The NCAA tournament bubble isn’t necessarily any weaker, but it certainly isn’t shrinking. Games this weekend should help clear up a few spots – although it hasn’t happened yet. Right now, there are 25 teams listed as projected locks, with another seven teams in strong position to claim a bid (Should Be In). When you add in the 31 automatic qualifers, that leaves us with about 16 spots. Some of the bubble teams are in stronger position than others.
Bubble Banter highlights the teams we believe are on the NCAA Bubble. If a team isn’t listed, they aren’t a bubble team at the time of the update. RPI and SOS data is credited to CollegeRPI.com. RPI data is for games played through Thursday, March 1. Records reflect games through Friday, March 2.
A few quick thoughts about the weekend:
Connecticut and Mississippi State are the two BCS teams currently in our bracket that most need victories this weekend. Connecticut hosts Pittsburgh and Mississippi State hosts Arkansas.
Cincinnati should punch its ticket by winning at Villanova. A loss would make the Bearcats’ Big East tournament opener more important.
Northwestern needs to win its game at Iowa, but that won’t be easy. The Hawkeyes have been a tough out at home.
Washington can wrap up a Pac-12 title by winning at UCLA. That won’t guarantee the Huskies a spot, but it would certainly help.
Virginia travels to Maryland with a two-game losing streak. A loss would drop the Cavaliers to 8-8 in the ACC and make UVA’s opening round ACC tournament game much more intense.
Total Spots (68): Number of teams in the Field.
Projected Locks (25): Teams who project to have secured a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Should Be In (7): These teams are in solid position to receive an at-large bid.
Bubble: (33): Teams projected to be under consideration for at-large selection.
Spots Available (16): Estimated number of openings after Automatic Bids, Locks, and Should Be Ins are considered.
RPI and SOS: RPI and SOS data are updated through games on Thursday, March 1
Teams Leaving the Bubble: Southern Mississippi (Should Be In), Colorado, LSU (Dropping Off)
Teams Joining the Bubble: Virginia, Tennessee
Locks: Temple | Should Be In: None | Bubble: St. Louis, Dayton, St. Joe’s, Xavier
Dayton (18-11 | 8-7) | RPI: 73 | SOS: 58 | – The Flyers have eight Top 100 RPI wins, including victories over Temple, Alabama, and Xavier. The Flyers have also beaten Ole Miss and Minnesota. But after Wednesday’s loss at Richmond, the number of questionable losses is concerning – particularly defeats to both Miami-OH and Rhode Island. Dayton has to beat George Washington before heading to the A10 tournament. Another sub-100 loss could very well end the Flyers’ at-large chances.
St. Joe’s (19-12 | 9-7) | RPI: 56 | SOS: 44 | – After beating Temple the Hawks fell in double-overtime to St. Bonaventure. It’s not a horrible loss, but St. Joe’s margin for error is thin because of a 2-5 mark against Top 50 teams, a few questionable losses (American and Charlotte in particular), and an overall growing number of defeats . Beating Creighton continues to help, even though the win was in December. SJU also has a win over Drexel. Next up: the A10 tournament. The Hawks will need a couple of wins at minimum.
St. Louis (22-6 | 11-4) | RPI: 30 | SOS: 97 | – The Billkens put together an impressive second-half run to oust Xavier on Tuesday. An 0-2 mark vs. Top 50 teams isn’t something to take lightly, but SLU’s wins over St. Joe’s, Washington, and Xavier are close to that RPI mark. SLU closes with a trip to Duquesne. Taking care of the Dukes and avoiding a bad loss in the A10 opener should be enough.
Xavier (18-11 | 9-6) | RPI: 55 | SOS: 43 | – Non-conference wins over Vanderbilt, Purdue, and Cincinnati continue to help the Muskies. After leading at halftime, XU fell apart on the road at St. Louis and now face a critical game at home against Charlotte on Saturday. The Musketeers are just 6-10 vs. Top 100 teams and 12-11 vs. the Top 200. A losing mark against the Top 200 has traditionally spelled trouble. Xavier has a history of playing well in the A10 tournament; the Muskies need a similar effort this year.
