Blogging through Championship Week (Part Three)

Blogging through Championship Week (Part Three)
Mar 14, 2008, 02:48 pm
The quarterfinals of the Pac-10 went by without a single upset, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as far as we’re concerned considering the quality of the teams that advanced. The Pac-10 did not want us here covering their pro prospects, so we had to dip into our network of coaches to help us out. The result was that instead of being stuck on press row all day, we instead got to sit center court in the third row for all the games, right next to the NBA scout’s section, which gave us the chance to pick the minds of some of the brightest minds in the business all day long and get their views on this year's draft class. Even more teams showed up today—besides the eight GMs mentioned yesterday, we also saw Sam Presti (Seattle) and Chris Mullin (Golden State) as well, bringing the GM tally to an amazing ten.

Attendance fluctuated through the day as people came in and out—it’s probably not easy to fill the arena since most people were at work when the local teams USC and UCLA played in the afternoon. The worst part of the day revolved around the incredibly disappointing way that Arizona State was booted out of the tournament, on an atrocious over and back call on Jeff Pendergraph on his game tying put back dunk with 17 seconds to go that gave USC the game. That call might keep Arizona State out of the NCAA tournament as well. After all the controversy we’ve seen over the past week (the terrible calls that ended the UCLA-Stanford and UCLA-Cal games), we have to wonder how can the best conference in America have such bad referees?

What we saw on Thursday…

Jonathan Givony

O.J. Mayo-
Had an excellent game, one of the best of his NCAA career so far, at just the right time, in front of a horde of scouts. Finished with 23 points and 6 assists, on 8/17 shooting with 5 turnovers. He seems to be improving game by game these days.

Mayo is always open as far as he's concerned, for good or for bad, as he doesn't change his shot in the least bit even when he's being contested. He again showed the ability to come off screens and elevate instantaneously while squaring his shoulders and getting his picture perfect shot off.

Besides his perimeter shot, he contributed in a variety of ways, getting his own shot repeatedly, and creating for others when things aren't there. He again looked extremely unselfish and always aware of where teammates are on the floor, showing great court vision and a superb feel for game. He seems to be figuring out the college game, his teammates and his coach's not so simple offense, looking extremely poised and patience throughout the game, almost to a fault at times. He struggles to always fully beat guys off dribble in pure one on one situations, though, as his first step is not off charts and he's not super explosive around the basket.

Defensively, he did a very good job, getting out to half-court to put pressure on the ball, showing great hands, and really putting in a solid effort here once again.

Mayo again was fairly turnover prone, at times trying to be too spectacular, making risky or lazy passes that led to lost possessions. NBA scouts we talked to here question his upside to a certain extent. Is he going to be a star or a superb role player they wonder? And is that worthy of a top-5 pick? He played more PG than usual, which was nice to see, and after a terrific first half (14 points, 5 assists) slowed down a bit in the second, looking too unselfish and not taking the reigns when his fellow teammates started settling for some bad shots. He missed two open jumpers late that could have came back to haunt SC. Still ended up being responsible for huge percentage of his team’s 59 points with the 23 points and 6 assists he dished out.

Jerryd Bayless- There is a lot of wow factor involved when watching Bayless play live. He makes some plays at times that are almost mind-blowing. For example, he went up for a ridiculous dunk in the first half that showed unbelievable athleticism, and might have been the best miss I've seen all year.

Besides that, he was off and on, scoring 18 points, but doing so on 4-14 shooting. Stanford’s entire defense was focused on him virtually every time he touched the ball, especially in the first half. They roughed him up, gave him some business coming off screens, and did not give him any easy looks. To his credit, Bayless recognized the way the Lopez twins were shutting down the paint, and did a great job reacting to that, instead looking for shots in the mid-range area, where his awesome ability to elevate off the floor and create separation from his defender with his pull-up jumper really shined. He also drew a ton of fouls by putting a great deal of pressure on Stanford’s guard, proving to be too quick to stay in front of. He made some nice drive and dish plays, but played mostly off the ball next to Nic Wise. Struggled to finish his left handed drives, although he did manage to get all the way to the rim with them, which is a good sign. Despite the poor shooting percentages, it was nice to see him trying to take over the game and willing his team to victory, showing a lot of character in the process. He was clearly not happy about the loss.

Darren Collison- Possibly the best player on the floor in any of the games today—a trend that has been consistent over the past few weeks. Scored 19 points (7-12 FG) with 5 assists in 31 minutes. Looked super under control executing UCLA’s offense, but also did a great job getting his own as well. Knocked down open shots and let everything come to him. His jumper is ugly, but how are you going to argue with the results? Played fantastic defense, completely disrupting Cal’s offense. I’m having a hard time seeing how the Pac-10 decided to give Kevin Love conference player of the year honors over him, as he is unquestionably their most important player, and it’s not even really close.

