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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Striking While the Iron is Hot

Nobody wants to find themselves in the situation that James McAdoo is in this year - passing up a spot in the NBA's lottery for a chance to come back and lead UNC - only to see his stock plummet it the process. McAdoo's story is a bit dramatic as he could have been a lottery pick, but there are many other more common cases of guys that stay a year too late and go from a fringe first rounder to undrafted. Instead of looking at guys who most likely will declare this year, I'll look at 6 guys who are firmly sitting on the fence and could go either way. For these 6 players, McAdoo's story could lend be a cautionary tale that they should take into consideration when deciding whether to come back to school. Their stocks are looking good after strong seasons, but another season in college could exposure more of their weaknesses or just cool off the intrigue of their upside.

These guys may not be NBA ready, but they are NBA Draft ready. They can get paid and then spent a season in the D-League working on their games as opposed to a college setting where their practice time would be more limited.

Friday, March 29, 2013

MCW Hype Begins Again Thanks to the New NCAA Tournament Audience

While twitter was busy bashing Cody Zeller, there was a wave of NBA bloggers also falling in love with Michael Carter-Williams and his potential. Guys who were just seeing him for the first time and happened to see him play his best game of the season. Carter-Williams is a guy who can make an immediately positive impression on you at first glance - a tall 6'7'' point guard who can defend and has a pass first attitude. NBA bloggers shouldn't be ashamed, Michael Carter-Williams fever also swept over the college basketball writers  in November and December as Michael Carter-Williams destroyed lesser competition. The same remarks gushing about his upside and calling him a top 5 pick that are being repeated now, were first said then.

Believe it or not, there was even a time early in the season where Michael Carter-Williams was brought up in conversation for first overall pick. There was a legitimate debate whether he was a better prospect than Marcus Smart - one that I received a lot of questioning about for siding with the Oklahoma State guard. All the talk pushed me to voice my concerns on him in December in this post (where I also talked about my concerns of Shabazz and Bennett, saying the same things that many are just starting to come around to now).

The more you watch Carter-Williams though, the more you are able to see his flaws. One game or a highlight reel doesn't give you a good barometer for his ability to control the pace of a game and thats something that is a major concern for him. Everyone is prone to a bad game every now and then, but point guards aren't supposed to be so easy to force out of their element. MCW is one of the most inconsistent players in the country and that isnt a good sign for an average shooter who has the ball in his hands a lot. He should possess the skills and ability to make plays when needed, but most of MCW's production comes in spurts of high level played followed by long droughts. Consistency is key for an offense to run well and MCW hasn't provided it this year for the Orange. Its why Cuse has been one of the best teams at beating up weaker competition - taking advantage of their physical advantages - but have struggled at times against good teams. He can rely on his length and athleticism to dominate opponents a lot of times, but against stronger competition the rest of his holes show.

Last night against Indiana however, MCW and Triche absolutely dominated the backcourt of Yogi Ferrell and Jordan Hulls. Indiana's defenders were too small to have any chance against either player and they were ran all over. I'm still waiting for a game where Michael Carter-Williams doesn't have this great advantage and is able to win a game via solid play throughout the whole game. We either get him dominating a whole game, playing well one half while throwing up a dud in the other half, or looking completely out of sorts an entire game.

Michael Carter-Williams, nobody is asking anything spectacular of you. Just show you can control the pace of a game all the way through and make the plays you are supposed to make. Get your team in the offense, handle the pressure, and continue to navigate your team's path through the NCAA tournament. There is still time left and the opportunities you have on the radar are the exact ones you'll need. 

Twitter: "Cody Zeller Sucks"

The best and worst part of the NCAA Tournament are all the added interested viewers. Twitter is flooded by opinions from both NBA bloggers and college basketball scribes alike - each offering their own perspective. Many times, NBA bloggers will be watching a prospect for the first time and either highly overrated or underrate the player based on one performance while the college guys remain even keel as they've seen both the highs and lows of these guys.

In the case of Cody Zeller last night, it seemed both sides rallied around a similar belief that Cody Zeller is overrated as a NBA prospect. Zeller had 6 of his shots blocks and looked overwhelmed inside by the size and athleticism of Syracuse. This was evident to anyone watching the game and didn't take an expert to come away with this inclusion. And the college writers agreed with this notion not because of this one game, but because this is something that has been evident all year. So for once, both sets of writers had the same opinion. 

This opinion is something that can't really be argued. Watch the film against teams with NBA size like Michigan State, Minnesota, or a physical frontline like Wisconsin's. Zeller has a tendency to go right into the bodies of defenders and has several of his shots blocked. His drives to the basket can become both easy to see coming and easy to predict how the play will end. When Zeller takes it into the body of defenders, a lot of times it seems like he is stuck to the floor - not necessarily because he can't jump - but because his arms are barely long enough to extend from his body. His abnormally short wingspan is a reason why many are skeptical about his ability to succeed at the next level.

The scouting report of Zeller's strengths and weaknesses are fairly simple. It doesnt take much time watching Zeller to realize what he struggles with and what he does well. Thats why last night on Twitter, seemingly everyone I followed repeated the same concerns over Zeller's ability at the next level. But scouting isn't simply about evaluating strengths and weaknesses and determining if the player played well. Anyone who watches any amount of tape on Zeller will come up with a similar scouting report and recognize the situations where he struggled.

There is another piece of the puzzle that both college basketball and NBA writers alike don't see. Scouting is about more than meets the eye, which is usually all writers look at. They'll watch the player and evaluate how he played. Simple enough, but thats something everyone can do and it doesn't separate you from the field in terms of projecting talent to the next level. A scout has to think outside the box, put himself in a players shoes, and picture him in situations different from his current one in order to determine how he will succeed.

In Zeller's current situation, he is the center of a basketball team that has no other inside presence. One of his point guards is a freshman who is learning how to pass and the other guy is a senior who rarely penetrates or makes plays at all. At power forward, there is a stretch forward who struggles against physical play but fares well in his position away from the basket. 

A large problem in Zeller's game is coaching and personnel. Zeller is asked to be the big man for Indiana and play like a center. Zeller constantly takes it to the basket and into defenders' bodies despite the mixed results. There is no questioning Zeller's skillset, but at Indiana it seems he actually plays against his strengths and puts his weaknesses on display.

Paul Flannery wrote a great article this week about Ryan McDonough, the Celtics assistant general manager and the guy who deserves the most credit for them drafting Rajon Rondo (read it here). While Rondo was dogged by both college and NBA bloggers alike for his terrible shooting and trouble in the halfcourt, McDonough saw a guy who was extremely talented but just was being misused. Thats what scouts are supposed to do. They aren't meant to strictly evaluate a guys play - they are asked to think outside the box and figure out why a guy is struggling and if he would be better in another situation. The same thing can be said for Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger - two more guys who had obvious weaknesses, but have succeeded by being put in roles to emphasis their strengths.

Zeller is just another guy that needs to be used the right way. Right now, he's not being put in a situation that makes him look great. And for guys like McDonough, this is where their expertise separate themselves from the pundits who spend their time posting opinions on twitter.

You see, Zeller isn't a center and will never be a center. So when you talk about his short wingspan, his weakness finishing against longer, athletic players, his lack of strength, and his inability to be an intimidating defensive presence at the rim - these are all things that can be negated if he's playing a different position. A position that he is meant for - power forward.

Crean shouldn't get all the blame for misusing Zeller. A lot of it has to do with personnel. But we saw how unprepared Indiana's offense looked against Syracuse's zone - as if they didn't expect it - and we saw how Zeller was used. At some point, Zeller refusing to take jumpers and utilizing more touch around the basket has to fall on his coaching. Zeller has been playing this style all year and all Crean has to do is encourage him to shoot more, have him set more ball screens, and get him out of the low post. Pitino did it with Dieng. Its not a big adjustment. But I guess Crean feels the need to have a presence in the post and at the rim, so thats the role Zeller has been relegated to.

Think about it though. You have a guy that can shoot the ball, has the ability to face up, has good touch at the rim, can pass off the dribble better than just about any big, handles the ball well, runs the court in transition, is excellent coming off ball screens, and is a better athlete in terms of coordination than explosiveness. Nevermind his position in college, that screams NBA power forward and thats just looking at his offensive ability. Throw in his perimeter defense, his ability to rotate and defend pick and rolls, his footwork, and his lack of rim protecting skills and there is absolutely no reason to ever look at him as a center prospect. Instead, he's an ideal power forward prospect. While people saw his inability to finish inside last night, I came away satisfied with how he was able to stick with CJ Fair whenever they were matched up together.

Whether or not this effects Zeller's stock is something I can't tell you, but what I can guarantee is there is a smart GM sitting outside the top 10 that would love for Zeller to fall in their laps. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Thursday's Sweet 16 Preview

March Madness continues tomorrow with 4 more games to decide who will advance to the Elite 8.

