Outlook: The small forward position in this Final Four is a bit of the X-factor position. We know what we will (or should) get from the stars, but for three of the four teams, the difference maker may end up being the players on this list. Its not because they are the best player on the team, but its because they have a skill that no one else on the team can provide.
As with the shooting guards, some of these listings may look a little bit off as all four teams have lineups that are fairly fluid.
Ranking the SFs:
1) Jeremy Lamb and Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, UConn
Jeremy Lamb has been sensational during the month of March for the UConn Huskies. A lanky, athletic 6’5″ freshman, Lamb sputtered early in the season as he tried to find his role on this UConn team. As he gained confidence, his game started to take over. And Lamb has plenty of game. He’s got range to the three point line, he can score slashing to the rim, he has one of the best floaters in the country, and his length allows him to be a terror on the defensive end. Lamb is averaging 16.0 ppg in UConn’s nine postseason games and 18.3 ppg in the NCAA Tournament, becoming UConn’s secondary option. Coombs-McDaniel is an important piece for the Huskies as well. Where Lamb can play the two and the three, Coombs-McDaniel can play the three or the four. JCM is instant offense off of the bench. He only averages 5.8 ppg, but he has gone for 20 a couple of times this season.
2) DeAndre Liggins, Kentucky
Liggins may very well be the most important player on the floor on Saturday night in Houston. He’s one of the best defensive players in the country, and his job on Saturday will be to guard the unguardable — Kemba Walker. At 6’6″ with great quickness and length, Liggins is a difficult match up for smaller guards that can’t shoot over him. But Liggins is more than just a defensive stopper these days. He’s also a play maker and a guy that John Calipari looks to for creating offensive. The most amazing part of all of this is that Liggins averaged 3.8 ppg in his first two seasons in Lexington, sitting in Billy Gillispie’s dog house and then John Calipari’s dog house. He’s had a change in attitude. He’s accepted the fact that he is a role player. And he’s excelled at it.
3) Bradford Burgess, VCU
Burgess is the ultimate x-factor for this VCU team. There isn’t much that Burgess is not capable of doing on the offensive end of the floor. He’s an excellent shooter from deep, he can rebound the basketball, he can score around the rim, and he can put the ball on the floor and make something happen. Burgess is a natural wing player, possibly even more of a shooting guard than a small forward, but he spends a lot of his time on the court playing the four. He has enough size that he can compete inside and on the glass — especially when VCU goes zone — and he creates a mismatch problem for opposing big men with his ability to shoot the ball from the perimeter.
4) Chase Stigall, Butler?
The reason I have a question mark after Stigall’s name is that Butler doesn’t really have a small forward anywhere on their roster. Stigall is more of a shooting guard than anything, but at 6-4 he’s the biggest of Butler’s wing players, so he gets put into this slot. Brad Stevens plays three guards at a time, and that is part of the reason that Butler has struggled on the defensive end of the floor this season. Losing Gordon Hayward and Willie Veasley hurt their versatility defensively.
Future Pros: Jeremy Lamb’s play late in the season has put him into a position where he will have to think about actually entering the NBA Draft. Its a shocking statement to make considering where he started the year. But Lamb has terrific tools — length, athleticism, fluidity — and a very well-rounded offensive repertoire. He still has a number of holes to fix, most notably his strength and weight, but I would be shocked if he wasn’t a first round pick whenever he decides to leave.
DeAndre Liggins probably has a good shot at the NBA as well. He’ll never be a star, but he has the size to defend NBA perimeter players and he can hit a three. Guys like James Posey and Bruce Bowen made a lot of money doing just that.
Essential to winning a title?: What makes this spot so important isn’t the star power. For Jeremy Lamb, DeAndre Liggins, and Brad Burgess, they provide something to their team that no one else on the roster is able to. Calling them “glue guys” would not give them enough credit.
UConn needs Jeremy Lamb to score to win. DeAndre Liggins needs to slow down Kemba is Kentucky is going to win. Brad Burgess has to be able to create a mismatch on the offensive end of the floor is VCU is going to advance. These guys are the x-factors.