This particularly loaded bracket in terms of potential NBA draft picks features a potential #1 overall pick in Rudy Gay, numerous future lottery picks and first and second round prospects galore.
Rudy Gay, 6-9, sophomore, small forward, (#1 pick?)
For UConn to live up to their potential and make it to the Final Four, they will need Gay at his best once again, like he was midway through the Big East conference slate. Not everyone is sold on his likelihood to achieve his massive potential and develop into a legit star in the NBA, and a big tournament could go a long ways in disproving that. Gay will have to reestablish himself within 15 feet of the basket and in rather than settling for weak fade-away jumpshots like he has at times this year. It would also be nice to see go back to playing tenacious man to man defense and crashing the glass, as well as be willing to step up and utilize his phenomenal talent in the likely scenario that UConn's offense gets bogged down in a grind it out half-court setting. The cream rises to the top in March, and Gay is capable and then some of showing the entire world that he is more than just a great athlete with tons of untapped potential.
Josh Boone, 6-10, junior, PF/C, (2006/2007 1st rounder)
Boone's ability to control the boards and intimidate rivals inside the paint with his shot-blocking skills is the type of advantage that few teams in this tournament possess. NBA teams will want to see a bit more than that, though, which is why they would probably like to see him have at least 1 or 2 big games, showing that he is able as well as willing to take advantage of the type of physical attributes that few players in this draft have.
Hilton Armstrong, 6-11, senior, PF/C, (2006 first rounder)
Armstrong has shown flashes of excellence on the offensive end as well at times, helping the Huskies relieve the full-court pressure they often see on their lone ball-handler Marcus Williams, stepping back to 16 feet to knock down a smooth looking jump shot, and scoring efficiently in the paint with the jump-hook. He doesn't get too many touches on a team that is absolutely loaded at every position, but he makes the most of what he does, to the tune of 62% shooting from the field on the year.
Continuing to be aggressive is what scouts will look for the most out of Armstrong. He wasn't expected to be the factor that makes or breaks UConn's season, and that trend will likely continue in the NCAA tournament. His physical attributes and raw skills alone will get him plenty of looks regardless in the first round, but a consistent showing throughout the tournament would certainly not hurt his stock.
Marcus Williams, 6-3, junior, point guard (2006/2007 first rounder)
The most important player in UConn's offense, Williams (like most point guards in this tournament) has a chance to see his stock skyrocket as the steady presence that leads his team to the final four. As UConn's only reliable ball-handler, he will be facing plenty of traps, full-court presses and other gimmicks intended to get the ball out of his hands. Continuing to show his typical tremendous poise by handling most-everything he sees with confidence will be key for UConn's ability to withstand the tricks most teams will try to utilize to make up for the lack of talent every team in America faces compared with UConns roster.
Williams has shown the ability time after time to run his team's offense to perfection and get everyone equally involved beautifully. He will have to continue to execute similarly as well as show better leadership skills when things inevitably get tough in late-game situations. Williams also has a chance to help his stock by showing better defensive ability by staying in front of his man, as this has been a problem for UConn ever since he returned from his suspension in January. More than anything, he just needs to keep doing what he's been doing all season long. If he does, the draft picture will certainly sort itself out considering the lack of point guards in 2006.
Rashad Anderson, 6-5, senior, shooting guard (2nd round pick?)
Anderson is the perfect player to bring off the bench since he has great confidence in his ability as a player and is able to heat up quickly and change the game with his perimeter shot. His ability to space the floor with his deep range and lightning quick release means that defenses have to respect him, which opens up plenty of opportunities for UConn's numerous other offensive options. His clutch shooting has been a huge factor in many of his team's wins this year, and he is decent enough in the other parts of his game to not be a liability on the floor at the college level.
At 6-5 and with just average athleticism for an NCAA swingman, Anderson projects mostly as a hired gun for the NBA, something that historically is not always as appreciated as you might think as far as the NBA draft goes. Anderson will have the chance to continue to show NBA GMs and scouts what a great weapon he can potentially be for them off the bench with his play in the tournament. Helping his team make a deep run with his clutch play could very well stick in their minds as we get further into the 2nd round on draft night.
