If you're a fan of basketball, March Madness is always a great time of year. You can seemingly switch to any channel and see a hard fought game that's headed towards a fun finish. And if you're like me and don't love watching college basketball just for the sake of it, you can always focus on the potential NBA draft picks. Unfortunately for people like me, the top prospects have been struggling mightily in this year's tournament. A lot of them either didn't get there or got bounced early. And of the studs that are still around, you have to look pretty hard to find the ones that are living up to their abilities.
Who didn't make it?
It's worth starting with some of the guys who didn't even make it to the tournament. The guy at the top of most people's draft boards, Nerlens Noel, obviously tore his ACL and therefore missed the rest of his season. But his injury also doomed a bunch of other potential first round picks. Alex Poythress, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Archie Goodwin are all on that Kentucky Wildcats team that failed to qualify for the Big Dance. If Nerlens had stayed healthy, they definitely would have made the tournament and we'd have gotten a better look at some of those guys. Furthermore, big names like Alex Len, Isaiah Austin, and Tony Mitchell were left at home when their teams failed to make the tournament.
Going home early
But there were still plenty of intriguing prospects in the field of 68 teams. Unfortunately, a bunch of them went home early. Marcus Smart's Oklahoma State lost in the first round against the Oregon Ducks. Smart stuffed the stat sheet like he usually does with 14 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, and 5 steals -- but shot just 5 of 13 from the field as his team went down. Shabazz Muhammad and the UCLA Bruins lost to Minnesota. Shabazz had a horrible first half and did show signs of life in the final 20 minutes, but his 20 points on 6 of 18 shooting were not nearly enough. We saw a lot of the things that he does well, as well as a lot of the things that he does poorly. He struggled to make shots off the dribble, but excelled in transition. Neither Smart nor Muhammad played terribly, but their teams lost anyway and that's all we get to see of them.
Otto Porter's Georgetown Hoyas may have been the victims of March's biggest upset. 15-seed Florida Gulf Coast sent Porter packing after his 13 points on 17 shots with 11 rebounds performance. As always, I don't want anybody to overreact to one game -- but it's still disappointing. Porter is a great player and will be drafted in the top part of the lottery, but for NBA fans watching the NCAA Tournament, it would have been nice to see these guys put on a bit of a show.
I haven't seen a lot of UNLV's Anthony Bennett, and it would have been nice to see more than just one game. I actually saw a lot of things that I liked from Bennett, but of course, that's just one game. And now he's watching from his couch like me.
Kelly Olynyk's Gonzaga Bulldogs were the first #1 seed to lose and although he put up solid numbers, he didn't overwhelm anybody. Even though Olynyk's team lost, at least they went down with their best player getting a bunch of shots and trying to take over the game.
On the other hand, the Kansas Jayhawks and Ben McLemore are still dancing (for now, they play UNC later tonight, we'll see what happens there). But even time I turn on a Jayhawks game, it seems like the announcers are complaining about the same thing: McLemore is being too passive. This is March Madness. This is your time to shine. If McLemore doesn't assert himself and use his superior talent to dominate games, when will he? It's not a dealbreaker by any means, but it's just discouraging and disappointing. McLemore's talent is undeniable, but will he be able to embrace it and make the most of his abilities?
But all is not lost. There's still plenty of time left in the tournament for these guys to really make a splash. And we know that NBA scouts do not put as much importance into these games as members of the media do. Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo are still around (at the time of writing this) and are capable of taking over games. The Michigan Wolverines have Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III who are all playing at a high level. Burke is probably the only lottery pick on that team. And the longer he puts together these kind of performances, the less we'll hear about him being too small or not athletic enough to be a starting NBA point guard.
So as you watch the rest of the tournament from an NBA Draft perspective, there's not as much to watch for, but there's still a few guys. Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly will both be drafted off of the Duke Blue Devils. Reggie Bullock, James Michael McAdoo, and P.J. Hairston can put on a show for the North Carolina Tar Heels. And we'll get to see those UNC boys go head to head with McLemore and Jeff Withey on Sunday at 5:15 PM. That's a good game and is definitely worth checking out if you want to see NBA prospects.
It's been a bit disappointing and a lot of the guys that I wanted to watch are now sitting at home. But there's a lot of basketball to be played. And even if nobody else plays well for the rest of the tournament, at least we now have conclusive evidence that Aaron Craft is an absolute stud and any team would be honored to select him with a high draft pick (Sorry, I couldn't resist).