I know what you’re thinking. "Matt, I haven’t even read the last WigginsWatch yet and there’s already another one. You’re diluting your #brand." To that, I respond with the following: It’s March. Take a deep breath. Here we go. (Also, go read the last one! I'll wait, I promise.)
We’ve all been talking about these college prospects for what seems like FOREVER. But I know you. You haven’t been watching these guys nearly as much as you’d like to. You’re busy. The baby’s been keeping you up. You wanted to catch up on True Detective instead of watching that random Tuesday night Creighton/DePaul game.
But this, my friend, is March Madness. It is your right, no, your duty to put all of those distractions aside and immerse yourself in college basketball for the next three weeks. Now, maybe you don’t care about college basketball. The game’s too slow, too low scoring, too unathletic. You fill out your office bracket arbitrarily based on records and/or which team has the coolest mascot. You only care about watching the future stars in the NBA. You’re not interested in watching teams from the Big Sky conference play like they think they’re "Pistol" Pete Maravich when they’re really more like "Pistol" Pete Disellio. You don’t even know who to root for.
Well, you’re welcome. I’ve gone through the bracket and filled out the optimal scouting bracket for Sixers fans. A bracket that features the most potential NBA players getting the most potential games for you to watch them and form that informed opinion you’ve been telling people you have. You’ve heard that Zach Lavine is too streaky and inconsistent? This is your chance to find out just how inconsistent he really is. You’ve heard Jabari Parker is somewhat inept on defense from types like myself? With this bracket, you’ll get plenty of chances to see decent wing players run past him!
Now, I’m not necessarily recommending this bracket for use in an office pool, but then again, after filling it out, it wasn’t terribly unrealistic. So if you want to, knock yourself out. Just cut me a check later.
Let’s break this thing down region by region.
(Note: When I refer to first round games, I’m talking about games played on Thursday and Friday that the NCAA calls "second round games" because CBS and Turner paid a lot of money to televise those crap play-in games.)
This is a fairly strong region in terms of NBA talent. Three teams in the South feature multiple potential first round choices in this draft.
Florida may be the top seed in the NCAA, but in terms of NBA talent, they’re no juggernaut. PF Chris Walker is a freshman who wasn’t cleared to play until January and may be best served staying in school for one more year, but could potentially be a mid-to-late first rounder this year with a good showing in the tournament. He’s someone to watch for, as is a potential 2nd rounder in PF Patrik Young. They advance to the Sweet 16 beating out Colorado, whose only draftable player is SG Spencer Dinwiddie, a top 5 pick if this were a "best names ever" draft, but a 2nd round prospect in the real world. (EDIT: Dinwiddie is out for the season with a torn ACL. I completely forgot this happened.)
UCLA, as is their custom, is a more interesting team to watch for their pro potential than for their college abilities. With two potential first round freshmen in Lavine and Kyle Anderson, and a potential 2nd rounder in SG Jordan Adams, there’s a lot to look at here. Optimally, they advance to the Elite Eight, but more importantly to me are the matchups they’d face. A potential Round of 32 match with VCU wouldn’t feature pro-style competition, but would feature an interesting matchup against VCU’s up-tempo, high pressure HAVOC defense, and I’d be intrigued to see how Lavine and Anderson react to the pressure.
Syracuse has two prospects to watch in PG Tyler Ennis and SF Jerami Grant. Ennis is a point guard, and Sixers fans should be invested in him having a fantastic tournament solely to vault him into a surefire top 10 pick to push somebody else down the board. Seeing as the Sixers already have a lottery pick point guard from Syracuse, he’s unlikely to end up in Philadelphia. Grant projects as a mid-to-late first as a very athletic wing. They’d face Ohio State, a team with a couple potential Summer League players on it before they get blinded by the Northern Light.
