Rarely does the final match in the NCAA tournament live up to its hype.
Even last year’s final, which was fairly close and featured top picks Greg Oden and Michael Conley Jr., only showcased a few instances which had viewers sitting on the edge of their seats.
That was not the case last night in Kansas’ 75 to 68 victory over Memphis in overtime, a game that had both teams playing at a break-neck pace and going back and forth until the final buzzer sounded.
In the end, many will point to Memphis’ inability to hit free-throws in the clutch (the team went one of five from the line in the final minute or so) but there was a lot more to this game than simply the Tigers cracking under pressure.
-Freshman sensation Derrick Rose was basically reduced to a spectator role in the first half thanks to some sensational defence by Jayhawks guards’ Sherron Collins and Mario Chalmers. He went off in the second, but you had to wonder if if Kansas would have still been within striking distance at the end of the game had Rose been more aggressive with his offence in the first half.
-The Tigers failed to foul the Jayhawks prior to them getting off a potential game-tying 3-point shot, something that proved their undoing as Mario Chalmers hit a ridiculous running 3 to send things to OT.
-Kansas depth, especially up front, put the Tigers in foul trouble and simply wore them down as the game went on. Perhaps a few more breaks for the likes Dozier, Dorsey and Taggart would have left the crew with some more energy late in the game, and maybe a little zone D from coach Calipari might have forced the Jaywhawks into some different looks.
-Three-point gunner Willie Kemp saw only four minutes of action for the Tigers and as a result, Memphis was only six of 22 from beyond the arc.
-And of course the free throws. Is this the curse of Darius Washington? Washington of course was the Memphis player who back in 2005, missed two huge free throws with no time left on the clock as Louisville (then a member of Conference USA) thus claimed the conference title. Memphis needed Washington to hit all three free-throws to capture the automatic bid into the tourney, even two of three to send the match to OT. Washington hit the first, but bricked the next two and the Tigers were shut out of the Big Dance.
Besides being an extremely entertaining game, the match, and the entire weekend’s Final Four contests, gave scouts and GM’s alike a chance to get a look at a great group of potential NBA prospects. RaptorsHQ checks in once more with our thoughts on some of these players.
Chris Douglas-Roberts. Let’s start with CDR. Chris was a one-man wrecking crew for the Tigers in the first half last night scoring from inside and out and showing once again why he’s one of the best one-on-one players in all of college. His game reminds me a bit of Shawn Marion in terms of his herky-jerky style, but CDR is a much better scorer than Marion was coming out of UNLV. Douglas-Roberts carried the offensive load for Memphis in the first half and while he cooled off in the second deferring to his red-hot team-mate at point, CDR still finished the night with 22 points. More importantly for Raptors’ fans taking in the game, you saw just how well he can create his own shot, snake to the basket and draw fouls getting to the line nine times last night. And what impressed me the most was that in the biggest game of his career, CDR immediately started attacking on offense showing little sign of jitters or nervousness. He needs to get stronger, and work on his foul shooting if he’s going to get to the line that much at the next level, but CDR is still my top pick for Toronto come June realistically. The problem is, with his sensational tournament, he’s been rising fast on most mock drafts. And so the player who I once thought was a great combination of fit and realism in terms of where he’d fall in the first round, may not even be there when the Raptors pick.
Brandon Rush. Rush versus Douglas-Roberts was one of the much-anticipated individual match-ups last night and it was fairly competitive. CDR had the better game offensively but Rush was solid again at both ends of the court finishing with 12 points, six rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block. Rush probably moves up the draft rankings a bit with his performances over the past few games but I’m still not sold. He reminds me a lot of Morris Peterson still coming out of Michigan State; an excellent defender at the college level, a solid 3-point shooter, a smart player and nice glue guy to have. Problem is that’s not what Toronto needs right now. If BC is going to keep his pick, I think it’s a must that he drafts someone who is more aggressive in terms of getting their own offence, and a better athlete. Rush, like Peterson at MSU, is a good athlete at the college level, but I don’t think he’ll stand out in the NBA by any stretch of the imagination. I like Rush, but if Toronto ends up drafting around 15 to 17, I think there is better value to be had elsewhere.
Joey Dorsey. Unfortunately Dorsey had his worst game of the tournament last night scoring six points and only grabbing two rebounds. He did have impact defensively with some nice shot blocks, but struggled against the interior size of Kahn, Arthur and Jackson. I like Dorsey, but his complete lack of offense and penchant at times to disappear in games certainly doesn’t warrant a first-round selection. However as mentioned last time we discussed Ben Wallace Jr., if Toronto could nab him for cheap in the second round, I’d be all for such a move.
Darrell Arthur. Another player who disappears at times for his club, Arthur, actually put up the most impressive display of the season for me last night. Having watched Kansas plenty of times this season, seeing Arthur score 20 points on a nice assortment of outside shots and low post moves was a revelation. Arthur is one of the most talented "bigs" in the NCAA but his averages of 12.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks just don’t jump off the page the way they perhaps should. He’s a long and athletic power forward who besides last night, just never seemed to be able to get it together. It will be interesting to see how his stock fares after workouts but for now, I’m not taking the "buyer beware" tag off him just yet. 20 and 10 is great in the Championship game, but Toronto has little need for another power forward, especially one as inconsistent as Arthur.
Mario Chalmers. While Arthur was maybe Kansas’ most dominant player on the stat sheet, Chalmers was the MVP. He and Sherron Collins hounded freshman sensation Derrick Rose all night and forced him into some tough shots and bad turnovers. Chalmers of course hit the clutch 3 with seconds left in regulation to send the game to OT but his poise, timely scoring, and leadership on the court were evident all night long for the Jayhawks. It sounds like Chalmers will return to school next year and try to work himself into the first round as right now, he looks like a second round selection. He’s still much more of a shooting guard in a point guard’s body, but his strength and defensive intensity should get him drafted at some point. Does he make sense for the Raptors? Defense is always welcome on the Dinos but I’m not sure essentially a 6-1 shooting guard is a good fit for the time being.
