There’s nothing like March Madness. Even if you’re not a college basketball fan1 you can still love March Madness. For those that haven’t watched much college basketball, trying to figure out who is who and what to watch can be difficult. And if you’re in a March Madness pool, even knowing what’s going on probably isn’t going to help.
[aside]1. I’ve never understood the argument that college basketball is better than NBA basketball. Have these people ever watched both? Watching the average college game, I’m constantly amazed how many times a team will pass the ball around for 30+ seconds only to get off a bad shot they could have gotten off in the first five seconds of the shot clock. It can be excruciating. The average score is in the 60s, field goal percentages are around 43%, and the number of times big men pass up open ten footers because it’s out of their range is amazing.[/aside]
Speaking of which, has anyone ever been in an NCAA pool where someone who doesn’t know anything doesn’t seem to win? It seems to me the more I follow college ball, the worse I do in the pools.
To help our beloved Raptor fans get a bit more out of the tournament, here are five things that will (hopefully) make watching a little more enjoyable.
1. WHICH COLLEGE TEAM HAS THE NEXT TORONTO RAPTOR?
Raptor fans started out the year with dreams of Andrew Wiggins, but that soon faded when they discovered that trading away an offensive black hole who plays defense sporadically (well, technically two of them) can actually make your team better. Ujiri was forced to make a decision of whether to “rebuild” (because NBA teams apparently don’t tank) or ride out the team he had and see where it went, and they are now on pace to come close to repeating the accomplishments of the 2006 Raptor team, that won 47 games and grabbed the third seed before being knocked out in the first round by Vince Carter and the New Jersey Nets.
More from RR today:
- Quick Reaction – Raptors at Pelicans
- Podcast: The Doctor Is In – March Madness Preview
- Greivis Vasquez Rescues Raptors in Return to Bayou
So now the Raptors are looking at a draft pick somewhere between 17 and 21 (depending on how they and other teams finish the season). That range is okay if you’re looking for a role player, but your chance of finding a star there is pretty slim. While Kenneth Faried was a 22nd pick and Eric Bledsoe went 18th, Luke Babbitt was picked 17th and Craig Brackins was selected 21st, and neither of those guys lasted their full rookie contract. It’s usually more of a crapshoot the lower you draft, and there’s less upside.
Let’s be clear here, though. Any notion that the Raptors should target a specific position or need should be thrown out immediately. Teams that draft well don’t target positions. They target players. And they grab the best one available. Besides, while the Raptors will end up winning more games than anyone expected, you have to remember that if the Raptors were in the West they’d be a lottery team, and there isn’t a position they couldn’t use an upgrade at, especially since several key player players are free agents and could leave.
There’s no guarantee that the player the Raptors end up drafting will even be playing in the NCAA tournament. K.J. McDaniels is an underrated sleeper who is the type of player Masai Ujiri seems to like, but his Clemson team is playing in the NIT. Or Ujiri could go international, and look at a player like Bogdan Bogdanovic. There are certainly some players (and their teams) to keep an eye on, though.
Michigan is a number 2 seed in the Midwest and has a pretty decent chance of advancing all the way to the Final Eight could end up in the Final Four.
No, he’s not Andrew Wiggins or Tyler Ennis, but Stauskas could end up being the first Canadian ever drafted by the Raptors. At 6’6, he’s an excellent shooter and good passer who should be able to have a successful NBA career, but his lack of speed and athleticism will prevent him from being anything more than a role player.
There isn’t a team in the league that couldn’t use Stauskas’ outside shooting, and that is definitely true for the Raptors. They could also lose John Salmons this summer, and Stauskas would be a good replacement.
If you’re a Canadian basketball fan, you’ve had a chance to watch every single one of Kansas’ games this season and, as a number 2 seed in the South, they have as good a chance as any to go all the way.
The OTHER highly athletic freshman wing player for Kansas. Seldon didn’t have the impact many expected, but Kansas is a deep team. He’s probably undervalued because he’s been overshadowed by his more heralded teammates. In that way, he reminds me of the afore mentioned Eric Bledsoe.
The problem with Seldon is that he duplicates a lot of what the Raptors already have, in DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross. But they shouldn’t pass on a prospect with the potential Seldon has because of that.
Another team with a potential Canadian star for the 3rd seeded Syracuse who could end up meeting Kansas in the Sweet 16.
Grant has the potential to be a defensive terror in the NBA, but his offense is raw. He’s 6’8 but with a huge wingspan and great athleticism. He’s not a good outside shooter, though, having not made a single three point shot all season.
