Potential or production? It all depends on the prospect in question

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The NBA Draft process is one where questions remain even after teams make their selections, because even in the case of the best players available there’s no such thing as a sure thing. One dilemma franchises have to address during the pre-draft process is how much they value “upside” as opposed to actual production at the college level. Optimally a player will have both aspects working to his advantage, having been a productive player at his position while also displaying the traits needed to become an even better player once in the NBA.

However that isn’t always the case, and as a result the process of projecting what a player could potentially be as a pro gets tougher. One issue that can lead to this struggle is the player not seeing as much time at the position in question as a collegian, and one example of this could be former UCLA guard Zach LaVine.

The 6-foot-6 LaVine had plenty of chances to serve as his team’s primary ball-handler at the high school level, but that wasn’t the case in his lone season at UCLA. The Bruins had one of the 2014 NBA Draft’s most intriguing prospects in 6-foot-9 Kyle Anderson to rely on for that job, with fellow freshman Bryce Alford joining LaVine as a valuable perimeter reserve. LaVine put together a solid freshman campaign, posting averages of 9.4 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game, but the question of where he’ll best fit as a professional remains.

While LaVine has the size and athleticism needed to be a factor at shooting guard, there’s also the desire to spend time as primary ball-handler. When it was first reported by the LA Daily News that LaVine would be leaving school, one reason cited was the lack of time spent at the point. So with that being the case, the question to be asked is how NBA teams go about evaluating a player looking to play a position different from the one he played at the college level.

MORE: Underrated Prospects | Overrated Prospects | Top Ten Players in Five Years | Busts?

“I guess it’s something we had to do with Victor Oladipo last year. It’s not as much taking the position away as it is taking whatever skills he has at one [position] and seeing how they translate at another,” Ed Isaacson of NBA Draft Blog told NBC Sports. “For just about every player you can end up with multiple possibilities, so you try to include as much [information] as possible when evaluating the player.”

While it can be difficult to evaluate a player at one position when he played another in college, it isn’t an “impossible” thing to do. With film study and individual/group pre-draft workouts, teams have the tools needed to get a better feel (by their standards) of where a prospect can be most successful. However the intangibles are just as important as the tangible, especially for a point guard, and getting an accurate read on those can be tougher when dealing with a prospect who hasn’t spent a lot of time at the position.

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Those factors can make the difference between winning and losing, and as noted by many involved with the draft process, can do wonders for a player’s status as a draft prospect. A prime example of this is former UConn point guard Shabazz Napier, who over the course of four years has improved greatly as a leader and won two national titles.

A number of factors, from his skill set to those improved leadership abilities, have combined to make Napier a respected prospect whose name is expected to be called during the first round of Thursday’s draft.

“I think it’s a combination of the whole package,” Jonathan Givony of Draft Express told NBC Sports. “The fact that he’s won as much as he did will certainly be taken into consideration. You’re not going to see too many guys drafted in the first round who played for bad college programs. It just doesn’t bode well for them, because everyone in the NBA’s trying to win, too.

“Every year you see guys who were in the tournament and played well rise in the draft, because people value winning.”

RELATED: Elfrid Payton, the Draft’s biggest sleeper | Balancing potential, running a program

Team success can be one of the biggest selling points for a point guard prospect and it only makes sense, as one of the main responsibilities of the position is to put his teammates in the best possible position for success. Napier had four years to play the position and hone his craft, making significant strides throughout the course of his career in regards to his stats and his maturity. Most importantly he learned how to lead, a valuable lesson that resulted in his school winning its fourth national title in April.

That particular lesson can be invaluable to a prospect, and it can be argued that LaVine didn’t have the opportunity of making similar progress due to the amount of time spent in college and the role he played while there. But with LaVine being projected to be a first-round selection, who can blame him for leaving school after just one season?

The draft process will be a difficult one regardless of the experience level of the player in question, meaning that the debate of “potential vs. production” will continue to rage on. Is there a right answer? Probably not, even with the argument being made by some pundits that more time in college automatically results in a better player. If anything more time in college gives NBA franchises more opportunities to observe the player in question, and that can prove beneficial to the decision-makers entrusted with the task of building a championship contender.

