Rawle Marshall, SG, Oakland
Marshall has had an up and down year at Oakland, but has been absolutely on fire lately, scoring 23 points or more in his past 8 games heading into Oakland's game last night and 9 out of the last 10 overall. Marshall and his team are officially on cloud number nine after accomplishing an incredible feat by making the NCAA tournament through the Mid-Con tournament's automatic bid. Marshall was named tournament MVP for his efforts as well.
Oakland entered the tournament at just 9-18 on the season, but still managed to knock off three teams in four nights and secure their spot in the dance. Marshall's streak of 23 point games or more is over now after he scored only 18 to go along with 8 rebounds in the finals, but he could care less about that I am sure. He showed off his stuff very well on national TV and his stock is going through the roof with the way he's played this past month.
Marshall is an extremely long and athletic swingman who plays very good defense and gets to the line almost ten times a game. He can really create his own shot and finishes very well around the basket, but he looks extremely raw. As you may have seen last night, his team really needs him to do it all for them to be successful, and that's why they've been relatively easy to shut down this year. Marshall reminds one a bit of Josh Smith in his rookie year this season, but with a much better handle. His outside shot is very streaky, and generally not a strength of his, but is has been falling for him lately (17-for-39 over this roll of nine games). Better late than never is our approach to Marshall turning it on right before his NCAA eligibility expires, and seeing him in the tournament against a top team like Illinois (who he played already this year) would be great for his chances of being drafted. We're assuming that he'll be in Portsmouth regardless.
Taylor Coppenrath, F, Vermont
We've talked about the big guy from Maine a few times this season already, so we'll try not to be too redundant, although our opinion on him has changed as the year has progressed. Vermont reached the finals of their conference tournament this past weekend; they will be matching up at home with Northeastern next Saturday in a game that will be broadcast live on ESPN (11 AM ET).
Coppenrath had a very good tournament by his standards. On Saturday, he went off for 33 points and 6 rebounds. The very next day he showed his stamina by scoring 34 points to go along with 12 rebounds against Binghamton. He shot 24 of 36 in those two games, not taking or hitting even one three, which should tell you a bit about the way Vermont is using him this year. The more we see of Coppenrath, the less we think his game will translate over to the NBA. He is listed at 6-9, and we really hope for him that that's indeed what he measures out at. He is seriously lacking in footspeed, strength, size and explosiveness, and the way he gets most of his points in the NCAA (posting up and off offensive rebounds and similar junk) really makes it hard to project him at any NBA position. He is smart, confident and extremely savvy, though, so we can't rule out him making the league through a backdoor route at the end of the day, but it will take some great camps for him to be drafted with the way things stand right now.
Juan Jose Barea, G, Northeastern
The other main prospect (for this year) that the scouts were checking out at the America East tournament (freshman teammate Sean James had 21 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 blocks against Maine), Barea took his team on his back and is one win away now from making the NCAA tournament. He has had an absolutely ridiculous tournament, scoring 41 points to go along with 8 assists and 6 rebounds in the first game, and then coming very close to a triple double in a game the very next day, with 20 points, 11 assists and 8 rebounds. His 19 assists compared with 7 turnovers is a noticeable improvement for Barea, and you can see him becoming a much better point guard from game to game, despite the fact that he absolutely has to score (and in bundles) for his team to have any shot at winning. The naysayers will say that he is doing this against weak competition, and that is true, but he proved himself against top competition last summer when he led Puerto Rico to the finals of the Tournament of the Americas and had a monster game on both ends of floor against Chris Paul, completely outplaying him according to anyone that was in the stands.
Barea has become an outstanding point that is capable of picking apart any defense with his relentless slashing and outstanding court passing ability. He is as fierce a competitor as you will find in the NCAA, and has received numerous offers already from Spain and Italy to come and join them this year already. He pushes the ball extremely well and plays the game with a toughness that is extremely enjoyable to watch. The way he pushes the ball up the floor and snatches away rebounds from players who are almost a foot taller tells you all you need to know about what kind of player he is. Barea's size (5-11) and poor shooting mechanics will hurt him a bit, along with the sheer depth of quality PG's in this draft, but Barea looks like the kind of guy that can play in the NBA for a long time if he lands in the right situation.
