Kevin Durant, 610, Freshman, SF/PF, Texas
3 Game Big 12 Tournament Average: 30.6 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2.6 steals, 39.7% FG, 88.5% FT, 35% 3PT, 3.3 turnovers
Durant came into the conference tournament on fire after posting three straight 30 plus performances against Oklahoma, Texas A&M, and Kansas respectively. UT made it quite clear from day one that they were going to get him as many touches as possible, and did an outstanding job of that in all three games of the tournament. Although their star freshman did not shoot the highest percentage from the field (39.7%), he did give scouts a bit of a sneak peak of his improving off the dribble skills and improving ball handling ability in the open floor. While this has been a minor area for concern in the past with Durant, he displayed the ability to handle the ball well in the open floor throughout the three day tournament and showed glimpses of devastating off the dribble skills. This is just one area of his game that we chose to focus on, as he was clearly the most dominant player that any of the conferences tournaments had to offer over the weekend. His natural scoring ability is unparalleled at the collegiate level, and Durants rebounding instincts were able to lead him to set UTs all time single season rebounding record in their loss to Kansas. It was truly a remarkable conclusion to the regular season of what has easily been the most dominant performance by a freshman in recent memory.
When examining a player as skilled as Durant, it can be difficult at times to pick out flaws in his game. One aspect of his game that was put on center stage throughout the tournament was his tendency to disappear throughout stretches of the game. For 10 minutes, you will be watching the best player the college game has had to offer in the last 10 years. Then for 5 minutes, you will forget that he is even on the floor offensively. While we need to take into consideration the fatigue involved in playing three straight games (something that even NBA teams dont do) as the sole focal point for a skinny 18 year old, it would be nice if his scoring presence was felt more consistently throughout the entire game, rather then just in the amazing hot stretches that he goes through in each game.
Whens on his game, though, there might not be a more exciting player to watch anywhere in the world. Case in point, with Texas down by 20 points to Baylor in the second half of the quarterfinals, Durant scores 22 points in the next 9 minutes to lead his team to a comeback victory. In the next game against Oklahoma State, Durant scored his teams first 13 points in the opening 8 minutes of the game, and 19 in the half, before falling asleep until the end of the game but still nailing the 3-pointer that clinched the victory for his team. In the finals, Durant again came out on fire, scoring 22 points in 15 minutes, and then only another 15 points in the next 30 minutes.
The potential that Durant has as a player down the road is absolutely off the charts, and commentators have brought up a point multiple times throughout the season (and yet again Sunday) about him that makes you realize this: How can a player possibly have 37 points and have played a bad game? Well due to the outstanding season and lofty expectations that people have for Durant, this is possible in his case. What would be a career game for most college players is viewed as merely an average game for KD. To put this in perspective, he averaged 30.3 points per game this tournament while shooting a poor percentage from the field. Had he shot his average field goal percentage on the year (47.8%), he would have averaged nearly 38 points per game. It has truly been a remarkable season that Durant has had this year, and the Big 12 tournament showed even fans who had never seen the DC native play before that they were watching something freakishly abnormal, an 18 year old future NBA All-Star playing against college kids.
Roy Hibbert, 7-2, Junior, Center, Georgetown
Big East Final: 18 points, 11 rebounds, 8-10 FG, 2-4 FT
Hibbert struck early and often, scoring on Gray in almost every way possible and utilizing every tool he has in his arsenal to put Georgetown in a dominating position to win the Big East championship convincingly. Whether it was with a powerful drop-step, a pretty jump-hook, outquicking for offensive rebounds or otherwise, Hibbert clearly looked like the more skilled, intelligent, athletic and determined big man of the two. He made a couple of nice passes, blocked or altered Grays shot repeatedly, moved off the ball with great purpose, and finished efficiently on nearly every opportunity he had. He attacked the glass relentlessly, beating Gray on multiple occasions for position with superior quickness and hustle and boxing out fundamentally to corral 11 rebounds. And all the while, Gray looked on helplessly, to his teammates, the refs, the bench anywhere, but to no avail.
