Which player has benefited most from the NCAA Tournament? That question deserves a complicated answer. And probably is more the fodder for blogs and pundit shows looking to talk about something and draw wild conclusions over singular games (Yes, I just insulted myself).
The reactions to Florida Gulf Coast's Randy Enfield jumping from Florida's West Coast to the actual West Coast has drawn reactions across the spectrum, with many wondering if he was hired based solely on two games. Two games is hardly a representative sample size.
For many NBA fans though, the NCAA Tournament is the first exposure to the top draft prospects. This year that meant bad news for Marcus Smart, Shabazz Muhammad and Ben McLemore. All three struggled in their games in the spotlight. McLemore, the presumed No. 1 pick (if there is such thing as a presumption in a draft like this), shot only 10 for 39 from the floor — although he finished with 20 points in Kansas' overtime loss to Michigan in the Sweet Sixteen.
If there has been any "climber" so to speak in the national eye it is Trey Burke of Michigan. The Wolverines' point guard has had a fantastic tournament and has solidified himself as a candidate for the national player of the year. Many have compared him to Jameer Nelson. Regardless what you think of Nelson overall, he has had a successful nine-year career now.
The other riser? It is the guy who is not playing at all. In fact, hist team was eliminated in the first round of the NIT.
Absence is making the heart grow fonder and Nerlens Noel has re-emerged as a candidate to be the No. 1 pick in the Draft. ESPN's Chad Ford moved Noel back to No. 1 on his big board despite the torn ACL that has knocked him out of basketball since early February.
Noel was atop our Top 100 rankings from our first one on June 29 until he went down with a torn ACL in February. Since that time we've been reluctant to keep him at No. 1 until NBA doctors have a chance to look at his MRIs. But the truth is that Noel might be the big draft winner of NCAA tournament so far. While most of the other top prospects have stumbled — some mightily — multiple NBA scouts and GMs remember Noel's increasing productivity at Kentucky and say, essentially, if every player in the draft this year is going to be a major risk, why not gamble with the ultra-athletic big man and hope his knee and his offensive game both get better?
The question for Noel is if he can regain his athleticism after tearing his ACL. Before that point he was a defensive and athletic monster who was improving offensively. There was a lot of hype about him as a prospect and he has a very high ceiling. Again, IF he can regain his form and athleticism after tearing his ACL.
As I said after he tore his ACL, the injury could be a good opportunity for him to refine his fundamental skills. And the Magic, with a willingness to be patient and develop him even behind closed doors and take another high draft pick, would be a good place for him to do it. There is a sense the Magic may go this way and give Nikola Vucevic the athletic rim protector he needs to be effective defensively.
Only time will tell.
March Madness Challenge Update
OK, let's see how the Orlando Magic Daily March Madness Challenge is going.
Unfortunately, I was unable to find the original carrying case for the 1989-90 trading cards I promised to the winner. However, I have the cards and the winner will be very happy to have this collector's item — they even say Expansion Team on them!
Taking a look at the standings then I am somehow in third place. Come on guys, my bracket was awful this year. Kudos to GoSaintsBrees and Kentucky Blues who are in first and second. Both have Louisville winning the national championship and both had Louisville defeating Indiana in the final. Sorry, Kentucky Blues, it looks like you are playing for second.
But who will win?
Well, that is already decided. Congrats GoSaintsBrees on winning the inaugural March Madness Challenge. Everyone else has Louisville as their only Final Four competitor and you have them winning the national championship. So you win. I will be in touch with you on how to deliver the prize.