March Madness: The Ones To Watch
The NBA season may be approaching its crescendo, but every time March rolls around, it's time to take your eyes off the big league of basketball for a short while and bask in the greatness of March madness. It's marked in the calendar of every basketball fan, and for a good reason. Aside from being one of the best college tournaments in all of sport, it's an opportunity for players to put themselves firmly in the shop window for June's draft. A good performance during March Madness can be the difference between getting a good move during the draft and a great one, and in the past has provided the moments in which previously-unheralded athletes have suddenly found their names on everybody's lips.
Catching the eye during March madness doesn't guarantee that you'll end up with the draft pick you always dreamed of. The process is too much of a lottery for that to be the case. The draft is like a game of online slots, in that everybody pays their money and takes their chance, and some people get lucky while others don't. It's like the "Basketball Star" and "Reel King slot", which have been a popular fixture on online slots websites for some time, comes to life. It's just that there's only one winner when you're playing online slots. Multiple people can win in the draft - but it's also true that multiple people can lose. Who's in line to give themselves a shot at becoming a hot commodity? Let's take a look.
Jared Butler, Baylor
Although he isn't considered as big a name as some of the players he's likely to come up against during March madness, Jared Butler should be considered a handful by anyone unfortunate enough to come up against him on the court. He's Baylor's top scorer, bringing an average of sixteen points per game into March and boasting a field-goal percentage of 42.1. Those aren't stats to be sniffed at - although we suspect several NBA teams will be sniffing around him already.
Even in a losing performance in Baylor's final game of the season against West Virginia, Baylor finished with four rebounds, a pair of assists, two steals, and twenty-one points. He's in the right form at the right time, and a solid tournament showing should boost his profile enormously.
Udoka Azubuike, Kansas
Get used to seeing this young man's name a lot - even more so than you are doing already. As the Bleacher Report so eloquently put it recently, "nobody has an answer to Udoka Azubuike." If he's on the court and he's in the right mood, it would take a truly special player to stop him from doing what he wants with the ball, any time he wants to do it. Azubuike is destined for greatness. It's just a question of how long it takes him to get there.
The smart money says that Azabuike finishes up as MVP, and we certainly wouldn't bet against that. There's a very slight question mark about his free-throws, but even then, it's a question mark as opposed to a genuine problem. He's an offensive impact player, and his one-man wrecking show against TCU in which he racked up 31 points will live for a long time in the memories of those who saw it.
Payton Pritchard, Oregon
Payton Pritchard could retire from playing basketball now, and he'd still be remembered fondly for the rest of his life in Oregon. It's not without reason that those who have watched him regularly consider him to be one of Oregon's all-time greats. If Oregon makes it to the final four, Pritchard will have played a major role in their doing so. If we might be so bold, we'd say that he's the finest senior point guard in the draft this year.
Aside from being a rock-solid defensive player, Pritchard can be relied upon to contribute around twenty points per game offensively. He specializes at shooting from range, and he plays like he's far bigger than 6'2" Even Arizona's coach Sean Miller had to accept that his team had been beaten by a superior player when he netted 38 points against the Wildcats in their most recent encounter.
Obi Toppin, Dayton
Aside from having the coolest-sounding name in the amateur game, Obi Toppin is an All-Star prospect who should have every team in the NBA clamoring for his services in June. It's probably easier to stand out for the Dayton Flyers than it is for other teams, but Toppin would stand out no matter where he was playing - and we don't just mean because he's 6'9". The word "beast" is overused when describing offensive players in basketball, but in Toppin's case, it's accurate and merited.
Toppin succeeds because he's simply too big and too powerful for most people who stand in his way. He averages more than 40% from three-point distance, and more than 60% from the floor in general. Not only does he make sure he always gets the chance to shoot, but he has a better than 50/50 chance of finding the net every time he does. What more could you ask for?
Yoeli Childs, BYU
If you haven't come across the name Yoeli Childs before, allow us to introduce you to our dark horse pick. Childs can pick up rebounds easier than you can pick up and take out the trash. He grabbed ten against Gonzaga in late February and followed up by snatching fourteen against Pepperdine a week later. He also scored 62 points between the two games.
The only reason Childs isn't in the running for Player of the Year is because he missed four games with a hand injury in January, and he missed the opening nine games because of a paperwork error that was blamed on his new agent. Were it not for that, he'd be talked about the same way Azubuike is. It may even prove to be the case that he's a better prospect than Azubuike when all's said and done. He's a 6'8", 225-pound wall of a man, and most teams don't have the tools to break this wall down.
March madness has a habit of making fools out of people who make predictions, and that could easily be the case here. A different five players might step up and make their mark. If they do, good luck to them - but right now, these are the five men who deserve your attention when the madness begins.