But the question of “potential vs. production” is one best answered on a case-by-case basis. The only difference is that in the instance of a player being valued more for what he could do than what he has, there’s more of the “unknown” to deal with.

Sunday’s NCAA tournament recap: Duke and Tennessee survive, chalk thrives

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PLAYER OF THE DAY: Zion Williamson, Duke

On a night where Duke looked like they were ready to see their season come to an end, Zion Williamson made just enough plays to keep the Blue Devils close enough to get lucky at the end.

The big fella finished with 32 points, 11 boards and four assists in the 77-76 Sunday evening win, scoring the and-one with 14 seconds left that led to the offensive rebound that R.J. Barrett’s game-winning put-back. This was anything-but a quintessential Duke performance. It was actually precisely the kind of game that Duke should have lost, but I’ll get to that at the bottom of this column.

TEAM OF THE DAY: Oregon Ducks

Payton Pritchard finished with 18 points and seven assists, the Ducks made 13 threes and, over the course of the final 12 minutes of the game, outscored UC Irvine 38-17 en route to a 73-54 win and a spot in the Sweet 16. The Ducks are the only team to make it to the second weekend of the tournament as anything other than a top five seed, but there’s an argument to make that they are actually a top 16 team at this point in the season. They’ve now won 10 straight games, and the last eight of them have come on the road or on neutral courts. It’s been a wild ride, and it’s not done yet.

GAME OF THE DAY: Duke 77, UCF 76

It was a thriller in Columbia, S.C., on Sunday night, one that we wrote about here and here (and down at the bottom of this column) and that ended like this:

ONIONS OF THE DAY: Grant Williams, Tennessee

Tennessee was getting ready to make history on Sunday, and not in a good way. The Volunteers blew a 25 point first half lead to Iowa, getting to overtime where Williams absolutely took over. Tennessee used a 9-2 run to take control in the extra frame, and Williams was responsible for all nine points. He scored three straight buckets and found Jordan Bone for a three in the mix, too.

I guess there’s a reason he’s an all-american.

WTF OF THE DAY: Admiral Schofield, Tennessee

During that overtime period, Admiral Schofield was on the bench. He was on the bench at the end of regulation, too. He didn’t foul out. Rick Barnes wasn’t drunk. Schofield knew that the Vols needed Kyle Alexander on the floor, and so did his teammates. So Alexander stayed on the floor and Schofield stayed on the bench and, as a result, Tennessee stayed in the NCAA tournament.

BIGGEST SURPRISE: Justin Robinson, Virginia Tech

Buzz Williams must be happy to have his point guard back. Justin Robinson finished with 13 points and four assists off the bench, but 10 of those 13 points and all four of those assists came after No. 12-seed Liberty had taken a 26-18 lead on Virginia Tech late in the first half of the second round tilt in San Jose. He sparked an 18-6 surge that spanned both halves and had a pair of assists in another 11-3 run early in the second half as the Hokies landed a come-from-behind, 67-58 win over the upset-minded Flames.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Buffalo Bulls

The game that I was most excited about heading into Sunday was Texas Tech vs. Buffalo, and that’s because I thought that the Bulls would at least put up a fight. They didn’t. After staying within striking distance for more of the first half, the Red Raiders buried Buffalo down the stretch.

ONE MORE THING TO KNOW

This was the one.

This was the game that Duke was supposed to lose in this tournament.

This matchup had all the elements necessary to make it happen.

For starters, UCF has the roster makeup to be able to hang with Duke. They have size, they have depth, they have athleticism and they have the one guy in college basketball that can make Zion Williamson an inefficient finisher around the basket in Tacko Fall. They played precisely the way that you need to play to be able to beat these Blue Devils, by packing everyone in the paint, daring Tre Jones and Jordan Goldwire to beat you from the perimeter and parking a shot-blocker directly in front of the rim. And they did all that while one of their shot-making wings went bonkers. Aubrey Dawkins finished with 32 points on 12-for-18 shooting, making tough shot after tough shot to give the Knights a shot to win this thing in the final minutes.