Locks: Duke, North Carolina, Florida State | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Miami-FL, NC State, Virginia
Miami-FL (17-11 | 8-7) | RPI: 52 | SOS: 32 | – Miami’s loss to NC State Wednesday dropped the Canes to 3-10 vs. Top 100 teams and gave the Wolfpack a season sweep. What Miami has to offer is a huge win at Duke and a home victory over Florida State. Another plus, the Canes don’t have a bad loss, their worst was a close game at Maryland. Miami closes with Boston College at home.
NC State (19-11 | 8-7) | RPI: 59 | SOS: 23 | – The Wolfpack are still alive after beating Miami Wednesday, and NC State now owns a season sweep of the Canes. That won’t push them into the NCAAs, but it keeps them in the picture. NC State also has a win over Texas, which could still help. An 0-8 mark vs. Top 50 teams, however, is troubling, and a 5-8 mark vs. the Top 100 is okay at best. If the Wolfpack can win at Virginia Tech this weekend, they’ll be in the discussion entering the ACC tournament.
Virginia (21-8 | 8-7) | RPI: 49 | SOS: 83 | – Thursday’s loss to Florida State knocks the Cavaliers onto the bubble. It wasn’t a bad loss (other than losing a lead late), but rather it was a missed opportunity to add a resume-building win. Virginia is only 2-5 vs. Top 50 teams, so the Cavs’ resume isn’t quite as strong as it appears. Wins over Miami-Fla and NC State help, and the Cavs also beat Drexel and LSU. Virginia will probably be okay if it beats Maryland on Sunday. But a loss could make the ACC opener surpringly important.
Locks: Syracuse, Georgetown, Marquette | Should Be In: Louisville, Notre Dame | Bubble: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Seton Hall, South Florida, West Virginia
Cincinnati (21-9 | 11-6) | RPI: 68 | SOS: 98 | – The Bearcats posted a huge win over Marquette on Wednesday and may now have done enough to reach the NCAAs. UC just needs to avoid a letdown at Villanova and an opening-round loss at the Big East tournament.
Connecticut (17-12 | 7-10) | RPI: 36 | SOS: 2 | – Coming off a loss to Providence, the Huskies are inching closer to the wrong side of the bubble. Uconn is 5-7 vs. the Top 50 and 7-10 vs. the Top 100 but has been very inconsistent. Key non-conference victories include Florida State and Harvard. Inside the Big East, UConn has beaten Notre Dame, Seton Hall, West Virginia, and South Florida. UConn closes with Pittsburgh at home. They need to beat the Panthers and then try to win a couple of games in New York.
Seton Hall (19-10 | 8-9) | RPI: 47 | SOS: 42 | – The Pirates made their bubble life more difficult by losing a home game to Rutgers last weekend. While SHU is 3-7 vs. the Top 50, they are 8-8 vs. the Top 100. Notable non-conference wins include Dayton, St. Joe’s, and VCU – other teams on the bubble. If SHU loses at DePaul, the Pirates’ may need a couple of wins in New York to breathe easy. Within the league, SHU has beaten UConn, Georgetown and West Virginia.
South Florida (18-11 | 12-5) | RPI: 35 | SOS: 19 | – Wednesday’s victory at Louisville was the Bulls’ first marquee-type win and first notable win away from home. USF is just 2-7 vs. the Top 50 (the other win is Seton Hall). Yes, South Florida’s Big East win total is impressive, but the majority of those wins have come against the league’s weaker teams. USF closes with West Virginia at home. Another good win or two would certainly help solidify the Bulls position.
West Virginia (18-12 | 8-9) | RPI: 53 | SOS: 13 | – The Mountaineers breezed past DePaul on Tuesday, but have still lost have lost 6 of 9 games. Important victories include Georgetown, Cincinnati, and Kansas State – along with Miami(Fla) and Oral Roberts. Several close losses and a Top 10 schedule will help. The Mountaineers are 8-11 vs. Top 100 teams and nine losses have come to teams in the Top 35 of the RPI. WVU closes at surging South Florida. That could end up being an important game for both teams.
