Creighton's sensational forward Doug McDermott was never in danger of running afoul of the NBA's age rules. In fact, he represents a dying breed: the potential lottery pick/senior college basketball player.
The reasons for disappearing upperclassmen is simple: The really talented players are playing as freshman and sophomores, often with hype from age 15 or 16. We know who the top-10 picks are before they even hit college campuses. They play for a year or two, get drafted, and that's that.
McDermott, known now by myriad nicknames by college basketball fans including Doug McBuckets, wasn't even good enough coming out of high school to play for his own father. McDermott the elder, Greg, told Doug if he wanted to play college basketball, it wouldn't be at Iowa State where he was coaching at the time. Thanks, Dad.
Now, he's a two-time All-American, Missouri Valley Player of the Year, and Missouri Valley Tournament MVP.
The 6-foot-8 inch McDermott continues to climb the all-time scoring ranks. He's just seven points behind Danny Manning for ninth all time and depending on how deep a run Creighton makes in the NCAA Tournament, he has a chance to crack the top three.
No, McDermott isn't particularly athletic, making him a sub-par defender and a tweener at the next level: too small to guard NBA power forwards and too heavy-footed to guard small forwards. McDermott's upside may seem limited.
But then you watch him score effortlessly and see a different picture. McDermott averages 26 points per game for the Bluejays, shooting 55.9 percent on twos and 44.1 percent on threes. He also shoots 88.7 percent from the free throw line. Players who shoot 50/40/90 with a quick release have a place in the NBA.
As a catch-and-shoot player, McDermott could at least be Kyle Korver: a deadly shooter who can space the floor and won't kill you on defense. But McDermott also gets to the free throw line 6.4 times per game, grabs almost seven rebounds and consistently seems in heat-check mode.
He's not a premier NBA scorer but could be a second option or the leader of an NBA team's second unit. Run the offense through him while the starters sit, and if you're down late, he's certainly a potential crunch time scorer and shooter.
Jay Wright recently told Maggie Gray on SI Now that McDermott should be discussed as one of the greatest college basketball players ever.
"That's the conversation that's most important, not whether he's the first pick, second pick in the draft, third. It's as a college basketball player, what he's done over the course of his career and now as a senior where he's brought his team and what his skill level is at this point in his career; it's not close in college basketball who's the most skilled, talented player.
"There are some young guys, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, who, four, five years from now might be a better player. But right now, Doug is the best player in college basketball."
The best player in college basketball and one of the best ever has to be a lottery pick right? Well, maybe.
Best of the rest: Other NBA prospects
Joel Embiid, C/F, Kansas -- Injuries remain a question for Kansas' 7-footer, despite his body passing the eye test in terms of healthy movement skills. A lingering back injury has limited Embiid's minutes lately -- something even more worthy of caution for a player his size. The other big question is touches. KU hasn't committed to getting him the ball on the block, where he has flashed a more-refined-than-expected post game. The freshman center has not had double-digit shot attempts in a game this season. Even so, Embiid is coming off of double-doubles in back-to-back Big 12 games after combining to score 25 points, grab 26 rebounds and block seven shots in two games last week.
Jabari Parker , F, Duke -- After a powerful performance against Syracuse, Parker followed up with a dreary offensive performance against Virginia Tech. He shot just 3-of-11 from the field, but there was a silver lining. Parker snared 12 boards and came up with three blocks and three steals, showing the ability to control games defensively when he's engaged. Parker has committed to being a bigger presence as a post player, taking fewer shots from deep. To wit, he's attempted more than three three-pointers just once in the last eight games but grabbed eight or more rebounds in all eight, with 10 or more boards in five games.
Andrew Wiggins, F, Kansas -- Flashes of brilliance stick out in Wiggins' game, but the consistency remains elusive. The talented Jayhawks frosh went 10-of-30 in two games last week, including 2-of-10 from three-point range. Appearing to play the game on pogo sticks, Wiggins possesses bounce unmatched in the college game but rebounds at a rate belying his abilities. While Marcus Smart did it all for the Cowboys, including guarding Wiggins in a pivotal game for Oklahoma State, the Jayhawks' marquee player performed his now-famous (or infamous) drifting routine in which he fades in and out of the flow.