He finished with 14 points and 7 rebounds on 7-9 shooting from the field in the decisive first half that saw Georgetown establish a lead that Pitt was never going to come back from considering the tempo of the game. Defensively, Hibbert bothered Gray into a 0-9 shooting performance in that half and only 1 total point, using his length and bulk on defense to challenge shots with a business-like attitude. Even though he wasnt pounding his chest or talking trash at his opponent, it wasnt hard to get the sense that he had Gray completely dominated in a matchup that NBA scouts will remember for a while.
Although this entire season has shown outstanding improvement from Hibbert in nearly every facet of the game, it was one particular play he made that really stood out more than anything. Receiving the ball in the high post, Hibbert created his own shot putting the ball on the floor with a crafty dribble before spinning into the lane to draw contact for a foul and nearly finish an off balance hook shot. If it were a 6-2 guard executing such a move, we wouldnt have thought twice about it, but considering that this is a 7-2 center who was always considered an extremely raw player, it was hard not to be incredibly impressed. We dont know at this point if Hibbert will be in the draft or notits reportedly still 50-50but what we do know is that hes sold us on the fact that hes a lottery pick whenever he decides to come out.
Thaddeus Young, 6-8, Freshman, SF/PF, Georgia Tech
Vs Wake Forest: 30 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 turnovers, 10-19 FG, 3-6 3P, 7-9 FT, 42 minutes
Youngs jumper was the story of this game, hitting 3 of his 6 3-pointers and connecting on a number of attempts from mid-range, both coming off curls and pulling up. He did not create much offense off the dribble due to his poor ball-handling skills, but did a nice job staying active moving off the ball and running the floor in transition. On one occasion he showed his upside by taking two massive strides from the baseline towards the basket and finishing with a gorgeous scoop shot on the reverse. He looked extremely confident throughout the game and played with a real swagger, something weve missed from him in the past, getting into a groove and looking to take on plenty of responsibility as the focal point of his teams offense. It would have been nice to see him use his length, size and athleticism better in the post and around the hoop, but all in all this was a terrific performance from Georgia Techs highly touted freshman, although it was in a losing cause being upset by the worst team in the ACC.
Earl Clark, 6-8, Freshman, SF/PF, Louisville
Vs. West Virginia: 17 points, 9 rebounds, 2 steals, 8-12 FG
Sixteen Big East games later, things have changed quite a bit. The Cardinal made a charge to the upper echelon of the conference, finishing conference play at 12-4 and earning a 6 seed. And not surprisingly, the play of previously underachieving freshmen Earl Clark and Derrick Caracter has played a big role in the turnaround. While Caracter's problems had nothing to do with on-court ability, Clark had the look of a player who was going to take some time to adjust to the division one level.
But as the season has gone on, Clark has done a better job of utilizing his immense natural gifts. While he isn't going to be playing point guard (like he did in high school sometimes) in the near future, he is now settling into the role of full time wing quite nicely. Where he once tended to force something nearly every time he touched the ball and struggled with the speed of the college game in terms of his perimeter tools, Clark has done a much better job of fitting in and finding ways to contribute within the team concept.
His considerable length and athleticism has allowed him to really contribute on the glass, averaging nearly 10 boards per game over his last four games. Clark knows how to pick up points around the basket, and is a reliable 3-point shooter. Where Clark averaged just 15.8 mpg on the season, his playing time spiked to nearly 30 mpg over those last four.
At the end of the season, we are talking about a player who only averaged 6 points and 4 rebounds per game. While he has managed to contribute down the stretch and is showing signs of developing the ability to create his own offense, he is still at least a year away in terms of perimeter polish. His ball-handling and court vision need to improve, and this is very apparent in watching him attempt to put the ball on the floor in the half-court against good defenses.
Nonetheless, there is a lot to like about Clark in the long-term. He has phenomenal raw tools for eventually playing SF in the NBA, from the long arms and sturdy frame to the fantastic athleticism. As his ball-handling improves and he continues to learn how to shoot on the move/while contested, his upside will begin to show up more and more in the stat sheet. It certainly did in Louisville's Big East Tournament win over West Virginia, when he scored 17 points in a variety of ways.
