NCAA Tournament NBA Draft Prospect Guide: National Championship Game

NCAA Tournament NBA Draft Prospect Guide: National Championship Game
Apr 02, 2017, 03:46 pm
When do the college prospects for the 2017 NBA Draft take the floor on Monday for the NCAA Tournament National Championship? What will NBA scouts be looking for?

Note: The numbers listed next to players' names are their current standing in the latest iteration of our Top-100 Prospect Rankings

All Times Listed are EST

9:20 PM - CBS - Phoenix, Arizona#1 Gonzaga #18 Zach Collins, #61 Nigel Williams-Goss, Johnathan Williams, Przemek Karnowski
vs.#1 North Carolina #13 Justin Jackson, #52 Tony Bradley, #91 Joel Berry, #93 Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks, Theo Pinson

Two entertaining and well played Final Four games leave us with a fascinating National Championship matchup between Gonzaga and North Carolina. Both teams have a great case to be considered the deepest, well-rounded and most solid in college basketball, which should lead to an outstanding contest on Monday.
UNC and Gonzaga advanced to the National Championship on the back of career games from their frontcourt. For Carolina, Kennedy Meeks was an absolute force inside the paint with 25 points and 14 rebounds, starting the game 11/11 from the field and absolutely dominating Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Jordan Bell. His matchup with Zach Collins will be the one NBA scouts will be watching most closely, as its a major contrast of styles that could provide significant insight into both players' strengths and weaknesses and the transition they'll be asked to make at the NBA level.

Kennedy Meeks started off his career with a bang at UNC, averaging an outstanding 18 points and 14 rebounds per-40 minutes on 55% shooting as a freshman, making him somewhat of a sleeper-darling among NBA analytics types. He didn't make the type of progress NBA scouts were hoping for over the past three years, partially due to injuries, conditioning concerns, and his porous defense, as he simply didn't always bring the type of approach to the game you might have hoped considering his average size, length and athleticism for a center prospect. Meeks has been a monster on the glass the last two games against Oregon and Kentucky, pulling down 31 rebounds in 62 minutes, doing so against NBA caliber athletes. He's never going to be considered a top shelf prospect, but his combination of soft hands, instincts pursuing loose balls, touch around the basket, and sneaky dexterity and mobility will certainly give him plenty of looks from the pro ranks.

Meeks' ability to handle a far more athletic and versatile big man in Zach Collins could help ease some concerns about how much of a defensive liability he might be at the NBA level. If he can show he can step outside the paint, hedge ball screens, and get his shot off against a longer and more explosive center, in a setting like this, that will give him nice momentum heading into the pre-draft process. Meeks may not get drafted, but he is a strong candidate for a two-way contract.

With 14 points, 13 rebounds and 6 blocks in just 23 minutes, Collins had arguably the best game of his career on Saturday against a tough and physical South Carolina frontcourt that had dominated other NBA prospect big men in this NCAA Tournament. Collins' explosiveness, quickness getting off his feet, timing as a shot-blocker, intensity and skill-level stood out all game long. The fact that South Carolina played with two big men almost at all times allowed him to see minutes at both power forward and center alongside Przemek Karnowski, and we'll likely see more of the same against North Carolina who like to do the same.

While its never wise to react too strongly to a single game, Collins' Final Four performance was as memorable as it gets considering the stakes at hand, and will undoubtedly ease some of the concerns about his lack of polish and readiness to contribute to a NBA team at just 19 years old.

Collins was having an up and down NCAA Tournament leading into Saturday, struggling to stay out of foul trouble, looking far too sped up at times, and being very mistake prone and reactive to everything that happens on the floor. Scouts are still trying to get a better handle on the extent of his toughness and basketball IQ, as he's been inconsistent in those departments throughout the season. The intensity and hustle he demonstrated against South Carolina, combined with the sheer number of highlight reel plays he made, will go a long way in easing those concerns, especially if he can find a way to string together another big outing against North Carolina. The Tar Heels pound the offensive glass relentlessly and have more frontcourt skill, strength and productivity to throw at Gonzaga than anything they've faced this season.

Besides Collins, the player who has helped himself more than anyone at the Final Four thus far is UNC's Justin Jackson. Oregon had absolutely no answer for him on the wing with his tremendous size, length, much improved shooting stroke and outstanding basketball IQ. Besides scoring 22 points on 6/13 shooting from outside, Jackson was just as impressive defensively, covering ground exceptionally, using his big 6'11 wingspan to contest shots all over the floor, and playing with the type of toughness, focus and energy scouts have been wanting to see from him since he emerged as a McDonald's All-American three years ago.

Gonzaga doesn't have great size or length on the wing, with Silas Melson and Jordan Mathews both sporting average physical attributes that may make it challenging for them to match up with the far bigger Jackson. Melson had a tremendous first half against South Carolina, and has a chance to continue to help himself with a strong showing in the National Championship game.
Perhaps the most challenging matchup for North Carolina will be at the point guard spot, where Joel Berry is at a significant height disadvantage compared with the 6'4 Nigel Williams-Goss, who had a tremendous showing on Saturday with 23 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists. Williams-Goss was as aggressive as we've seen hunting shots from all over the floor, and found quite a bit of success against a long and athletic South Carolina defense that was well equipped to slow him down. Considering Williams-Goss' shortcomings as a shooter (especially off the dribble) and just-decent athleticism, his ability to stay effective against the likes of P.J. Dozier and co. definitely bodes well heading into the pre-draft process. Another big game on Monday certainly wouldn't hurt.

It wouldn't be surprising if Roy Williams decided to sic his best defender, Theo Pinson, on Williams-Goss, and allow his smaller guards Berry and Britt to hide on the smaller and more one-dimensional Jordan Mathews or Silas Melson. Pinson was a force to be reckoned with against Oregon, absolutely smothering Dillon Brooks on the perimeter and forcing him into perhaps his worst game of the season (10 points on 2/11 shooting, 1 assist, 5 turnovers). Pinson's limitations as a scorer were never more evident against Oregon, but he's such an important part of their team with his ability to rebound, distribute and guard anywhere from 1-4. The fact that his jump-shot (and overall scoring touch in general) has barely improved in his three years at UNC is somewhat disconcerting, but there very well may be a spot in the NBA for a 6'6 swiss army knife with a 6'11 wingspan who can play some point guard in a pinch and is an incredibly disruptive defender.

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