Denham Brown, 6-6, senior, SG/SF (2nd round pick?)
As an NBA draft prospect, Brown is very good in many different aspects, but does not stand out in any specific one. He is a good, but not great athlete; a decent, but not very consistent outside shooter, a solid, but unspectacular ball-handler and shot-creator, and an acceptable defender at the college level who might be a bit stuck between the 2 and the 3 spots for the NBA. All in all his numbers have been fairly disappointing this year (39% FG, 31% 3P), but he has a chance to make scouts forget all of that if he can find a way to be UConn's jack of all trades in the NCAA tournament.
Rajon Rondo, 6-1, sophomore, point guard, (lottery pick?)
After his Wildcats flirted with disaster for a good month, a revitalized UK now heads to a probable seed in the NCAAs where even one of two wins would be a great accomplishment. Rondo will be at the center of any success or failure the Wildcats encounter, as he is their most dynamic performer and quite possibly their worst shooter. NBA teams aren't sure what to expect from this long-armed athletic freak -- will he look confused or unstoppable? He's been both at times, this season.
Scouts have seen a lot of Rondo already, and it's unlikely that they'll be persuaded either way should he shoot well or poorly. Rather, everyone will be watching to see if Rondo controls the tempo, continues his all-world defensive pressure and distributes the ball effectively. If he does, a solid first-round slot awaits; maybe even a mid-lottery spot in a weak draft for game-changing point men. If not, Kentucky will bow out meekly, and Rondo will show that another year in Lexington might be his best career option.
Randolph Morris, 6-10, sophomore, center (Cannot be drafted, but eligible for free agency)
Upon his return, the Georgia native indicated he was going to stick around; having felt his second chance was too kind an opportunity to burn his coach and teammates for. As recently as Friday, Morris indicated that he was enjoying the college experience, despite Kentucky's struggles this season.
After a slow start, a leaner, more focused Morris has shown NBA-caliber offensive ability against the SEC. He still finds himself on the blunt end of many foul calls, limiting his minutes and exposure. When he's in the game, Morris is smooth and strong on the offensive end. He is, unfortunately, at the mercy of getting passes from his sometimes flaky teammates, but when he gets the ball in the post, he can be lethal. Morris is the centerpiece of any Kentucky success, as he is the Wildcats' only low-post threat. Staying out of foul trouble will be absolutely imperative if Kentucky wants to advance in the NCAA tournament.
If Morris has a big tournament (20-10 type numbers), he could hear his name bandied about again since NBA teams are eternally looking for offensively gifted big men. But he has expressed -- and most observers would agree -- that he has much to work on. Defensively, Morris is not yet strong enough or consistent enough to stay on the floor, much less dominate. And his rebounding for a big man is spotty at best. Morris' gifts are a deft shooting touch from mid-range, good footwork and fluid athleticism for a player his size. If he can address his weaknesses, he can be an NBA starter in the frontcourt. A blowout tournament could change the timing of his going pro, and mean everything to a Kentucky team looking for an identity.
Joe Crawford, 6-4, sophomore, shooting guard (Undrafted?)
Brandon Roy, 6-6, senior, shooting guard, (top 10 pick?)
Bobby Jones, 6-6, senior, small forward, (2nd round pick?)
Dee Brown, 6-0, senior, point guard, (2006 first round pick?)
Brown has struggled at times this year mixing up his scoring with his passing; all too often it appeared that he is only capable of doing one or another. He has gotten better and better at this as the year has gone on, though, and was the main reason why Illinois did not lose much of a beat and will go into the tournament with a good seed and the high expectations of a potential return to the final four.
Brown's shooting percentages have taken the biggest dip this year, as his inability to create high percentage shots for himself and his teammates off the dribble with the shot clock running down has seen him force many tough, contested shots from well beyond the NCAA 3-point arc. In the NBA he most likely won't have to handle the ball as much as he has for an Illinois team that plays terrific defense and likes to grind it out at times on the offensive end, and Brown has shown the ability to effectively control the tempo of the game to Bruce Weber's liking and still play his trademark pesky pressure defense.