Marquette vs Miami (FL)

Top Prospects: Shane Larkin (59), Kenny Kadji (89), Durand Scott (90), Vander Blue (121)

Marquette remains standing after coming out on top in two of the most exciting games of the tournament - vs Butler and Davidson. Vander Blue has been beyond clutch in each of the games and has drawn a deeper focus from NBA scouts. He's basically living off the tournament hype though, and considering he's shooting below 50% and has 6 turnovers to only 2 assists in this two game stretch, this "breakout performance" isn't even that impressive. Yes he has been clutch and Blue is a guy who can make even the toughest of baskets, but he has a lot of other issues to overcome. He struggles to find and create easy shots and his efficiency has suffered. He's also not a very good shooter, only showing signs of improvement this year. And an undersized scoring two guard who can't shoot tends to have an uphill battle to climb.

Blue will continue to try to climb up that hill against Miami and will likely draw the defensive attention of Durand Scott in this one. Scott is another undersized two guard who makes some impressive plays and hits tough shots, but struggles to be efficient and make simple plays. He has proven to be an intense defender this season though, and should provide Blue some trouble with his physical tools. Those tools make Scott the more intriguing prospect as he projects better as a defender and a finisher at the rim.

Arizona vs Ohio State

Top Prospects: Shannon Scott (49), Deshaun Thomas (55), LaQuinton Ross (69), Kaleb Tarczewski (70), Brandon Ashley (74), Solomon Hill (79), Aaron Craft (85), Nick Johnson (120)

This game features a lot of young prospects who could eventually find themselves in the first round, but are currently ranked rather low in rankings because the are viewed to be at least a year away. Two of the more NBA ready prospects in this game will be Deshaun Thomas and Solomon Hill, who could end up battling head to head for much of the game.

Arizona has been playing their best basketball as of late in large part because of a shift towards a smaller lineup. Solomon Hill has been playing a lot more PF - a position he played a lot last year when he averaged almost 8 rebounds per game and shot over 50% from the field. It will be interesting to see if he will look to attack Thomas in isolation situations. Hill has a very solid all-around game and has improved an area of his game each year. This year he's been a much better slasher than in years past. Thomas is more of a one dimensional player, but is great at the one thing he does - shoot. And he shoots often and in any situation. He's played tougher this season and it will be interesting to see who has the edge when it comes to rebounding and banging inside.

LaQuinton Ross had a big game against Iowa State, but he's still got a lot to learn. His defense stops him from getting more minutes and he takes too many uncalled for jumpers. But he's certainly one to watch and may have more potential than anyone in this game.

Syracuse vs Indiana

Top Prospects: Victor Oladipo (5), Cody Zeller, (7), Michael Carter-Williams (26), CJ Fair (43), James Southerland (117), Christian Watford (124), Will Sheehey (126)

Cody Zeller will face tons of length and bodies against the zone inside which is the exact kind of situations he's struggled with this season. Zeller tends to try to go right at shotblockers - which is what you are coached to do - but he just doesn't have the strength yet to finish with the contact. Zeller could excel in another spot against the zone though and that is at the foul line. We saw what Otto Porter and Gorgui Dieng could do in this spot and Zeller is another guy with a high IQ who can hit the jumper and pass from this spot. Zeller may be more aggressive than either of them when it comes to putting the ball on the floor and he could create open looks that way too. Zeller is a very good passer off the dribble, almost like a guard.

Watching Oladipo against the zone will be interesting too. He'll be asked to operate more in the halfcourt offense and his athleticism will be taken away from him against the zone. Oladipo will need to show the ability to get himself in the right spots to score and the skillset to be able to breakdown the zone. This game will be more of a chess match than he is used to, but he's a smart player. This game gives him a chance to showcase that.

CJ Fair has had a solid tournament for Syracuse and continues to be their most consistent offensive player. His perimeter game has developed a lot this year and he's extended his range to beyond the 3-pt line. Fair has always been able to shoot though and his small sample size from deep shouldn't be a reason to dismiss his shooting ability. Another big development in his game has been his off the dribble game. Thanks to a nice floater, his mid-range game has always been solid, but now he is willing to do more than simply just take one dribble and shoot a floater. He's getting more comfortable dribbling the ball and the next step for him is to be able to make plays for others. He'll have a big opportunity as "the guy" next year if he does come back to take yet another step in his development. He's an intriguing prospect who looks like an early second rounder at the moment.

LaSalle vs Wichita State

Top Prospects: None

No top prospects in this one, but Ill take the Shockers to advance to the Elite Eight.

Dwayne Morgan to UNLV is No Reason For Terps Fans to be Upset

St. Frances SF Dwayne Morgan announced today live on DMVElite.com that he will spend his next four years playing basketball for the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. UNLV was the first team to offer Morgan a scholarship and had been in constant contact with him throughout the whole process. After his visit out west in January, Morgan said that it felt like home and it all but sealed the deal on his decision. Maryland was also in the running and Bino Ranson took in many St Frances games during the past year, but they didn't make the same push the Georgetown or UNLV did down the homestretch. Morgan said that Maryland barely contacted him recently and when he made his choice, there was no Maryland hat even in the picture.

The Terrapins may have sensed Morgan was set on UNLV, but at the same time, I don't think he was ever that high of a priority to them. The idea of yet another highly ranked SF getting away from the Terps is a scary thought for their fans after seeing Carmelo Anthony, Rudy Gay, and Donte Greene all blow up en route to heading to the NBA, but Morgan isn't at their level - at least not yet. Morgan is a good recruit, but he isn't a program changer. More importantly, Maryland has their eyes on another local top 30 player in the country and that is Dion Wiley. With Melo Trimble already on board for the class of 2014as well, Maryland has plenty of young perimeter players already.

Assuming Alex Len heads to the NBA draft this year (or even next year), the Terrapins have room for 3 scholarship players on their roster by the time the 2014-15 season comes along. The depth chart will look something like this (a Pe'Shon Howard-less roster!):

PG - Roddy Peters (SO)/Seth Allen (JR)
SG - Nick Faust (SR)/Melo Trimble (FR)
SF - Dez Wells (SR)/Jake Layman (JR)
PF - Evan Smotrycz (SR)/Charles Mitchell (JR)
C - Shaquille Cleare (JR) /Damonte Dodd (SO)

Dion Wiley is said to be a Maryland lean at this point and has been seen at plenty of Maryland games. Terps have shown mutual strong interest in him and were said to be in attendance for over 20 of his games this season. Just my personal opinion, but Wiley is a better player than Morgan at this point and is also ranked higher according to ESPN. So if Maryland feels comfortable about securing Wiley, and I think they do, then there is less of a need for Morgan. 

Furthermore, with Dez Wells and Jake Layman, small forward looks to be their strongest position in the 2014-15 season. Wells could enter the draft a year early potentially, but Layman should still be there (unless Jimmy Dykes has his way and he goes pro) and projects to be a excellent player by the time he is an upperclassmen. Maryland will also have a very strong stable of guards, but when it comes down to it, they'll take Wiley over Morgan because that appears to be their preference.

More importantly is the fact that the Terrapins will need to use at least one scholarship on a big man. They could really use a shotblocker type to protect the rim and also a guy who can play more of a stretch forward role. Smotrycz will fill in as a stretch forward for the next two years and Layman should also be worthy of minutes at PF, but bringing in a big time athlete at that position should be a priority.

Right now the Terps are high on Abdul-Malik Abu who fits the mold and they have also shown interest in Chinanu Onuaku, more of a center type who can provide a strong defensive presence inside. 

It looks like Wiley plus a big is the plan to fill two current two scholarships that they have available, while they could also look to bring in a Juco point guard once Alex Len makes it official that he's heading to the NBA. Terp fans should not be disappointed that a local star got away because it was only to make room for another local star that they believe is better. The idea of a Peters/Trimble/Wiley starting perimeter is exactly what Terps fans should be excited for - three local players that can really fill up the scoreboard. Trimble and Wiley are arguably the two best class of 2014 scorers in the DMV area and they will also provide some much needed outside shooting. The future is still bright in College Park and there are more exciting times ahead.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Scouting Report: Anthony Bennett

Entering the season, Anthony Bennett wasn't among the projected one and done lottery picks despite being ranked as a top 10 incoming freshman by every reputable recruiting service. Bennett was seen as a stretch forward type, albeit one without idea size or body type. He quickly moved up however after a strong non-conference for UNLV, vaulting himself up from a mid-late first round pick to a guy who some scouts mentioned as the possible first overall pick. Now with UNLV's season complete and his upcoming announcement of entering the draft, Bennett finds himself as a surefire lottery selection.