Throw in the good fortune from the basketball gods — specifically, a couple of no-calls on Fall and the shot clock violation that wasn’t in the final minutes — and it was all coming together.

Duke was going to lose.

And then that shot happened, this didn’t fall and UCF was heading home:

One of the things that I kept seeing after the end of this game is that this is evidence that Duke is not invincible, which I just don’t understand.

This is something that we have known all season long. Duke struggles to shoot the ball, particularly at the point and the five, and good teams are capable of exploiting that. They pack in the paint, they do their damnedest to avoid turnovers that allow Duke to get out in transition and they hope that all of this happens on a night when their star plays like a star.

That’s how you beat Duke.

That’s the blueprint.

UCF had all the tools they needed, and luck just didn’t break their way.

It’s not different than the end of last year’s Elite 8 game, when Duke was on the other end of the luck spectrum.

That’s when Grayson Allen’s game-winner rolled off the rim, just like Dawkins’ did on Sunday night:

Just how different would the narratives be for these two Duke teams had both of these shots fallen?

Top overall seed Duke survives No. 9 UCF’s upset bid

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Two days removed from the first NCAA tournament victory in program history, East Region No. 9 UCF had two shots at knocking off top overall seed Duke Sunday in Columbia, South Carolina. But B.J. Taylor’s floater and Aubrey Dawkins’ attempted tip-in both missed the mark in the final seconds, and as a result the Blue Devils pulled out the 77-76 victory.

UCF took a 76-73 lead with 45 seconds remaining, but the failure to cap a key defensive possession with a rebound proved costly. Zion Williamson’s offensive rebound led to a basket and Tacko Fall’s fifth foul with just over 14 seconds to go. RJ Barrett would corral the resulting missed free throw, and his put-back with 11.4 seconds remaining proved to be the game-winning basket.

Williamson finished with 32 points, 11 rebounds and four assists, leading four double-digit scorers on the day. And even with the freshman’s offensive mastery Duke nearly saw its season come to an end, as UCF defended well and also shot the ball well on the other end of the floor.

UCF used multiple looks on defense, from man-to-man to a standard 2-3 zone to a matchup that purposely left Tre Jones and Jordan Goldwire open. Jones and Goldwire (combined 2-for-11 from three Sunday) would both make a three-pointer in the second half, but neither was proficient enough to punish UCF for this approach.

This proved especially problematic for Duke when Cam Reddish was on the bench with four fouls, as the Blue Devils turned to a backcourt tandem that is the team’s best defensively but struggles mightily to shoot the ball.

Reddish (3-for-4; including a huge three with 1:45 remaining) and Barrett (2-for-3) combined to shoot 5-for-7 from three on the day, with Williamson making three of his seven attempts. While future opponents won’t be able to replicate the size that UCF has in Fall, teams can certainly pack it in defensively and force Duke’s non-shooters to prove that they can hit those shots. Johnny Dawkins’ team nearly made Duke pay the price, but two offensive rebounds in the final 30 seconds cost the Knights.

Offensively UCF was proficient, making 48.1 percent of its shots from the field and shooting 9-for-18 from three, with Aubrey Dawkins leading the way. In scoring his 32 points Dawkins shot 12-for-18 from the field (5-for-8 from three), and he also accounted for four assists, three rebounds and three steals. Taylor and Fall added 15 points apiece, with the latter also racking up six rebounds and three blocked shots.

UCF may have revealed the “blueprint” to beating Duke, but it isn’t as simple as allowing them to put up perimeter shots. Knowing the personnel is especially key, as the Knights did a good job of funneling those shots to players Duke would be better served not having shoot. And even with that blueprint UCF was unable to take full advantage itself, which is why Duke is moving on.

“Survive and advance” is the preferred saying this time of year, and Duke managed to do just that.

No. 12 Oregon locks up third Sweet 16 in four seasons

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South Region No. 12 Oregon appeared to be in some trouble during the second half of Sunday’s second round matchup with No. 13 UC Irvine. Dana Altman’s team went more than seven minutes without scoring a point, with the Anteaters going on a 16-0 run to take a two-point lead. But Oregon regained its composure and shooting ability, going on to win by the final score of 73-54.

