Joakim Noah comes up with another monster stat-line leading his team to the Final Four. Marcus Williams loses, but continues to make a case to be the first point guard off the board. Al Horford shows that hes not the only Florida big man with a wide array of skills. Hilton Armstrong teases once again but comes up short in the end. Allan Ray appears to be intent on shooting himself out of the draft. Those and much more in our eighth installment of the NCAA Tournament stock watch.
Elite Eight, Saturday Games, Stock Up, Down and Neutral prospects
Sweet 16, Friday Games, Stock Up, Down and Neutral prospects
Sweet 16, Thursday Games, Stock Up, Down and Neutral prospects
Round of 32, Sunday Games, Stock Up, Down and Neutral prospects
Round of 32, Saturday Games, Stock Up prospects
Round of 32, Saturday Games, Stock Down and Neutral prospects
Round of 64, Thursday Games, Stock Up, Down and Neutral prospects
Round of 64, Friday Games, Stock Up, Down and Neutral prospects
Joakim Noah, 6-11, Sophomore, PF/C, Florida
21 points, 15 rebounds, 6 blocks, 1 steal, 1 assist, 4 turnovers, 4-9 FG, 13-15 FT
Noah established himself early on in the game by attacking the rim in his typical fashion, coming up with a great dunk in transition as the trailer and then with an impressive and 1 off the glass while avoiding a charge. A couple of big blocks on the defensive end let Villanovas guards know exactly what they will be dealing with all night long, and on the other end Noah was relentless taking the ball to the hoop and drawing fouls on anyone that attempted to guard him. He helped his point guard Taurean Green handle the full-court press all game long very effectively, not making even one mistake bringing the ball up the floor and calmly finding the open man.
His work on the glass might have been the best part of his game overall here, coming up with 15 monster rebounds, many of which were well out of his area and always accompanied by a primal scream that could be heard around the arena.
With 10 minutes to go in the first half Noah showed off his versatility by moving to the small forward position once again in Billy Donovans 3 big man lineup, looking comfortable out on the perimeter handling the ball and always making good decisions and playing under control.
Jason Fraser came off Villanovas bench and gave Noah some problems at times on either end of the floor, challenging him with his strength and forcing him into some tough finishes around the hoop that rimmed out. Noah expended so much energy in this tournament so far with his relentless style of play that he appeared to have worn himself out in certain stretches of the 2nd half, but a quick trip to the bench rejuvenated him for the final 10 minutes in which he was as dominant as ever.
After coming up with 2 field goals in the first 2 and a half minutes of the game, Noah went nearly 34 minutes without a field goal until 3 minutes and 30 seconds left in the game, but still found a way to help his team out by getting to the free throw line a half a dozen times or more during this stretch. On the night he converted an extremely impressive 13 of his 15 free throws.
Noah once again showed off his outstanding ball-handling skills and body control by coming up with a great steal from just outside the paint on the defensive end and taking the ball the length of the floor before being fouled right before he was about to lay it in off the glass. A beautiful finish off the glass with his left hand after working his way towards the rim with a spin move late in the game might have been his most impressive basket of the night.
Villanovas guards got absolutely nothing easy inside the paint as their 18-73 shooting from the field will attest, and Noah played a huge part in that along with his frontcourt mate Al Horford, coming up with 6 very intimidating blocks and changing many more.
All in all this was just another outstanding game from Floridas big man, showing that he can find a way to contribute to his team on almost every possession even when he lacked the strength or touch to finish around the rim. He only converted 4 field goals on the night, but still ended up with 21 points, 15 rebounds and 6 blocks.
Al Horford, 6-9, Sophomore, PF/C, Florida,
12 points, 15 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, 6-12 FG
Horford started out the game in dominant fashion, coming up with two early baskets where he displayed impressive footwork, explosiveness and body control in traffic. As the game progressed, he remained a steady presence on the boards throughout, using his body, smarts and terrific strength to shield the ball from the other team. On the offensive end of the floor, Horford established very good position and made some nice moves trying to be aggressive.
Though he missed his fair share of shots in the post, he was there to collect the offensive rebound on a few occasions, which led to a couple of thunderous dunks. Horford also displayed a high basketball IQ, especially by making a nice pass to the cutting Joakim Noah late in the game, which led to yet another Florida dunk. He also showed the ability to put the ball on the floor, bringing the ball up out of the double team, and weaving through a few different trap attempts from Villanova.