His grandmother is of Spanish descent and the fact that he can (and will) get a Spanish passport helps him a bit, as he can play a year or two overseas if that's what his team wants. He would be an absolute star on the European level, but he has a place in the league as well if he wants.
Tiras Wade, 6'6", SG/SF, Louisiana Lafayette
Another standout performance in conference tournaments this weekend came from the swingman Tiras Wade. Wade sat out last season after transferring from East Tennessee State (actually he was booted for anger management issues, but we won't split hairs), and has been making quite a name for himself this year with his shooting ability and NBA-ready body for Louisiana Lafayette. Wade led his team (along with much improved senior guard Orien Greene) to the NCAA tournament these past few days with three outstanding performances in the Sun Belt conference. In the quarter-finals, Wade had 27 points and 9 rebounds on 4-for-9 shooting from 3. The next day he had 25 points on 4 of 8 shooting from behind the arc while playing all 40 minutes for his team. Then in the finals he went off for 30 (8-14 FG, 12-12 FT) to cap it all off. Louisiana Lafayette will be in the tournament now for the second year in a row and are really a team to look out for with how athletic their entire team is.
There are rumors that Wade could declare for the draft this year, as he is already 23. He needs to improve his ball-handling a bit, but he is one nasty kid on the court and now the whole nation will get another chance to see him in action -- in the Big Dance.
Darren Brooks, G, Southern Illinois
Brooks, a 6'3" senior, and the Salukis have had a very up-and-down season this year, but despite losing in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament semifinals, they will be in the NCAA tournament when its all said and done, after reeling off nine straight wins to close off the year before losing in the semis. Brooks has outstanding size and athletic ability for the PG position, but hasn't had much draft buzz this year because of the fact that he isn't a true PG, and because he sometimes struggles with his outside shot. Brooks put all that behind him this weekend, though, scoring 25 points on 10 of 13 shooting to go along with 8 rebounds and 4 assists.
Brooks is a tough kid who has improved in the places that scouts want to see this year, as his assists, three-point and free throw shooting are all up. He is still the same fantastic defender he's always been, winning defensive player of the year in his conference for the second straight season. Brooks is the leader of this very dangerous Salukis team, and he does anything that's asked of him by the coaching staff. A good performance in the NCAA tournament, followed up by a good showing at Portsmouth and possibly Chicago, will most definitely help his chances of being drafted.
Alex Acker, G, Pepperdine
One of the most versatile players in the country, the 6'5" Acker hasn't been talked about much as a draft prospect, but his name is slowly starting to register amongst scouts and draft fans with his outstanding play this season.
Acker does a little bit of everything for his team. He scores almost 17 points a game, pulls down 6.5 rebounds, dishes out nearly 4 assists and shoots 43% from behind the arc. He has the ability to play both guard positions, works extremely hard on the court and has good athletic ability. In his last game of the season against San Diego on Saturday, Acker gave the many NBA scouts in the stands for the WCC tournament something to chew on with probably the best game of his career so far. He had 31 points, 9 rebounds 3 assists and 4 steals on the night, but Pepperdine went away from him at the end of the game when they could have used him the most. Acker is definitely a guy to watch closely for next season. With Glen McGowan graduating, Acker will be the man on that team, and Pepperdine will be a very exciting team to watch.
Mardy Collins, PG, Temple
Just when we thought we could write Collins off for the draft this past season, after a series of underwhelming performances and especially some poor perimeter shooting (10-49 from 3 over his past 8 games), the 6'6" junior comes back and has a terrific game right before the Atlantic Ten conference tournament starts. Collins had 28 points, 10 rebounds and 2 assists in a win against LaSalle earlier this week. Most importantly for him, he shot 5-11 from behind the arc, and gave Temple some much needed momentum as they head in the completely wide open Atlantic Ten conference tournament without head coach John Chaney.
