Arsalan Kazemi and LeBryan Nash should provide a battle for those that love tough, physical play. Kazemi lacks any type of offense game, but relishes his role as a rebounder on the team and could potentially carve out a similar role in the NBA. Nash is a tough combo forward who is currently most effective within 18 feet of the rim. He has a very good mid-range game and is still working on expanding his range/improving his ball handling so he can play small forward at the next level. Kazemi has a very good opportunity to show NBA teams he can be a lockdown defender as well against Nash while Nash will look to prove otherwise.

Moving Forward

The winner of Missouri/Colorado State will get Louisville, which will provide another test for either frontline. Gorgui Dieng, Montrezl Harrell, and Chane Behanon all have NBA potential on the inside for the Cardinals. Dieng is the one to key on as he should be a first round pick this year. He will get an opportunity to show toughness against against either Iverson or Oriakhi. Dieng doesn't score much in the low post, but does an excellent job facilitating offense in the high post and blocking shots on the other end. He's a good passer with a developing jumper, although his post game remains nonexistant. Louisville generally plays a zone so there haven't been a lot of chances to see him defending a strong post scorer one on one in Big East play, but a game against Colorado State could provide such a matchup.

As stated before, if Missouri wins, Phil Pressey will be the one to watch. Peyton Siva and Russ Smith lead a very talented Louisville defense that likes to press and squeeze the life out of an opponent. They just exposed potential lottery pick Michael Carter-Williams in the Big East title game and could do the same to Pressey.

Another good round of 32 matchup to root for is Michigan State vs Memphis. Memphis has fringe NBA prospects at every position, although none are that close to making an impact. Michigan State their fair share as well - Adreian Payne, Branden Dawson, Gary Harris, and Keith Appling. Dawson will be tested against Adonis Thomas, a prospect who was once considered a potential lottery pick. Thomas has failed to assert his will against a weak conference USA schedule however, but has a chance to win back fans against the physical Dawson. Thomas has a great mid-range game and plays within the offense. Dawson is less refined, but an absolute beast on the offensive glass. His skills still need to be developed, but they both could be first rounders a year from now.

The Philadelphia pod could play host to a matchup of Doug McDermott vs Ryan Kelly if Creighton gets by Cincinnati. Kelly has missed most of Duke's conference schedule, but has one over a lot of fans upon his return. He's a stretch PF that doesn't help much on the boards, but plays very good defense for a guy who is a below average athlete. His defense will certainly be needed facing one of the nation's top scorers in Doug McDermott, who can get it done both inside and out 

Mason Plumlee will have his hands full in that one as well, as former Rutgers big man Gregory Echenique is Creighton's starting center. Echenique is an absolute load inside and can bully just about anyone around when he wants to. Plumlee will likely look to showcase his perimeter game against him which should be interesting. Plumlee isn't much of a shooter and is not nearly as good of a ball handler as he believes he is.

The Sweet Sixteen could pit another very good point guard against Louisville's defense if Marcus Smart and the Cowboys survive that far. Smart's ability to handle the ball in traffic and his quickness will be tested. From the looks of Oklahoma State's draw, Smart will get a chance to prove to doubters and fans alike that he is a legitimate top 5 pick.

Also in the Sweet Sixteen could be Michigan State vs Duke, which would matchup two of the best freshman shooting guards in the country. Gary Harris and Rasheed Sulaimon both have first round potential. While Gary Harris is the better player currently - possibly the best on the Spartans team - Sulaimon has the length and defensive potential that intrigue NBA scouts. He's been up and down this season, but a hot March that results in a Duke final four could heat up his stock. More than likely though, you see both of these players back next year.

Plumlee will have to go against Derrick Nix after facing Gregory Echenique the game before, which would put him up against two big bruisers in a row. Ryan Kelly vs Adreian Payne will be intriguing as both could be 2nd round picks this year (or next year for Payne). Both have the ability to shoot outside, while Kelly is the more polished player. Payne however, has some untapped potential on the defensive end.

This region could ultimately set up a early season rematch between Louisville and Duke - one that Duke ended up winning in Puerto Rico. This time around the Cardinals will have Gorgui Dieng, who was injured the last time these two faced off. Dieng vs Plumlee will be a huge matchup. Plumlee has been considered the best upperclassmen center prospect by most, although I have always believed Dieng to be the better prospect. Pitting them against each other here, will be one of the last time either of them get to weigh in on the debate. 

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