Get inside March Madness with SI.com's Luke Winn in the Tourney Blog, a daily journal of college basketball commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
3/28/2006 05:35:00 PM
Sophomore Is The New Junior
Big Baby and the 2004 McDonald's crew are well-represented in the Final Four.
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images
I was sitting with Byron Gibson, the father of Texas guard Daniel, in the Georgia Dome stands about an hour before the Texas-LSU Elite Eight tipoff and he said, "Do you realize how many 2004 McDonald's guys are still around in this tournament?" His son had been in that game, as had two of his teammates, LaMarcus Aldridge and Mike Williams, and they were getting ready to face another participant, Glen Davis of LSU, who even back then, Byron said, "was the center of all the attention."
We then proceeded to reel off all the names from that hamburger All-America crop that were alive in the NCAA tournament, and it became clear: Sophomore is the new junior. The 2005 tournament was a juniors' event: The biggest names in the title game (UNC's Rashad McCants, Sean May and Raymond Felton, and Illinois' Dee Brown and Deron Williams) were all third-year players, but the '06 bracket is being run by a star class of sophs. Here's the breakdown:
- No. of players from the 2002 McDonald's All-American Game in the Elite Eight: 2 (Jason Fraser, Villanova; Brad Buckman, Texas) - No. of 2002s in the Final Four: 0.
- No. of players from the 2003 McDonald's All-American Game in the Elite Eight or Final Four: 0.
- No. of players from the 2004 McDonald's All-American Game in the Elite Eight: 8 (Corey Brewer, Florida; Arron Afflalo and Jordan Farmar, UCLA; Davis, LSU; Aldridge, Gibson and Williams, Texas; Rudy Gay, UConn) - No. of 2004s in the Final Four: 4 (Brewer, Afflalo, Farmar and Davis).
- No. of players in the 2005 McDonald's All-America Game in the Elite Eight or Final Four: 1 (Tasmin Mitchell, LSU).
The numbers would be even more staggering in 2004's favor, had that McDonald's roster included the three other Gators who, along with Brewer, make up the gang they call the "04s": forwards Joakim Noah and Al Horford, and point guard Taurean Green. Loosen the definition of sophomore and one can also count LSU's Tyrus Thomas and Garrett Temple -- both redshirt freshmen in terms of eligibility -- as members of the club.
Readers, will this trend continue? Is it the McDonald's Class of 2005's turn next year, with bluebloods Duke (Greg Paulus, Josh McRoberts and Eric Boateng), UNC (Tyler Hansbrough, Danny Green and Bobby Frasor) and Kansas (Julian Wright, Mario Chalmers) returning to power on the strength of their sophs?
This was always intended to be a blog that transcended text-only journalism, with my amateurish digital photography and middle-school videos of Glen Davis. But today, I'm taking it one step further and pooling resources from the public, collecting decidedly unprofessional, Final Four-related videos off the web. Herewith, four clips for your viewing pleasure:
1. Rap video, George Mason-style. This guy took the Kryptonite/Jim Larranaga dub and dropped it over video from a student celebration at GMU.
2. Pirates Of Westwood. This is the UCLA student section in Oakland, led by a pirate whose blatant disregard for the arena's security staff is a thing of beauty.
3. Do the "Joakim." Or something like that. A Florida fan captured Joakim Noah's jig after clinching a Final Four bid in Minneapolis.
4. LSU fans, I'm disappointed in you. No one's posted a thing, video-wise, from the Tigers' run to the Final Four. Instead, I'm forced to tout the Big Baby DJ, who might be bigger than the hoopster who shares his nickname.
Readers, can you dig up anything better from around the 'net?
Florida's Joakim Noah went from curiosity to Lottery lock in the span of a few weeks.
For a different perspective on the NCAA tournament, the Blog recently posed four questions to an NBA scout who has been on the road following the dance (and will remain anonymous). Here are my inquiries, and his responses:
1. They've both been equally dominant in the tournament, but who's a better prospect, LSU's Tyrus Thomas or Florida's Joakim Noah?
It's all going to be in the eye of the beholder. If you're entranced with athleticism and ability to make physical reactions, then it has to be Thomas. If you value heart and pure skill level, then it's Noah -- I mean, he's just crazy; I saw him block his own man's shot straight up, recover the ball, and then push it up the floor. A site recently compared him to Jeff Foster, and I was openly laughing at that. He's going to be much better than Foster.
In terms of stock, Thomas is higher -- in the past two weeks, he's jumped from a possible Lottery Pick to the top three in the draft. I still think he's going to have to make a positional transition and play small forward, almost like [Phoenix's] Shawn Marion plays small forward. Thomas seemingly can't fail because he's so athletic and has such a great body. If he gets a ball-handling component to his game, he'll be unstoppable, because right now he's not a real post-up threat. Most of his points come off garbage around the rim and by making plays in transition.
Noah, meanwhile, has risen to a top-five prospect. He's a versatility guy whom teams will value from the shot-blocking, rebounding and passing perspective, as well as his fuel and fire. He'll be a good teammate because he'll share the ball, and he'll figure out a way to score around the basket in the pros. Initially it'll be difficult for Noah against NBA bigs, because he's so frail, but he'll find a way to get things done. His confidence level has completely taken off in the past month.
2. There was talk amongst pundits that Adam Morrison's emotional breakdown in the final seconds against UCLA hurt the NBA's opinion of the Gonzaga star. What's your take?
I respect the fact that Morrison is the ultimate competitor. He's proven that time and again in the past year. That being said, [the crying] did strike me as a bit odd -- is he going to lose his composure in a key game in the playoffs? I'm not sure. A lot of the new-found rock star status seems to have affected him -- there was a lot more barking at [Derek] Raivio this year, and a lot more howling for the ball. But NBA people aren't all that concerned about the emotions; they may have poured out at the wrong time, but it didn't make Morrison lower on anyone's list. The real concerns about him are the same as they were before the tournament -- that he has limitations from the standpoints of speed and athleticism.
3. Of UCLA's backcourt duo -- point guard Jordan Farmar and shooting guard Arron Afflalo -- who will eventually get drafted higher (most likely in 2007)?
Neither of the two is ready to come out this year, but Afflalo has the strength, size and ability to be a good defensive player in the NBA. A lot of teams look for the defensive component that Afflalo has. He may not be particularly fast, and his shooting range is somewhat limited because it's such an effort for him -- he has to jump so high -- but he'll make his mark on D. He grinds it out against other guards and is willing to get dirty.
I've never been a "Farmar guy"; he's constantly hunting down shots and he's fast, but he's not difference-making fast. He gets jittery. Farmar plays hard and is wiling to take big shots, but to me, he's just a high-level college player right now, which isn't to say he can't improve.
4. Since you're watching games from a pro-prospect standpoint, what was your reaction to seeing a team with zero future NBA players (George Mason) beat one with six possible NBA players (UConn)?
I don't want to disrespect George Mason, because what they've done is unbelievable, but a team that has six NBA-caliber players -- not necessarily NBA locks, but NBA-caliber -- I expect to show up better than UConn did. There was a level of passiveness to UConn; Washington should've beaten them, and Mason finally took advantage of it. You worry about prospects who have an inability to take over a game.
Individually, I think Marcus Williams, more than anyone, actually helped himself because he was one of the few players to step up in key situations, and Rudy Gay had a decent game against George Mason. But the Huskies' two big men, Josh Boone and Hilton Armstrong, were dominated by Will Thomas and Jai Lewis -- who, I'll say, could be a minor-leaguer or an overseas player. One game shouldn't be the end-all ruling on the UConn bigs, but they shouldn't have disappeared on such a big stage.