We're not really sure if Collins will declare for the draft or not, that decision is entirely up to him, but he's been getting some serious hype from ESPN's Chad Ford lately and that, along with all the distractions and confusion regarding Chaney and his future at Temple, might just be the straw that breaks the camel's back for him.
Ben Reed, G, Western Michigan
We can't really say we know too much about Reed, as none of us have seen him play enough to really comment on, but he has been invited to Portsmouth next month, and we'll surely be watching him closely. We also have some tapes coming in the mail from his school shortly. From the little we've seen Reed is a big (6'3"), powerful guard with questionable point skills for the next level, but a very nice outside shot. He scored 35 points on Saturday against Ball State, so you know he can put the ball in the cup. He's yet another guy to look out for in this outstanding class of PG's in the 2005 draft.
Eddy Fobbs, C, Sam Houston State
The 6'11" Fobbs and his team started their conference tournament this week, and the way they started off, blowing out Mcneese State, leads us to believe that they don't want to stop playing NCAA basketball just yet. Fobbs finished the game with 20 points (9-10 FG), 15 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 blocks in 29 minutes and helped his team advance to the semi-finals of the Southland Conference tournament. Fobbs has been extremely inconsistent this year for Sam Houston State, and has even come off the bench at times while struggling to find his place in his team's ten-man rotation. In the two games before the tournament, Fobbs scored a combined 3 points in 41 minutes, so it will be interesting to see how he plays on Thursday with his school's season on the line. He's a raw, athletic big man who can block shots and will surely be a workout favorite leading up to the draft. This is not the last we'll see or hear of him regardless of what happens on Thursday.
Chris Taft, F/C, Pitt
If, like us, you've been waiting for the real Chris Taft to please stand up, you may be getting your wish. Finally. The highly-regarded Taft exploded for a season-high (and career-high) 26 points on national tv against Notre Dame on Saturday, helping lead the Panthers to a much needed win on the road, and assuring them of an at-large berth to the tournament. In a matchup with another underacheiving center, Torin Francis, Taft was everywhere. Whether it was ripping down rebounds (he had 11) or swatting away shots (he had 4), Taft played with the fire and athletic ability that had many calling him a potential No. 1 overall pick in the preseason. It's probable that most pundits forgot that the big kid from Brooklyn is still just a sophomore and that he plays in a conference full of talented bigs. But all fans ask for is a little consistency, and with nothing but high profile games left on the slate, perhaps Taft is aware of the awaiting limelight. At any rate, a few more monster games like Saturday's, and Taft won't have to worry about anyone questioning his intensity anymore.
Sammy Mejia, F, Depaul
Maybe the best performance in a loss all week was given by Depaul's outstanding sophomore Sammy Mejia. Snagged by coach Dave Leitao from the Bronx, Mejia played an outstanding game against Louisville, and it's a shame he didn't get a much needed win for his efforts. Mejia finished with 21 points on 9 of 13 shooting, but it wasn't his scoring that caught our eye. Mejia possesses a remarkable whole-floor game, and has a body built for the NBA. Part of the new breed of tall, athletic guards (Marquis Daniels, Michael Redd), Mejia showed excellent court vision and a great feel for the flow of the game. The 6'6" Mejia finished with 7 assists, many of them leading to fantastic finshes and dunks. Perhaps most importantly, Mejia rarely looked out of control or out of the offensive flow his coach and team were working with. It's easy for some talented players to put up stats by abandoning the offensive framework (see also Tigers, Memphis), but it's much more impressive when the points come within the rigors of a coaching system.
On the year, Mejia has had his lulls, but on a young team (two senior starters graduate, leaving no regular upperclassmen), he shows immense promise. At 6'6", Mejia has an excellent first step and a knack for getting into the lane. He can get his shot off in traffic, and has some true PG skills. If Sammy Mejia can produce a bit more consistently, Mejia will very quickly become a legit first-round prospect in 2006. Mejia has length to spare, giving him both excellent lateral quickness and, therefore, above-average defensive potential. He had 4 steals against the Cardinals, often off anticipation in the post. Given a chance to see him and the similarly built Francisco Garcia of Louisville in the same game, there is no doubt to us who had a better chance to succeed in the long term. Mejia, if he improves on his ball-handling and decision-making, can be as good as he wants to be.