Anthony Bennett has a very physically mature frame for a college freshman, weighing in at 240lbs even though he stands at just 6'7''. Despite a height that leaves something to be desired, the combination of his large frame and length (7'1'' wingspan) will allow him to play the power forward spot in the NBA. He can be a very good offensive option and a matchup nightmare in the future.

Bennett's current game revolves around his jumpshot, which has always been what his game has revolved around, even dating back to his sophomore year in high school at Mountain State Academy. He shot 38% from deep this season on roughly 3 attempts per game. Believe it or not, Bennett is far from the biggest chucker on the UNLV roster and among the top 6 scorers, he takes the lowest amount of 3-pt shots. 26% of his shots come from behind the arc, while Bennett is also very efficient hitting jumpers form the mid-range area and shots near the rim. His ability to score all over the court makes his offensive potential very high.

However, Bennett has a tendency to drift around on offense. As I said, his teammates also like to shoot a lot of 3s and neither Bennett or the guards seem to grasp how an inside-out game would get them better looks from deep. Instead, Bennett rarely receives the ball when he goes in the post - although he, himself, doesn't do a good job of establishing position. And he gives up trying to get the ball down low rather quickly. Bennett is much more likely to move around aimlessly on offense looking for an opening to take a jumper. It seems that everything he does on offense is an attempt to get an open look from 15+ feet out,

Which isn't the best way to use his outstanding, physical frame. Its part of Bennett's DNA perhaps - he shies away from contact at all levels. When posting up, he doesn't put a body into his man and does a terrible job sealing off a lane for entry passes. He never tries to post up and use his strength to get better position around the basket - he's content from hoisting a jumper from whereever he is. And at the first sign of the defender resisting his attempt to get post position, Bennett abandons the plan instead of fighting back.

Its why his post game is kind of a mystery and may be somewhat irrelevant if thats the way he will continue to play in the NBA. Bennett has acknowledge the need to play more in the post in the past, but that didn't happen at UNLV. Maybe with better coaching that will change, but Bennett needs to right buttons pushed in order for him to play more aggressive. That mysterious post game does seem to have a hook shot and a strong drop step in its arsenal, but those moves are few and far between.

As I said, Bennett's idea of offense is often standing around the arc preparing himself for an opportunity to take a shot. Bennett will cut to the basket, but with little conviction. He'll set screens, but ones solely for the purpose of quickly popping out for a jumper. He rarely gets a body on the man he is screening and rarely does anything afterwards besides drift out for a potential jumper. And Bennett does have good handles, but doesn't usually put the ball on the floor in the halfcourt. And in terms of making plays, Bennett lacks patient in the post to be a facilitator even if he did attempt to hold his position. His offensive game plan is pretty plain and obvious - shoot the ball.

Even so, Bennett does have some luck crashing the offensive boards and picking up points that way as well. He is remarkably explosive for his size and abuses rims with powerful putback slams. Even without the desired effort, Bennett can be a terrific rebounder and get any ball within his range. If he boxed out and wasn't as lazy going to the rim, Bennett could be one of those undersized power forwards who put up huge rebounding numbers. He has all the tools and natural instincts.

Bennett also does well in transition - in fact, this is where he will turn heads the most. Bennett is able to travel the length of the court after a rebound, make a shifty move, and finishing with excellent body control. Those sequences along are enough to have some NBA talent evaluators ready to make him a top 5 pick. The way he can handle and change directions in transition make some believe he can play small forward, but besides from the obvious defensive problems, he doesn't show the ability to play off the dribble in the halfcourt setting. These transition plays are just a look at how talented Bennett is and what he can potentially become in the future.

There are times when Bennett would be better off finding a guard in these situations, but once he gets going, don't expect him to pass it. He can handle it, but he dribbles with his head down and is the proud owner of a 1:2 assist to turnover ratio. Among the top 20 PF prospects in this draft, Bennett ranks as the third most prolific scorer, but his 1.3 assist per 40 minutes (pace adjusted) ranks him only 14th. It is safe to say that Bennett is a lot better making plays for himself than he is for others. He can be a bit of a blackhole.

Overall though, offense is the strength of his game and the most interesting part of his game moving forward. His ability to score on all three levels of the court is something he can really build on. In a more open NBA game, Bennett could easily start putting the ball on the floor more and taking big men off the dribble - preventing a matchup nightmare. And he should be able to hit jumpers from all over the court consistently as well as provide a efficient threat on the glass. There has to be a coach out there that can get him to play more with his back to the basket and play with more fire and if he gets put in the right situation- he can be an all-star scorer.

The biggest problems with Bennett's game, however, center around his performance defensively. Bennett has the same problem with contact on this end of the floor as he does on the offensive end, which makes it really hard for him to be a good post defender. He doesn't like to fight back against an aggressor for post position and struggles figure out which shoulder he should position himself on. His size makes it easy for him to shoot over and when he gives up post position without a fight, thats a terrible combination.

Its his understanding of defense that presents more concerns though. These are things that are correctable by a good coach, but its a red flag against his basketball IQ that he would even need to be told these things. Bennett is awful defending ball screens. Any capable pick and pop player can get wide open jumpshots time and time again against him. Bennett's problem, aside from laziness, is he "hedges" the screen on the side that his man is not on, thus creating a very big gap for him to close out on. And with his laziness, Bennett never has any shot at getting back in position before the shot is made.

Bennett doesn't really hedge on these screens though as much as he just stands stationary. He does the same thing with screens off the ball, resulting in plenty of buckets that can be traced back to his lack of help. In the NBA game with plenty of set plays and attacking mismatches, Bennett will be an easy target to attack.

Bennett also tends to be less than anxious to block shots from the helpside, preferring to be stationary in these situations as well. He'd rather get himself in position to rebound, even if there is no shot at a rebound when the offensive player gets a wide open lay-up. Somehow, Bennett still gets over a block per game which is a testament to his natural gifts and timing. His lack of gambling on defensive is also why he is a better defensive rebounder than offensive, despite the fact that he rarely blocks out with any force.

His laziness is another reason why you won't see him ever being an effective SF. There is no way Bennett will ever be able to chase his man through a obstacle of ball screens and close out to defend shots. That dream is already over. Bennett is a power forward at the next level on all accounts.

Undersized power forwards have enough time defending as it is, but an unmotivated one with a bad understanding of positioning is even worse. Its a recipe for a season long stint on the bench or a spot playing for one of the worst teams in the league.

In the end, a lot of Bennett's problem are correctable and coaches will certainly be willing to work with a player of his talent. He just recently turned 20 and is older than most freshman and will announce his intentions to enter the draft this week. Bennett played on a very talented UNLV team, but both his and his teams struggles in the nuances of the game kept them from reaching their potential. Perhaps all Bennett needs is a better coach to fix these problems which is why the situation Bennett ends up in at the next level could make all the difference. At this point, the lottery remains very weak and there is no doubt that Bennett should be among the top 14 picks. The talks of him going number one overall have faded though, and I don't even think he is worth a top 5 selection. Any pick after that though, and his reward should outweigh the risk.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

2013 1st Round Mock Draft

  1. Charlotte Bobcats - FR Nerlens Noel, F/C, Kentucky
  2. Orlando Magic - FR Marcus Smart, G, Oklahoma State
  3. Washington Wizards - SO Otto Porter, SF, Georgetown
  4. Phoenix Suns - FR Ben McLemore, SG, Kansas
  5. New Orleans Hornets - JR Victor Oladipo, G/F, Indiana
  6. Detroit Pistons - SO Trey Burke, PG, Michigan
  7. Cleveland Cavaliers - SO Cody Zeller, PF, Indiana
  8. Sacramento Kings - FR Anthony Bennett, PF, UNLV
  9. Minnesota Timberwolves - FR Shabazz Muhammad, G/F, UCLA
  10. Philadelphia 76ers - SR CJ McCollum, G, Lehigh
  11. Oklahoma City Thunder - 1992 Rudy Gobert, F/C, Cholet
  12. Portland Trailblazers - SR Mason Plumlee, F/C, Duke
  13. Dallas Mavericks - FR Glenn Robinson III, SF, Michigan
  14. Utah Jazz - SO Michael Carter-Williams, G, Syracuse
  15. Milwaukee Bucks - FR Alex Poythress, F, Kentucky
  16. Cleveland Cavaliers - JR Kelly Olynyk, F/C, Gonzaga
  17. Atlanta Hawks - SO Alex Len, C, Maryland
  18. Chicago Bulls - FR Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG, Georgia
  19. Boston Celtics - FR Isaiah Austin, PF, Baylor
  20. Atlanta Hawks - 1994 Giannis Adetokunbo, SF, Filathlitikios
  21. Utah Jazz - JR Jamaal Franklin, G/F, San Diego State
  22. Brooklyn Nets - 1993 Sergey Karasev, SF, Triumph Moscow
  23. New York Knicks - JR Allen Crabbe, SG, California
  24. Indiana Pacers - FR Archie Goodwin, SG, Kentucky
  25. Denver Nuggets - SO Tony Mitchell, F, North Texas
  26. Los Angeles Clippers - JR Reggie Bullock, G/F, North Carolina
  27. Minnesota Timberwolves - SR Jeff Withey, C, Kansas
  28. Oklahoma City Thunder - JR Gorgui Dieng, C, Louisville
  29. San Antonio Spurs - 1994 Dario Saric, F, Cibona Zagreb
  30. Phoenix Suns - FR Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky

