The South region of the NCAA Tournament has a nice mix of veteran-led teams along with big-name young talent. Florida, the #1 seed, went undefeated this season in the Southeastern Conference with four seniors playing integral roles, while #2 seed Kansas started four freshmen and sophomores for most of the year. The talent is very top-seed heavy, but a good number of these players will be wearing NBA uniforms next year:
(Players are listed in order of their team’s seed in the region)
Patric Young - Florida, Sr., Forward – The #1 overall seed Florida is a well-balanced offensive, tough defensive team, but the 6’9, 250 pound Young gives them the physical post player that can be very necessary in the elimination tournament format. Young uses his body well around the basket to get easy points, but his real value comes from his ability to guard effectively in the post or on the perimeter. He isn’t a top-level NBA prospect, but teams will like his NBA body, strong work ethic and very good feel for the game.
Andrew Wiggins - Kansas, Fr., Forward – Expectations for the highly-touted freshman may have been a bit skewed, but there has been little doubt after a college season that Wiggins has what it takes to make an impact at the NBA level. Athletic, with great bounce, Wiggins showed what he could do once he became more aggressive in the 2nd half of the season. His perimeter shooting can be more consistent, but 35% from three-point range is a good start. Wiggins has had both a 41-point game and a 19-rebound game this season, and is coming into the tournament averaging 31 points and 8 rebounds over his last three games. He is also a very strong defender capable of guarding multiple positions, so his duties may vary from game to game.
Joel Embiid – Kansas, Fr., Center - Embiid’s status is unknown as of right now due to a back issue which has kept him out of action the past couple of weeks. If Embiid is healthy enough to play, he gives Kansas a much-needed rim protector and potential low-post scoring presence. The freshman, who has only been playing basketball for a few years after coming to the United States, developed much quicker than anticipated and vaulted himself into some conversations as the potential #1 overall draft pick this year. There is no doubt there is a lot of potential yet to be untapped in Embiid, but he has already shown some areas which could need significant work. Solidly built at 7-foot and 250 pounds, Embiid still had difficulty with more physical players. Also, staying out of foul trouble has been an issue at times.
Tyler Ennis – Syracuse, Fr., Guard – When Michael Carter-Williams headed to the NBA after last season, it was expected that Ennis would need time to adjust as a freshman running the Syracuse offense. Instead, Ennis showed remarkable poise for a freshman guard and for most of the season, the Orange’s offense ran extremely well. The Ennis legend grew throughout the season with his uncanny ability to step his game up in the final minutes, including some game-winning shots. Ennis enters the Tournament with a 3.2 to 1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Shot selection can be an issue at times, especially when he settles for jumpers, but Ennis is already one of the better guards at hitting a shot forgotten by many young guards – the floater. He’s a facilitator of the Syracuse offense more than he is a creator, but his play will be vital to a Syracuse run.
Jerami Grant – Syracuse, Soph., Forward – Grant, the son of former NBA player Harvey and nephew of Horace, is long and athletic, and one of the players to watch if you are looking for the guy most likely to pull off the spectacular. Both his offense and defense are still raw in many ways, but his progress from freshman year to sophomore year is clearly noticeable. Grant can be a terror on the offensive boards and runs the floor very well for his size, but when you take him away from the basket, things can get a little dicey. The raw tools are there though to be a contributor at the NBA level in a couple of years.
Kyle Anderson – UCLA, Soph., Guard/Forward – Anderson is by far the toughest college player to protect as a future NBA player. He is UCLA’s point guard at 6’9. He leads the team in rebounding and assists, and is second in scoring. There is no other NCAA player who is as much of a threat to get a triple-double on any given night like Anderson. Aptly nicknamed “Slo-Mo”, Anderson’s deliberate pace on offense, combined with his size, makes him a nightmare for many players to defend. His most glaring offensive weakness entering the season was perimeter shooting, but he turned into a fairly reliable mid-range shooter and occasional three-point threat (48% on 54 attempts.) Still, defense is still a weak point, and at this point it is really tough to figure out who he could guard at the NBA level, and generally where he would fit in.
Briante Weber – VCU, Jr., Guard – Weber is the key cog to VCU’s HAVOC defense and at 3.3 per game, was the nation’s leader in steals. He has the ability to lock down opposing guards the length of the court, and he also has the instincts to jump passing lanes that you never thought he could get to. He isn’t a major threat on offense, other than creating points off of turnovers, but he is one of the few defenders who’s a game changer.
Aaron Craft – Ohio State, Sr., Guard – One of the few guards who may even outshine Weber on the defensive end, Craft has been a vital part of the Ohio State team for four seasons now, three as the starting point guard. Craft is the best on-ball defender in college, and it’s not solely reliant on his defensive technique. He does a great job honing in on his man’s weaknesses and forcing players to play to them. On top of that, he does a very good job keeping the Ohio State offense moving, and though not a true playmaker, he has good court vision and is generally very smart with the ball. NBA teams will see him and see the potential as a good backup point guard down the road.
Cameron Bairstow – New Mexico, Sr., Forward – Many people are split on Bairstow’s NBA potential (he is 23 already), but there is no denying the leap in production he made this year was tremendous. The 6’9, 250-pound Australian averaged just under 10 points per game his junior season. This year, he is up to over 20 points per game, on 56% from the field, and over 7 rebounds. Bairstow is capable of playing with his back to the basket or facing up out of the post, and he handles the ball very well for his size with a nice touch around the rim. He has also shown some consistency as a mid-range shooter, as well as being a force on the offensive boards. Defensively, he has the body to bang with more physical power forwards, but the footwork to guard out on the perimeter.
Lamar Patterson – Pittsburgh, Sr., Guard – Patterson is another late-blooming senior who stepped up in a major way this season. Patterson, like many Pitt players, always had a reputation as a tough defender, but this season, he added a versatile offensive game to the mix. Patterson can knock down mid- and long-range jumpers (40% from three-point range), but he also has the body to take smaller guards into the post area. He also added 5 rebounds and over 4 assists per game, making him a dangerous all-around player. Constantly working on the floor, he is the kind of player that teams will want to bring with them to training camp next fall.
Dwight Powell – Stanford, Sr., Forward – Athletic and smart, Powell just never seemed to put up the kind of season at Stanford that many expected out of him. One night he could get you 20 points and 10 rebounds, and the next night take 4 shots and grab a handful of rebounds. The skill and athletic ability is there for Powell to still be a good role player at the NBA level. A 6’10 player with a good shooting touch around the basket, the ability to out-jump most other players on the floor, Powell would have probably flourished in a different offensive system, but teams are still aware of his next-level potential and will look to see if he can finish his college career on a big note.
Others to Watch
Chris Walker, Casey Prather, Michael Frazier II - Florida
Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden - Kansas
C.J. Fair - Syracuse
Zach LaVine, Jordan Adams - UCLA
Juvonte Reddic - VCU
LaQuinton Ross – Ohio State
Kendall Williams, Alex Kirk – New Mexico
Josh Scott – Colorado
Shayne Whittington – Western Michigan