Sean May, PF, UNC
With teammate Rashad McCants out sick for the past few games, May has stepped up in a big way. His performance in Sunday's comeback win over Duke was one of the more notable single performances of the year, as his 26 points and 24 rebounds will attest. Earlier in the week, May put up 32 and 12 in a shellacking of Florida State. While his place amongst the top NCAA big men is now cemented, his NBA future is a bit more unsure. He is undersized to play PF, and still struggles with a lack of athleticism and staying in shape. May is averaging 26 minutes per game on the season, and has yet to play more than 34 minutes in an individual contest. His soft hands and impressive touch with the ball help him out as a prospect. May would be better served to not compete with 2005's impressive PF group and head back to school for his senior year.
Linas Kleiza, PF, Missouri
With his name already made as a truly dominant international player, Kleiza has come in and played the role of go-too guy for a struggling Missouri program. The results have clearly been mixed, as his 15 points and 8 rebounds per game are somewhat offset by a putrid 39% shooting. Kleiza was crucial in Missouri's upset win over Kansas, but did most of his damage from the line. Are Kleiza's struggles from the floor due to his teammates' inability to draw defenses away from him (nobody else on the team can shoot except Conley once in a blue moon), or is Kleiza really that bad? Given his success overseas and obviously superior touch with the ball, I will have to go with the former. Kleiza is tough as nails, and surprisingly versatile. Now the question remains, will Kleiza return to Missouri next fall, or is he going to take guaranteed millions to play for a top club overseas? Kleiza is saying all the right things for now, but the rumors in Europe are swirling...
Adam Morrison, WF, Gonzaga
We talked about Morrison last week, but he played so well in the WCC tournament that he deserves another mention. Is there a hotter player in the nation right now? (or NBA prospect for that matter?). Morrison followed up a 25-point night against San Diego with a career high 30-point effort against conference rival St. Mary's. However it's not just his scoring that has the scouts excited. On Monday night, Morrison showed the ability to put the ball on the floor and some unexpected flashes of athleticism in the open floor. Morrison is going to end up a much better athlete than people were predicting at the beginning of this season. As long as Morrison keeps creating and canning shots at will, March is going to be a huge month for Adam. His stock is flying high, and the upside is nearly unlimited.
Mike Wilkinson, F, Wisconsin
Wisconsin's savvy, 6'8" senior has been leading them to a solid tournament seeding all season long, and nothing changed this past week. Wilkinson had 28 points, 9 rebounds and 3 steals earlier in the week against Indiana, going 3-for-4 from behind the arc for a very important conference win, thanks to a little help from the zebras. He's a very cerebral player that is extremely fun to watch if you consider how little he gets by on, but he's not an easy guy to get a read on when it comes to the draft.
He's an outstanding basketball player, there is no doubt about it, but it's somewhat hard to figure out whether or not he has what it takes to cut it at the next level. He would most likely be a small forward at the next level, but despite shooting the three well in the Indiana game, he's only hit 24 threes this year in 27 games. He has a hard time creating his own shot in the NCAA as it is, and guarding small forwards isn't going to be something Wilkinson will be looking forward to in particular if he indeed does make the NBA. He does have some fans at the NBA level, though: "I've seen him play a lot and I think he has a chance to play in the NBA with the right team,'' said Bucks assistant general manager Dan Kohl. "He's tough, he's smart, he's skilled, he's got an inside-outside game. He brings a lot to the table. I'm a fan. I think he's a second-round pick. He has a long career ahead of him.''
Call us a bit skeptical at the moment, but we'll be watching him closely in the conference and NCAA tournaments, as well as at Portsmouth. Stranger things have happened.