Round of 64 Lottery Recap - They Are Who We Thought They Were

The Round of 64, or as I'd rather call it - round one - of the NCAA Tournament is officially over. For many NBA fans, this is the time that they turn to college basketball to start evaluating future pros. For guys like me and the NBA scouts out there, this is just a small piece of the puzzle. Nothing in the past 2 days has changed any prospects stock in much of any way. Instead, its just another chance to watch prospects and see the same things we've been seeing all year. And while there are some things the casual observers have seen that are true - say McLemore or Porter disappearing when their teams needed them, Anthony Bennett's aversion to defense, Shabazz just simply not looking that great, or Marcus Smart struggling to get by defenders - these are things that have been reoccurring themes all season long.

But at the same time, these things are things that I like to point out while watching games to the rest of the Twitter world who may be watching these prospect for the first time. Just key sticking points to continue to drive home, while at the same time hoping to be proven wrong. The tournament is just another - bigger - stage that allows prospect a chance to answer questions. A chance for some of the top guys to make everyone feel better about the 2013 lottery.

Its why I wanted to see Marcus Smart play against Oregon. It gave him another chance to show he could handle small, quick, pesky guard play. Instead, he struggled to play at his tempo and Oklahoma State ended up being upset. Smart had a good game statistically, but he did nothing to show he is a point guard. Smart was forced to give up the ball early in possessions and made most of his plays receiving the ball after curling around a ball screen. He worked well as part of the offense, but he wasn't able to handle the pressure and make plays at the top of the arc. Against a team like Oregon, they will try to force you to speed up and play at their tempo and they were able to speed Oklahoma State up because Smart wasn't able to be effective with the ball in his hands.

Its why I wanted to see Anthony Bennett advance to the next round to face Syracuse. I wanted to see if he would finally stop floating around the arc and decide that he would help his team if he was playing elsewhere. Against a team like Syracuse, that would require him to play near the foul line and make plays from there. However, it was another concern with Bennett that prevented them from even advancing past Cal - his defense. All year long Bennett has backed down against players who aren't afraid to try to push him around. He's also shown little understanding of help defense and has been slow getting in position when he does come from the weakside. His passiveness that Chad Ford mentioned? Thats been Anthony Bennett all season. He's always been reluctant to demand the ball in the post and take advantage of his physical tools. He's always drifted towards the outside.

Its why I wanted to see Shabazz Muhammad play without Jordan Adams in a game that many were doubting his team. It was just one more chance - one more hope - that Shabazz had something more in the tank than what he had shown to date. Something more than just being more physical and determined to score than others. I wanted to see a situation arise where he demanded the ball, sized up his open, and showed the ability to create a shot off the dribble. Even if it was a shot for himself. Yet it was more of the same for Shabazz. Those watching for the first time figured he was affected by the LA Times report - reality is, this is just what a lottery pick of the 2013 NBA Draft looks like.

Its why I wanted to see Otto Porter change the fate of Georgetown's previous tournament failures. But in the end, neither Otto Porter's style or Georgetown's offense allowed him to truly ever dominate a game scoring. And thats perfectly alright and not a surprise at all. Greg Monroe lost in the first round as well as a sophomore and still ended up going 7th overall in the draft. This game didn't change anything for Otto - he's still a top ten pick. He's not a superstar, but he'll be a helluva player for a good NBA team.

Its why I wanted to see Ben McLemore shine. Answer that question of whether or not he can be a go to NBA player. But he didn't take over because - believe it or not, he didn't suddenly develop an array of ball handling moves since the Big 12 Championship game. He's got a long way to go, but he's come a long way at the same time. It doesn't mean he can't be a superstar. It just means this kid is a freshman who is still adjusting to his new found stardom.

Its also why I wanted to see guys like Mike Muscala and Nate Wolters get their chance to steal the show. These guys had the most to gain than anyone, but in the end, its still just one game from them as well.

Mike Muscala struggled against a very good defender in Andrew Smith, something I had said would happen in previous posts. Scouts were hoping that he would advance past Butler and continue on a magical run against bigger schools where he would show that he could post the same numbers against them that he's been posting in the Patriot League all year. Instead, he's out after the first round. But still, there are 4 years worth of tape on this guy and I can tell you that he can play. He didn't earn a first round selection in March, but he certainly didn't lose much based off one performance.

Nate Wolters actually did an admirably job facing Trey Burke, especially considering the level of point guards he is used to guard. Wolters showed that he wasn't shaken by the competition and he fought to the very end. He didn't get many shots to fall and had some trouble with bigger defenders like Tim Hardaway Jr and Glenn Robinson III, but who wouldn't? What Wolters did remind scouts is that his IQ will always be great no matter what the competition is like and he used that IQ to overcome what he lacked in athleticism. He did a fine job helping contain Trey Burke by keeping him in front of him and forcing Burke to drive where Wolters knew he had help defenders. Wolters also was still able to set up shots for teammates with nice passes and even better execution. Did Wolters turn into a national hero by beating Michigan? No. But is he still very much on the radar of scouts? Of course.

I'll have another article tackling some other lesser talked about prospect after the first weekend of games is complete. I'll look at guys like DJ Stephens, Arsalan Kazemi, Allen Crabbe, Colton Iverson, Phil Pressey, Tony Snell, and plenty more.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Upside and Shabazz Muhammad - Its Not An Age Thing

Its been a wild season for Shabazz Muhammad. He started off by injuring his shoulder and missing a month of practice to begin the year. At the same time, he was the victim of a wild goose chase by the NCAA that resulted in him missing the first 3 games of the season. As expected, UCLA and him got off to a rusty start, but the rust never wore off. Both he and UCLA had flashes of greatness, but their season culminated in a Round of 64 loss tonight to Minnesota.

Thats not all that happened today, though. It also turns out that Shabazz Muhammad is a year older than he was believed to be (read the LA Times article here). Shabazz is actually a 20 year old freshman, which sounds bad, but it isn't the real concern. Ben McLemore, Kaleb Tarczewski, Semaj Christon, Jahii Carson, and Anthony Bennett are also 20 year old freshman. Jakarr Sampson will be 20 in a couple of days. Age is just a number and it is less and less relevant the older you get.

But as a high schooler, age does matter. Shabazz made a name for himself by being tabbed as a kid "physically advanced" for his age and molded his game around his strength. Unlike some of the other guys listed, Shabazz received much of his hype because of his advanced build for his age. Its never been his skillset, quickness, or shooting that has drawn an interest in Shabazz. Its been his ability to bully kids his age. Or so we thought they were his age.

This wouldn't be as much of an issue if Shabazz came out this college season and backed up his billing as the top high school recruit in the country against college players. But he didn't. And now that there is an asterisk next to him being the top recruit in his class, its even more of a reason to take this season at face value instead of making excuses for him.

After his injury and suspension, there was a timeframe everyone gave Shabazz to get up to speed. He looked a little slow and rusty and that was expected. But as the season grew on, the same Shabazz from the beginning of the year remained. There he was getting beat off the dribble time and time again and he showed little ability to handle the ball. In terms of passing or making his teammates better, there was none of that. And then there was the fit he threw when Larry Drew II made a game winning shot.

But whether he was 19 or 20, Shabazz was still going to be a top high school recruit and he still did finish second among all NCAA freshman in scoring. His strength is still impressive no matter his age. I do think the age thing makes a difference slightly in terms of his placement in the final high school class rankings, which also takes away a slight amount of hype going into this year. And as far as hype, thats what carried him through much of this season.

Lets forget about the age thing though, thats far from the most important part of the story. Everyone wants to brush off him being a year older and thats fine, sure thats not a huge deal. A good player will be a good player in the end. But its the rest of his background that deserves a second look. The character issues that the LA Times article brings up are more relevant than the age discussion.

To me, his age doesn't limit his upside at all. But the fact that he's been bred to be a NBA player his whole life does. He's had top notch training, coaching, and an environment surrounding him that was designed to help him succeed. His dad made sure he got on the best AAU teams and one of the best high school programs in the country.