The key here is that Clark has shown the ability to contribute to a successful team, and be more than just a tremendous natural athlete. Clark's polish and feel for the game isn't a lock to happen, and certainly isn't going to happen overnight. But his recent contributions and the continued influence of a great coach like Rick Pitino lead us to believe that Clark's future is a bright one.
Russell Carter, 6-4 Senior, SG, Notre Dame
2 Game Big East Tournament Average: 22.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 turnover, 2 steals, 15-41 FG, 6-10 FT, 9-22 3P
Carter is the text book definition of a shooter: he never met a shot he didnt like. Over half of his shots from his two combined games this past week were from beyond the arc, a spot that he is shooting better than 40% from on the season. Typically he floats around the perimeter looking to spot up and fire, but this makes him a weak player in regards to moving without the basketball. When he has the basketball though, Carter is not afraid to shoot by any mean, often taking shots that are beyond even NBA range, as well as shooting with a hand in his face. He tends to be streaky, often hitting his threes in bunches, but like any outside gunner will shoot himself out of a cold spell.
Despite his love for the deep three, Carter is a threat to drive to the basket. At 6-4 and 200 pounds he is more than able to take some contact in the lane going to the hole, but this extra bulk does hinder is first step somewhat. He still manages to get to the rim when he wants to, but often chooses to pull up and shoot off the dribble, something he has continued to improve upon. Carters ability to knock down shots off the dribble has made him that much more of a threat on offense, especially in transition where he loves to stop and pop. He gets into trouble sometimes though with his shot selection, fading away many times at the slightest hint of pressure from his defender. Carter didnt put the ball on the floor very often in either the Syracuse of Georgetown game though, opting for a high percentage of his shots from the outside.
In transition Carter is a real asset due to his hustle and explosive leaping ability. He had three offensive rebounds against Georgetown, a very respectable number for a smaller shooting guard. His hustle on both ends of the floor makes him the kind of player coaches love. He may have questionable shot selection from time to time, but he makes up for it with his reckless abandon hitting the glass. The only reason Carter doesnt average more than his 4.9 rebounds per game is because he is often giving up four of five inches to the guys he is battling.
Carters downfall offensively is two-fold. He doesnt move well without the basketball, (although he did a pretty good job against Georgetown), often just floating around the perimeter waiting for the basketball. He also isnt very strong at creating for his teammates. Carter is more than able to create his own shot, he excels at that, but often when he draws double teams going to the basket he forces tough shots rather than looking for open teammates. He is also a rather inconsistent player, as many shooters are.
On the other end of the floor Carter helps out defensively the most with his aggression on the boards. However, with his stockier frame for a guard, he can be beaten off the dribble by quicker perimeter players. His off the ball defense has been pretty solid, his good anticipation skills have allowed him to garner 1.6 steals per game this season, which he often turns into points at the other end of the floor. Carter is very strong for a guard, so much in fact that when Notre Dame has gone to a 2-3 zone this season Carter has been one of the players down low. He blocks out well on shots, but again with his size is often out rebounded despite his fantastic effort.
Carter has the makings of a blue collar role player in the NBA. His shooting abilities from the outside and off the dribble are at the professional level, and his hustle will ensure that his services are wanted somewhere, especially since he possesses a very valuable German passport. He is the kind of player that could hang on in the league for several years, bouncing from team to team and seeing fairly good minutes on the floor. His strong showing in the Big East quarterfinals and semifinals should have helped his stock in the eyes of many scouts; he shot well from the outside and showed his tremendous hustle all weekend long.
Kyle Visser, 6-11, Senior, Center, Wake Forest
2 Games average: 18.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 5.5 turnovers, 1 block, 13/18 FG, 11/17 FT
Visser didnt miss a shot in the first game, a double overtime 114-112 victory over Georgia Tech. He scored 20 points on 7-7 shooting from the field, playing a career high 44 minutes, but starved for touches for the most part in the post when his team needed his scoring the most. On the rare occasions that one of his teammates remembered how to make a post-entry pass, he showed good hands, nice strength to establish position and reasonably quick feet making his moves within a few feet of the hoop. When he got to the free throw line, he showed a pretty nice touch with his mechanics, particularly in the rotation he gets on his shot.
