March Madness Serves as an NBA Showcase for Big East StarsPosted by mlemaire on March 20th, 2013
It’s hard not to feel like performances in the NCAA Tournament tend to artificially inflate players’ draft stock. It’s true that the increased weight of the games and pressure on players can help bring out the best in some prospects, but sometimes it seems like scribes and scouts tend to erroneously overdo it and conflate NCAA Tournament success with NBA success. That said, there will be plenty of NBA eyeballs on the NCAA Tournament this year, and there are a number of Big East prospects with NBA potential hoping to use the Big Dance to boost their stocks. Picking guys like Otto Porter and Michael Carter-Williams is too easy, as they have relatively assured NBA futures. We are more concerned here with the Big East players who truly have something to gain from their performances this March.
Gorgui Dieng (Louisville): Dieng is already a surefire pro prospect thanks to his NBA-ready defensive abilities, but those who think the junior is a defense-only big man haven’t been watching the Senegal native play this season. Dieng’s progression on offense was slowed somewhat this season by a hand injury, but he is an improved passer, a reasonable free throw shooter, and shows impressive touch from inside 15 feet. Dieng will potentially get an early chance to prove his ability against an old foe if the Cardinals advance to play Missouri and Alex Oriakhi, and there are potential match-ups looming with Mason Plumlee or Adreian Payne down the road. If Dieng helps lead Louisville to the Final Four and plays well in those marquee games, he could slip into the back end of the lottery.
Sean Kilpatrick (Cincinnati): Kilpatrick is another player who could leave early for the NBA Draft if he thinks he has nothing left to accomplish with the Bearcats, but he may be on the outside looking in as the NCAA Tournament gets under way. There is no doubting his scoring and shooting ability, but his size and length give scouts pause so he will need to work on his ball-handling if he wants to make it at the next level. Kilpatrick has the type of gutsy attitude and moxie that are perfect for the NCAA Tournament, and he has a chance to go toe-to-toe with another NBA prospect in the first round when the Bearcats play Creighton and Doug McDermott. If Kilpatrick can lead the Bearcats past the Bluejays and then play well when matched against another NBA hopeful guard in Duke’s Seth Curry, he may impress enough scouts to earn some looks in the second round for his scoring ability and mature game.
Mouphtaou Yarou (Villanova): What began as a promising NBA future has dwindled down to a lukewarm NBA future for Villanova big man Mouphtaou Yarou thanks to a stark lack of improvement, especially on the offensive end. The Wildcats and Yarou were hoping for a breakout season in 2012-13 to put him back on NBA teams’ radar, but his stock remains at a standstill after a slightly underwhelming season that showed the big man is still rather rudimentary on the offensive end and his defensive ability and rim-protecting prowess aren’t at the level of his peers such as Dieng. NBA teams will always take a long look at an athletic 6’10”, 250-pounder with good feet like Yarou, but if he can go out and dominate a smaller North Carolina team and then go pound-for-pound with Kansas’ Jeff Withey in the next round, he will at least ensure that NBA scouts will continue to keep a watchful eye on him.
Vander Blue (Marquette): In many ways, Vander Blue is a similar type of NBA prospect to Iman Shumpert, the former Georgia Tech star who is now coming off the bench for the New York Knicks. Like Shumpert, Blue’s length and athleticism make him a headache on the defensive end but his inability to score efficiently and shoot it from deep result in an intriguing NBA prospect rather than a surefire one. He showed a drastically improved offensive repertoire this season and has emerged as easily one of the conference’s best perimeter defenders, but he still doesn’t shoot the ball very well and basically relies on his 6’4″ frame and excellent athleticism to attack the rim and score. Blue’s improvement is a big reason why the Golden Eagles overachieved this season and if the team can make a run in the NCAA Tournament with Blue leading the charge at both ends of the floor, he will easily earn a chance to prove his worth for a number of NBA teams.
Steven Adams (Pittsburgh): Despite a somewhat underwhelming season based on the enormous expectations that had been set for him, Adams remains an obvious lottery pick given his combination of size, lateral quickness, feet, and feel for the game. He has the potential to become an elite defender and rim protector, averaging 10.5 rebounds per 40 minutes this season despite spending most of the season getting acclimated to big-time college basketball. His minutes and play were more consistent down the stretch even if he didn’t exactly light it up and in the Panthers’ first-round game against Wichita State, Adams will be the tallest player on the court by a good margin. If he can show even limited offensive development and an ability to make an impact on both ends of the floor, that alone will probably be enough to sell scouts on his potential and upside.
James Southerland (Syracuse): Michael Carter-Williams understandably gets most of the NBA Draft attention when people look at the Syracuse roster, but his teammate Southerland has legitimate NBA aspirations as well. Once an afterthought, Southerland has used the last two seasons to establish himself as a versatile and athletic offensive player with the body to play on the wing in the NBA. His suspension this season was a rather large bump in the road, but as we saw in the Big East Tournament, Southerland has plenty of range and shooting touch, which is a great skill in your arsenal when you are also 6’8″ and 220 pounds. You wish a player with his physical attributes would get to the line and rebound a bit better, but his floor-spacing ability at least deserves a glance from NBA scouts. Make no mistake, he will be one of the Orange’s go-to offensive options in the Big Dance and if he comes through with a few big performances, he will, ahem, have an outside shot at slipping into the NBA Draft.
Jack Cooley (Notre Dame): An efficient scorer and well above-average rebounder, NBA scouts are most certainly intrigued by the Notre Dame senior despite his relative lack of elite size and versatility. He will never be an elite defender at the next level and will need to develop a face-up game if he wants to become at least a passable offensive threat to succeed, though. He may get a chance to match up with a more versatile forward his size in the second round against Ohio State and DeShaun Thomas, but the Fighting Irish have had a tendency to flame out in the NCAA Tournament and a first-round loss to Iowa State would not help Cooley’s cause. His motor is unquestioned and will be what makes scouts take a long and close look, but he has had a tendency to disappear in some games this season and shrinking on the biggest stage in his last year as a collegian would not speak well.