by Jeff Fox
Like it or not, there are more important things at stake during the NCAA tournament than how your entry in the office pool is doing. Even for the actual participants in the games, there is more at stake than whether or not their team wins or loses (but they won’t admit it). Coaches are auditioning either for a job at a bigger school or a big contract extension from their current employer. And, of course, players are auditioning for the numerous NBA and overseas pro scouts watching the games.
But how much of a factor should a prospect’s play in the tournament have on his draft stock? The Portland Trailblazers’ GM Kevin Pritchard was posed a similar question on NBA TV recently, and he said that while it is important to see a top prospect go up against other top competitors (which is what March Madness offers), their performance in the tournament should only be viewed as another item to add to a player’s extensive scouting report. After all, Sean May, Mateen Cleaves and Jeff Sheppard are among the names to have won the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award over the past decade or so.
So, while taking this all with a grain of salt, here are the players who have boosted, or hurt, their draft stock with their play in this year’s edition of the Madness thus far.
Blake Griffin — Oklahoma
Considering he already was projected as the number one pick in the draft, Blake Griffin technically hasn’t boosted his stock with his play in the tournament. However, his gritty, athletic play has further solidified the opinion that he is head-and-shoulders above all other prospects in this year’s draft. Think Tyler Hansbrough, but with off-the-charts athleticism.
Demar DeRozan — USC
Double-D just got better and better as the season progressed, to the point that if he does enter this year’s draft he’ll be leaving college on a high note. Averaging 18 points and seven boards while shooting 50 percent in the tournament (against two very good teams) does wonders for his stock. However, considering he is a wing player, only knocking down six three-pointers during the season is a bit of a concern.
Cole Aldrich — Kansas
Haters will say that he didn’t do it against any real tough post players, but Cole Aldrich’s play during Kansas’ first two tournament games was still amazing. A double-double his first game and an almost unheard of triple-double in his second is eye-opening stuff. While he is still not expected to enter this year’s draft, look for Coleplay to be a top-10 pick in 2010.
Others worth noting: Terrence Williams, Louisville; Sam Young, Pittsburgh.
James Harden — Arizona State
Heading into the NCAA tournament, the Sun Devils’ James Harden was being given serious consideration as the second-best prospect in this year’s draft. While that may still be the case today, his play in the tournament did nothing to justify this. Despite being the most talented player on the court in both of Arizona State’s tourney games, Harden shot 3-18 combined and almost had as many turnovers than assists. Not exactly the take-charge performance his team—and the scouts—were looking for.
Austin Daye — Gonzaga
While his play hasn’t been poor—he’s shooting 50 percent for the tournament—with his skill level and length, more is expected out of Austin Daye. Just like Harden, he is the most talented guy on the floor more often than not, yet when he isn’t sulking about a foul call that has gone against him he is showing that he is not physically strong enough to finish as many plays as you’d hope from a top prospect.
Jeff Teague — Wake Forest
This has pretty much been a tournament devoid of upsets—other than Cleveland State’s spanking of Wake Forest. Jeff Teague did nothing to help his team’s plight—or his draft stock—in the loss. At 6-2, Teague is going to have to prove he can run the point in the NBA, so his seven turnovers against five assists in the Cleveland State game doesn’t help his cause. And for a shoot-first point guard, shooting 18-43 for the month of March is abysmal.
Jeff Fox also writes about college hoops and the NBA draft at College Hoops Net.