Locks: Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin | Should Be In: Purdue | Bubble: Northwestern
Northwestern (17-12 | 7-10) | RPI: 51 | SOS: 10 | – The Wildcats have to be wondering if they’ll ever make the NCAA tournament. Few teams have lost more close games to good teams. Wednesday, Jared Sullinger hit a layup with 3 seconds to go to lift OSU past the Wildcats in Evanston. The problem for NW is that close losses only carry you so far. The Wildcats wind up the Big Ten season at Iowa, which is no easy task. They need that one and probably a couple in the Big Ten tournament to make the Field.
Locks: Baylor, Kansas, Missouri | Should Be In: Kansas State | Bubble: Iowa State, Texas
Iowa State (21-9 | 11-6) | RPI: 32 | SOS: 49 | – Iowa State has a season sweep of Kansas State and home wins over Kansas and Texas. Will that be enough? Outside the Big 12, ISU’s best win is probably Iowa. Wednesday’s loss at Missouri was expected, but it still leaves the door open for some concern. The Cyclones host Baylor on Saturday. Win and things look good. A loss would add some pressure to ISU’s Big 12 opener. A 4-7 mark vs. the Top 100 right now isn’t exactly overwhelming.
Texas (19-11 | 9-8) | RPI: 54 | SOS: 31 | – The Longhorns pulled off their second escape act in a week by holding off Oklahoma on Wednesday. That sets up a showdown with Kansas this weekend. Texas hasn’t beaten a Top 100 team on the road, so a win doesn’t look promising – which means the Longhorns will likely have to win a couple of Big 12 tournament games to feel good about their chances. Texas is 3-8 vs. Top 50 teams – beating Temple, Iowa State, and Kansas State. Bad losses are to Oklahoma State and Oregon State. They are just 12-11 vs. the Top 200.
Locks: None | Should Be In: Memphis, Southern Mississippi | Bubble: Central Florida
Central Florida (18-9 | 9-6) | RPI: 64 | SOS: 94 | – Memphis ran over the Knights on Tuesday, leaving UCF on life support. They are just 2-5 vs. Top 50 teams and 3-6 vs. the Top 100. The Knights are also just 3-7 on the road. A win over Connecticut isn’t helping that much anymore. UCF finishes with UAB and likely needs a run to the C-USA title game to stay alive for at-large consideration.
Locks: Wichita State | Should Be In: Creighton | Bubble: None
Right now the Missouri Valley looks to be a two-bid league with Creighton and Wichita State firmly in the Field of 68. Arch Madness is always unpredictable, so a third bid is certainly possible.
Locks: UNLV, San Diego State, New Mexico | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Colorado State
Colorado State (16-10 | 6-6) | RPI: 20 | SOS: 4 | – Beating UNLV at home on Wednesday gives CSU wins over the top three Mountain West teams (UNLV, SDSU, New Mexico). That’s good, because while the Rams have played a good schedule, they didn’t post a non-conference NCAA-level win. CSU’s best non-conference wins are Colorado and Montana/Denver. An overall 8-8 mark against the Top 100 is okay, but a 2-9 road record is cause for concern. CSU’s best road win is UTEP (RPI No. 148). They also have losses at Stanford and Boise St. The Rams finish up with a winnable game at Air Force before heading to the MTW tournament.
Locks: None | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington
Arizona (21-9 | 12-5) | RPI: 69 | SOS: 101 | – Arizona has won 7 of 8 games and remains in the hunt despite some very questionable power numbers (RPI and SOS). Other than a victory at California, the Wildcats have no wins over projected at-large teams right now. Are wins over New Mexico State, Colorado and Valparaiso (Top 100) going to push Arizona into the NCAAs? Probably not. Plus, UA was swept by Washington. Arizona closes with Arizona State. That’s a must win heading into the Pac-12 tournament.
California (23-7 | 13-4) | RPI: 37 | SOS: 96 | – While Cal is 6-5 vs. Top 100 teams, they are 0-3 in the Top 50. Cal’s best non-conference win is Weber State or Denver. Blemishes are losses at Oregon State and Washington State. The Bears close at Stanford this weekend. A loss to the Cardinal would put another blemish on the Bears’ resume.