Brook Lopez- Again abysmal from the field, shooting 9/24. Went to the same predictable move again and again on the right block. Again the bad shot selection, the lack of recognition of situations, and refusal to pass out of double teams. Jordan Hill usually knew what he was going to do when he got the ball on the block before he did. Prefers not to finish with left hand. Takes bad shots that sometimes go in. Struggled a bit with the cut throat pace of the first few minutes. On the positive side, he’s very impressive physically in person. There are just not many players like him in person or the NBA. He has good athleticism and coordination, and is not a dumb player. At his age, he still has plenty of room to improve offensively, as some scouts reminded us. Even within his limitations, he would still be effective against many defenders in the NBA, because of his size and ability to establish position deep in the post. He did a great job defensively closing down the paint, and showed the ability to hedge screens on the perimeter. Was terrific on the glass, with 15 boards. Hit one very nice one dribble pull-up from 15 feet, but then clanked another mid-ranger badly. He’s a hard guy for some executives to swallow, since there is no real NBA comparison for him.

Kyle Weaver- Had an excellent all-around game, which we really wanted to see from him. Racked up 7 assists to go along with his 14 points (on only 7 shots). Sees the court exceptionally well, almost like a real PG. Makes plays in a multitude of ways, whether on the drive and dish, with bullet passes from the perimeter, or passing out of the post, where he likes to operate with his back to the basket. Even hit a nice looking three, which is big for him. Went to work down low repeatedly with very crafty footwork. Did a little bit of everything for Wazzu, particularly defensively. With that said, there were a lot of question marks posed about how exactly he fits in in the NBA, in what capacity, as he’s not a great shooter and he seems to struggle creating his own shot. Will he be able to compete as well defensively in the NBA considering his lack of bulk? We’ll be watching him closely in the semis…

Chase Budinger – Had a very good first half and then completely disappeared in the second. Made some excellent passes, and showed a very good feel for the game. Not a very shifty player, seems a bit stiff, and lacks creativity. Hit an unpolished looking pullup jumper, which is a good sign. Took the ball to hole semi assertively in the first half. Someone you have to keep feeding and calling plays for, because he's not creative or assertive enough to go out and make things happen on his own. Is he a little too nice? Appears to be a very solid role player, but people might be expecting too much. Scouts we talked to say he’s falling on people’s boards, as people are realizing that he’s not going to change all that much.

Robin Lopez- Fairly impressive with some of the moves he makes. Has big hands, is agile, and possesses very good timing. Focus isn’t always there, tries to do crazy stuff sometimes, and lacks quite a bit of polish. Extremely active. A presence defensively. Contests everything. Blocks shots, and alters many others. Faced up impressively at one point, put the ball on floor and in the net off the glass. People in the know here say he's coming out this year together with Brook…which might come as a bit of a shock to some.

James Harden- Had a solid game, with 16 points and 4 assists. He looked excellent on the catch and shoot early, and then proceeded to do more inside the arc after that. In person he looks a bit small and not super athletic, although it takes a while to begin to appreciate all the many things he does on the court at his tender age. He showed great anticipation in the passing lanes, picking up an awesome seven steals. He has a great feel for game, and is an excellent passer. On the downside, he seemingly does not want to finish with his right hand under any circumstances, which teams heavily play off of. Watching him, you forget sometimes that he's only eighteen years old. He has a chance to be the Pac-10 player of the year next season if he worked all summer on handling the ball with his right hand.

Taj Gibson- Struggled to get touches in the paint against ASU's stingy 2-3 zone, and seemed a little frustrated about it. He had 11 points and 9 rebounds, but turned the ball over 5 times. He definitely looks on the small side in person, but his length and tenacity really helps defensively and on the glass. He has great great timing. No one seemed overly excited about him here.

Jeff Pendergraph- Was somewhat underwhelming in person, looking small with a very narrow frame. He hit some mid-range jumpers and got to the free throw line with his high activity level. Was hampered by foul problems. He’s a very good team defender.

Davon Jefferson- Somewhat of a non factor in this game. Just did not show up mentally. It was not hard to see the talent shining through in small glimpses, be it with an incredibly athletic rebound, or a dribble drive move, even if he seems to go off on his own a little too much. Like Gibson, was very active on the glass.

Kevin Love- Struggled with foul trouble in the first half, but then came out incredibly in the second by hitting three consecutive three pointers in a 90 second stretch. Showed unbelievable hands, and made a couple of fabulous passes in the half-court or especially igniting the break with an outlet. It didn't take long to see how unathletic he is, after he came up with a steal and slow as molasses take to the basket, and then struggled around the rim with his lacks of explosiveness. Defensively, he struggled to contest shots around the rim due to his average size and length, and also got exposed a bit trying to step out and guard the perimeter. He seems to be all over the boards depending on who you talk to, but at the end of the day is going to be viewed as a very safe pick.