He made sure that he was surrounded by players that made him look better. At Bishop Gorman, Shabazz dominated kids with his size and strength while getting plenty of looks in transition. When he went to UCLA, he joined a team with two great unselfish ball handlers, weak rebounding bigs who spread the floor, another incoming freshman who could shoot the lights out, and a coach that caters to his stars. The combination of things helped to hide Shabazz's lack of ball handling skills, outside shooting, and gave him room to operate inside and crash the boards. His coach, Ben Howland, had loss control of previous teams and would let Shabazz do whatever he wanted with no consequences.

With all the elite training he's had and all the high level games he played in high school/AAU, Shabazz has been tested for years. Its not his advanced age that makes his upside more limited, its his advanced background. Shabazz has played in more big games thanks to high school/AAU than most college juniors and seniors. And he's had the correct training, diet, and everything else that NBA players have the whole way through.

Meanwhile, you have a guy like Ben McLemore whose family struggles to put food on the table for him.

You hear questions about McLemore's ability to be a go to guy and people asking why he disappears in big games and forget he's only a freshman. And if you look at McLemore's background you will see that he wasn't a hyped up recruit since his freshman year. He didn't play on a big AAU or high school team until his final season of high school. And even then he still went to a home each night wondering if he would have food to eat. Point is, McLemore is just getting used to all the limelight which shouldn't be a surprise. He's only a freshman. But with all the AAU games and such nowadays, there are freshman that have been built up for college for years. Shabazz is one of them - McLemore is not.

Still through all of that, its been McLemore who has had the better year. McLemore is a guy who was under the radar until late in his high school career. He redshirted at Kansas as he was only a partial qualifier, improved his game even more, and is now at a point where he is a top 5 pick. He's gotten significantly better each of the past 3 or 4 years. The more and more exposure to the game and coaching he is receiving, the better he is getting. Once he gets to the NBA, he will have luxuries of training and dieting that he has never been exposed to that can take his game to an even higher level.

Then you have Shabazz who has been exposed to all of these luxuries for years. He's been considered a top player in his class since he made the varsity team at Bishop Gorman as a freshman. Yet he really hasn't made big strides as a player from year to year. He's still a poor ball handler and his shooting is just now finally starting to get better. His peers have gotten a step closer to him year after year.

I thought it was interesting how they mentioned Shabazz's older sister in the article as well, who signed an endorsement contract in tennis at age 17 and turned pro. She's now 21 and still has advanced any further. She received the same benefits that Shabazz did as a kid and because of this, she appeared to be more prepared at age 17 to turn pro than most kids are her age. But at the same time, she had already received so much professional training as a kid that there just wasn't much upside left. Her parents made sure they squeezed every ounce of talent they could get out of her already.

The same can be said for Shabazz. Just how much more does he have to grow? Just how good is he? Physically, players will continue to catch up to him. Skill-wise, players have already surpassed him. Shabazz's competitiveness, confidence, and will to score will be traits that he can fall back on though. He will always be a great competitor and he will always have a physical edge on players - just not as much as he was when he earned his reputation as the super senior high schooler in the country. 

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.

NCAA Tournament Preview - West Region

The South Region is full of teams that minimize possessions and crash the boards hard. Its hardly the flashiest group and it shows with the lack of NBA talent. Unlike the other regions where I had no trouble picking out a couple of games to watch each round, the Round of 64 won't provide an intriguing matchups.

Belmont does have a chance to pull off some upsets and Kerron Johnson would play a big part in it. Johnson has zero draft hype, but is an interesting player to keep an eye on. He's a prime candidate for the Portmouth Invitational in April.

While the initial round won't be much to look at, a potential meeting between Steven Adams and Kelly Olynyk for the right to go to the Sweet 16 could be good. The two centers couldn't be more different, but both have lottery talent and haven't had a chance to play against many players their size. Adams most likely doesn't declare this year, but is a excellent presence on the defense end who could give Olynyk trouble. Meanwhile, Olynyk has the ability to get Adams in foul trouble quickly and keep him off balance by stepping outside of the paint. A final four run for Gonzaga could very well move Kelly Olynyk to the lottery. Olynyk is the kind of prospect that you will hear varying opinions about - some say second round, others view him as a lottery guy. But it doesn't matter if some think he's a second rounder if there are teams that fall in love with him in the top 20 - which is likely to happen.

We could also see Jack Cooley against Deshaun Thomas face off if Pittsburgh and Ohio State meet. Thomas is an excellent shooter with unwavering confidence. He can make shots under tons of duress and rarely turns it over because he doesn't need to put the ball on the floor - wherever he catches the ball is a fine spot to pull up from in his mind. Thomas has shown more toughness this year as he has been asked to cover big men and Jack Cooley will be one of his toughest tests to date. Cooley looks like Luke Harangody, but gets most of his offense by working the glass. He's a great post defender near the paint and has a high basketball IQ. The task of chasing around Deshaun Thomas through screens will be a daunting task for him however.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Uncharted Territory in Lexington

Coach Calipari and Kentucky have made a habit of recruiting one and done players and quickly churning them to the NBA. Coach Cal doesn't rebuild afterwards, he just replaces them with another star studded recruiting class. For some, it may seem unfair. For others, they were fine with hating Kentucky and being happy their favorite college team has players that stick around for their senior season.

Tonight was an unexpected ending to an unexpected season. Kentucky loss to Robert Morris in the first round of the NIT. It was bad enough they were playing in the NIT to begin with, but a loss at Robert Morris is no way to go out. It certainly isn't the best way to make your final impression on NBA scouts. Following the loss, a dejected Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress both announced their intentions of coming back next year saying "they are not ready for the NBA".

An astute observation and a correct one, as most likely their first stint in the NBA wouldn't come until they spent a year or two playing in empty D-League arenas - a far cry from the life they are currently living in Lexington.

Prospects are always emotional after a loss and often say things they don't mean, but the way Poythress and Goodwin acknowledged the fact they have plenty of work to do, it sounds like they may be back in Lexington. Don't think they aren't a 100% decided yet though - wait until they have time to get away from the media and have runners/agents in their ears. First round promises, the money, loss of playing time, the thought of going through another painful year at Kentucky - the fear of the unknown can get to you.

You see, Kentucky has a new wave of one and done players coming in next year. Goodwin and Poythress now if they stay, are not guaranteed to start next season. How many guys pondering the NBA also have to worry about coming back to school and not receiving minutes? This is the worst fear for the freshman and puts them in unprecedented territory. No they are not ready for the NBA - but will another season in Lexington help their stock if they are coming off the bench? Will they grow more from being in the D-League or under another year of Coach Cal?

The show will continue in Lexington with or without this seasons underachieving crew. The Harrison twins, James Young, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee, Derek Willis, and potentially Andrew Wiggins or Julius Randle make up yet another #1 Kentucky recruiting class. And this one is REALLY good, arguably the best class yet.

Coach Cal blamed lack of depth for struggles this year. Not in the sense that he didn't have enough fresh legs to keep his team from getting worn down, but because he didn't have the threat of benching one of his inconsistent freshman in order to motivate him. Coach Cal said his team was "almost hijacked" from his control.

Next year, they shouldn't have that problem. They'll go at least 9 deep with their incoming freshman plus Wiltjer, Polson, and Hood. The hope is obviously that the rest come back so former walk-ons don't have to play again and even if just a couple of guys come back - they shouldn't.

The Wildcats of 2013-14 are fine - they are early favorites to be preseason number one and have a more competitive group coming in, led by an outstanding point guard. But what does this mean for Kentucky in the future? The blueprint for their success now has a mark against it. Incoming recruits looking to go one and done may now have to wonder what will happen if players from the previous group don't make the jump to the NBA. There is a trickle down effect that this failed group of UK freshman could start.

If Goodwin and Poythress stay, someone like Aaron Harrison or James Young may not get a chance to play big minutes. They are both top 10 recruits and also potential lottery picks for 2014. Lack of playing time for them would cause them to potentially have to spend another year in college. Marcus Lee and Dakari Johnson could suffer the same fate if their plans were to leave school after one year.

This could make Kentucky even better in years to come if they don't lose everyone from year to year. It could also cause recruits to think twice about committing to be a Wildcat. Most likely, it will slightly weaken their recruiting classes but help their team overall as they slowly start to cycle through players more like a regular team. More than anything, this could give Wildcats a chance to see a little more continuity from year to year. While this season was a major letdown for the fans, there could be a silver lining in this at the end of the day.

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What do the draft stocks look like of Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin, and Willie Cauley-Stein look like?

First of all, this article doesn't pertain to Nerlens Noel. He is on his way to a top 5 selection in June and his time in Kentucky is done.

Poythress and Goodwin have showcased lottery potential sporadically throughout the season, but it would be really hard for a lottery team to gamble on either of them at this point. Thats at least what convention wisdom says. Then again, in a draft lacking star talent, Goodwin and Poythress still offer an extremely high ceiling. That potential word for either of them is still there.

