Stock Watch - Final Four
By Aran Smith
For the second year in a row, Corey Brewer raised his level of play on the biggest stage showing that he has the heart of a champion.
Brewer's three point shooting against UCLA and in the title game versus Ohio State were invaluable for the Gator's quest to repeat as national champions.
Against UCLA, Brewer completely took Arron Afflalo out of his game, getting him in foul trouble and holding the Bruin's top offensive threat scoreless until there was just over six minutes remaining in the game.
Against Ohio State he had the same effect on the Buckeye perimeter players helping hold Ron Lewis, Jamar Butler and Ivan Harris to a combined 9-28 (32%) from the field and 22 points.
Brewer's versatility to rebound and defend a multitude of positions was key for the Gators. He is the ultimate nuts and bolts type of player and can turn into a Bruce Bowen type of defensive stopper on the next level with better offensive skills.
It was Brewer, not Joakim Noah this time that proved to be Florida's most valuable and irreplaceable player. He received the National Championship game's MOP and is starting to receive some of the same recognition that Noah received last year.
Brewer had 13 points and 8 boards in the title game knocking down 3-of-8 from 3. He scored in double digits in all six games of the tournament averaging 15.8 ppg.
With this performance, Brewer has ensured himself a spot in the top ten picks of the 2007 draft, with a chance to leapfrog his teammate Noah into the top 5-6 picks depending on workouts.
Showing a level of poise far surpassing his age, Mike Conley Jr. helped lead the Buckeyes to the National title game.
He was the best player on the floor against Georgetown, leading a first half rally as Greg Oden sat with foul trouble.
The Hoyas figured they had Ohio State right where they wanted them with Oden sitting down mid way through the first half. But Conley had different ideas, not only keeping the game close but extending the Buckeye lead.
Conley's dribble penetration proved to be too much for the Georgetown guards to handle as he repeatedly got to the rim and converted seemingly at will.
With 20 points in the title game, and 15 in their win over Georgetown, Conley showed a well rounded ability to run the show and score. He averaged 18.4 ppg over the Ohio State's final 5 games of the tourney.
Conley's name has become especially hot of late, and though a published report came out that he would enter the draft, his father Mike Conley Sr. rebuked those rumors saying Conley would return to Columbus for his sophomore year. This was leading up to the final four, so obviously this was the appropriate response regardless of Conley's intentions for this year's draft.
Conley would surely benefit in the long run with a second year of college ball. However he has ensured a spot in the first round and possibly in the late lottery with his terrific tournament play.
It's important to remember that no point guard has played just one year of college ball (or less) and gone on to have a successful NBA career, unless you include Marbury, whose career has been marred by losing. So he will have history against him if he decides to jump as a freshman.
Regardless, with this being such a weak point guard class, Conley would likely be the first overall point guard taken if he entered and could potentially go in the lottery due to such a tremendous showing in the tournament.
Lebron James' Dad (as my buddy BJ calls him in reference to his 40 year old appearance) had himself quite a National Championship game.
Despite the loss, Oden's performance was sensational as he was by far the best player on the court.
From playing left handed early in the season to dominating the top frontline in the country in the title game, Oden has shown tremendous growth in one short college season.
He stayed out of foul trouble and in the process got all 3 Florida bigmen in foul trouble. He displayed polished offensive moves on several occasions and his excellent turnaround hook shot.
He blocked one Corey Brewer dunk attempt from behind seemingly taking the ball right out of his hands. He also dunked over Noah after backing him in under the basket on his way to 25 points and 12 boards.
In the end, Florida had too much size, experience and talent, but Oden's effort showed that he has the fire inside to be great. The notion that he is soft or unmotivated - dispelled.
With his ability to dominate on both ends of the floor, you're looking at the NBA's next great center after Yao. He's a player that after a few years in the league will have his team contending for championships. He's the only player in college basketball (Durant included) that you can say that about.
His ability to get to the line and knock down free throws should not be understated. He will likely end up a 75% free throw shooter in the league, capable of getting to the line and winning games from the stripe. That alone is unusual for a dominant bigman.
He showed the ability to win a game on the defensive end against Tennessee coming up with the game winning block as time expired and Ohio State's 20 point comeback was complete.
