With a host of top NBA prospects sent home in the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, and big-time programs falling every way you looked, it was easy for NBA fans to wonder how much they would really gain from watching the rest of March Madness.
Then, in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, a group of players seized the spotlight, and in some cases reminded why they were lottery picks. Others pushed their way into first-round discussions, raising their level of play along with the stakes.
And others sputtered under the pressure of the moment, the hot lights of one-and-done action melting their resolve.
Here's a look at the best and worst performances from NBA hopefuls in the second weekend of the tourney:
Julius Randle, F, Kentucky -- The Wildcats' superlative freshman forward built on his dominant run already to power his team into the Final Four. Against Louisville and its dynamic frontcourt led by Montrezl Harrell -- a potential lottery pick in his own right -- Randle scored 15 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, but it was his lone assist that stood out. Driving into the lane with the clock winding down, he found Aaron Harrison in the corner for the go-ahead three.
Then, against a smaller, though athletic, Michigan team, Randle bullied his way into the lane constantly in the second half, finishing with 16 points and 11 rebounds. He'll have his work cut out for him in a Final Four matchup against Wisconsin's bevy of bigs. Speaking of...
Frank Kaminsky, C, Wisconsin -- Unstoppable. That's what Kaminsky was against one of the best defensive frontcourts in college basketball, even when guarded by top-10 pick Aaron Gordon. Kaminsky poured in 28 points and scored from everywhere on the court, ranging from pick-and-pop threes to nifty post moves to floaters. He also added 11 rebounds for good measure.
The question now, after a breakout season and impressive tournament performance is just how high can he go? A legitimate seven-footer who can score, block shots and rebound, he was considered a mid-second round pick coming into the tournament. But if he delivers against Kentucky, NBA teams will start to take more notice.
Kaminsky has definitely put himself in the conversation with the season he's had. Barely played his first 2 years, now a legit NBA prospect.— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) March 30, 2014
Nik Stauskas, G, Michigan -- It would be easy to point to the shooting numbers and say Stauskas struggled the last week -- and to be fair, 5-of-15 from deep represents a pretty deep cold spell for one of the best shooters in college basketball. But as you've heard the announcers explain <i> ad nauseam <i> Stauskas is much more than shooter. Against Kentucky's bevy of wing players, the Canadian guard got into the lane regularly and drew contact. Ten of his 24 points came at the free throw line when his shot wasn't falling.
Don't pigeonhole Stauskas as a Kyle Korver-type shooter in the NBA. At 6-foot-7 and an explosive leaper, Stauskas can shoot, slash, and distribute. He could even be a lottery pick in June.
Andrew Harrison, G, Kentucky -- The more heralded of the Harrison twins, Andrew has once again played second fiddle to his brother Aaron in the tournament -- Aaron also outplayed Andrew for most of the regular season. As a point guard, Andrew presents an intriguing skillset, with a 6-foot-6 215-pound body and the ability to get into the lane and finish or distribute. But his jump shot has been an issue most of the season and he doesn't consistently finish at the rim, even over small guards. Since a stellar game against Wichita State, Harrison has gone 7-of-23 from the field and 1-of-5 from deep.
Harrison displayed improved floor vision as the year wore on and was solid as a facilitator against Louisville and Michigan, but the best plan for him ought to be returning to school and adding some polish to his game.
If I'm Andrew Harrison, I stay at Kentucky one more year. That size. Skill. Vision. Develop, mature, this time next year he's a lottery pick— Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixSI) March 29, 2014
Zach LaVine, G, UCLA -- LaVine failed to generate positive momentum ahead of his announcement he'll enter the 2014 draft. He hasn't even scored in double figures since March 13 in a win against Oregon. In fact, in five games since that matchup, LaVine put up just 11 points total. He shot 3-of-15 in the tournament and 0-8 from deep.
As a freshman at UCLA, LaVine generated comparisons to Russell Westbrook as a bouncy, raw combo guard with lottery-pick potential. LaVine potentially offers much more as a shooter than Westbrook, knocking in 37.5 percent behind the three-point line, but the favorable comparisons end there. That said, their per 40 minutes numbers from their final seasons at UCLA are pretty similar:
LaVine, 2013: 15.4 points per game, 4.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists
Westbrook, 2007: 15.1 points per game, 4.6 rebounds, 5.1 assists
Sam Dekker, F, Wisconsin -- Misery loves company. Just like LaVine was outshined by teammates Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams in the tourney, Kaminsky's outstanding effort overshadowed the struggles of Wisconsin's potential first-round forward. Dekker, a versatile 6-foot-8 scorer, was anything but the last week. He shot just 5-of-13 from the floor, scoring 14 total points. Dekker was an All-Big Ten defensive player, and helped contain Aaron Gordon, but Wisconsin wasn't able to rely on him in its halfcourt offense.
Dekker will benefit from a more wide-open game in the NBA, where his length and quickness will be an asset, but his jumper has failed him this season and his shooting is down across the board.
The Mixed Bag
Aaron Gordon, F, Arizona -- Gordon showed off his incredible springs against San Diego State, en route to a 15-point, six-rebound performance, punctuated by one of the dunks of the season.
He also helped Arizona's offense get easy baskets in transition and around the rim, but the problem with Gordon's offensive game is, well... he doesn't have one. In terms of skill, Gordon doesn't even bring a knife to a gunfight -- he brings a rusty spoon. His jump shot is broken and he often looks tentative attacking the rim because he's such a poor free throw shooter. His 3-of-11 clunker against Wisconsin, in which he also nabbed 18 rebounds, showed him for what he is at this point: an athlete learning how to play basketball. Gordon is a lockdown defender and an absurd athletic talent, but offensively he can't create his own shot.
Gary Harris, G, Michigan State -- Harris had a solid game in the Spartans' finale, scoring 22 points (8-of-14 shooting) in the loss to UConn, but his performance against Virginia was pretty dreadful. Michigan State was lucky to survive after Harris shot just 2-of-5 and scored six points.
The sophomore failed to show he's a consistent and reliable scorer at the two-guard position this season and his tournament run underscores his up-and-down game.
Nick Johnson, G, Arizona -- The final point totals for Johnson belie just how considerably he struggled in two games against staunch defenses. Johnson slogged through a 2-of-12 brickfest against San Diego State, hitting two clutch shots late to salvage the performance. He finished with 15 points and eight rebounds, but scuffled trying to get to his spots all game, only saving face by putting up a pristine performance at the line.
The results weren't much better against Wisconsin. Johnson shot just 6-of-16 against the Badgers and airballed a game-tying attempt with 30 seconds left in regulation (luckily, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson dunked the errant attempt to tie game).
In overtime, Johnson was called for a questionable charge and couldn't get a shot off before time expired on the last play, leading to a Badgers win and a forgettable finale.