Julius Randle Will Cement 2014 NBA Draft Stock with Strong Final Four

Andrew GouldFeatured ColumnistApril 2, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 28:  Julius Randle #30 of the Kentucky Wildcats celebrates defeating the Louisville Cardinals 74 to 69 during the regional semifinal of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 28, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Already considered one of the top prizes in a crowded 2014 NBA draft class, Julius Randle can distance himself from the pack with a strong Final Four performance.

The Kentucky Wildcats forward has helped his draft outlook so far this March, recording a double-double during each of Kentucky's four tournament outings. Per ESPN Stats & Info, a freshman had not pulled off that feat in 36 years.

If he could propel the No. 8 seed Wildcats to a championship, the highly touted prospect would become a top-five lock with a good chance to go No. 3 or 4.

Some prisoners of the moment might even vault him ahead of Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker and/or Andrew Wiggins for a higher spot. With those other three out of the tournament before the Sweet 16, Randle is the top pro prospect remaining.

The 6'9", 250-pound forward has displayed his talent against top competition. He entered March Madness averaging 13 points through his last 15 games, but the 19-year-old has amended that slow stretch by posting 15.8 points on 47.9 percent shooting and 12 rebounds per tournament game.

Julius Randle's NCAA Tournament Stats
Round of 64Kansas State7-121915
Round of 32Wichita State4-91510
Sweet 16Louisville5-111312
Elite EightMichigan7-161611

The forward has been prone to disappear, especially against SEC opponents. He recorded six points and five rebounds against LSU on Jan. 28 and managed just eight points in their rematch three weeks later.

Against Florida, Kentucky's potential title-game opponent, Randle made one field goal and tallied four points with the SEC title on the line. Had the Wildcats suffered an early March Madness exit, memories of that clunker would have persisted throughout the offseason.

Now, they're just distant footnotes amid an up-and-down freshman campaign. As a society, we place a higher value on the ending. Just ask anyone on the Internet how they feel about How I Met Your Mother's conclusion. The typical response is, "I just wasted nine years of my life since I didn't enjoy the final nine minutes."

Those struggles are a reminder that Randle is not without his flaws, as Sports on Earth's Shaun Powell expressed his concerns over his lack of a jump shot.

Viewed as a work in progress defensively, he could struggle to stymie Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky, a 7-foot center with developing post-up moves and a three-point stroke. Sports Illustrated's Peter Bukowski praised Randle for his tournament success, but also displayed some fear over his upcoming matchup against the Badgers.

The Wildcats' superlative freshman forward built on his dominant run already to power his team into the Final Four. Against Louisville and its dynamic frontcourt led by Montrezl Harrell -- a potential lottery pick in his own right -- Randle scored 15 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, but it was his lone assist that stood out. Driving into the lane with the clock winding down, he found Aaron Harrison in the corner for the go-ahead three.

Then, against a smaller, though athletic, Michigan team, Randle bullied his way into the lane constantly in the second half, finishing with 16 points and 11 rebounds. He'll have his work cut out for him in a Final Four matchup against Wisconsin's bevy of bigs.

Randle doesn't need to channel his inner Anthony Davis on the defensive end; he just can't let Kaminsky steal the show with another 28 points akin to his output against Arizona. The NBA team that drafts Randle will do so with the hopes of procuring a daily 20/10 at his peak.

If the freshman generates one or two more double-doubles to conclude the NCAA tournament, he'll stay steady as a top pick. Perhaps a sensational weekend presents him as a dark-horse No. 1 selection. But not the Anthony Bennett kind, and it's still a major stretch barring Parker staying in school and the team picking No. 1 disdaining Wiggins.

Randle and his teammates can't legally earn a dime while the coaches mooch off of their success to a tune of over $300,000 in bonuses. The lottery hopeful can, however, add a few dollars to his starting salary if he helps attain the NCAA title.