The opening weekend of the NCAA tournament has come and gone, and not without a bevy of shocking results. UMBC’s upset of No. 1 overall seed Virginia paved way for a new era in college basketball (great job, Golden Retrievers). And don’t forget about Nevada and Loyola of Chicago, which will play each other for a chance at the Elite Eight.
The tourney, though, is also a time for evaluating NBA prospects. It is the last peek of game action for front offices, so leaving a good impression for personnel evaluators is ideal. Here is a look at which players are rising and falling.
PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Fr., Kentucky
Gilgeous-Alexander has made himself a lot of money in March, first while leading Big Blue to an SEC championship, and most recently in its two wins over Davidson and Buffalo. In fact, the attacking point guard has averaged more than 18 points, 6.6 assists, 5.2 rebounds and 1.7 steals, while shooting 51.2 percent from the floor in his past 10 games. Keep in mind that Gilgeous-Alexander — who stands 6-foot-6 with a 7-foot wingspan that scouts love — wasn’t starting at the beginning of the year for coach John Calipari.
PG Collin Sexton, Fr., Alabama
Speaking of rising point guards, look no further than Sexton. One GM told Yahoo Sports how impressed he was with Sexton’s ability to get downhill. The freshman’s decisiveness and ability to turn a corner showcase an elite first step that even lead NBA guards will have trouble containing. While he certainly can’t shoot it like Trae Young, Sexton makes up for that with his devastating individual defense, along with the toughness and strength to attack the paint. The good news for him is how well he shot the ball to close the season, both in the SEC (52 percent shooting, including 10-of-19 from deep) and NCAA (14-of-28 field goals) tournaments.
SG Zhaire Smith, Fr., Texas Tech
The dynamic freshman shooting guard is extremely efficient, converting 56.5 percent from the floor. He also has not shied away from the big moment, tallying an impressive 18 points, nine rebounds and seven assists against Florida to advance the Sweet 16. “Smith is a future pro,” a Big 12 coach told Yahoo Sports. “He has a really high IQ and feel for the game. He’s an NBA athlete. Just look at how much his skills have improved.” To keep the momentum going, Smith needs to continue to shoot the ball well (he has only taken 36 3-pointers all season) and defend at a high level.
F Jaren Jackson Jr., Fr., Michigan State
One well-placed league source told Yahoo Sports last week that Jackson was the No. 1 player on certain teams’ big boards and had a legitimate chance of being the No. 1 overall pick as well. He cited the significant improvement from the versatile 6-foot-11, 242-pound forward. That appears to be a pipe-dream now after Jackson turned in an 0-of-4 shooting performance with two points, eight rebounds and zero blocks in Sparty’s stunning loss to Syracuse. It wasn’t so much the lack of production that hurt Jackson but his general lack of feel. Granted, Syracuse’s 2-3 matchup zone can be stifling, but the talented freshman was just that — a talented freshman — instead of the phenom he has been made out to be.
G Landry Shamet, Soph., Wichita State
Shamet looked vulnerable during the Shockers’ opening-round loss to a quick and aggressive Marshall team. One former executive told Yahoo Sports how much he appreciated Shamet’s intelligence and ability to “make the right play,” but that doesn’t excuse a 3-of-13 shooting performance in the Dance. At 6-foot-4, he possesses the ability to play pick-and-roll, so he feels like an NBA combo man. However, his inability to get into the teeth of the defense and break his man down is alarming. Should he turn pro, he could get exposed in pre-draft workouts without the benefits of help defense.
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Jordan Schultz is an NFL, NBA and NCAAB insider/analyst for Yahoo Sports.
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