Jarrett Culver Stating Case as NCAA Tournament's Top Rising NBA Prospect

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistMarch 25, 2019

TULSA, OKLAHOMA - MARCH 24:  Jarrett Culver #23 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders scores on a lay up past Jeremy Harris #2 of the Buffalo Bulls during the first half of the second round game of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at BOK Center on March 24, 2019 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

TULSA, Okla.  While a friendly rim saved Zion Williamson and the Duke Blue Devils five states away, Jarrett Culver ensured the Texas Tech Red Raiders wouldn't need a fortunate roll to make the Sweet 16.

On the possession after the sixth-seeded Buffalo Bulls took a 25-24 lead, Culver helped No. 3 Texas Tech get it backand ensured it never slipped away.

Culver scored or assisted on seven of the Red Raiders' next nine points, helping build a 33-25 halftime edge. He wrapped up the 78-58 triumph with a team-high marks of 16 points and five assists, adding 10 rebounds, three blocks and two steals.

The long story short? Texas Tech fans better be savoring every last moment of Culver leading their team, because he won't be here much longer.

In a few months, Culver will be walking onto the stage as a first-round pick, preparing to shake NBA Commissioner Adam Silver's hand.

Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman and Sports Illustrated's Jeremy Woo consider Culver the third-best prospect in the 2019 class behind only Williamson and Ja Morant. Both CBS and Sam Vecenie of The Athletic list Culver at seventh overall.

Any way you slice it, Culver is a projected high pick.

"He's a tough matchup," Northern Kentucky coach John Brannen told reporters after losing to Texas Tech in the first round. "He can put the ball on the floor and score. We wanted to make him a passer. Wanted to have him have a high assist night. He had seven assists. We didn't think that's what he did well."

While the statement felt like a slight underestimation, the point was well-taken. Culver can struggle with turnovers, as he showed against Buffalo with five of them. Still, his on-ball ability suggests a secondary playmaker role in the NBA. 

After dishing five assists Sunday, Culver now has 21 games of four-plus this season. The sophomore's most notable feeds against Buffalo came in the second half.

The hesitation dribble that stalled the defense is easy to overlook, but it's a perfect example of Culver's innate feel for the game.

Miss it the first time? No worries. He did it twice.

One point of debate on Culver's scouting report will probably be the absence of an elite trait. Because of that, it's important to temper expectations about his upside. Culver won't necessarily be an All-Star, but he can be an above-average NBA player. Relative to the draft class behind Williamson and Morant, that makes Culver a top option.

What will define his career is whether he develops as a shooter.

"You'd like him to be a little more consistent with his shot," former NBA coach P.J. Carlesimo told Bleacher Report. "But his stroke is a good stroke. There's no reason to believe when he gets to the NBA he won't continue to improve."

Heading into Sunday, Culver owned a 33.3 clip from long distance and 69.8 at the free-throw line. Per Hoop-Math.com, he was shooting 35.5 percent on two-point jumpers.

Still, he knocked down a pair of fadeaway jumpers early and buried a triple as part of Texas Tech's game-sealing 10-0 run in the second half. The potential for improvement is apparent.

And with a 6'6" frame (that in person looks a whole lot closer to those of his 6'8" teammates), Culver has room to grow physically. Combine that expected development with his current body control, and his creativity can translate to the NBA.

The sting of what he lacks offensively, however, is somewhat offset by his ability and intelligence defensively.

In the first half, Culver's help defense forced Dontay Caruthers to forgo a layup and swing a pass to the corner. Culver then monitored two players at once, keeping one player in front of him but recovering across the lane to block Caruthers at the rim.

Culver added another two blocks and two steals. Especially in today's high-tempo, perimeter-oriented league, teams covet his type of versatility.

"He can do everything," 14-year NBA player Jim Jackson told Bleacher Report. "And he's still growing as a player."

Including Sunday's stat line, Culver is now averaging 18.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.4 steals. He'll lead the Red Raiders into a Sweet 16 matchup with Michigan, which boasts the nation's second-best defense, per KenPom.com―only behind Texas Tech's.

While Michigan senior Charles Matthews is a quality player, Culver will provide a massive test on both ends of the floor. And if he plays anywhere near his potential, Culver will only continue impressing.

"His ability to put the ball on the floor, his ability to defend, the way he passes the ball, he's an excellent prospect," Carlesimo said. "I'd be all over him in a minute."

But the NBA will be waiting a few minutes. Culver has some unfinished business at Texas Tech.

           

All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from NCAA.com, cfbstats.com or B/R research. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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