As far as skills go, there are few that Al Horford hasnt displayed at some point in the NCAA tournament. Against Villanova, his mid-range shot wasnt falling, but he has shown the raw ability to hit the 15 footer in the past. Horford also has excellent quickness and leaping ability to go along with a chiseled body to compliment his array of skills. He has a bright future in the NBA, whether he leaves after this season or waits for the 2007 draft.
Marcus Williams, 6-3, Junior, Point Guard, UConn
13 points, 11 assists, 4 turnovers, 3 rebounds, 1 steal, 5-12 FG, 2-5 3P, 1-1 FT
This might have been Williams least impressive showing in the tournament so far, but he still managed to do a fantastic job running his team as well as find a way to score the points they needed from him and come up big in the clutch as he has all tournament long.
Williams confidence and poise were always evident when watching him set up his teams offense, getting his big men involved wonderfully, finding his wings spotting up on the perimeter and pushing the tempo when his coach instructed him to do so. As UConns players have learned all season long, if they put the effort in to get open, their point guard will find them and will usually do it while putting them in a perfect position to score.
This time he wasnt as effective driving to the basket as we had seen from him in the past, seeing a couple of his floaters rim out on him and not taking the ball as strong to the basket to get to the free throw line, and also missing badly on a couple of the 3-point attempts he tried early on. When his team needed him to score, though, Williams was both willing and able to shoulder the load once he realized that his half-court offense had bogged down. He came up with two big pull-up jumpers late in the 2nd half, knocked down a deep three, and came up with a terrific steal with 52 seconds remaining before finishing on the break calmly off the glass plus the foul. Two costly turnovers late in the game, one on a questionable palming call that CBS for some reason decided not to show on instant replay hurt his teams comeback effort, but Williams still found a way to tie the game by finding Denham Brown swooping in from the wing for a drive and acrobatic finish.
His team ended up losing in overtime, but Williams appears to have already punched his ticket for the NBA draft lottery with the way he played in this tournament.
Corey Brewer, 6-8, Sophomore, Small Forward, Florida
11 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 turnovers, 5 fouls, 18 minutes, 4-6 FG, 1-1 3P, 2-3 FT
Whether it was coming off a curl and knocking down a 3-pointer, pulling up off the dribble from the perimeter, playing outstanding defense on the much shorter Randy Foye and Kyle Lowry, getting out in transition or forcing Villanovas guards into costly fouls with his quickness; Brewer was an absolute blur, and his quickness, energy and numerous contributions on the floor were impossible to ignore.
Unfortunately for him he picked up his 2nd foul with 12 minutes and 30 seconds left in the first half, which forced him to ride the pine until the beginning of the second half in spite of his pleas to Coach Billy Donovan to let him back in. Brewers energy helped his team out tremendously to start the second half as well, keeping his team in the game during a crucial stretch, but this also led to him picking up two more costly fouls and again having to sit out for extended periods. He only ended up playing 18 minutes in this game, but still gave the scouts in attendance a great look at the impact his terrific athleticism, length and tenacity can have on his team.
Rudy Gay, 6-9, Sophomore, Small Forward, UConn
20 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 0 turnovers, 2 steals, 1 block, 8-16 FG, 2-4 3P, 2-2 FT
Continuing with the extreme inconsistency weve seen from many of the top prospects in the tournament so far, Gay bounced back pretty nicely from the stinker he put up in the Sweet 16 against Washington. He showed flashes of why many consider him to be the most naturally talented player in college basketball, being very aggressive early on and looking particularly impressive shooting mid-range and long-range jumpers from the perimeter. Gay did a nice job all game long coming off screens and taking what the defense gave him, never really putting the ball on the floor but instead elevating over the top of his matchup and releasing a silky smooth looking high-arching jumper that drew nothing but nylon more often that not. During one key stretch in the 2nd half from 9:30 to 6:22 he scored 9 straight points for his team, essentially keeping them in the game when George Mason started making a run.
Defensively he had some tough calls go against him just for being a little too physical with his man, but still showed a lot of potential with his lateral quickness and by using his length to get in the passing lanes.
Down the stretch, though, particularly in overtime, Gay was nowhere to be found, only taking one shot over the last 11 and a half minutes of the game and not scoring any points.
All in all this was not exactly the type of tournament Rudy Gay needed to have to prove that he is worthy of being a top 3 pick. Look for him to bounce back during private workouts which are tailor made for his strengths.
