The excitement of March Madness is unparalleled, and to think that some of the participating athletes are merely teenagers is incredible. College basketball's finest young adults captivate the nation for an entire month, but one must remember that quite a few players are just months away from being professionals.
With that being said, a handful of guys playing in March Madness will have the ability to dramatically alter their 2012 NBA draft stock. Some players could see meteoric rises in their potential draft position, while others might have terrible performances that lead to a rapid decline in their stock.
These five guys have the ability to significantly help or hurt their draft stock once the fun of March Madness begins.
Jared Sullinger is projected to be a lottery pick, but his draft stock has definitely been higher than it is now. He has been an elite big man in the Big Ten for two seasons now, but whether or not his game will translate to the next level is unknown.
Sullinger is shooting 54.8 percent from the field this season, but shot just 33.3 percent (17-of-51) against the frontline of Michigan State in Ohio State's three meetings against the Spartans. Assuming the Buckeyes defeat Loyola in their first game, they will face the winner of the Gonzaga/West Virginia matchup.
The Bulldogs have a formidable frontline, consisting of Robert Sacre, Elias Harris and Sam Dower, so if Ohio State faces Gonzaga, Sullinger will be challenged. The Mountaineers have Kevin Jones, one of the nation's best in the post, so a matchup against West Virginia would also provide a good challenge.
Sullinger needs to have a good tournament to boost his draft stock, and if he is stifled in his second matchup (and beyond), the Ohio State big man could see his stock plummet.
Kentucky's star center Anthony Davis is projected to be the first pick in this year's NBA draft, but teammate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is no slouch himself. The 6'7" freshman is averaging 12 points per game to go along with nearly eight rebounds per contest for the Wildcats, and he is a talented player on a very talented team.
If Kidd-Gilchrist plays great in the month of March and is named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament over Davis, he could see his draft stock shoot upward. He is projected to be a mid- to late lottery pick, but a great tournament—along with pedestrian performances by the likes of Harrison Barnes and Jeremy Lamb—could put MKG in position to be a top-five pick.
If Kidd-Gilchrist doesn't show up and allows his teammates to run the show, he could easily fall out of the lottery, especially given the depth of this year's draft.
Like Jared Sullinger, Perry Jones III has seen his draft stock take a hit due to staying in college for a sophomore season instead of being one-and-done. He is considered to be a fringe lottery pick, but given his 6'11" size and versatile game, he could easily be drafted in the first 10 selections.
Jones won't blow you away with his stats (14.0 PPG, 7.7 RPG), but when you watch him play, it is clear that he is extremely talented.
Baylor is in line for a matchup against UNLV in the round of 32, meaning Mike Moser—an extremely talented defender—will likely be guarding Jones. That matchup could do wonders for his draft stock if he performs well. If Moser shuts him down and the Rebels get the win, then Jones can say goodbye to all hope of being a lottery pick.
Drew Gordon played two seasons at UCLA, but transferred to New Mexico after his sophomore season. Had he been able to play out his career as a Bruin, his name would be more well-known; instead, he has played two seasons of high-quality basketball as a Lobo.
Gordon is a double-double machine, and he is a very effective scorer in the post. His free-throw shooting has increased from 50 percent as a freshman to 75.4 percent as a senior, which is a rather remarkable statistic.
NBADraft.net has Gordon projected as a mid-second-round pick, but if New Mexico can make a run in the tournament, expect his stock to go up as well. If his Lobos lose in their first matchup against Long Beach State, he very well might go undrafted.
Will Barton is one of the most interesting players in the entire nation. His sophomore campaign at Memphis has been nothing short of spectacular. With averages of 18.1 points per game, 8.1 rebounds and three assists, he is one of the country's elite guards.
So why is Barton's draft stock so low?
It could possibly be due to his frail 6'6", 175-pound frame, or the fact that he plays in a mid-major conference. Whether he will be a shooting guard or a small forward at the next level is unknown, but either way, he definitely needs to bulk up.
If the Tigers get by St. Louis and Barton has a solid outing against Michigan State, he will improve the odds of hearing his name called amongst the first 30 picks of the NBA draft this year. If Memphis loses and he does nothing special, it may be in his best interest to return to school for another season, because his name might not be called at all.
For your printable bracket for the 2012 NCAA tournament, click here.