March Madness 2011 Predictions: Who's NBA Stock Will Be Measured in the Elite 8?
We're down to just eight teams in the NCAA Tournament and this is around the time that NBA scouts begin really noticing the players left out there.
There are superstar freshman, seasoned veterans and maybe a potential No. 1 overall pick.
Here's a look at the 15 best players remaining and how their NBA stocks hang in the balance this weekend.
1. Derrick Williams, SF, Arizona
Williams used to be the best college basketball player nobody knew anything about. Now he's just the best college basketball player left in the NCAA Tournament.
He dominated the Pac-10 en route to a conference-best 19.5 ppg in his sophomore season. He was also one of the country's best rebounders (8.4 rpg) and shooters (60.2 field-goal percentage).
Williams is a complete scorer. He can score inside and out, he has range out to the three-point line and he's a terrific finisher. At 6'8" he's bigger than most of his defenders and is more athletic than pretty much everyone on the floor. The only question is if he's big enough to play his natural position of power forward.
Williams is already a lock for the top five if he declares. But if he can carry a mediocre supporting cast to the Final Four then he'll definitely be in the discussion for No. 1 overall pick.
2. Harrison Barnes, SF, North Carolina
Barnes started out slow despite being crowned as the preseason rookie of the year. But the 6'7" wingman showed why so many scouts were salivating over him with his performance late in the season, helping UNC get a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Barnes finished the season averaging 15.6 ppg on 42.3 percent shooting, flashing an absolutely lethal mid-range game. He even chipped in 5.8 rpg despite playing alongside the two towers known as John Henson and Tyler Zeller.
He gets by on athleticism and length right now, but he'll need to add strength if he wants to battle with the big boys in the NBA. Still, he's the main reason UNC went from being barely ranked to being serious contenders for a national title.
Barnes may just be another name on a team full of future NBA players, but he may also be something special. If he can really shine in the next round against Kentucky then he should join Williams, Kyrie Irving and Perry Jones in the conversation for No. 1 pick.
3. Kemba Walker, PG, Connecticut
Walker has already exceeded all expectations by single-handedly carrying UConn to a Big East Championship and an Elite Eight berth. There's no telling how much further he can take the Huskies, but by now people have learned not to doubt him.
Walker is an elite scorer with a flare for the dramatic. You have to use two hands to count the amount of game-saving shots he's had this season and no defense has figured out a way to stop him. He's up to 24.0 ppg on 43.3 percent shooting. He also has respectable passing numbers with 4.5 apg and a 2.00 assist/turnover ratio.
The big question with Walker is if he can play point guard in the NBA. He did have a season-high 12 assists in the first (second) round against Bucknell. He has the skill set, but is a bit undersized and has always been more of a scorer than a passer.
Walker will need to find a way to involve his teammates if he wants to keep Connecticut alive in this tournament. If he succeeds, he should be a top 10 pick.
4. Brandon Knight, PG, Kentucky
Knight officially put his name on everyone's map with that game-winning jumper against Ohio State. The freshman point guard has seemingly saved his best for when it matters the most and is playing at another level in the NCAA Tournament.
During the regular season his play was rather underwhelming. Despite playing nearly 36 minutes/game Knight averaged just 17.2 ppg and was a very streaky shooter, as evidenced by his 43.2 field-goal percentage. He struggled as Kentucky's primary ball-handler, with just a 1.32 assist/turnover ratio.
But in terms of raw ability, Knight is off the charts. He has elite athleticism and is incredibly quick on both ends of the floor. He also has ideal size to be a point guard at 6'4" and 183 pounds, though he may be better suited to play shooting guard in the NBA.
Kentucky, like North Carolina, has more than its share of stars. Whichever player steps up the most in the next round will be rewarded in the NBA Draft. Right now Knight looks like a top 10 pick. Will he keep playing like one?
5. Terrence Jones, SF, Kentucky
From one Wildcat to another, Jones has been sensational in his sophomore season. He's second on the team in scoring at 15.9 ppg and and first in rebounding at 8.7 rpg. He's also an exceptional ball handler and passer, making him a versatile offensive weapon.
Jones, once in the discussion for the No. 1 pick, has been a very inconsistent player. His talent alone should make him unstoppable on most days, but Jones has a tendency to get into a scoring funk and lets that affect his defensive energy. He's been overshadowed by his teammate, Knight, in the NCAA Tournament.
Still, at 6'8" with a 7'3" wingspan Jones is one of the best athletes in the draft and can play up to four positions. He should be a lottery pick based on raw ability alone. If he discovers a hidden gear and dominates the rest of the tournament, then it wouldn't be a shock to see him go in the top five (especially with Jared Sullinger returning to Ohio State next season).
6. John Henson, PF, North Carolina
Long before Harrison Barnes showed up in North Carolina, the 6'10" Henson was making NBA scouts drool over his unreal combination of length and athleticism.
Henson is North Carolina's leading rebounder (10.1 rpg) and shot-blocker (3.3 bpg). He doesn't have much of a perimeter game and his post game still needs lots of work, but it's not often you find 6'10" guys who can jump out of the gym and run like deer.