Although its crazy to think, Poythress and Goodwin would both be first round picks still in June if you ask me. Thats a reason enough for most prospects to make the jump, but Poythress and Goodwin would both need to also understand that they won't be first round picks because of what they can do now. They will spend at least a year in the D-League and even more years afterwards on the bench. But if they go back to Kentucky, they may not be risking a lot because they will still have that potential attached to their names as well as a chance to live up to that potential and become a lottery pick.

Willie Cauley-Stein also has been discussed as a first rounder, but he's even more raw than his fellow freshman and could fall into the second round. He has to come back next year.

Ryan Harrow is stuck. He already sat out a season transferring and is running out of time to make an impact. Problem is, he is the one guy that won't have a chance to start next year. Playing time will be sparse. But Harrow would go undrafted if he enters the draft. He will be 22 in April which would put him at 23 for the 2014 draft. He'll be 24 for the following draft following a senior season that he may actually have a shot to start - or may not. Harrow could choose not to enter the NBA Draft and go straight to the D-League - preserving his eligibility to enter the draft the following year (this is the route Anthony Stover and Glen Rice Jr had to go this season). Whatever he decides to do, Harrow will have a tough road ahead of him.

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Kentuckys potential 2013-14 Depth Chart?

PG - Andrew Harrison/Ryan Harrow/Jared Polson
SG - Aaron Harrison/Archie Goodwin
SF - James Young/Alex Poythress/Jon Hood
PF - Marcus Lee/Kyle Wiltjer/Derek Willis
C - Dakari Johnson/Willie Cauley-Stein

Whatever way you want to arrange who starts/comes off the bench, that is an extremely deep team. You can argue who sits or starts all day - but the point is Coach Cal will have the OPTION of who starts and sits. And that is a luxury he didn't have next season.

Ladies and gentlemen, Kentucky could be SCARY next year.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

NCAA Tournament Preview - South Region

ROUND OF 64 GAMES TO WATCH

Michigan vs South Dakota State

When Nate Wolters got hurt and missed the Minnesota game earlier this year, scouts had to be worried that they may not get another chance to see Wolters play against top level competition. A matchup against Michigan doesn't only give himself a chance to prove himself against a team full of NBA level athletes, it gives him a chance to go head to head with the best point guard in the country - Trey Burke. This game will be a must watch with all eyes on that matchup, but Michigan also has Glenn Robinson III and Tim Hardaway Jr who need good tournaments to boost their stocks.

Minnesota vs UCLA

With Jordan Adams out, this is a popular upset pick and I'd say Minnesota should've been the favorite with or without Adams. Regardless, Trevor Mbakwe should be able to feast on the Wear twins inside. Mbakwe is 24 years old and will earn his living crashing the offensive glass and being a bull on defense. He's a solid second round pick who can contribute immediately.

UCLA won't go down easy against Minnesota though as long as Shabazz is in the game. Shabazz shares many qualities of NBA superstars with one of them being his competitive nature. This is his time to shine and you know he will have a big game. Shabazz takes everything personally and you know he will be fired up hearing that they are actually the underdog in this one. A big tourney run could get him back in the running for  a top 2-5 overall selection.

ROUND OF 32

Kansas vs North Carolina

Usually you'd see this matchup in the Elite 8 or Final 4, but UNC has struggled for most of the year until deciding to play small ball. This will especially come in handy against Kansas, who has Jeff Withey to minimize drivers and shutdown opponents big men. The Tar Heels will be happy to stay away from him and jack up 3-pt attempts, where they have two guys in Reggie Bullock and PJ Hairston that are capable of catching fire. A key matchup to watch from a draft perspective is Bullock vs Ben McLemore. Bullock is an excellent defender and can earn himself 1st round consideration if he locks him down. McLemore on the other hand, needs to prevent that from happening. With the type defender Bullock is and McLemore's limited off the dribble game, that could be tough.

James McAdoo against Withey will also be good. Withey has decent lateral quickness, but McAdoo can definitely take advantage of him by drawing him away from the basket. McAdoo is overwhelmed by strength but won't have to deal with that against Kansas.

San Diego State vs Georgetown

If the bottom pod goes chalk, which Im not sure it does, it will be interesting to see how Jamaal Franklin can effect the game against Georgetown. Jamaal Franklin is an extremely tough defender and rebounder who plays all over the court and could end up drawing the assignment of Otto Porter. Porter has been one of the hottest draft prospect as of late and seems to be on his way to a top 5 draft selection. Does Porter give Georgetown that superstar they've been missing in recent tournaments? Georgetown always underperforms because they struggle to generate offense and Porter will eventually be called upon to save them in this tournament at least once.

Patric Young and Trevor Mbakwe battling down low in the Florida/Minnesota game would be a sight to see as well. Mbakwe is more of a man now, but he has more than a few years on Young. Both are currently second rounders.

SWEET SIXTEEN/ELITE EIGHT

If Kansas makes it out against UNC and Michigan survives the VCU gauntlet, they will meet in the Sweet Sixteen. At the shooting guard position, Michigan has the veteran in Hardaway Jr going up against Ben McLemore. On the otherside of the coin, freshman Glenn Robinson III will be matched up against Travis Relaford. Hardaway Jr will put pressure on McLemore to defend while Robinson III's impact could be completely diminished by Relaford's defense. Its a good chance for Robinson to step up and prove he can make some plays off the bounce.

At the bottom of the bracket, a Shabazz vs Otto Porter matchup is possible if UCLA defies the odds. Porter could also end up having to be defended by the ultra-athletic Rodney Williams of Minnesota. Williams is another senior who should be a second round pick.

If Porter/Shabazz do face off, the winner could end up facing Ben McLemore in the Elite Eight. That would be quite a run that features three possible top 5 picks.

NCAA Tournament Preview - East Region

Round of 64 Games to Watch

Butler vs Bucknell

This game doesn't have the most NBA talent in it, but it may be your only shot to see the Bison's Mike Muscala, who will get drafted this June. Muscala will face a legit 7 footer in Andrew Smith, something he rarely sees in the Patriot League. It will be an excellent opportunity for him to show he can play against anybody and isn't just putting up big numbers because of his size advantage. Andrew Smith can give him problems too - Smith did a great job bothering Cody Zeller earlier this year and is very mobile for a big man. Neither Muscala or Smith are strong in the low post, so Muscala will have his work cut out for him trying to drive past/shoot over Smith. Muscala works best in the high post where he is an adept shooter, great passer, and can also put the ball on the floor.

Illinois vs Colorado

I could pick a couple of other games to feature here - UNLV/California or NC State/Temple - but I like the idea of seeing how Spencer Dinwiddie defends Brandon Paul. Paul is one of the best scorers in the nation when he is hot, possessing both very good athleticism and a strong jumper, while Dinwiddie is capable of being a lock down defender. Dinwiddie is also a viable threat on offense, although he has been in a drought in March. Paul is a senior and should be an early second round pick while I'm hearing Dinwiddie could test the waters in April. This game also features Andre Roberson, who is a great athlete and rebounder. Roberson is could go anywhere from 20th to early second round on draft night.

Round of 32

Indiana vs NC State

I think this North Carolina State team is far too talented to lose to Temple in a tournament setting, which means we will get to see their stable of athletes against Indiana in the round of 32. Cody Zeller will be tested big time against Richard Howell, who could bully around Zeller in a similar way Trevor Mbakwe did when Minnesota upset the Hoosiers. Zeller was afraid to take it inside against the physical Mbakwe after being knocked down hard early in the game and Howell is another tough as nails undersized big. Howell is a very solid second round pick choice at the moment.

To make matters worse for Zeller is he will have to be wary of the athletic CJ Leslie on the weakside. This is a nightmare matchup overall for Zeller, but he does have a chance to silence some critics. Lorenzo Brown, TJ Warren, and Victor Oladipo are other guys to watch in this one.

UNLV/Cal vs Syracuse

Whoevers comes out of the Cal/UNLV game will have a very dangerous Syracuse squad waiting for them. If it is UNLV, I look forward to seeing how they attack the zone. They love to launch threes, but their offense lacks cohesiveness which will pose a problem against the 2-3 zone. They will need someone to step up in the mid-range area with the obvious choice being Anthony Bennett. If Bennett does step up and act as a facilitator/playmaker in the middle of the zone, this could send a big message to lottery teams. If he chooses to stay on the outisde though, like he has done much of this year, UNLV probably won't be in this game for very long. Beating the Cuse zone is all about having aggressive guards, wings that can move along the baseline, and a big man in the middle to facilitate things.