That brings us to Kansas. If you’ve been reading WigginsWatch thus far, you know that I have quite an affinity for one Andrew Christian Wiggins and the potential for an MCW-ACW combination. But I already know Wiggins is awesome. You can never truly watch enough Wiggins, but not much will change my opinion on him. The big question for Kansas is whether Joel Embiid makes an appearance in this tournament. The selection committee thinks he will, which is why Kansas wasn’t penalized in seeding for his injury. If Embiid returns, NBA teams are going to be watching him with a microscope (and they might need one depending on where the press box is at the Final Four in Jerryworld). The other interesting player to watch for me is Wayne Selden, another Kansas wing whom I love unconditionally despite his obvious flaws as a freshman basketball player. Selden is a fringe first rounder who would probably be best served returning for his sophomore year, but a strong tournament could propel him up the board and compel him to declare for the draft.
First Round Games to Watch
Tulsa vs UCLA: Friday, 9:57, TruTV
Syracuse vs Western Michigan: Thursday, 2:45, CBS
Kansas vs Eastern Kentucky: Friday, 4:10, TBS
In contrast to the South, the East Region is a bracket you can pretty much ignore if you only care about NBA talent. The only team that has guys who can attend NBA games after this season without buying a ticket is Michigan State. Gary Harris is a lottery pick and Adreian Payne is a late first rounder. I don't love the matchups in terms of learning more about them because I've already seen them play against good talent that aren't NBA-level players in a Big Ten schedule. So my focus for this region is just loading up the best possible matchups for them, and also getting Villanova and Saint Joseph’s out of my life as quickly as possible to reduce the pain this tournament is already bringing me.
First Round Game to Watch
Michigan State vs Delaware: Thursday, 4:40, TNT
We return to watching NBA-quality basketball players in the West, with a handful of lottery picks in the region.
Arizona is the one seed, and boasts the most potential NBA talent in obvious lottery pick Aaron Gordon, a fringe first rounder in Chester native Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and a couple 2nd round guys in SG Nick Johnson and C Kaleb Tarczewski. They’re the only team in the region to boast that many potential NBA players, and as such, they advance to the Final Four to give everyone a good look at all of them. That said, Gordon may be the only one of the bunch to declare for the 2014 draft, so a lot of this may be futures scouting.
Oklahoma State has Marcus Smart, another obvious lottery pick that’s unlikely to be a Sixer unless he falls to the PeliPick and Commander Hinkie snaps up the value. That said, he’s obviously worth a look, as is Markel Brown, a prospect with widely varying opinions amongst anyone who’s watched him play. Definitely watch their first round match with Gonzaga.
Creighton is a team that exists because of Doug McDermott. I don’t love their early matchups because I wanted to see McDermott against some athletic wing defenders, and I think the only place they’d see an NBA-caliber defender is in the Elite Eight against Arizona. It’ll be fun to see him light up some scoreboards in the interim though. Their first opponent, Louisiana-Lafayette, features PG Elfrid Payton, a high 2nd round prospect who I actually have yet to see play, but is well-regarded by a lot of draft analysts, so that’s a game to watch as well.
Wisconsin, the 2 seed in the region, has an interesting NBA prospect in Sam Dekker. Dekker is a late first rounder who has struggled a bit in his sophomore season with his jump shot. He was thought to be a terrific wing shooter coming into the season, and an analytical favorite, which is obviously Hinkie-bait. Dekker has drawn lots of comparisons to Gordon Hayward, as well as Chandler Parsons, Kyle Korver, and Mike Dunleavy Jr. It's almost like there's some sort of pattern with all of these comparisons.
First Round Games To Watch
Gonzaga vs Oklahoma State: Friday, 4:40, TNT
Creighton vs Louisiana-Lafayette: Friday, 3:10, TruTV
There’s a lot to work with here if the tournament breaks right. A lot of first rounders, some lottery picks, some interesting second rounders. Early on, not so great, but if the right teams win, there could be some really strong matchups here.
