The 2014 NCAA tournament reached its thrilling conclusion on Monday night, with the UConn Huskies claiming a national title over the Kentucky Wildcats.
That contest marked the end of not only the 2013-14 college basketball season, but also the college careers of many of the stars involved in March Madness.
Whether these are one-and-done freshmen looking for new challenges after a single campaign or four-year starters that earned a degree during their time on campus, almost all will be hoping to get selected in the upcoming NBA draft.
Let's take a look at a couple of stars almost guaranteed to be picked in the first round and highlight why they will shine at the next level.
Shabazz Napier, G, UConn
Napier put himself squarely on the map during the NCAA tournament, building on an impressive senior season and assuaging the doubts of many scouts and general managers.
While it would have been tough to find anyone who would knock Napier’s immense scoring talents prior to the Big Dance, there were plenty of detractors that believed the guard’s skills would not translate to the next level and that he was not worthy of a first-round selection.
After guiding the No. 7 seed Huskies to a national title and earning the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player award in the process, it is safe to say that Napier has proven his doubters wrong, and it would be a travesty if he failed to come off the board within the first 30 picks this summer.
The Massachusetts native’s stock is soaring after averaging 21 points over five March Madness contests and scoring a game-high 22 points in the championship. Credit a chip on Napier’s shoulder for these gutsy performances, which is the first thing he mentioned after winning his second title.
As per CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish, Napier addressed the crowd by saying: “Ladies and gentlemen, you're looking at the Hungry Huskies. ... This is what happens when you banned us!"
It wouldn’t be shocking if Napier continued fueling his personal fire by using every team that passes him up in the draft as motivation. However, it is starting to seem like there will be less and less teams willing to overlook the 22-year-old.
Even LeBron James has recognized the elite skills of this 6’1”, 180-pound Husky. The Miami Heat star tweeted during the game that it would be ludicrous for another point guard to be taken ahead of Napier:
Napier’s stock will undoubtedly start to cool as the luster of his tournament performance starts to fade into the past, but he could vault right back up the draft boards with solid workouts and an overall impressive predraft process.
Regardless of where he comes off the board, this young man has the talent to star at the next level and will make an impact.
Whether he is starting or coming off the bench to provide instant offense, there aren’t many scorers in the league that have the sheer talent and shot-making ability that Napier brings to the table.
Julius Randle, F, Kentucky
Randle was one of the top recruits in the nation heading into this season, and the big man undoubtedly lived up to expectations. He was the best, most consistent player for the Wildcats’ semifinalist program and just missed carrying his side to a title.
The freshman is now expected to take his talents to the Association. Many scouts and analysts project Randle coming off the board with an early pick in the lottery, and it would be a surprise to see him fall out of the top five, especially after his excellent run through the Big Dance.
The Dallas native was able to guide the Wildcats from St. Louis, where his team knocked off Kansas State and previously undefeated Wichita State, up to Indianapolis—where he helped beat defending champion Louisville and Michigan, 2013’s runner-up—and back down to his hometown.
While UK took care of business in the Final Four against Wisconsin, Kentucky was not able to find the magic against the Huskies. Not coincidentally, Randle had his worst performance of the tournament, and it was one of the main reasons why the Wildcats were unable to cap off March Madness with a title.
Prior to the championship tilt with Connecticut, Randle had yet to score under 13 points or take less than nine shots in a tournament game. He mustered just 10 points on seven shots in the contest and was dealing with cramps throughout the evening, as per Yahoo! Sports’ Pat Forde and WDRB’s Eric Crawford:
A fully healthy Randle could have made a big difference in the outcome of that contest, and scouts undoubtedly understand the upside and pure talent that the forward possesses.
He averaged a double-double on the season (15.0 points and 10.4 rebounds) and has an NBA-ready body at 6’9”, 250 pounds. He can absorb contact and still finish, which makes him a monster down in the paint.
ESPN Stats & Info took a look at Kentucky’s success scoring the basketball when Randle touched the ball near the hoop:
Randle's offensive skills revolve around post-ups, put-backs and other high-power, high-energy plays. Matt Moore of CBS Sports captured one of the freshman’s best moves:
He brings that same intensity to the defensive end, where he can quickly rotate and goes up hard to challenge every shot. While he still has room to improve on the mental aspect of defense, the raw skills are clearly there.
Don’t be surprised when Randle has his name called in the first couple of picks this June and becomes an immediate contributor at the NBA level. He is a star in the making and will break out sooner than later.
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