Hilton Armstrong, 6-11, Senior, Power Forward/Center, UConn
8 points, 5 rebounds, 4 blocks, 1 steal, 2 turnovers, 3-8FG, 2-3FT
Defensively, Armstrong had four blocks, but didnt have the impact he shouldve in this game. He often seemed either complacent or hesitant in the lane when approached by opposing slashers, not contesting their shots as fiercely as he could, if at all. He has the athleticism, length, and timing to be a real force on the weakside, but needs to show more of a killer instinct to be fully effective with it. In terms of man defense, he had his hands full with George Mason PF Jai Lewis all night long, often being overpowered by the 275-pounder. Armstrong showed a pretty good fundamental base in the post, but simply couldnt dictate the situation at all because of his strength deficiency. Lewis backed him down and repeatedly scored on him. Armstrong did manage to use his length to compensate for his strength on a few occasions, poking the ball away from Lewis before he could complete his move.
Armstrong projects as a mid to late-first round in this summers draft, but could still use a lot of work on his game. He most importantly needs to get stronger to improve his man defense in the post, but he could also use some polish on his offensive game. He has a good base of skills right now, but definitely has room to expand on them. If Armstrong has a strong performance at the Orlando pre-draft camp or in workouts and adds a few extra pounds of bulk in the next few months, it may be enough to push him into the lottery.
Randy Foye, 6-4, senior, Shooting Guard, Villanova
25 points, 7-18 FG, 7 rebounds, 0 assists, 5 fouls
The main reason Foye didnt move himself into the stock up category is the fact that foul trouble allowed him an audition at the point guard position. He has played off the ball for most of the season, and a lot of people project him into the NBA as somebody who can play both the point guard and shooting guard positions. Foul trouble gave him this opportunity, but Foye bombed his audition miserably. He didnt create any ball movement, instead keeping the ball in his hands excessively and more than once took contested shots early in the shot clock. For the game, Foye couldnt muster up even one assist to compliment the great scoring numbers. Foye finished up his college career by carrying his team, but also displaying some deficiencies that cause a bit of concern at the next level, especially once hell undoubtedly measure out shorter than his listed height of 6-4.
Denham Brown, 6-6, Senior, SG/SF, UConn
11 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 turnover, 3-8 FG, 4-4 FT, 1-5 3P
Brown perhaps did more in the final 5:02 than he did in the rest of the game combined, just blending into the flow of the UConn offense. He did have five rebounds, fighting hard for all of them, and a few nice post entry passes over the course of the game. He also didnt make many mistakes and helped keep the UConn offense flowing with his passing. Browns greatest strength is widely noted to be his defense, but we didnt see much of it in this game. There were just not many opportunities for him to display it, as the George Mason guards never tried to penetrate on him.
Brown, a senior, projects as a second-round pick in the upcoming draft. As for where he will go in the second round, thats all up to him. Hell have plenty of opportunities to make a case for himself at both the Portsmouth and Orlando pre-draft camps, where he will no longer be playing in the shadows of the future lottery picks that have surrounded him throughout his tenure at UConn. His defense alone should get him some looks at roster spots in the NBA, but taking on a larger offensive role would do a lot for his stock. He did score 20+ points on three occasions this season, so he is capable of doing it.
Allan Ray, 6-2, Senior, Shooting Guard, Villanova
11 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 turnovers, 5-19 FG, 1-7 3P
Ray will have opportunities to show his worth at the pre-draft camps this summer. If a team is looking for a scoring sparkplug off the bench, Ray could be a nice option. He has shown the ability to score in great loads at times, and certainly will be able to contribute in that regard for some team. But at this point, you cant really expect much more from Ray. Hes an undersized shooting guard who cant contribute anything other than scoring. And on top of that, he doesnt know how to turn it off when his shot isnt falling.
Josh Boone, 6-10, Senior, PF/C, UConn
6 points, 2-4 FG, 2-4 FT, 4 rebounds, 1 block
Kyle Lowry, 6-1, Sophomore, Point Guard, Villanova
3 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block, 2 steals, 1-9 FG, 1-1 FT
Defensively, Lowry played some strong, aggressive defense at times, but also had bursts of over-aggressive defense, which led to the foul trouble. He also played the passing lanes well, exhibiting his great anticipation by making two steals that led to fast break opportunities.
Lowry will undoubtedly be returning to Villanova next season, which should be a great situation for his development. In the current Villanova offense, the ball-handling duties are shared by four guards, but next season, teammates Randy Foye and Allan Ray will likely no longer be on the team, putting more of the duties in Lowrys hands. This should be crucial to his development as a point guard. As of right now, Lowry doesnt possess many point guard skills beyond the drive-and-kick, but he will need to develop these things to become a real prospect. He also needs to improve his decision-making. It will be interesting to see how he responds to the task next season.