Oregon (21-8 | 12-5) | RPI: 44 | SOS: 77 | – The Ducks have won 5 of 6 games after beating Colorado on Thursday. That’s the good news. The issue remains a 1-6 mark vs. Top 50 teams and a paultry 3-7 record against the Top 100. A victory at Nebraska is all the Ducks have outside of conference play. Oregon closes with Utah. A horrible loss to the Utes could knock the Ducks into automatic qualifier status.
Washington (21-8 | 14-3) | RPI: 50 | SOS: 85 | – The Huskies’ have won 10 of 12 games and own the outright Pac-12 lead. Washington pounded USC on Thursday and can wrap up a Pac-12 regular season title with a win at UCLA this weekend. UW’s best wins are Arizona (twice) and Oregon at home – both fellow bubble teams. The Huskies are 3-8 against the Top 100 and just 1-6 vs the Top 50. Will a Pac-12 crown be enough for an at-large bid? It might depend on how far the Huskies advance in the Pac-12 tournament.
Locks: Kentucky, Florida, Vanderbilt | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Alabama, Mississippi State, Tennessee
Alabama (20-9 | 9-6) | RPI: 28 | SOS: 16 | – Four straight wins have changed the Tide’s outlook considerably. They close out SEC play with a trip to Ole Miss. Early wins over Wichita State, Purdue and VCU help. The only real downer is a two-point defeat at South Carolina. If there’s a concern, it’s a 2-5 mark vs. Top 50 teams and a 7-8 mark vs. Top 100 teams. Neither record is particularly impressive.
Mississippi State (20-10 | 7-8) | RPI: 61 | SOS: 67 | – The Bulldogs survived in OT at South Carolina, but that still leaves MSU with 5 losses in 6 games and in desperate need of a late run. The Bulldogs host Arkansas in a critical game on Saturday. A win probably keeps MSU on the right side of the bubble. A loss, probably not. MSU is 2-4 vs. Top 50 teams and 7-7 vs. the top 100. Both are average at best. The Bulldogs are helped by a win at Vanderbilt, along with wins over Alabama, West Virginia, and Arizona. Questionable losses are to Georgia and Auburn.
Tennessee (16-13 | 9-6) | RPI: 80 | SOS: 34 | – Given a 9-6 mark in the SEC, we’ll add Tennessee to the bubble. But the Vols have some significant work to do with 13 losses, including four to sub-100 RPI teams. UT swept Florida and has a win over Connecticut. Those are the highlights. They are just 12-13 vs. the Top 200. The Vols host Vanderbilt on Saturday. They need to win that game to stay in the conversation.
Locks: St. Mary’s, Gonzaga | Should Be In: None | Bubble: BYU
BYU (23-7 | 12-4) | RPI: 45 | SOS: 103 | – BYU opened WCC tournament play against San Diego, but it didn’t help or hurt the Cougars. They are 3-5 against the Top 50 – largely due to late surges that pushed Oregon and Nevada into that category. The issue is that BYU went 1-3 vs. St. Mary’s and Gonzaga, beating Gonzaga at home. It could take another win over the Zags to feel safe. To do that, they need to reach the WCC finals.
BEST OF THE REST
Locks: Murray State | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Drexel, Harvard, Iona, Long Beach State, Middle Tennessee State, Nevada, Oral Roberts, VCU
Drexel (25-5 | 16-2) | RPI: 65 | SOS: 235 | – The Dragons have an outright CAA regular-season title. How much that helps remains to be seen. Drexel is 0-1 vs. Top 50 teams and 4-2 against the Top 100. The non-conference wins in that category are Cleveland State and Princeton. Also, 14 of Drexels’ wins are against teams ranked 200 or higher in the RPI. Losses to Virginia and St. Joseph’s weren’t particularly close. Drexel needs to reach the CAA title game. It’s hard to believe anything else would be enough.
