Congratulations to Rick Pitino and the Louisville Cardinals for winning the 2013 NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship. This year’s tournament, like many before it, had its share of highlights, buzzer beaters, and breakout stars.
Every year, prospects use March to springboard into the draft and surge up boards — but at the same time several players’ hurt their lofty draft stock with poor or inconsistent performances. With a focus toward June’s NBA Draft, here is a breakdown of the prospects that helped their stock the most with great performances (or in the case of the player listed first, non-performances) in the Big Dance.
Nerlens Noel, C, Kentucky, 10.5ppg, 9.5rpg
I know it sounds strange to say a player who has been out since February 2nd with a torn ACL had his draft stock rise, but with the epic collapse of Kentucky in the NIT against Robert Morris and the combination of other top prospects not taking advantage of March Madness, Noel is the big winner. Prior to his injury Noel was coming on offensively and defensively and showing why he may be the player with the most potential and upside in this draft. From the moment Noel steps on the court he will be one of the best pure shot blockers in the NBA, and his energy and effort on the glass and defensive ends will excite many fan bases. Speaking to executives from several lottery-bound teams, the consensus is Noel is the top player on the board.
Trey Burke, PG, Michigan, 18.6ppg, 6.7apg
Burke had some up and down moments for sure in the tournament, but make no mistake he proved why he was the National Player of the Year. Sinking 30-foot jumpers, attacking the lane at will, blowing by good perimeter defenders, and distributing the ball to teammates allowed Burke to solidify himself as the best pure PG in the entire draft class and move into the top-10. While teammate Spike Albrecht did his best to upstage Burke in the championship game, Burke was a masterful 7-for-11 from the field, including 3-of-5 from beyond the arc, while giving Russ Smith or whoever else had the unenviable duty of guarding him fits all night. A legitimate question about if Michigan would have won the game if Burke would have returned before halftime can be asked. From talking to those around the NBA, Burke is a definite lottery pick that in all likelihood is selected in the top-8.
Russ Smith, PG, Louisville, 18.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg
Smith had a tough night guarding Burke and struggled to get going offensively, shooting 3-for-16 from the field with 4 fouls. But in looking at Smith’s March performance as a whole, he averaged 22.2 ppg in the tournament. Smith proved he can play defense, not just jump the lane for steals. In part due to his size and style of play, Smith projects as a Jason Terry-type of scoring guard off the bench. At this point most NBA scouts and GMs minds will not be drastically affected by one poor game, especially considering the quality performances Smith has put up this season. Watching the tapes, Smith is the quick sparkplug teams in contention need coming off the bench. It would not be surprising if Smith were selected anywhere between 20-35 on draft night.