If you were to make a highlight reel of every basket he scored in this tournament, it probably wouldnt be much to look at, as almost everything he did involved catching the ball underneath the rim and finishing with either a dunk or layup. Not the stuff legends are made out of, but exactly what he should be doing considering the size advantage he has at this level. Had Wake made any kind of actual effort to get him some looks, they probably wouldnt have needed double overtime to defeat Georgia Tech, and might have had a chance to stick with Virginia Tech for at least a while longer. Part of the problem is that Visser is not the most aggressive guy in the world calling for or demanding the ball, but to his credit, doing so didnt really get him that far.
Now that his season is over, Visser can begin to concentrate full time on his draft stock. He has turned down his invitation to the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, and will surely be a player that quite a few teams will try to get a look at in private workouts. If he can tone his body to the point that hes maximizing himself physically, he could find a way to work himself into the 1st round. He has the makings of a solid backup center in the NBA, and being just 21 years old and certainly a late bloomer, still has upside to continue to improve.
Demetris Nichols, 6-8, Small Forward, Senior, Syracuse
2 Big East Tournament Games: 22.5 pgg, 48% 3pfg, 42% fg, 4.0 rpg, 2.5 apg
After emerging as the leading scorer for Syracuse his senior season, there were high hopes for Demetris Nichols to lead the Orangemen to an appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Nichols could not live up to these expectations on his own, though he had some flashes of strong play against both Syracuse and Notre Dame.
Against Uconn in the first round of the Big East Tournament, Nichols started slow, forcing up difficult shots up off the dribble rather than shooting within the flow of the offense, and Syracuse went into halftime with the need to make a comeback against a team that has struggled this year. In the second half, Nichols displayed the three point stroke that has allowed him to shoot nearly 43% from the field this season. He made 4 three pointers coming off screens in the second half, and displayed soft touch inside on a basket cut. Overall he finished 7/11 from the 3 point line, and 28 points.
Nichols went cold against Notre Dame in the next game, making only 3 of his 10 three pointers, and left the impression that his three point shot must be falling in order for him to be an asset on the court.. Despite his cold spell against the Irish, Nichols has displayed his ability to knock down three point shots while spotting up and moving off screens, a skill that will give him a chance to succeed in the NBA.
Syracuse failed to make the NCAA tournament, and Nichols will likely receive his last exposure at the college level in the NIT. From there, he will have to decide between finishing his degree at Syracuse, or leaving school in preparation for the NBA draft. At this point, it appears that Nichols will pass on participating in the Portsmouth invitational, instead trying his luck with the pre-draft camp in Orlando. He has the potential to be a Steve Novak type spot-up shooter at the next level, and has a few months remaining to try and prove that his shooting ability will be a worthwhile asset of investing in for the next level.
Aaron Gray, 7-1, Senior, Center, Pitt
Big East Final: 3 points, 5 rebounds, 1-13 FG, 1-2 FT
It wasnt so much his 1-13 shooting from the field that hurt him as much as his extremely poor body language throughout the game. Gray looked defeated almost from the outset, getting outhustled on the glass, looking slow and conscious defending the pick and roll, going up soft finishing at the basket, missing easy shots (something weve seen many times the past) and giving up position in the paint way too easy to the much more active Hibbert. He clearly understood the ramifications on his performance early in the game and just did not have the mental toughness to recover from his poor start, complaining the refs incessantly and hanging his head when things didnt go his way.
One game in a long season hardly determines a players draft stock in the grand scheme of things, but scouts couldnt have liked what they saw from Gray in such an important setting both from an individual matchup perspective as well as his teams. While watching this game, it was hard not thinking of the absolute clinic Patrick OBryant put on him in last years NCAA tournament, where he gave up 28 points in an upset loss to Bradley in the 2nd round. It was an eerily similar performance, but thankfully for Gray, he still has this years tournament to help make people forget. A huge matchup with Duke and Josh McRoberts now looms in the second round of the tournament this year, if Pitt and Duke can find a way to get through the first round.