Harvard (24-4 | 11-2) | RPI: 38 | SOS: 171 | – A victory over Columbia on Friday puts the Crimson in the driver’s seat for the Ivy’s automatic bid. Harvard’s last game is at Cornell. If the Crimson were to lose that one, and a playoff, Harvard would have to hope early wins over Florida State, St. Joseph’s, and UCF are enough.
Iona (24-6 | 15-3) | RPI: 39 | SOS: 148 | – Beating Nevada in the BracketBusters helped the Gaels’ profile, along with a win over St. Joseph’s. Still, Iona is just 1-1 vs. against the Top 50. A 5-3 mark vs. the Top 100 in pretty good but none are against guaranteed NCAA teams. Losses to Siena and Hofstra – both sub 200 teams – are concerning given the lack of high-level wins. If Iona reaches the MAAC title game, they’ll be in the at-large discussion. An early tourney loss would make it much more questionable.
Long Beach State (20-7 | 15-0) | RPI: 34 | SOS: 111 | – The 49ers will try to complete a perfect Big West season Saturday at CS-Fullerton. LBSU’s top-rated non-conference schedule is well documented, and the 49ers’ worst loss is at Montana (RPI No. 83) in November. The issues are an 0-6 mark vs the Top 50 and a 2-7 mark vs. the Top 100. Those sort of stand out in the wrong way. With 12 of LBSU’s wins against teams ranked 200-plus in the RPI, they are just 8-7 vs. the Top 200. A BracketBusters loss to Creighton could still be a huge miss.
Middle Tennesse State (24-5 | 14-2) | RPI: 46 | SOS: 173 | – The Blue Raiders’ profile took a major hit with the loss at Western Kentucky. While MTSU won the outright Sun Belt title, the Blue Raiders’ best non-conference wins are Ole Miss, Belmont, and Akron. Good wins, but not the kind that carry a team into the NCAAs. A loss to anyone other than Denver in the Sun Belt tourney will likely relegate MTSU to the NIT.
Nevada (22-5 | 12-1) | RPI: 48 | SOS: 147 | – Nevada is rooting for Washington to win the Pac-12 as the Wolfpack’s victory over the Huskies is their only potential NCAA-level win. Nevada beat New Mexico State Thursday to sweep the Aggies. The Wolfpack also lost a competitive BracketBusters game at Iona. But it’s a loss that could still sting. Overall, Nevada is 1-3 vs. Top 50 teams and 4-3 vs. the Top 100. The Wolfpack have 14 wins against teams ranked 200 or higher in the RPI.
Oral Roberts (26-5 | 17-1) | RPI: 40 | SOS: 174 | – ORU beat Xavier, Missouri State, and Akron (BracketBusters) in non-conference play, but XU was without several players. Understandable losses are to Gonzaga, West Virginia, and South Dakota State on the road. When you consider that 14 of ORU’s wins are against teams ranked 200 or higher in the RPI, the margin for error remains small. Reaching the Summit title game will be important.
VCU (25-6 | 15-3) | RPI: 58 | SOS: 179 | – The Rams have been helped by some other bubble teams fading away. VCU has also been helped by South Florida’s surge. It’s the Rams’ lone Top 50 win. VCU is 4-4 vs. Top 100 teams but has 13 wins over teams ranked 200 or higher in the RPI. Other notable wins are at Akron (OT) and over Northern Iowa. VCU lost games to Alabama and Seton Hall and it’s only matchup with Drexel. The Rams are 11-1 in their past 12 games, but may need a rematch with Drexel to stay on the right side of the bubble.
Quinnipiac set to hire Villanova assistant Baker Dunleavy as new head coach
Quinnipiac will introduce Villanova assistant coach Baker Dunleavy as the team’s new head coach on Tuesday, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.
Dunleavy has helped the Wildcats to a national championship and multiple Big East championships as the team’s associate head coach. A former walk-on for Villanova who transitioned into a director of operations and later an assistant coach, Dunleavy is the son of Tulane head coach Mike Dunleavy Sr. Baker’s brother, Mike Dunleavy Jr., is still playing in the NBA as well.
The 34-year-old Dunleavy has experience with a championship program at Villanova so it will be interesting to see what he can do running his own program for the first time. Quinnipiac hired Dunleavy to replace Tom Moore, who was fired after 10 years with the program.