Ryan Anderson- Had a pretty average showing, although he did manage to salvage his stat-line once the game was completely out of reach. Started the game completely out of it, out-hustled for rebounds by Kevin love, and a non-factor offensively. He struggles to run the floor overly well, and lacks some oomph to finish around the basket. It seems like Cal is asking him to do too many things that he isn’t comfortable with. Scouts we talked to like him in the late first as a power forward who can stretch the defense with his range, and compete on the glass. Apparently he is definitely testing the waters, and will only stay in if he’s assured of being selected in the first round.

Devon Hardin - Almost painful to watch offensively if not just catching and finishing around basket, which he is terrific at. He needs a point guard next to him to help get easy baskets, but instead he’s being posted up 8 feet away from the hoop, which completely exposes his lack of skill. Did not do a great job on the glass today either, with just 2 rebounds in 17 minutes.

Russell Westbrook – Got his 12 points from here and from there, rarely getting all the way to basket. Made some very unselfish plays within the flow of UCLA’s offense, picking up 5 assists. He played lock down defense on Patrick Christopher, closing out on him incredibly well, contesting his shots, putting great pressure on the ball, and not giving him anything easy—a big key for UCLA.

Maarty Leunen- Looks small and very skinny in person. Very skilled and savvy player, but lacks some aggressiveness and is unselfish to a fault. Poor lateral quickness was very evident. Did not shoot the ball as well as he typically does. Seems to be considered the best pro prospect out of Oregon from the small survey we conducted.

Bryce Taylor- Looks really small in person. Did not make much of an impact, scoring only 8 points in 34 minutes before fouling out. Looks excellent coming off screens and knocking down jumpers, but other than that he was barely felt. Lacks aggressiveness, and not much of a ball-handler. Very smart and savvy player, but we missed some fire from him in what might end up being the last game of his college career. Apparently he turned down his invite to Portsmouth, which is a little bit surprising. He needs to be careful, because at his size and rather pedestrian numbers, he could get lost in the shuffle and forgotten in the NBA draft process really quick.

Malik Hairston- Scored quite a bit, but looks less and less like an NBA player every time we see him. Clearly an average athlete, not in great shape, and seems to rely too much on his strength to expect to translate his production to the next level, just bulldozing his way through lane. Struggled to defend his own position. Scouts wonder if he can play the small forward position at the next level.

Taylor Rochestie- Doesn't look like much on first glance, but he actually might be the best player on this team. Quick, smart, great passer, and anticipates extremely well. Shoots a very high percentage from the floor and behind the arc. A great teammate. Never leaves the floor for his team, and clearly struggled from fatigue. The problem is he's small, with short arms, not strong and can't really create his own shot at the next level. He also doesn't score a ton. He will struggle defensively against bigger, stronger guys. With all that said, the guy is an excellent basketball player.

Jordan Hill- Gave Stanford some problems in transition and the half court inside the paint with his athleticism. Extremely quick and fairly aggressive. Showed good hands and is a reliable finisher. Put the ball on the floor from the perimeter and drew some fouls. The team seemed to go away from him in the second half. Most importantly, he played terrific defense on Brook Lopez, predicting his predictable moves very well, and getting right in his face to contest shots. Hill has been playing out of position all season long, and you have to wonder what he might be able to show if he was able to play the power forward position next to a real big man.

Thoughts from elsewhere around the country…

Joseph Treutlein

Roy Hibbert- Had a tough game, in foul trouble throughout, and really being no part of Georgetown’s route over Villanova. He played good defense for the short time he was in the game (14 minutes), both in the post and helping on pick-and-rolls, but didn’t do anything offensively, scoring 0 points and committing 4 turnovers. His teammates didn’t get him the ball much in the low post, and he looked uncomfortable when he got the ball in the high post and when dealing with double teams, as evidenced by the 4 turnovers. Hibbert’s ineffectiveness with the ball outside of five feet is a definite concern, as his mid-range jumper is still unreliable, and he’s not comfortable putting the ball on the floor.

Anthony Randolph- Had a strong game as LSU lost to South Carolina 77-73, likely ending his season and possibly his college career. This wasn’t exactly the best setting to evaluate Randolph’s game, with South Carolina’s entire frontline being below 6’7 and not putting up much resistance in the post, which Randolph took full advantage of, scoring 22 points on lots of lay-ups and post moves very close to the basket, using his length to score easily even though most of his moves looked slightly awkward. Randolph did settle for some questionable pull-up shots from the perimeter, though, and had six turnovers, things that have been problems for him all season. Randolph clearly has a lot of potential and some great tools to work with, which could get him drafted pretty high if he came out this year, which is looking like a strong possibility, though his game still needs a lot of polish at this stage.

