NBA fans are not always NCAA fans, and vice versa. One argument made by followers of the pro game is, there is not a lot of talent in college. There can be a lot of sloppy games with head scratching finishes (see: 1st and 2nd round of tournament). Upsets are great and all but do we really all want so much parity? Quick, who is the underdog on Saturday when Butler plays VCU? (It’s VCU, getting 2.5).
To me, college basketball, in the words of Bill Belichick, “is what it is.” You got major programs with rule bending coaches trying to get the best players, who usually come in for 1 or 2 seasons before bolting for the big bucks and bigger challenges. You also have smaller schools that need to rely more on teamwork and often have experienced juniors and seniors, and it’s their coaches that leave them for the bigger programs. The highlight of the college hoops season is the NCAA tournament, mainly because everyone loves to gamble, people love brackets, and anyone can win. The games aren’t bad either.
I am a fan of both. Despite the two being “basketball,” they truly are different games, but it’s ok to like both. Since my preference is the NBA, I always watch college contests with an emphasis on the players pro potential. The tourney is a great time to see dozens of players in a single afternoon that could one day be playing in the league. If you paid attention to this year’s “madness” you saw the top pick candidates of Derrick Williams, Kyrie Irving, and Harrison Barnes all shine, but all of their teams failed to reach the coveted Final 4. So the question remains, who are the best pro prospects left in the dance?
NBA scouts will undoubtedly be paying closer attention to the late game on Saturday aka the left side of your bracket when Kentucky takes on UConn. According to Chad Ford’s Top 100 on ESPN there are 7 players in the Final 4, (6 are playing in the same game).
UConn- Kemba Walker (9) Alex Oriakhi (69) Jeremy Lamb (73)
Kentucky- Brandon Knight (10), Terrence Jones (11) Doron Lamb (51)
Butler- Shelvin Mack (59)
Once again Coach Calipari has 3 freshmen ranked in the top 60, of course last year he had John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, and Daniel Orton all go in the 1st round. This year he will have two 1st round picks in Knight and Jones, giving NBA fanatics a reason to watch this weekend.
Kemba Walker is worth the price of admission by himself. Since the Big East Tournament (and not being named Big East Player of the Year, losing out to Ben Hansbrough of Notre Dame) Walker has been possessed, ripping of 5 wins in a row to win the conference, and now 4 more to get to the Final 4. While doing this the junior guard has launched up the draft boards.
Walker is just 6’1 and a shoot first point guard. He has much more college experience than the other top PGs in the draft (Irving & Knight both freshmen), but his ceiling probably isn’t as high. In his rookie contract (based on current CBA) you’ll likely get more out of Walker than those other two, but I would be surprised if he reaches the type of success he is having in his AP 1st Team All-American season.
Brandon Knight is not Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, or John Wall, but he will be a lottery pick, and has a great chance to be a solid pro. He’s improved his draft stock throughout the 2nd half of the season, including an SEC Title and run to the Final 4. His match up with Walker will be the thing to watch this weekend.
Terrence Jones is a classic case of a guy who will be drafted in the lottery, but should stay in school for another season to mature and develop his game. He could make a run at being the top pick if he stays. A 6’8 small forward, who is easily the closest thing to a head case of all the prospects playing on Saturday. He will make unbelievable plays in the same game where you wonder if he knows what team he is playing against. With that said, if I’m picking in the teens, he wouldn’t get past me.
Clearly, Walker, Knight, and Jones are the guys to watch this weekend. Lamb (for UK and UConn), Oriahki, and Shabazz could be in the Top 25 next season, but not now.
As for the VCU-Butler match up? That’s one for the pure college basketball fans. Two small schools with excellent young coaches getting the most out of their talent.
Take a break from biting your finger nails, pulling your hair, punching the wall, throwing your remote, and everything else you’ve been doing during the recent Celtics games and enjoy the Final 4 this weekend.