UCLA has a couple of players who might be throwing on Raptor jerseys next year. And the Bruins should be alive for, at least, the first few rounds, so you should have a good chance to watch them.
Anderson is the ultimate stat stuffer. He’s averaging 14.9 ppg (48% from the field AND from 3 point range), 8.8 rpg, 6.6 apg (6th in the country) and even gets his share of steals and blocks. He’s a 6’8 small forward, but has the ball handling and passing skills of a 6’0 point guard. He’s been compared to none other than Magic Johnson.
So why isn’t he a lottery lock? Because he’s only a slightly better athlete than I am.
He’s got a huge wingspan and is a smart player, so it might be enough to make up for his lack of quickness and athleticism. If it’s not, though, he might have a tough time getting minutes in the NBA. If it is, in the right situation he could become a productive player.
LaVine is basically the polar opposite of his teammate, Anderson. LaVine doesn’t blow you away with his stats and still needs to improve on his skills and his ability to impact the game, but he will be one of the best athletes in the draft. He’s shown flashes of enough potential that he’s been compared to Russell Westbrook, but LaVine is taller and would play the shooting guard position.
His draft stock is all over the place and could go anywhere from the low lottery to the late first round.
Possibly the most disappointing team in college basketball. Before the season started, many felt they might have the best recruiting class ever. Unfortunately the talent never seemed to gel and they ended up as an 8th seed who could go out in the first round.
Young was a top 10 high school recruit who is a good, but not great athlete and good, but not great scorer. His stock may be down because of Kentucky’s lack of success, though, so he might be a good guy for the Raptors to target. He could end up being a very good defensive player in the NBA, something the Raptors could definitely use.
OTHER GUYS TO LOOK OUT FOR:
Gary Harris, Michigan State
Rodney Hood, Duke
Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
Elfrid Payton, Louisiana Lafayette
T.J. Warren, North Carolina State
Lastly, there is a chance that Tyler Ennis could fall in the draft and the Raptors could trade up to grab him. Right now he’s ranked 14th by DraftExpress and 12th by NBADraft.net. With the Raptors having no point guards with guaranteed contracts beyond this season, Ujiri may feel Ennis is the perfect solution. The Raptors should have enough pieces to move up five or so picks, and taking a chance on Ennis could pay off huge.
2. CANADA’S ONE SHINING MOMENT
We are truly entering the golden age for Canadian basketball. The recently announced All Freshman team contained two Canadians (Wiggins and Ennis) and in fact there were as many Canadians on the team as Americans. It used to be that finding a Canadian on an elite NCAA team meant looking at the role players on the team. This year, there are four teams that are 3 seeds or better that have a Canadian leading the team in scoring or, in Ennis’ case, is their most important player. And a couple of other lower seeded teams featuring Canadians in prominent roles2.
– Daniel Mullings is leading New Mexico State (13th seed) in scoring and his teammate, the 7’5 Sim Bhullar, leads them in rebounding and is 5th in the entire nation in blocks.
– Dwight Powell is second in scoring for 10th seeded Stanford.
– Jordan Bachynski starting and first on the team in rebounds for the 10th seeded Arizona State.
– Kevin Pangos leads the 8th seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs in minutes and is second on the team in scoring and assists. There are several other Canadians starting and/or in prominent roles, as well.[/aside]
The Canadian who might end up cutting down the nets on April 7th in North Texas could very well be a Wiggins, but not the one you think. Andrew’s older brother Nick, as well as Chadrack Lufile (the player with the most Game-of-Thrones sounding name), come off the bench of the aptly names Wichita State Shockers, who are just one of five teams in NCAA Division I history to go 32-0 and are rightly a number one seed in the Midwest.
While they are a top seed, their path to North Texas might be more difficult than other top seeds. They could end up facing an extremely talented, yet underachieving, Kentucky team in the second round, last year’s Champion, Louisville, in the Sweet 16, and Duke or Michigan (with Canadian, Nik Stauskas), in the Elite 8. No one would be shocked (pun intended) if Wichita State lost to any of those teams, not because the Shockers aren’t a good team, but because there are so many talented teams in their bracket.
After being unfairly labelled overrated when he didn’t immediately dominate on an already talented Kansas team, the other Wiggins has slowly developed into the player many hoped they would see. He scored 41 points (shooting 67% from the field), as well as grabbed 8 rebounds, made 4 blocks and racked up 5 steals in a loss to West Virginia and then went out the next game and scored 30 in an overtime win against Oklahoma State.