He may never be as big and strong as his idol Shaq, but maybe that's a good thing. Shaq has battled weight problems and injuries and maybe staying in the 270-280 lb range as opposed to being 300 lbs plus is a better playing weight for Oden.
There wasn't ever any real doubt about Oden going first, as those who are familiar with him know he has the switch to go into "beast mode". The nation got to see first hand how how much talent and potential Oden possesses on college basketball's biggest stage.
Despite losing to the Buckeyes in the Final Four, Hibbert battled Greg Oden to a virtual standstill finishing with 19p and 6r to Oden's 13p and 9r.
Oden was able to use his athleticism to get around Hibbert, but Hibbert's size and strength allowed him to establish and maintain position and get his shots in the paint.
Hibbert obviously lacks the immense upside of Oden, but he's an intriguing bigman in his own right due to his size and developing skills.
Hibbert can be a solid starting center in the league and has low bust potential. He may never be more than a low level starter, but he's already at a level where you know he will be decent.
He lacks great hand and foot speed, but he's improved his mobility and skills considerably over his college career which is a testament to his great work ethic.
Hibbert followed up his domination of Aaron Gray in the Big East title game with an fantastic NCAA tournament averaging 14.2 points and 10.4 boards over Georgetown's five tournament games.
North Carolina struggled with Hibbert's size as he disrupted Tyler Hansbrough late in the game, allowing for Georgetown's heroic comeback and overtime win to reach the final four.
It's hard to imagine Hibbert's stock being much higher than it is right now. The excellent tourney performance reinforced his likely top 10 status for the 2007 draft.
In leading the Ducks to the Elite Eight where they succumbed to the eventual champion Gators, Brooks established himself as one of the top point guards in this year's draft and a potential late first round pick.
What he lacks in size, he makes up for in hustle and talent. He's a deadly shooter who can score in a variety of ways and really hones in and steps up his level of play in crucial situations. His ability to convert runners off the drive is remarkable.
The Brooks - Tajuan Porter backcourt was one of the most entertaining tandems in college basketball this year. Brooks has been playing huge all season and many felt he deserved Pac-Ten player of the year, an award which went to Arron Afflalo.
Brooks had 27 points against Florida and finished the tournament averaging 18.8 points over four games. He is an extremely clutch player who seems to live for the big shots. His amazing quickness gives him a shot to make it at the next level and his development as a point guard has shown solid growth over the past season.
Despite his rec-league build and athletic ability, college basketball's top shooter has shown time and time again the ability to overcome all obstacles placed in front of him. Lofton has an uncanny ability to hit shots over bigger and more athletic defenders. No one in the college game today gets more out of less.
He averaged 23 points over three games of the tourney and nearly led the Vols to an upset over #1 seed Ohio State, if not for a huge second half comeback in which they overcame a 20 point deficit.
Lofton has been told he's too small and unathletic at every level, and all he does is prove people wrong. He went under-recruited in a hotbed of basketball recruiting as both Kentucky and Louisville passed on him.
Not only has he proven the critics wrong becoming the top shooter and one of the top players on the college level, but he's beginning to receive recognition as a potential NBA player as a designated shooter.
He had a tremendous junior season, and will look to build on it next year as the Vols will get nearly everyone back and be one of the top teams in the SEC.
Without point guard skills, Lofton is not a lock to get drafted. Trajon Langdon, the former Duke Blue Devil was a lottery pick and has the same shooting ability only he's bigger and more athletic. Langdon found a niche in Europe and is currently playing for the Euroleague Champion CSKA Moscow and earning 3 million per year.
Lofton could end up having a similar career path as Langdon if things don't work out in the NBA.
[img_assist|nid=3953|title=Joakim Noah - AP Photo: Gerry Broome|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=250|height=352]Joakim Noah 6-11 230 PF Florida Jr.
Noah received much of the credit for the Gators national championship last year. Granted, he played a huge role. But this year it has become apparent that his supporting cast and the Gator coaching staff may have been given the short end of the stick.
Noah was a virtual non-factor in the title game. He finished with one field goal and sat the final 7 minutes of the game with four fouls in favor of reserve Chris Richard who was a lot more effective inside and received the key minutes down the stretch.
With as well as Richard played in the final two games, you almost got the feeling the Gators could have won it all without Noah this year. Probably not, but they sure would have been tough to beat, which isn't the case if you take Brewer off this team.