The one big knock on Henson is his size. At 200 pounds he's big enough to muscle up against most college players, but not nearly big enough to shove around anybody in the NBA. He's Hasheem Thabeet on defense, but unfortunately he's also Thabeet on offense.
He'll be a lottery pick based just on raw potential, but he needs to do something other than rebound and alter shots if he wants to go in the top 10. He'll have his chance against Kentucky tomorrow.
7. Thomas Robinson, PF, Kansas
Robinson is what Henson would look like if he hit the gym for about six months. The 6'9", 230-pound sophomore forward is only a role player for Kansas, but he projects as a very good NBA player.
Despite playing less than 15 mpg, Robinson is able to pull down 6.6 rpg and averages almost a block per game. He's a very physical defender and can out leap almost anybody. If he develops anything resembling a post game then there's no reason why he can't start in the pros.
Robinson has yet to be really challenged in this tournament because of undersized opponents. But if Kansas makes it to the championship game then he'll have the chance to show his stuff against the likes of Henson or Jones. Either way, he won't make it out of the lottery.
8. Tyler Zeller, C, North Carolina
Third on the list of UNC stars is 7'0" Tyler Zeller, a junior who has anchored the Tar Heels on both ends of the floor. He's an athletic player and isn't afraid to get physical under the basket. His greatest asset, though, may be his soft hands and knack for finishing. There's obviously a reason he leads UNC in scoring at 15.6 ppg.
However, at just 220 pounds Zeller needs to add strength to be a starting center in the NBA. But skilled seven-footers never last long in the NBA Draft so he's still a first-rounder.
9. Marcus Morris, PF, Kansas
Morris is the best player the Jayhawks have thanks to an impressive scoring arsenal that includes a perimeter and post game. He's Kansas's leading scorer at 17.1 ppg and is second in rebounding with 7.4 rpg.
The question with Morris, however, is what position will he play? At 6'8" and 215 pounds he's the perfect size to play power forward in college, but he's undersized when it comes to the NBA. There's very little Morris can do to improve his draft stock that he doesn't already. He's a mid to late first-round pick.
10. Patric Young, C, Florida
Young has been fantastic in his freshman season with the Gators. He didn't play much during the regular season, but has come on a big way during the NCAA Tournament and has cemented his status as an NBA prospect.
He has an NBA-ready body at 6'9" and 235 pounds, and is definitely athletic enough to play at the next level. His offensive game is all but nonexistent, but even if that never develops, he'll find a job somewhere. He's a mid to late first-round pick if he declares.
11. Markieff Morris, PF, Kansas
Markieff is essentially the same player as his twin brother, Marcus, except with a worse offensive game. He's a little bit better suited to play power forward in the NBA than Marcus because he's an inch taller and 10 pounds heavier. Without a more polished offensive game, he's nothing more than a late first round pick.
12. Josh Selby, PG, Kansas
Selby was a hotshot recruit coming out of high school, but the freshman has struggled with Kansas. He's an incredible athlete and can shoot from anywhere on the floor, but the production has not matched the talent.
He's averaging just 8.2 ppg and a paltry 2.2 apg despite playing on the same floor as the Morris twins. He's also struggled to shoot the ball, finishing the season at just 37.8 percent from the floor and 37.4 percent from three.
He projects well as an NBA point guard and has the ideal blend of size and speed, but if he can't run the show at the college level then there's no reason to believe he'll be able to do it in the NBA. He has lots to prove in the final games of the NCAA Tournament. He's a borderline first-round pick right now with lottery-type talent.
13. Doron Lamb, SG, Kentucky
Lamb is an awesome shooter and averaged 12.4 ppg in his freshman season with Kentucky. He finished the regular season shooting 49.5 percent from the floor and 47.4 percent from three, and has continued that hot shooting streak into the NCAA Tournament.
He's capable of playing point guard if needed, but whatever position he ends up playing in the NBA he still needs to add size. He's razor-thin at 6'4" and 183 pounds and gets overpowered on defense.
Lamb needs to bulk up before he goes pro, but if he's tired of his time in Kentucky, then he'd be a late first or early second-round pick.
14. Tyshawn Taylor, PG, Kansas
Taylor was running the Jayhawks offense long before Josh Selby shows up, and it's possible he may be the better pro prospect. The junior is a phenomenal athlete and a smart player who is dangerous on both ends of the floor.
But there is a reason why Kansas brought in Shelby to take over the show. Taylor's not a great ball handler (1.69 assist/turnover ratio) and isn't a great shooter either (47.2 field-goal percentage).
It's unlikely Taylor will get much better at this point in his career, but he's still a solid enough player to be drafted. He projects as a second-rounder, but could push himself into the first round based on popularity alone if Kansas wins the title.
15. Alex Oriakhi, C, Connecticut
Walker may get all the attention in Connecticut, but Oriakhi has a chance at being an impact player in the NBA too.
The 6'9", 240-pound center is an athletic and physical player who led the Huskies in rebounding (8.7 rpg) and racks up points on put-backs. His post game needs to get better and he may be too small to play center in the NBA, but he's definitely turned some heads with his performance in the NCAA Tournament.
It would be a surprise to see Oriakhi to declare since he still has two years of eligibility left and is still pretty raw. If he wants to join Kemba in the NBA right away he could go in the late second round.