While the stars didn’t align to allow Wiggins to don a Raptors jersey for at least the next 7-10 years, all Canadian eyes should be on Wiggins who will be under more pressure than he’s ever been trying to lead Kansas to the promised land.
How far Kansas goes, though, will depend more on whether his teammate, Joel Embiid, returns from back injury quickly and in good form. While Wiggins has become Kansas’ best player, they are vulnerable without Embiid anchoring their defense.
If Kansas is going to face what is likely a top seeded Florida team (who finished the season on the top of the college polls) in the Elite 8, they may have to go through Tyler Ennis’ Syracuse team in the Sweet 16 to do so. Kansas plays Eastern Kentucky, with the little used Canadian Jaylen Babb-Harrison, in their first game.
Speaking of Ennis and Syracuse, they are the type of team that you often see sneak into the Final Four. They started the season 25-0 and lead many college rankings, but stumbled at the end, going 2-5. Not exactly the best way to finish the season. The NCAA Tournament loves players like Ennis, though: Take charge point guards with a penchant for heroics. And that bodes well for Syracuse.
The afore mentioned Nik Stauskas and his second seeded Michigan team are in the tough Midwest (the same bracket as Wichita State) and will have a tough time making it to the Final Four, but have as good a chance as any team in the Midwest.
The Canadian with the highest scoring average in the NCAA is not Wiggins or Stauskas or Daniel Mullings, but Iowa States’ Melvin Ejim. The third seeded Cyclones will likely have to go through a disappointing North Carolina team to face Tyler Ennis’ older brother, Dylan, and his Villanova Wildcats in the Sweet 16.
There could potentially be three games where Canadian players have to knock each other out for their teams to make it to the Final Four. Kansas and Syracuse in the South, Wichita State and Michigan in the Midwest and Iowa State and Villanova in the East. And two of those games would be in the Sweet 16.
It will certainly be a fun ride.
3. TOURNAMENT SLEEPERS
One of the reasons I never do very well in the March Madness pools is because I never seem to guess which low rated team is going to go farther than expected, so I’m probably not the best guy for this, but here it goes….
Kentucky started the season on the top of most preseason rankings, but ended it without even being ranked on the AP Post Season poll. Ouch.
While the Wildcats have lost more games than they should have, they have enough talent to win the Championship should they be able to put it all together. If they don’t, there’s a decent chance they don’t make it out of the first round.
But players like Julius Randle and James Young will no doubt want to improve their draft rankings by making a run in the tournament and show they can, indeed, win.
Since the middle of December, New Mexico has only lost three games, and none of them by more than 3 points. They also beat fourth seeded San Diego State two of three times during the season.
4. GLORY DAYS
College basketball is filled with guys who will never make it professionally. Some might, but will never achieve the success they had in college. On the top of that list are the college stars who just weren’t built for the NBA. Jimmer Fredette was a college sensation who never had a hope of reaching that same level in the NBA. Same goes for Dan Dickau, who was a big enough star at Gonzaga to inspire his own song. I’m also sure Mateen Cleeves cherishes his Final Four MVP trophy because very few people will remember his NBA career.
Doug McDermott leads the NCAA in scoring this year with 26.9 ppg. He’s also 6’8, not very quick and with an average (at best) wingspan. He is a power forward in college, but isn’t big enough or strong enough to play it in the NBA. And while he’s a deadeye shooter, he’ll find it a lot tougher getting those shots off against NBA defenders.
He’s such a good shooter and smart player that he’ll no doubt find a role in the NBA, but the next game Creighton loses will be his last as “the man”. He should cherish it.
5. WHERE STARS ARE MADE
Like the NBA playoffs, March Madness is what makes an indelible memory in people’s minds. The regular season, for both the NBA and college, can be a slog and no one ends up caring if your team goes 32-0 in the regular season if you bow out in the second round.
For a lot of people, the NCAA tournament is the only time they will see some of these teams play. Hitting the game winning shot against Georgetown in the 1982 Championship game was a coming out party for Michael Jordan (and only the first time he would “Jordanize” Patrick Ewing in his career). On the other hand, Chris Webber has been forever haunted by his “timeout” call against Duke that may have ended the title hopes of his Michigan team. Many say he was never the same after that.
It’s this reason why I’m so anxious to watch how players like Andrew Wiggins, Tyler Ennis and Jabari Parker respond to the big stage.