California may actually have a better chance at beating them, especially if sharpshooter Allen Crabbe gets hot. Crabbe is capable of carrying the offense and is one of my sleepers heading into the tournament. A good tournament run should get him into the first round for sure. He doesn't have a lot of help, but he does have one guy who can fill the role of the aggressive attacking guard - Justin Cobbs. Cal also has David Kravish at forward who is a smart decision maker and capable of facilitating at the middle of the zone. More importantly in terms of NBA prospects, Crabbe is an extremely saavy player which will help, whereas UNLV's Bennett relies purely on his talent level.

SWEET SIXTEEN/ELITE EIGHT

With Indiana, Miami, and Syracuse among the top 4 seeds, there is likely to be a lot of NBA talent playing at the Verizon Center - perhaps more than the Wizards themselves have. Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo, and Michael Carter-Williams are all potential lottery picks. The list of fringe NBA talents and/or future first round picks is a long one. Again, it will be Syracuse that could pose the most interesting matchups - who would face Indiana in the Elite 8. In terms of teams that are good fits to be the zone, Indiana is near the top of the list. They have tough guards - Jordan Hulls and Yogi Ferrell - to go along with a hyper-athletic wing (Victor Oladipo, and two multi-dimensional big men (Zeller and Christian Watford). Seeing Zeller operate at the top of the key against the zone will be a sight to see and give him a chance to show off his passing and shooting ability. His IQ is always on display, especially on the defensive end, but it will be obvious to casual fans how smart he is if he gets a chance to break apart the Orange's zone.

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. 

Louisville vs Syracuse Notes

Louisville won the final Big East Conference Tournament as we know it over Syracuse. Here are some notes from the game:

- A key point in the game that isn't talked about is Wayne Blackshear only played 11 minutes. In the first half  Blackshear was a non-factor. He stood in the corner on Cuse's 2-3 zone looking to capitalize on open 3-pt looks, but never made any cuts against the backline of the zone or towards the top of the key. Blackshear continues to define the word average - he's been relying on his hype and pedigree as an All-American since becoming a Cardinal. Once Hancock and Ware came in the game, the actively looked for ways to make plays and get involved on both ends of the court and really turned the game around. Blackshear has been on NBA radars forever, but has never done anything notable.

- Michael Carter-Williams had a great first half, but appeared to be worn down in the second half as Louisville squeezed the life out of the team. Louisville went on 46-13 run which just isn't something that should happen to a team that that was previously up by 16 points themselves. Michael Carter-Williams completely lost control of the game and was unable to control the pace even the slightest. The biggest responsibility of a point guard is to provide stability, but MCW is the most inconsistent player on the Orange. Carter-Williams' performance showed once again that while he is talented, he is not a point guard.

- It was Montrezl Harrell who ended up being Louisville's high point man as he finished with 20 points. It was an impressive performance by Harrell, who is very long, strong, explosive, and active. The combination of those skills and his reported 7'4'' wingspan gives him a great shot at becoming a first round pick down the line.

And while Harrell was impressive, Gorgui Dieng deserves a lot of the credit for his and the rest of the teams success. Dieng was the guy at the top of the key who picked apart the defense the same way Otto Porter had done in previous meetings. Dieng has a good enough jumper to make the 18 footer and has started taking it more often at the urging of Rick Pitino. More impressive was his passing skills. He threaded the ball through defenders and finished with 8 assists.

I've long thought Dieng is a more impressive center prospect than both Plumlee and Withey. Dieng is a lock to enter the draft as he is graduating early and I can't see him slipping out of the top 20 - much less the first round. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

2013 NBA Mock Draft

2013 NBA Mock Draft (Updated 3/15/13)

  1. Charlotte Bobcats - FR Nerlens Noel, F/C, Kentucky
  2. Orlando Magic - FR Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State
  3. Washington Wizards - SO Otto Porter, SF, Georgetown
  4. Phoenix Suns - FR Ben McLemore, SG, Kansas
  5. New Orleans Hornets - SO Cody Zeller, PF, Indiana
  6. Detroit Pistons - FR Shabazz Muhammad, G/F, UCLA
  7. Cleveland Cavaliers - SO Victor Oladipo, G/F, Indiana
  8. Sacramento Kings - FR Anthony Bennett, PF, UNLV
  9. Minnesota Timberwolves - SR CJ McCollum, G, Lehigh
  10. Philadelphia 76ers - FR Alex Poythress, F, Kentucky
  11. Oklahoma City Thunder - 1992 Rudy Gobert, F/C, Cholet
  12. Portland Trailblazers - FR Archie Goodwin, SG, Kentucky
  13. Dallas Mavericks - SO Alex Len, C, Maryland
  14. Utah Jazz - SO Trey Burke, PG, Michigan
  15. Milwaukee Bucks - JR Kelly Olynyk, PF, Gonzaga
  16. Cleveland Cavaliers - 1994 Giannis Adetokunbo, SF, Filathlitikos
  17. Atlanta Hawks - SR Mason Plumlee, F/C, Duke
  18. Chicago Bulls - JR Allen Crabbe, SG, California
  19. Boston Celtics - JR Jamaal Franklin, G/F, San Diego State
  20. Atlanta Hawks - SO Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG, Georgia
  21. Utah Jazz - 1994 Dario Saric, F, Cibona Zagreb
  22. Brooklyn Nets - JR Gorgui Dieng, C, Louisville
  23. New York Knicks - SO Michael Carter-Williams, PG, Syracuse
  24. Indiana Pacers - FR Glenn Robinson III, SF, Michigan
  25. Denver Nuggets - SO BJ Young, G, Arkansas
  26. Los Angeles Clippers - SO Tony Mitchell, F, North Texas
  27. Minnesota Timberwolves - JR Doug McDermott, F, Creighton
  28. Oklahoma City Thunder - 1994 Mouhammadou Jaiteh, F/C, Boulogne
  29. San Antonio Spurs - JR Ray McCallum, PG, Detroit
  30. Phoenix Suns - SR Jeff Withey, C, Kansas
  31. Oklahoma City Thunder - SR Erick Green, G, Virginia Tech
  32. Cleveland Cavaliers - JR Andre Roberson, F, Colorado
  33. Washington Wizards - SR Mike Muscala, F/C, Bucknell
  34. Phoenix Suns - 1993 Sergey Karasev, SF, Triumph Moscow
  35. Philadelphia 76ers - SR Michael Snaer, SG, Florida State
  36. Detroit Pistons - FR Myck Kabongo, PG, Texas
  37. Cleveland Cavaliers - SR Richard Howell, PF, North Carolina State
  38. Sacramento Kings - JR CJ Wilcox, SG, Washington
  39. Portland Trailblazers - SO LeBryan Nash, F, Oklahoma State 
  40. Philadelphia 76ers - SR Jackie Carmichael, PF, Illinois State
  41. Memphis Grizzlies - 1992 Lucas Nogueira, C, Barcelona 
  42. Denver Nuggets - 1992 Leo Westermann, G, Partizan Belgrade
  43. Dallas Mavericks - JR CJ Leslie, PF, North Carolina State
  44. Utah Jazz - JR Tim Hardaway Jr, SG, Michigan
  45. Milwaukee Bucks - 1991 Nemanja Nedovic, G, Lietuvos Rytas
  46. Los Angeles Lakers - SR Nate Wolters, PG, South Dakota State
  47. Atlanta Hawks - 1991 Bojan Dubljevic, F/C, Valencia
  48. Chicago Bulls - SR Rodney Williams, SF, Minnesota
  49. Portland Trailblazers - 1991 Auguto Cesar Lima, F/C, Malaga
  50. Atlanta Hawks - SR Brandon Paul, G, Illinois
  51. Orlando Magic - JR Phil Pressey, PG, Missouri
  52. Minnesota Timberwolves - 1991 Joffrey Lauvergne, F, Partizan Belgrade
  53. Washington Wizards - JR Lorenzo Brown, PG, North Carolina State
  54. Indiana Pacers - SR Trevor Mbakwe, PF, Minnesota
  55. Phoenix Suns - SR Ryan Kelly, PF, Duke
  56. Detroit Pistons - SR Isaiah Canaan, PG, Murray State 
  57. Los Angeles Lakers - SR Erik Murphy, PF, Florida
  58. Minnesota Timberwolves - FR Ricky Ledo, SG, Providence
  59. San Antonio Spurs - SR Jack Cooley, PF, Notre Dame
  60. Miami Heat - SR Pierre Jackson, PG, Baylor

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Staying or Leaving? A Look at Who to Expect in 2013 Draft

We are heading into the final stretch of the conference tournaments and there are no guaranteed games anymore. There are 1st round prospects who won't be playing in the NCAA Tournament and while other postseason tournaments are options, their in-game resume for scouts to evaluate is just about complete. There will be plenty of tough decisions to be made in the next month and players won't have long to decide. With the NCAA's rules regarding testing the waters, there really isn't much testing the waters to be done. Once you are in, you are basically committed to the draft. Only Ray Taylor put his name in and subsequently pulled out before the NCAA's deadline last season - the first year of which the rule was in place.