The Bobcats went to an NIT and made a few other postseason appearances under Moore but the program has never been to the NCAA tournament since making the transition to Division I in the late ’90s.
Report: Duquesne hires Akron’s Keith Dambrot as new head coach
Duquesne has hired Akron head coach Keith Dambrot to the same position, according to a report from ESPN.com’s Jeff Goodman.
The 58-year-old Dambrot has been head coach at Akron since 2004 as he’s helped the program to three NCAA tournament appearances.
The former high school coach of LeBron James at St. Vincent-St. Mary’s High School in Akron, Dambrot won two Ohio state championships with James before becoming an assistant coach at Akron in 2001. Dambrot eventually took over the head job over from Dan Hipsher.
Dambrot is reportedly getting a seven-year deal from Duquesne so the Dukes are making a major investment in him to turn around the basketball program.
Duke’s Christian Laettner shouts out North Carolina’s Luke Maye on Twitter after winning jumper over Kentucky
Duke and North Carolina don’t have much in common.
But the historic college basketball rivals now have the distinction of earning late Elite Eight wins over Kentucky that involved a No. 32 making the winning shot.
Blue Devil legend Christian Laettner is famous for his 1992 buzzer-beater over Kentucky in the Elite Eight and he made sure to give some love to North Carolina sophomore Luke Maye after his own Elite Eight shot knocked out the Wildcats.
Rice sophomore guard Marcus Evans will transfer and play his final two seasons elsewhere, he announced on Monday.
The 6-foot-2 Evans has been a major scorer the last two seasons for the Owls as he averaged 19.0 points per game this season after putting up 21.4 points per game as a freshman.
With Rice head coach Mike Rhoades taking the VCU opening and the program struggling to consistently win, Evans seeking to play elsewhere should not come as much of a surprise.
Evans will have to sit out a transfer season before having two more years of eligibility but he should be one of the best options available this offseason. A proven scorer who has become more well-rounded this season, Evans could be a high-quality addition to any program this offseason.
A native of Chesapeake, Virginia, it will be interesting to see if Evans decides to play closer to home.
The term ‘prisoner of the moment’ is never more fitting than when weighing just how valuable an NCAA Tournament star turn is for a kid’s potential success as an NBA player.
We see it every year. Big tournament performances during deep runs in the dance is a great way to inflate draft stock while disappointing exits are an easy way to hurt it, even if it goes against the season-long data that is telling us something about a player.
Who are the players that helped themselves the most this March? And who may have put a damper on their chances of hearing their name called early on draft night?
Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina: Thornwell has played his way into the discussion as a potential first round pick by leading South Carolina to the Final Four. He has the physical tools to be an excellent defender in the NBA, and he certainly has the toughness and physicality, but it’s his shot-making that is the game-changer for him. He shot 39.4 percent from three on the season and is hitting 43.2 percent from beyond the arc in the tournament, and while the knuckle-ball action on his jumper is concerning, at some point it’s fair to wonder whether or not his less-than-ideal form is less important than the fact that it goes in. Thornwell, who was the SEC Player of the Year this season, will be an interesting 3-and-D candidate come draft night, and the spotlight on him from averaging 25.7 points while leading the Gamecocks to the Final Four will only help.
De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky: Fox solidified his standing as a potential top five during the tournament. The red flags are still there — Can he make threes in the NBA? — but at the end of the day, the NBA Draft is about whether or not you want one guy or the other guy. This is a draft that is absolutely loaded at the point guard spot, and for the second time this season, Fox outplayed a guy that many have slotted above him, Lonzo Ball. In the Sweet 16, he put up 39 points, the most impressive individual performance of the tournament, as Kentucky skated by UCLA more easily than most of us expected. Ball should probably still be considered the better, but when you’re sitting in that room making those decisions, it’s not going to be easy to bypass the guy that bested him twice.