Payton Pritchard led four double-digit scorers with 18 points while also dishing out seven assists, with Louis King adding 16. The two other double-digit scorers were just as impactful on the defensive end of the floor, as Ehab Amin and Kenny Wooten changed the tenor of the game after UC Irvine’s 16-0 run.

Amin was a pest on the perimeter, racking up three steals to go along with 12 points, five rebounds, and two assists. And if any UC Irvine player managed to get into the paint more often than not Kenny Wooten was waiting, as he blocked seven shots and changed many others. He was a finisher around the basket as well, adding 12 points and nine rebounds to his stat line.

Robert Cartwright led three UC Irvine players in double figures with 14 points, but Russell Turner’s team shot just 5-for-18 from three and the 24-point differential (Oregon finished 13-for-25) was too much for the Big West champions to overcome.

This is the third time in the last four years that the program has managed to get out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. But unlike those runs, an Elite Eight appearance as a 1-seed in 2016 and a Final Four as a 3-seed in 2017, this run has been more about a team getting hot at the right time.

Oregon lost Bol Bol in mid-December to a season-ending foot injury, and even though the Ducks won their first two games without the talented freshman it was obvious that things weren’t right. Oregon lost four of its first six conference games, and in February there was a three-game skid capped by a 90-83 loss at UCLA in which the Bruins scored 62 second-half points.

Since then the Ducks have been outstanding on the defensive end of the floor, allowing 60 points or less in eight of their ten wins. There’s still offensive talent on the roster, but without Bol Oregon had to buckle down defensively in order to have any chance of making good on the preseason expectations. It took some time but the Ducks eventually got things right, and the end result is a run that few imagined possible a month ago.

Next up for Oregon will be top-seed Virginia, a program well-known for its work on the defensive end of the floor. This will undoubtedly be a challenge for the Ducks, but thanks to the improved defense they’re more than capable of continuing this run.

Houston reaches first Sweet 16 in 35 years with in over Ohio State

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It may not be Phi Slamma Jamma, but Kelvin Sampson has something special brewing with his iteration of the Houston Cougars.

Behind 21 points from Corey Davis Jr. and 13 points, five assists and five steals from Galen Robinson, the No. 3-seed Houston Cougars advanced to the program’s first Sweet 16 in 35 years with a 74-59 win over the 11th-seeded Ohio State Buckeyes on Sunday evening.

Houston will advance to take on No. 2-seed Kentucky.

The names that you read there, the leading scorers and the players that will go down in the recaps as the stars of the game, are Houston’s guards. They have a bunch of them. Davis is the best of the bunch and Robinson has been a rock solid lead guard all year, but Armoni Brooks and Dejon Jarreau – neither of whom were particularly great on Sunday – are both capable of popping off for big games on the right night.

In fact, the top five scorers on the Houston roster are all perimeter players.

But they are heading to the Sweet 16 thanks in very large part to their very large men.

Ohio State’s strength is that they have Kaleb Wesson. He’s their leading scorer, their leading rebounder, one of their best passers and the guy that Chris Holtmann runs his offense through. He finished with 15 points, six boards and a pair of assists — his average on the season — but he was no where near as effective as we have come to expect out of the all-Big Ten center. To get a sense of just how in check he was, think about this: Wesson attempted just a single two point field goal on the night. Kelvin Sampson’s crew double-teamed him to perfection, with Breaon Brady, Fabian White and Brison Gresham doing everything that you can ask of them.

They are going to need that heading into the next round, as they will take on a Kentucky team that may or may not be getting P.J. Washington back from the foot injury that has kept him out since the SEC tournament.

Whatever happens in the Sweet 16 is besides the point by now.

Houston is back in the Sweet 16.

Everything from here on out is playing with house money.

WATCH: Johnny Dawkins addresses locker room after loss to Duke

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East Region No. 9 UCF nearly pulled off the upset of this year’s NCAA tournament, but two shot attempts in the final seconds missed the mark in the Knights’ 77-76 loss to top-seed Duke.

Following the game head coach Johnny Dawkins addressed the locker room, thanking his senior class and the team as a whole.

While the NCAA tournament is about determining a champion, it’s moments like this that make the event so special.