A natural born leader, Brown will be followed closely by NBA personnel, basketball fans, and the national media alike. He has a tough task ahead of him, but a solid showing here will likely solidify his spot in the first round of the 2006 draft.
James Augustine, 6-10, senior, PF/C- (2006 late 1st round pick?)
Showing good size, a nice frame and very solid athleticism, intriguing the scouts was never going to be a difficult task for the 4 year senior and all-time leading rebounder in Illinois history.
Being assertive asking for the ball on the offensive end, using his skills to score with his excellent left-handed jump-hook, continuing to rebound and pass the ball steadily and being the anchor of Illinois' outstanding defense are the tasks that Augustine has at hand in this tournament. Helping his team to a deep tournament run will help make scouts forget about last year's 5 foul, 9 minute debacle against Sean May in the tournament, as well as give him some great momentum to kick off the NBA draft process.
#6 Michigan State
Shannon Brown, 6-4, junior, shooting guard, (Future 1st round pick)
Brown might be the only Spartan that can consistently create his own offense in the halfcourt setting. Michigan State does have manageable road to the Elite Eight, and it will be Brown that gets them there. With a nice Tourney run and a few highlight reel dunks thrown in for good measure, Shannon Brown could easily be one of Marchs highest risers in terms of NBA stock.
Maurice Ager, 6-5, senior, SG/SF, (2006 first round pick?)
Ager looked great against North Carolina in the Tournament a season ago, and could manage a repeat performance if the two teams do in fact meet in the second round. However, unless he can muster another "Gonzaga-esque" outing or two, Maurice Ager's stock is likely limited to the latter portion of the first round.
Paul Davis, 6-11, senior, PF/C, (2006 first round pick)
Davis has a formidable combination of size and skill, with range out to the college 3-point line and a deadly midrange jumper. Unfortunately, the Spartans have been lacking in the paint this season. Davis is definitely more of a finesse big man, and another post producer hasn't emerged in the frontcourt. At times he can dominate physically, but we have yet to see it on a consistent basis. A deep tourney run would do wonders for Paul Davis' draft stock.
#3 North Carolina
Reyshawn Terry, 6-8, junior, small forward, (2007 late first round pick?)
Terry has prototypical small forward size, coming in at a chiseled 6'8. His athleticism is definitely NBA caliber, and while he still needs to work on polishing off his perimeter skill-set a bit more, his shooting percentages (50% FG's, 79% FT's, 40% 3-pt) are superb. He knows how to slash to the basket, has the potential to be an excellent defender, and really only needs major work as a ball-handler. On the whole, we have a player that is on the verge of emerging as a Caron Butler-style power wing.
We all know that Tyler Hansbrough is the top dog on this North Carolina squad, but don't be surprised to see Reyshawn Terry make a few waves of his own in this tournament. With another year of development, particularly to help reduce the metal lapses he suffers from at times, Terry could end up being a first round caliber prospect.
Tyler Hansbrough, 6-9, freshman, power forward, (Future first round pick)
David Noel, 6-6, senior, small forward, (Undrafted)
#7 Wichita State
Paul Miller, 6-10, senior, center, (Undrafted)
CJ Watson, 6-2, senior, point guard, (Undrafted)
Chris Lofton, 6-2, sophomore, shooting guard, (Undrafted)
Lofton is exactly the type of player who can take over an NCAA tournament game and win it by himself with his deadly stroke, so look for Tennessee to be in any game they play in until the very last minute. Next year Lofton will probably have to learn how to play the point, at least in spurts, as the Vols will have no true playmaker on their roster, so it's possible that he might develop into a better NBA prospect if he can show that he is more of a combo guard than a shooting guard.
Torrell Martin, 6-5, junior, shooting guard (2007 2nd round pick?)
Craig Bradshaw, 6-10, power forward, junior (2007 2nd round pick?)
Still flying under the radar for the most part as far as NBA scouts are concerned, this is a great opportunity for Bradshaw to show what he can do outside of the Big South. A good showing here will place him firmly on the itineraries for NBA teams to visit and watch closely in 06-07.