Kevin Love. Love looks like he’s heading to the NBA despite a disappointing conclusion to his NCAA career. His play in the final game didn’t do a lot to boost his draft stock, as he struggled inside against the more athletic Joey Dorsey. However you got the feeling that the UCLA offense didn’t look for him enough down low and therefore the reason he seemed to be settling for perimeter jump shots off of screen-and-rolls. I think Love will still end up being a late lottery pick and while we’re fans here at the HQ, it’s doubtful barring a trade that the Raptors will get a chance to nab him.
Russell Westbrook. Still no word on what many of the other UCLA Bruins will do concerning the upcoming draft after their loss to Memphis in the Final Four Saturday night. Kevin Love as mentioned looks to be a lock to come out and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Collison declare as well. So what about Russell Westbrook, the athletic, ball-hawking PG-SG? Another year in college might allow him to get accustomed to running the point in Collison’s absence but with incoming point guards Malcolm Lee and Jerime Anderson, not to mention super scorer Jrue Holiday at the 2, I’m guessing we’ll see Westbrook make the leap as well. He was UCLA’s best player against Memphis finishing with 22 points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals and while not the slashing 3 perhaps that Toronto needs, he has the potential to be a special player in the league. Right now he looks to be slightly out of the Raptors’ draft range but he’s someone that could easily move up or down based on individual workouts.
Darren Collison. Collison didn’t exactly go out on a high note for UCLA with his one for nine shooting performance against Memphis. His four assists and four rebounds showed his ability to compete in other areas but you saw some of the questions about Collison at the next level come to life again Saturday night. Derrick Rose simply overpowered him with his strength and got past him with his quick first step. Granted Rose will probably be a handful for many NBA defenders as well but at a TJ Ford-esque six feet and 160 pounds, Collison is going to have trouble at times on D in the league. Right now I feel that he’s not a great fit for Toronto considering where they’ll be picking but if Collison somehow falls in the second round, he’d be a great value.
Tyler Hansborough. I’m not sure there’s a more polarizing player in all of college basketball. The next Mark Madsen? The next Luis Scola? Hard to say. I’m not a fan of Hansborough but you can’t deny that he never takes a night off. He’s not the most athletic post player in the NCAA, but he’s extremely tenacious at both ends of the court, a proven winner, and a double-double threat every night. Even though his Tar Heels bowed out to Kansas in the Final Four, "Psycho T" (is that not the worst nickname in basketball as an aside) did everything he could to carry his club putting up 17 points and grabbing nine boards. For the Raptors, Hansborough would make sense from a toughness and grit perspective but like some of the other players we’ve mentioned, I feel there’s better value elsewhere in the draft.
Quick Hits from the Elite Eight:
Robin Lopez. Lopez is an interesting player. He doesn’t have the offensive skills of his brother Brook but has an Anderson Varejao presence in terms of rebounding and defending. This is another player I’d love to see Toronto bring in for workouts as his size (he’s a legit 7-footer,) intensity, shot blocking skills, and rebounding prowess would be good fits on the club.
Kyle Weaver. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see Weaver play that much this year. He didn’t have a great final game in the tournament against North Carolina but carried his club for stretches of the season. This is another player who could shoot up the mock drafts depending on his workouts and hopefully we’ll get to see him in person this summer.
Earl Clark. Apparently Clark is going to test the draft waters this year and his length and athletic ability makes him an interesting player. He could definitely use another year under Rick Pitino to work on his low-post game and handle but his upside could cause a number of teams to bite. He’s a great passer who can play the 3-4 ala Danny Granger in college, and should warrant a look from BC and co.
Terrence Williams. One of my favourite players in all of the NCAA, Williams can do a bit of everything. At 6-6, 220 he’s got the size and strength to play numerous positions and he’s an excellent athlete and passer. He led Louisville in scoring and assists from the 2-3 spot and may end up testing the draft waters this year. So far Louisville coach Rick Pitino is saying that Williams will be back, but who knows. If he does return though, it would give Terrence a chance to work on his jump shot, something that he struggles with in terms of consistency.
Courtney Lee. Lee like Weaver had an up and down final game for his club. Against UCLA, Lee was hounded into seven of 29 shooting by the likes of Russell Westbrook as he struggled to create his own shot. He did grab eight rebounds and looked to help create for his team-mates, but he did nothing to boost his draft stock in my eyes. Lee is still probably a fringe first-rounder, but barring exceptional workouts, I’m not sure he makes sense for the Raptors in the eyes of Colangelo and Mitchell.
We’ll of course be keeping tabs on the draft situation as we near the June 26th date to see which players are in and out. Right now Toronto would be choosing in the 15 to 17 range and depending on declarations, could still nab a very good prospect at that spot. Of course a lot is still up in the air as depending on the final games of the season, and Toronto’s playoff run, Colangelo may look to package the draft choice for more immediate help.
On a final note, as "One Shining Moment" played last night to signify the end of the 2007-08 college season, I admittedly felt a bit sad to see the conclusion of what was a great year in NCAA basketball. A solid tournament, some great regular season moments, and the chance to get to see some special players like Michael Beasley and Derrick Rose now gives way to the NBA playoffs and draft preparation.
I guess I can take some solace knowing that I’ll be able to see Beasley next season in the league…
…just so long as it’s not in a Knicks’ uniform.