To his credit, Noah was a perfect 6-6 from the free throw line in the title game, finishing with 8 points. Like him or not, Noah has a competitive fire lacking from many players.
He may never be more than a Shane Battier type of role player on the next level, but his energy and enthusiasm will surely be a value to the team and fans of the city he joins.
With all the "hating" that Noah perceives is directed towards the Gators, it surely doesn't help matters with his screaming after every made basket or positive play made by him or teammates. A practice that will surely stop at the next level or be met with an Amare Stoudemire (or like player) elbow to his grill.
Some of Noah's weaknesses have been exposed as he struggles to fill a position on the next level and has extremely unorthodox fundamentals offensively. He also lacks any real post skills as he scores mostly on put backs and facing the basket and using his ball handling ability to get to the rim.
USC quarterback Matt Leinert decided to return to school for his senior season and passed up the chance to be the top overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft. He ended up falling to the 10th pick the following year as scouts dissected his game and the Trojans fell short of their repeat bid.
While the Gators accomplished the repeat, Noah could have a similar outcome as Leinert on draft day. For a player who was viewed as a possible top overall pick candidate a year ago, he's more likely to end up in the mid lotto area than near the top.
One thing's for sure, expectations won't be nearly as high for Noah entering the NBA next season.
It was deja vu all over again for Afflalo in UCLA's loss to Florida as Corey Brewer completely and literally took the Bruin star out of the game, as he had done the previous year in the national championship.
Afflalo spent most of the first half on the bench with three fouls. By the time he started to get things going, it was too late. He somehow finished with 17 points, after it looked as if he might go scoreless the entire game.
Afflalo really struggles to create points against long athletic defenders, and Brewer is a long athletic defender supreme. Howland gambled leaving Afflalo in the game in the first half with 2 fouls and when he picked up the third foul, Afflalo sat the rest of the first half and to start the second half.
He had been having a decent tournament after finishing the regular season in a shooting slump. He had a big game against Kansas with 24 points on 10-15 shooting, outplaying Jayhawk guard Brandon Rush.
He ended up averaging 18 points per game in the tournament, however his outside shooting was dismal in 3 of the games. He shot 2-11 against Indiana, 3-11 against Pittsburgh, and 5-14 against Florida.
Afflalo appears likely to enter the draft this year. He isn't a lock first rounder, and a lot could depend on who else enters. But despite his minor collapse, he has a decent shot at being a first round pick this year should he enter.
Green was a virtual no show in the biggest game of his college career. It wasn't that he played poorly against Ohio State, as he shot 4-5 from the field for 9 points with 12 rebounds.
But as Georgetown's star player, he needed to take charge offensively. The Buckeye players did a good job of defending him, but his lack of assertiveness was puzzling.
Green was having a superb tournament leading up to the Ohio State game. His game winning shot against Vanderbilt was enormous.
If he misses the shot, Georgetown goes home, and though he may have gotten away with a travel, the shot showed once again how clutch a player he is.
Green was huge in the win over North Carolina with 22 points on 10-17 shooting.
The Hoyas had made a habit of coming back in games over the course of the tournament, but with Oden in the middle, closing a gap late in the game proved impossible.
The Hoyas star finished the season on a down note, but Georgetown had a tremendous season behind him, reaching the final four as a two seed.
Despite the Final Four collapse, Green remains a virtual lock as a top 10 pick.
Acie Law 6-3 195 PG Texas A&M Sr.
In Texas A&M's loss to Memphis, Law struggled shooting 6-17 for 13 points and just 1 assist. his inability to create offense for teammates against an athletic team exposed him some.
Memphis was able to disrupt Law with their great athleticism and defensive ability in the backcourt.
Law had a sensational senior season and is a tremendous shooter in the clutch. He has a terrific offensive game, despite having an unorthodox knuckleball release on his jumper.
Questions linger about Law's ability to run a team. He is solid at handling and passing the ball, but is more of a combo than a true point guard with scoring being his best attribute.
Without standout athleticism ala Randy Foye, Law is a combo guard with great go to ability but lacking the athleticism to overcome his size disadvantage to play both guard positions.
With this being a down year for point guards, Law benefits as the clear cut top senior point guard available. Depending on the decisions made by the underclassmen points, he figures to find a spot in the mid to late first round on draft night.