This year players will face the same problem. The National Title game is on April the 8th. The NCAA recruiting period starts up on April 11th. The NCAA deadline for early entry withdrawal is currently unknown, but if its like last year, players will have to announce their intentions a day before National Signing Day. If not, they will be ruled ineligible to play college basketball. So at this point, there is little to no time for potential draft prospects to get in any workouts with teams or truly research their stock among decision makers. There is always the option to pull out at a later date to preserve eligibility and play in either the D-League or overseas since the NBA's official deadline isn't until June 17th, but that is uncharted territory that players aren't looking to end up in.

With all that said, now is the time to start speculating on who is staying and who will leaving. At this time of year, plenty of players will tell the media and their fans that they plan to be back next year (especially when posed the question after a heart-breaking loss in a tournament), only to go back on their word and enter the draft. For some guys, the decision will get easier if they go out on top by cutting down the nets April 8th.

Others are already running out of basketball left to be played and will have the next month to ponder whether they are ready to take the next step.

There are also a few guys who will be hitting the books hard and finishing their degree a year early - or in Cody Zeller's case two years early. Zeller reportedly is on pace to graduate this spring which is just as remarkable as his achievements on the basketball court. Joining him on stage should be Victor Oladipo, a junior who is also planning to graduate school early (Aaron Craft may be on pace to graduate early as well, but he has bigger plans in pursuing advanced degrees).

For those guys, the draft should be almost certain as they will have their degree already in hand. Gorgui Dieng is another guy who is planning to graduate early and was essentially treated by Louisville as a senior on senior night. Guys like CJ Wilcox, Kelly Olynyk, DeWayne Dedmon, Cory Jefferson, Amath M'Baye, Aaric Murray, and Mike Moser have all spent four years in college due redshirting and most should be on pace to graduate this year as well (although Im guessing there are two or three exceptions).

For other guys age may help push them towards the draft. Juniors Phil Pressey, Lorenzo Brown, Adreian Payne will be 23 by this time next year - a scary number for evaluators. Jordan Bachynski and Sean Kilpatrick will turn 24 in less than a year!

There are some old sophomores as well. Michael Carter-Williams, Ryan Harrow, Rakeem Christmas, and Eric Moreland can all legally drink.

Ryan Harrow will also be facing the problem of virtually being pushed out of Lexington with the Harrison Twins and a loaded recruiting class coming in. If he stays, he knows he will be returning to campus with a more limited role. Harrow finds himself in a unique situation in that regard, although his UK teammates will also have to weigh that factor when deciding what is best for their futures. Perhaps even Rasheed Sulaimon will have to entertain the thought with Andre Dawkins coming back and guys like Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood, Matt Jones, and Semi Ojeleye all competing for minutes on the wing next year.

More often than not though, prospects instead face the problem of returning to a bad team. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope stock has been quiet all year long, but it may not get better next year playing alongside his weak supporting cast. For some guys, there just isn't a big benefit in returning to school. Tony Mitchell seems done with everything North Texas. Myck Kabongo doesn't have much going for him down in Austin.

Jamaal Franklin strongly considered the draft last year, but should be all but gone this year. San Diego State will be graduating 3 key seniors and taking a step back next season. Ray McCallum Jr. will also see 3 key seniors leave his side at Detroit and even though they won't be in the NCAA Tournament, he may decide this year was his last shot at a tournament run.

Doug McDermott has faced sub-par competition just like McCallum while playing for his father and he may also decide it is time to step his game up. He's accomplished all the individual success possible at Creighton and will see Grant Gibbs and Gregory Echenique leave as well. The sense during Creighton's last home game was that it was McDermott's final performance.

Then there are guys in tougher spots. James McAdoo found out this year that he has a lot to improve on before he makes an impact in the NBA. His stock has slipped, but he still should get 1st round money. For him, he could declare for the draft knowing there is still some potential that he is living off of, instead of coming back for another year. At the same time, if he puts in the work this offseason to improve, he could return to UNC and reassert himself as a lottery pick. His teammate Reggie Bullock is a little different - his stock won't change much either way. Its basically a decision based on how much he is enjoying college.

After today's loss in the SEC tournament, BJ Young's NCAA Tournament hopes are done. Some projected him as a lottery pick before the season, but he now looks like a late first rounder. Returning next year could be enticing for Young as Arkansas could be a top 25 team with all their players back and two top 50 recruits joining them.

Its a pretty safe bet these guys will declare:

Gorgui Dieng
Tony Mitchell
Nerlens Noel
Ben McLemore
Shabazz Muhammad
Victor Oladipo
Cody Zeller
Otto Porter
Marcus Smart
Anthony Bennett
Alex Len
Michael Carter-Williams
Kelly Olynyk
Alex Poythress
Archie Goodwin
Trey Burke
Jamaal Franklin
CJ Wilcox
DeWayne Dedmon

A few of the more interesting decisions will come from North Carolina State. CJ Leslie and Lorenzo Brown seem just about ready to leave with seniors Scott Wood and Richard Howell. They tried their hand at contending this year - entering the year as the favorites to win the ACC - and failed. Another year of underachieving could damage their stock further. There is also TJ Warren, who could end up as a late first rounder if he does decide to put his name in. After this incident on twitter, it makes you wonder if he will come back to play another year under Gottfried.

There is also the Michigan guys. Trey Burke should be on his way out since he's a projected lottery pick and has done about as much as possible as a player in college. But Hardaway and Robinson III have tough choices to make. Robinson III's stock is a bit all over the place, but would likely find his way into the first round. The thing with Robinson is, if he came back, he could have a chance to take over the team. But everything about his past says he's not the kind of player who likes to be "the guy". So it looks best for him to leave before the pressure is put on for him (see McAdoo). Hardaway, on the other hand, would have no problem being the guy. But he may be better off leaving after a winning season before scouts pick apart his game even further.

More players:

Willie Cauley-Stein - Maybe the least likely of all Wildcats to declare. For one, he could beat out Dakari Johnson for a starting spot next year. Secondly, as of now, his stock is all over the place. He could go in the lottery, but could also slip into the second round. Kind of a Hassan Whiteside/DeAndre Jordan situation.

Isaiah Austin - Baylor is going to miss the tournament and Austin's has failed to cement himself as a lottery pick. There is obviously going to be a huge learning curve for him at the next level in terms of just getting used to the game physically, and he is a guy who could benefit from another year in school. I think he's a 50/50 guy at this point.

Russ Smith - His decision will be a lot easier if they win the title, but I see him as halfway in the draft already. Smith has already proven himself as a great college player and certainly thinks highly of himself. It seems Pitino is already bringing in Juco guards to prepare for both Siva and Smith leaving so I think this is a good bet.

Myck Kabongo - Kabongo doesn't have much to look forward to next year and I think he will follow his fellow Canadian Longhorns to the NBA. The NCAA screwed him this season and he won't want to go through that again. Cory Joseph, Avery Bradley, and Tristan Thompson left early (all Longhorns by way of Findlay Prep like Kabongo) and Myck will do the same.

Gary Harris/Branden Dawson/Adreian Payne - Harris is getting hyped by Chad Ford as a lottery pick so its certainly enticing, but I only think he leaves if they win it all. Same goes for Dawson and Payne. Michigan State should be very strong next year with them returning. Best team in the country possibly.

Deshaun Thomas - Thomas is what he is and his stock likely won't go up much with another year. Plus Sam Thompson and LaQuinton Ross are itching to get more playing time if he leaves. Still, I can see him coming back as the Buckeyes could also contend for the National Title with him there. I do think there is a better chance he declares than either of Michigan State's trio though.

Phil Pressey - He's probably gone. This season was a disappointing for him and he just doesn't have the same chemistry with this group as he did with Dixon/English/Denmon and his brother. He's old for his class and his stock is unlikely to improve due to his height.

Allen Crabbe - Probably a situation where he will look for a guarantee in the first round. If he gets it, Im sure he will declare. The NCAA Tournament will be big for his draft stock.

Patric Young - The tournament will also probably play a part in his decision. He had good chances to leave in the past and likely be a first round pick and didn't. I'm sure he is enjoying every minute of college in Gainesville and is in no hurry to leave. It may be his time though, and a National Title would certainly help his stock and push him closer to the draft.

Andre Roberson - Roberson's stock may actually be slightly lower than it was last year. His team is young and will be better next year and with him - they could possibly win the Pac-12 title. He's another 50/50 guy.

Ricky Ledo - Sat out this year and may never play in a college game. He is said to be considering leaving Providence early.

Deonte Burton - Burton also has talked publicly about the possibility of declaring for the NBA Draft.