March Madness is the final audition for the NBA draft. It's the last chance for prospects to show scouts and executives what they're really made of.
While a poor final impression may not always dent anyone's draft stock, it's certainly not going to catapult a player up any boards.
However, a strong March Madness could be the difference between having a job in basketball and looking for one overseas.
Some of the top NBA prospects might be fighting for a ticket to the Final Four, but in the big picture, they're fighting for rookie salaries and draft-day position.
It's not the stats that say Shabazz Muhammad doesn't have the look of a No. 1 overall pick. His near 18-point scoring average and 40 percent three-point stroke are both impressive, to say the least.
But it's the path he took to accumulate those stats that has scouts wondering his worth at the next level.
Most of Muhammad's scoring production has come off the ball. Rarely did we see Muhammad go to work in isolation or create much perimeter offense off the dribble. There weren't any real signs of a step-back or pull-up jumper, and he generally used his strength inside to bully defenders down low in the post.
Muhammad hasn't illustrated that take-over offensive repertoire as a go-to scoring option.
His strengths play to his ability to score without the ball in his hands. He moves extremely well without it and is most effective as a catch-and-shooter and catch-and-slasher.
And while those are attractive complementary strengths, they may not entice a general manager to use a valuable, high draft pick on them.
UCLA will be missing 15-point per game scorer Jordan Adams, who broke his foot in the conference tournament. The Bruins will rely heavily on Muhammad to carry this team offensively.
If he succeeds, Muhammad could reenter the top-three pick conversation.
The burden of being the No. 1 guy has weighed heavily on James Michael McAdoo, who hasn't produced the consistent results that are expected of a team's top dog.
It wouldn't have been that big of a deal if this was McAdoo's first go-around. But now finishing up his sophomore year, scouts are still wondering just who James McAdoo is and what type of player he can be.
The NCAA tournament will be the last opportunity before the 2013 draft for McAdoo to demonstrate some leadership qualities and a skill set that contributes to a few North Carolina wins.
If things go awry for McAdoo and the Tar Heels, the 6'9'' combo forward will have to weigh the options of selling low and entering the draft with a falling stock or returning to college for yet another year.
A strong tournament in which McAdoo leads the troops to a second-round upset over Kansas is ultimately his best exit strategy.
Nate Wolters couldn't have asked for a better first-round opportunity.
Averaging 22.7 points and 5.8 assists in the Summit League, Wolters has been trying to prove that his production at the college level isn't a result of mediocre competition in a mid-major conference.
The Jackrabbits will get the No. 4 seed Michigan in the first round, but more importantly for Wolters, he'll square off head-to-head with a top point-guard prospect in Trey Burke.
The question that every scout wants to know could be answered in Wolters' first game of March Madness. Can he play with, and ultimately outplay, a point guard who's likely to be placed in an NBA rotation within the next two years?
Questions surrounding Wolters' game include his athleticism and explosiveness at the position. Whether or not he's laterally quick or physically strong enough to defend an NBA-caliber point guard is a fair debate to have.
If Wolters puts on a show or even just hangs with Burke for 40 minutes, it should ease scouts' concerns over whether he's capable of next-level play.
Michael Carter-Williams became one of the trendiest names at the start of the 2012-13 college basketball season. He was tearing up non-conference play, leading the country in assists for the first half of the year.
And then Big East teams started to do their homework and adjusted accordingly. The second half of the year was nothing like the first for Carter-Williams, whose perimeter game, questionable ball-handling and erratic decision-making were all exposed.
He turned the ball over a whopping 16 times over Syracuse's final three Big East tournament games, seemingly overwhelmed by the pressure in the air and on the floor.
There aren't many teams in the lottery who will be targeting a point guard. Both Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State and Trey Burke of Michigan are competing in this tournament, as well as with Carter-Williams directly for draft-day position.
One of these three point guards is bound to slip out of the lottery, and chances are it's not Smart. The value of Carter-Williams' rookie contract could depend on his March Madness performance.