Joe Alexander- Followed up his 22 point performance yesterday with 34 points today, leading West Virginia to an upset over Connecticut in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament. Alexander was downright dominant from the mid range in this game, hitting jumpers in every which way, pulling up and turning around mostly, once again showing excellent elevation and the ability to hit tough shots with a hand in his face. He forces the issue at times, leading to some blocked shots, which could become more of an issue at the next level, but it’ll be less of a concern if he returns to school next year and improves his ball-handling and extends his range to behind the arc to give him a more complete offensive package, two things he seems capable of doing with practice. Still, with the way he’s playing recently, you have to wonder if he might start considering using his free draft card to see what’s out there once the season is over.

Hasheem Thabeet- Wasn’t really a major factor in this game, with West Virginia doing much of its damage from the perimeter, though he showed some flashes of the good and bad of his game. He had two blocks in the early going, showing very good patience and timing in the lane, though West Virginia didn’t challenge him much after that. On the offensive end, Thabeet had two very nice left-handed shots on the low block, one a hook shot that he was fouled on and the other a nice crafty maneuver through a double team for the score. On the downside, he wasn’t always able to get back in transition defense and didn’t contest perimeter shots, while he also wasn’t consistent boxing out, not having as much dominance on the boards as you’d expect for someone his size. Thabeet will have some chances to improve his stock in the NCAA tournament, though he’s already done a great job of that this season with the noticeable strides he’s made with his game.

Richard Hendrix- Had a very strong game with 22 points and 8 rebounds on 7-for-13 shooting, leading Alabama to an upset win over Florida. Hendrix started off the game extremely well, doing whatever he wanted in the post on the offensive end, using his power game while also mixing in some great fakes and counter moves to score with ease against Florida’s overmatched frontline. When Florida started playing more aggressive defense and using more help on Hendrix in the second half, things got a little tougher for him, and he wasn’t always able to finish due to his lack of explosiveness, but he still held his own. He supplemented his scoring with some great passing out of the post, and also hit a spot-up 18-footer. On the defensive end, Hendrix played aggressive, blocking some shots coming over from the weakside and showing good awareness in the passing lanes, picking off a few steals and poking some balls away. A run in the SEC tournament would help Hendrix get some extra exposure, but they have a tough task tomorrow in Mississippi State.

Mike Schmidt

Marcus Dove- Throughout his opening round game in the Big 12 tournament, Dove managed to show his strengths that could get him drafted, but also the weaknesses keeping him from rising up the draft boards. Dove has great potential as a lockdown wing defender at the next level, and spent much of the game forcing Martin Zeno into difficult shots. Zeno finished with just seven points (nine less than his season average) and managed to shoot only 8 field goal attempts against the defensive-minded senior. For as good as Dove proved to be defensively, Dove displayed no confidence on the offensive end of the floor. He seems to lack range on his jumper at this point, and the majority of his seven points (2/5 FG, 3/4FT) resulted from being in the right place at the right time. Oklahoma State advanced out of the first round and Dove will have a chance to show better confidence offensively against a talented Texas team.

Sam Young- Young played a huge role in leading Pittsburg to an upset win over Louisville in the opening round of the Big East Tournament, finishing the game with 21 points and 12 rebounds while shooting 8/19 from the field. The athletic combo-forward struggled with his three point shooting today, missing on four attempts. He did show a solid mid-range game and the ability to hit a 20 footer off the dribble, but he looks more comfortable shooting the set shot at this point. Though he has spent much of his career in college playing the four, Young has all the tools to transition to the wing at the next level. He shows a quick first step off the dribble and the ability to hit shots nearly anywhere on the floor. Young continued to show great promise as a lock-down defender for the next level as well. Young guarded both Terrance Williams and Earl Clark during different points in the game, and forced both players into taking difficult forced shots off the dribble. The junior forward still needs to make progress with his ball handling, but he’s established himself as an intriguing prospect with the work he’s put in this season.

Jerel McNeal-
McNeal entered the Big East tournament coming off of a couple of big games against Syracuse and Seton Hall. In a first round match-up against Notre Dame, the talented but erratic guard had his biggest game of the season, allowing the Golden Eagles to advance in upset fashion. He had a huge game both statistically (28 points, 6 rebounds, 9/16 FG, 4/7 3PFG) and in terms of impact for his team. The guard caught fire early in the second half, scoring seven straight points to bring his squad back from an eight point deficit. He showed incredible quickness while taking the ball coast to coast on a fast break, and impressive elevation on his three point jumper on the next possession. McNeal continued to show the lockdown defensive ability that first gained him notoriety as well. He’s has always been criticized for his reckless style of play, but his turnovers have dropped significantly this season. He must continue to shoot the three pointer with some consistency, and we could see an increase to his draft stock next season.

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