Julius Randle, F, Kentucky -- Julius Randle, the rebounder, is back in full effect, but Julius Randle, the dominating scorer, remains on vacation it seems. Randle has grabbed 10 or more rebounds in six straight games, but over the last 10 days (in three games) he has shot just 10-of-30 from the field. Randle shot just 1-of-7 in an embarrassing loss to South Carolina on Saturday and doesn't seem to have a place in Kentucky's offense anymore. His ability to rebound can transfer to the NBA, but he'll have to determine where his offensive sweet spot is.
Marcus Smart, G, Oklahoma State -- After Smart started so poorly against Kansas, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas advocated Oklahoma State benching its best player. Since then, Smart came alive.
Marcus Smart played like the best player in America for the last 12 minutes or so.— Rob Dauster (@RobDauster) March 2, 2014
He scored 20 points in the second half against the Jayhawks, including two huge buckets over Joel Embiid in the closing minutes to lead Oklahoma State to a win. His final line -- 21 points, six rebounds, five assists, four steals, and a block show why NBA scouts aren't terribly worried about Smart's shaky jumper. Since coming back from an ugly suspension, Smart is averaging 18 points, 7.3 assists, 5.6 rebounds and 5.0 steals in three games -- all wins.
Gary Harris, G, Michigan State -- If there is a player in this class who could benefit from a more wide-open game in the NBA, it's Gary Harris. Better spacing and more room to operate would give Harris, an impressive athlete, more room to slash to the basket, as well as free him up to take more open shots. One of the reasons Harris' shooting numbers have fallen this year is his need to take more contested shots as injuries cripple the Spartans' offensive attack. Still, you'd like to see more consistency from a potential lottery pick shooting guard.
Semaj Christon, G, Xavier -- The man with the unique name -- "James" spelled backward -- also has a unique game. Not a great shooter -- though much improved over his freshman year -- Christon flashes dynamic potential with the ball in his hand, the quickness to get anywhere on the court and enough strength to finish through contact. Against No. 9 Creighton on Saturday, Christon led his Xavier squad to a crucial win, scoring 21 points and coming up with four steals. Earlier in the week against St. John's, he put up a 15-7-6 game. Christon may be the best point guard in the country most people have never heard of, and he's a potential first-round pick come June.
Games to watch
Saturday, March 8: No. 25 Kentucky vs. No. 1 Florida
John Calipari hasn't been able to get the pieces to fit together this season with such a considerable haul of freshman talent, but games like this are still a showcase for said talent, particularly for players like the Harrison twins. Both Andrew and Aaron appear likely candidates for returning to Lexington, while Randle and sophomore forward Willie Cauley-Stein can use this game to springboard themselves up the lottery. Playing an athletic, physical Florida defense with Patric Young et al will once again be a stiff test.
Saturday, March 8: No. 14 North Carolina vs. No. 4 Duke
I shouldn't have to tell you to watch this one -- every Duke vs. UNC game is appointment television, particularly when both are ranked. Marcus Paige and James Michael McAdoo led the Tar Heels to an upset win last month. If the Blue Devils are to avoid a repeat performance, lottery picks Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker must play better offensively than they have lately and both must be assertive rebounding their position.
Saturday, March 8: Oklahoma State vs. No. 16 Iowa State
Marcus Smart headlines a group of talented NBA-caliber players in this game, and given Smart's momentum lately, every big spot from here on out is critical. He leads Le'Bryan Nash and Markel Brown against the Cyclones who have some quality players of their own. Melvin Ejim just put up 30 and 15 while showing the type of strength and athleticism that may make teams forget about his size deficiencies. And while both Ejim and DeAndre Kane are only fringe NBA players, they are outstanding college players and will test the future professionals on the Cowboys roster.