The No. 1 question mark surrounding Cody Zeller as a prospect has been his mental and physical toughness. What better way to prove doubters wrong than by plowing through a field of 68 and being the catalyst behind a power school's Final Four run?
March Madness is an opportunity for prospects to show what they're made of, both on the inside and the out. And this is what scouts and executives want to see in Zeller. They know his advanced skill set and 6'11'' size. But they don't know if he's got what it takes for his strengths to translate from one level to the next.
This tournament is huge for the Indiana center who's trying to prove his talent level is worthy of a top-five pick.
It would not be a good look for Zeller if he gets outplayed by the more athletic C.J Leslie in Round 2, or he gets manhandled inside by the more powerful Anthony Bennett in the Sweet 16.
There are NBA draft-day competitors in Zeller's path to the Final Four. Should he eliminate them, it will reflect favorably on his stock as a positive last impression.
For Bucknell's Mike Muscala, his performance in March Madness could be the difference between a guaranteed contract and a disposable one.
Averaging 19 points and over 11 rebounds on the year, he's one of the country's most productive college players. But he's got "mid-major level" pasted right in the middle of his forehead, whether he deserves that or not.
This is a great opportunity for Muscala to show off that NBA-caliber skill set and introduce himself on the national stage.
Bucknell couldn't have asked for a better draw, either. They get a beatable first-round opponent in No. 6 seed Butler, with potentially a vulnerable No. 3 seed Marquette or an evenly-matched Davidson in Round 2.
Muscala should be salivating at this opportunity.
While he's already established himself as a legitimate pro prospect, a solid NCAA tournament would make general managers more inclined to reach in the first round.
Glenn Robinson III isn't NBA-ready. If he were to declare for the 2013 NBA draft, he'd be doing so with a sales pitch centered solely around his potential—not always the safest of strategies.
If he is intent on leaving for the pros, Robinson better come up big during this year's March Madness.
We've seen his upside in small doses and isolated plays. Robinson is an explosive finisher and a glowing off-ball target in the half court and transition. He' shown the ability to knock down shots behind the arc or step inside it for a pull-up jumper.
But we've only seen glimpses instead of a steady stream of production.
If Robinson wants to maximize his 2013 draft stock, he's got to go out with a bang. A string of solid showings from Robinson would be a good way to end his freshman year.
Otherwise, a sophomore season might be in order.
Tim Hardaway Jr. has to prove he can sustain offensive efficiency with a game predicated on perimeter offense.
From his sophomore to junior year, he raised his field-goal percentage a couple of points and his three-point clip from 28.3 to 37.3 percent—signs that have led to a rise in stock.
But within the last five weeks, he shot 1-of-6 from downtown in a loss to Indiana, 2-of-7 from downtown in a loss to Penn State and 0-of-5 from downtown in a loss to Michigan State.
Scorers who rely heavily on perimeter offense can't be counted on for consistent production. That's why some of the greatest scorers in the world like J.R. Smith and Jamal Crawford will never be used as starters—because their perimeter-oriented offensive attack doesn't produce consistent results.
With the microscope intensified, this is the time for Hardaway to show he's more than just a perimeter scorer. This is the time for him to go to work inside the arc as the go-to guy and show scouts he can score north and south, and not just east and west.
MarShon Brooks was taken late first round a few years back and hasn't seen much floor time in the pros because he's limited to low-percentage perimeter offense.
Hardaway should view this opportunity as a chance to show he's more than that.
It's not that C.J. Leslie needs to prove something—he just can't afford to look bad.
We've seen enough of Leslie over the years that one final tournament isn't going to move the needle much, at least in the right direction. But a no-show from Leslie and North Carolina State could make a dent in his overall draft stock.
For all the positive attributes surrounding his game and profile, there are negatives present to neutralize them.
Though he's talented and wildly athletic, he's also vulnerable to mental lapses and physical play.
The chances of Leslie returning as a senior are slim, making this his final chance to leave a lasting impression.