Top prospects are hurting their stock at the NCAA Tournament
Unfortunately, many of this year's top prospects did just the opposite. ESPN's Chad Ford has ranked this year's prospects for the NBA Draft as recently as March 26th, and four of his top seven players were one-and-done in the tournament. All four of those players' teams were six-seeds or better, so they were all expected (by most people) to win.
If an NBA team is considering drafting a player in the top-seven, they are going to want to know that the player can come up big when the pressure is on. Basketball is obviously a team sport, and you can't put all the blame on one player, but these top prospects not only lost, they performed poorly.
Marcus Smart, Ford's 3rd ranked player, had a sensational season for Oklahoma State, which resulted in him earning Big 12 Player of the Year honors. When on the biggest stage, however, he crumbled. Smart was off all game against 12th seeded Oregon, making only 5 of his 13 shot attempts (it seemed worse than that when watching the game). He also missed half of his free throw attempts (4 of 8), and racked up more turnovers (5) than assists (4). Smart did have nine rebounds and five steals, but it was still a poor, disappointing performance from one of the most talented young men in the game.
We all know what happened to Otto Porter's Hoyas over the weekend - Georgetown fell to 15th seeded Florida Gulf Coast, and Porter didn't do much to prevent it from happening. A 48% shooter on the season, Porter shot 5-17 (29%) from the field in the monumental upset. Although he did rack up 11 rebounds, it was still a terribly disappointing overall showing from Ford's 4th ranked player.
UNLV's Michael Bennett didn't play quite as poorly as the other two, scoring 15 points to come up just short of his 16.1 season average. However, he was 4-11 from the field, frequently struggling to create space and find good shots for himself. Despite their success, UNLV is not an incredibly high-profile school, and Bennett failed to take advantage of a golden opportunity during a nationally televised game. He simply did not look like the 5th overall player in the draft, which is where Ford currently ranks him.
Shabazz Muhammad poured in 20 points for UCLA, but shot only 6-18 from the field. He may be the least to blame of these four prospects, as the rest of his team was horrendous, but his teammate's struggles may have been, in part, a result of his tendency to become a black hole on offense. In addition, Muhammad's zero steals, zero blocks, and zero fouls suggest he wasn't getting too involved on the defensive end. Ford's 7th ranked prospect could not prevent Minnesota from blowing out his team by 20 points.
It is not just the losing teams that have featured struggling prospects. Kansas' Ben McLemore, Ford's 2nd ranked prospect, has completely tanked through two tournament games. He began with 11 points (2-5 from the field), two assists, and four turnovers against 16th seeded Western Kentucky. Not horrendous numbers, but you'd expect a better performance against such inferior competition.
McLemore completely disappeared in Kansas' second game, shooting 0-9 from the field and scoring only two points in 24 minutes. He was benched for the final 13 minutes of that game against UNC. After a dogfight for most of the game, Kansas blew it open with McLemore on the sidelines. McLemore is very lucky that Kansas is still alive in this tournament, as he'll have a chance to redeem himself on an even bigger stage. Another performance like last game, however, will start to raise some serious concerns.
The biggest winner in all of this? Kentucky's Nerlens Noel. Sidelined with a torn ACL, Noel's stock remains the same while his fellow top prospects flounder at the Big Dance. In addition, after going 17-7 with a healthy Noel, Kentucky went 4-5 without him, capping off the disappointing season with a first-round loss at the NIT Tournament. Kentucky's record before and after Noel's injury prove that he was making a very positive impact on an overrated team. Noel is back in the conversation as a very possible No. 1 overall pick.