Kentucky is the ultimate tournament wild card. A team that has a lot of individual NBA-quality talent, they haven’t quite figured out how to play together as a team, and quite possibly never will since at least half of them won’t be back. Julius Randle is the obvious player to watch, with a potential sweet 16 matchup with Montrezl Harrell that I’ll be watching with my hand hovering over the rewind button on my DVR remote. Willie Cauley-Stein is a guy that has shown flashes of being a really good rim protector with a limited offensive game, but still seems unlikely to be a Sixer since they already have a better Kentucky rim protector with a limited offensive game. I love James Young no matter how many shots he misses despite ostensibly being a good shooter. The Harrison twins should probably both stay in school, because that would be the first good decision I’ve seen either of them make all season. Alex Poythress is another interesting prospect, but he’ll probably return to school assuming John Calipari doesn’t revoke his scholarship for being a junior at Kentucky, which is two years past their legal limit.
Louisville features the aforementioned MONTREZL DUNK MACHINE as well as Russ Smith, one of my favorite collegiate players to watch that I hope can carve out a career in the NBA as a bench energy guard that will drive everyone nuts, most notably his own fanbase. The ideal matchup for me would be if NC State can win their play-in, then upset Saint Louis to set up an interesting matchup of MONTREZL against T.J. Warren, an oft-forgotten mid-first round prospect who can score efficiently that I’m interested to see more of.
Michigan is a team that I highlighted coming into the season because of then-lottery prospects Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson. NAILED IT. Since then, McGary was lost for the season to injury, and Robinson has seen his stock take a nose dive directly into the 2nd round without passing go or collecting a guaranteed $200 after a disappointing season. I neglected to mention the man who has turned out to be Michigan’s guiding light in Nik Stauskas, a lights-out shooter who could be picked anywhere from 11-20. Michigan can set up an interesting Sweet 16 match with two very winnable games. Also, just saying, I may have thrown a few dollars on Michigan to win the tournament last time I was in Vegas, and I’d really like to cash that ticket to have some extra spending money during my Vegas Summer League excursion. Pray for me.
That interesting Sweet 16 matchup I was talking about would be with Duke, a team with top pick candidate Jabari Parker and lottery candidate Rodney Hood. The most interesting thing to me with Duke is defense, defense, and defense. I already know Parker and Hood can score among the best of them. But thus far, they certainly haven’t stopped the best of them. I’d like to see them play against talented scorers and athletic scorers, which they could potentially draw with matchups against Michigan (Stauskas) and Kentucky (Randle and Young).
First Round Game to Watch
Kentucky vs Kansas State: Friday, 9:40, CBS
If I had to pick my ideal final four, I’ve said for months it would be Kansas, Duke, Kentucky, and Australia. However, dictatorial NCAA rules say that the country of Australia is not actually a college, and thus can’t field a team in the NCAA tournament. So, no Dante Exum. YOUR LOSS, NCAA.
With this bracket as constructed, the optimal final four for scouting purposes is Kansas, Michigan State, Arizona, and Duke.
Michigan State vs Kansas would be a very intriguing matchup of Andrew Wiggins vs Gary Harris that actively excites me to watch just talking about it. Arizona vs Duke would be a rematch from earlier in the season that I’d love to see to measure the growth of Aaron Gordon and Jabari Parker from November 30th to April 5th.
And then Kansas vs Duke is the natural poetic conclusion to this season. It comes down to Wiggins vs Parker because it should always come down to Wiggins vs Parker. But this isn’t ParkerWatch, it’s WigginsWatch. Kansas wins it all when Wiggins scores 35 in the title game and Embiid has seven blocks while doing a series of handspring backflips to show how healthy he is.
So that’s it. That’s the ideal tournament if your goal is future-Sixer watching and nothing else. If your primary interest lies in many shining moments over the next decade rather than just one, this is the bracket for you to root for.
The real season has begun. Enjoy, everybody.