I think it is safe to say that March is the MOST ELECTRIFYING MONTH IN ALL OF SPORTS! Excuse me for stealing a line from The Rock, but I really think March is most exciting month for sports solely because of March Madness. Nothing epitomizes gambling in an office setting more than the NCAA Tournament. The new 68-team bracket hasn’t garnered a lot of attention this year. Quite frankly, nothing from college basketball has been talked about that much this year because there is no real powerhouse team, in my opinion. The biggest college basketball star of 2011 is BYU’s Jimmer Fredette, so yeah, it’s been a slow year.
This all got me thinking about the top NBA prospects in college this year. I don’t think there are many. If this year’s NBA draft class were to be compared to a movie, it would be “Point Break” with Keanu Reeves and Gary Busey as the main characters. That’s how unappetizing this year’s draft class is. When a Duke player is slated to go No. 1 overall, it’s not a good year for talent. Sure, Duke always has a strong team in college, but there aren’t many Dukies tearing it up in the NBA. The Blue Devils always seem to find good, awkward-looking college players that rarely transition well in the pros.
Take Kyle Singler for example, he looks like the conceived product of Nosferatu and the Vlasic Pickle stork, albeit he has a good mid-range game and can knock down some tough threes; he lacks the NBA athleticism to be a great pro. His freshman teammate, Kyrie Irving, on the other hand, looks like he will be the first overall pick in June’s draft, should he leave Durham. Irving has only played in eight games this year due to a toe injury (please), but it still may be enough for him to potentially land in Cleveland — the caboose team in every professional sport. Irving is a true point guard and a good defender. He is a good athlete — not a great one — but his ability to drive to the hoop and his quickness will serve him well at the next level.
*Note: That last paragraph was the most credit I have ever given a Duke player(s) in my whole life. People who read my periodic postings should know that I would rather be forced to wrestle a gaggle of machete-yielding silverback apes than root for Duke (or the Steelers), if that helps.
Anyway, now that we’re on the freshman kick, we might as well venture west to Columbus where freshman Jared Sullinger has helped the Buckeyes vault back atop the AP poll. Sullinger, a power forward, nearly averages a double-double per game (17.4 PPG, 9.8 RPG), but his 6’9″ frame might be considered slightly undersized to play the four position in the NBA. He doesn’t even average one block per game as one of the biggest players in college basketball. But he’s a great rebounder, a physical post-player and a very intelligent basketball player. It looks like he’ll be one of the top ten picks if he decides to leave the Ohio State University.
When we’re talking about freshman, we can’t forget about the NBA’s favorite college coach, John Callipari. The Kentucky coach has to be secretly hoping for a lockout in the NBA so some of his players will actually stay. Callipari lost his entire starting lineup in the 2010 draft — don’t look for the same thing year. The most NBA-ready player on Coach Cal’s squad is small forward Terrence Jones. He can play the four-spot too, but needs more work in the post if he wants to be successful down low in the NBA. Jones has a huge wingspan that stretches over seven feet wide. The freshman averages two blocks per game while knocking down nearly 46 percent of his shots. If he declares for the draft, it appears he’ll end up being taken in the middle of round one.
Enough about freshman, let’s talk about seniors (woo! That’s what I am!). Anyone who goes through four years of college deserves some recognition (you can put congratulatory messages in the comment section of this blog) and considering Jimmer Fredette’s popularity has Swiffered America with multiple 40-point games, he’ll get his here.
Fredette is a scorer first (27.3 PPG), and can score from anywhere on the court. He’s a tough kid that isn’t afraid of scoring inside and will gladly take a 26-foot shot without even thinking about. One of his downfalls is that he is not much of a passer (4.3 APG). Fredette doesn’t have great athleticism, which makes me wonder whether he’ll fare well on the defensive side of the ball in the NBA. He is 0.6 percent away from being a 45-90-40 (FG %, FT %, 3-pt %) guy and could turn out to be the type of player that can provide a spark off the bench. From what I’ve read, seen and heard, he appears to be a mid-round pick in the first round.
Next up, preseason AP All-American, Harrison Barnes. Go ahead and re-read that last sentence. I’ll wait.
Yeah, Harrison Barnes is a freshman. A FRESHMAN who was named a preseason All-American by the Associated Press. First time ever that has happened. I’m not sure what is more shocking: the fact that a freshman was named to the preseason All-America team or the fact that the people who voted him there are employed as sports writers. Voting Barnes in as a preseason All-American is like having James Franco and Anne Hathaway host the Oscar’s. Oh wait…
Barnes hurt his stock a little bit this season as he struggled in the first part of the season with North Carolina. He has improved greatly since the start of the season and has basically secured a spot in the top three picks of the NBA Draft. He’s a great athlete who possesses a solid mid-range game but can be streaky from three-point range. One of the few knocks against Barnes is his lack of a mean streak. You have a certain edge to play in the NBA and it’s probably something he’ll develop over time. He has the size to play the three and the agility to play the two, if need be.
It will be interesting to see how these guys play down the stretch. With conference tournaments coming up and the NCAA Tournament only a few weeks away, the poise and leadership of these NBA hopefuls should really show. Whether it will or not remains to be seen, but a player’s stock can sky rocket or drop drastically in March.
By the way, I talked about two players from Duke, one player from North Carolina and zero players from Maryland in this blog. I will now throw myself into a dumpster full of thumbtacks while wearing my “GARYLAND” t-shirt.