Jordan Bell, Oregon: Bell, a senior, has been one of the best defensive players in the country all season long, and never was that more apparent than when he went for 11 points, 13 boards, eight blocks and four assists against Kansas in the Elite 8. He totally changed that game, making Landen Lucas look like an eighth grader without any confidence and forcing the Jayhawks to miss a number of shots in the lane simply because they were aware that Bell could be lurking. He was probably worth a second round pick already, but that game very likely ensured that he will here his name called at some point on draft night.
Tyler Dorsey, Oregon: Dorsey is a shot-maker. That’s what he brings to the table offensively. He can score. He’s gone for at least 20 points in all seven tournament games — Pac-12 and NCAA — that Oregon had played this year, and he hit innumerable big shots in the process, including a game-winner against Rhode Island in the second round and a pair of absolute daggers against Kansas. Undersized scorers come a dime-a-dozen at that level, but Dorsey ensured that he will get a shot this spring.
D.J. Wilson, Michigan: Wilson has been one of the most intriguing prospects in college basketball this season given his size, athleticism and skill-set, and the attention that Michigan got as the darling of the conference tournaments and the first weekend of the NCAA tournament certainly didn’t hurt. I’m not convinced he’s in a position to be a first round pick, but I am certain that, if he opts to declare for the draft and sign with an agent, there will be a team willing to bet on the meteoric rise he had this year continuing.
Lonzo Ball, UCLA: With all the hype surrounding the Ball family heading into his showdown with De’Aaron Fox and Kentucky in the Sweet 16, you would’ve expected Lonzo, who has been terrific this season, to shine on the biggest stage. But that’s not how it went. He was completely overshadowed by Fox, who went for a career-high 39 points when they went head-to-head, bowing out of the tournament with nothing but a Sweet 16 to show for it. There’s a risk in making over-arching judgements on a player based off of one or two games when a season’s worth of data is telling you something else, but it is fair to note that Ball was outplayed in both of his matchups with another potential top five pick at his position.
Josh Jackson, Kansas: We’ve seen all season long what Josh Jackson can do on a basketball court, and one bad game where he got into foul trouble in the first four minutes is not going to change the way that scouts view his ability on the court. The concern with Jackson has nothing to do with basketball. It’s the off-the-court stuff, and it’s his temper. The biggest red flag surrounding him right now is an incident at a bar where he did more than $1,000 worth of damage to a person’s car. He got a few technical fouls this season. Against Oregon, he got into it with Duck players. Whether that affected his play, only Jackson will know, but it’s not all that hard to connect those dots. It’s easier to teach a 19-year old that cares too much to tone it down — the maturity that comes with getting older certainly helps — than it is to get a guy with no heart to be intense and tough, but that’s something NBA teams are going to have to consider when they decide whether to take Jackson in the top three of a draft this loaded.
Justin Patton, Creighton: Patton is incredibly talented and loaded with promise, but after seeing the dip in his production once Mo Watson went out with a torn ACL — 14.0 points and 6.2 rebounds per game on a 74 percent shooting vs. 11.9 points and 5.8 rebounds on 61 percent shooting post Watson — is concerning. Throw in that he was totally underwhelming against an undersized front line of Rhode Island in a first round loss, and there will be questions asked about whether or not he is a guy that is worth a first round pick.
Luke Kennard, Duke: Kennard, by all accounts, had a terrific season. He’s a skilled scorer that can get his buckets in a number of different ways. He’s a lights-out shooter with an advanced array of moves to create space to get his shot off and a knack for scoring around the rim with both hands. But the concerns with him is whether or not he will be able to do so against guys that are as athletic and strong as NBA wings are. Picking a second round matchup with a South Carolina team loaded with those kind of defenders to have his worst game of the season wasn’t exactly ideal timing.
Josh Hart, Villanova: Hart does everything well, and he certainly proved throughout the season that he had improved on the things that he needed to improve — shooting, playmaking, ability off the dribble. But the concern with Hart is whether or not he’s going to be able to get his own shot when the guys he plays against are bigger, quicker, more athletic and just as tough as he is, and the way Villanova bowed out of the tournament — with Hart being unable to create a shot or draw a foul on a drive to the rim — is a perfect summation of the concerns NBA teams have about him.