Posted March 20, 2013

Court Vision: NCAA tournament previews for the NBA fan

2013 NBA draft, 2013 NCAA Tournament, Ben Golliver, Ben McLemore, Brad Stevens, LeBron James, Marcus Smart, Otto Porter, Shabazz Muhammad
Indiana's Victor Oladipo is a prospect to watch during the NCAA tournament. (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Indiana’s Victor Oladipo is a prospect to watch during the NCAA tournament. (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

By Ben Golliver

If you’re an NBA fan who tunes out the college game for most of the year, here’s a quick round-up to get you ready for March Madness.

•  Make your bracket here.

•  Here’s SI.com’s “Road to Atlanta” video preview.

•  Maggie Gray has a series of Fast Break videos that highlight some of the upcoming match-ups.

•  Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports with comments from NBA executives about the top 2013 prospects in this year’s tourney.

1. SG Ben McLemore, Kansas, freshman (6-5, 195): NBA scout: “He hasn’t been as consistent as you would have hoped. He struggled in the conference tournament, but he had some great moments this season. Top shooting guard in the draft.”

2. PG Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State, freshman (6-4, 225): NBA scout: “Can he keep the other point guards in front of him? I wonder if he can be athletically special like Russell Westbrook. He has an incredible body.”

3. SF Otto Porter Jr. , Georgetown, sophomore (6-8, 205):  NBA GM: “He’s really, really good. People are very high on him. He has a complete game and can shoot the ball well.”

•  Jonathan Givony and Matt Kamalsky of Draft Express with who to watch this weekend.

Shabazz Muhammad will really have his hands full this upcoming weekend. Not only did he lose fellow freshman wing Jordan Adams to a season-ending injury, he’ll have to go up against an extremely athletic Minnesota squad that is far more talented than your typical 11 seed. Should UCLA advance, they’ll match up with the #2 defense in college basketball in Florida, a team that surely will have a major chip on their shoulder after being deemed just a 3 seed despite their strong numbers in the eyes of most computer ratings. UCLA and Florida have seen plenty of each other in the NCAA tournament the past few years, which only adds more intrigue to the matchup.

On the other side of this pod, Jamaal Franklin has a real chance to improve his draft stock in a matchup against Georgetown’s Otto Porter, should both teams advance. The two couldn’t be any more different in terms of their strengths and weaknesses and styles of play, which will make this an extremely popular game for NBA scouts to take in should it materialize.

•  Chad Ford of ESPN.com has region-by-region draft-centric breakdowns. Here’s the East.

1. Indiana Hoosiers

Lottery picks: Victor Oladipo, SG, Jr.; Cody Zeller, F/C, So.
Potential second-rounders: Christian Watford, F, Sr.
Wait ’til next year: Kevin Ferrell, PG, Fr.; Hanner Mosquera-Perea, PF, Fr.

At the start of the season, this team was clearly Zeller’s. It still may be, but Oladipo’s play this season has been a revelation and has moved his stock from a utilitarian second-round pick all the way into the top 10. Few players have Oladipo’s combination of explosive athletic ability and motor. Zeller has been good as well. He may not have lived up to the hype, but he’s still one of the two or three most skilled big men in the game, hustles up and down the floor and has proved to be very tough. He struggles playing against length, which is a concern for scouts, but the rest of Zeller’s game is just fine.

•  Jonathan Tjarks has ranked the various prospects in all four regions. Here’s the Midwest.

1. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State

Smart is an athletic 6’4 225 point guard who can do everything on the floor. However, even though he’s surrounded by as much talent as anyone in the country, I’m not all that confident about Oklahoma State’s chances in March. A well-coached team generally executes well in the half-court, something the Cowboys don’t do. They’re more like the 2010 Heat than the 2012 version. Kansas State, a veteran team who plays defense and doesn’t turn the ball over, beat them pretty easily in the Big 12 conference tournament.

If Oklahoma State is knocked out relatively early, don’t blame Smart. After all, in his only season in college, Kevin Durant lost in the second round to a USC team headlined by Nick Young.

•  Jonathan Givony of Draft Express with everything you need to know about the draft entry process this season.

The first day of the spring National Letter of Intent signing period is April 17th this year, meaning that any player that makes himself eligible for the NBA draft before then must remove it by April 16th in order to retain his collegiate eligibility.

What this essentially means is that there is no “testing the waters” anymore.

The reason for this change, in the NCAA’s words is: “to help keep student-athletes focused on academics in the spring term and to give coaches a better idea of their roster for the coming year before the recruiting period is closed.”

•  Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated on Butler coach Brad Stevens and how he uses advanced stats.

The formal basketball career of Drew Cannon ended in eighth grade as the sixth man of his junior high team. In college at Duke, Cannon’s only hoops experience came from an intramural team called the Norse Forse.

When Cannon graduated with a degree in statistics last spring, he had modest expectations of finding a job right away. “We were hoping he would not be living in the basement,” said Jim Cannon, his father. “That was our goal. And his.”

Instead of toiling in the basement, Cannon spent the season on the Butler bench and will be with the team when the Bulldogs play Bucknell in the NCAA tournament on Thursday. Cannon’s experience interning with recruiting analyst Dave Telep and his advanced writing about basketball analytics gained the attention of Butler coach Brad Stevens, who offered him a job as a graduate manager this summer.

•  Jeff Goodman of CBSSports.com has his latest mock draft.

•  Kurt Helin of ProBasketball Talk with 10 prospects to watch.

Kelly Olynyk, 7’0” center, Gonzaga. He’s more than just that guy with long hair — he has size, moves well and has a really good scoring touch. In a league that values efficient scorers, Olynk is that (he shot 65 percent this season). But coming out of a small conference there are questions about how he deals with the size and athleticism he will see in the NBA. The Tournament will start to be a test of that. He’s a late lottery pick right now, but that could rise or fall depending on how he does in big matchups.

•  In non-NCAA happenings, Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com reports that LeBron James is non-committal about his free agency future, which makes sense because he’s under contract until at least 2014.

“My only focus now is to win another championship, I can’t worry about speculation or rumors,” James said recently when the subject was raised. “What we’re doing on the floor right now is what it’s all about. We’re playing good ball right now. We’re trying to win a championship.”

•  Deadspin.com with some engaging charts tracking high school basketball stars.

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