The Final Four has arrived, which means that unless you’ve been living under a rock, you are familiar with the country’s new favorite nun, Sister Jean, and her favorite team, 11th-seeded Loyola Chicago. While the Ramblers lack any surefire NBA players, the Final Four does feature three prominent programs in Michigan, Villanova and Kansas, all of which possess interesting professional prospects.
Here is a look at an intriguing prospect from each team — minus the Ramblers — plus a quick dose of Grayson Allen, because many agree he should be allowed to just stay at Duke and play another year (or two).
PG Jalen Brunson, Jr., Villanova
Brunson has been nothing short of sensational during his second Final Four run in three years. The first-team All-America point guard faced a stiff test against “Press Virginia” and senior point guard Jevon Carter, and he passed swimmingly. Brunson finished with a game-high 27 points with just three turnovers, despite controlling the ball for nearly all of his 37 minutes. Brunson — should he choose to forego his senior year — won’t wow anyone with his measurements or vertical, but his understanding of how to dictate tempo and play at his pace is unparalleled in this draft. You cannot speed him up, and no guard in college hoops is more efficient either. His shooting splits of 53-41-81 (with fewer than two turnovers per game) tell you all you need to know.
G Grayson Allen, Sr., Duke
Allen’s polarizing career ended with a lowly 3-of-13 performance — 2-of-9 from 3-point range — in a loss to Kansas. In fact, Allen made just 12-of-37 3-point attempts (32 percent) in the tournament. Shooting, however, comes and goes. More concerning were his struggles to create his own offense (he averaged 3.8 free throws per game for the season) against the quicker KU guards, which a former league executive called “one of several problems” for the senior guard entering the NBA.
The argument, however, can be made that the openness and fluidity of the pro game will help Allen, who excels in the open floor when he can attack the basket. Allen played on the ball more often this season as freshman point guard Trevon Duval endured an up-and-down campaign. That took away from Allen’s scoring opportunities, but did showcase the fact that he’s a terrific passer. He understands angles well and where to deliver the ball for shooters. Aside from Allen’s immaturity concerns, the main issue for pro scouts is whether he is a consistent enough perimeter shooter to offset the lack of an elite first step. Also, can he defend at a high enough level? He will certainly have his fair share of detractors. “I don’t like his game at all,” the former executive told Yahoo Sports.
SG Malik Newman, RS Soph., Kansas
Newman has been the impetus behind Jayhawks’ first Final Four in eight years. After a seesaw season following heavy hype as a prep phenom, the transfer from Mississippi State scored 32 points against Duke, including all 13 of Kansas’ overtime points in the Midwest Regional final to earn Most Outstanding Player honors.
Just a few weeks ago, Newman’s resurgence seemed about as likely as Sister Jean’s rise to national prominence. Consider a woeful March 3 performance against Oklahoma State in which he had three turnovers and only seven points. Since then, he has turned on the afterburners, connecting on 13-of-29 3-point attempts. Better yet, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound guard has morphed into a lockdown defender, most recently being largely responsible for Grayson Allen’s poor shooting performance. If Newman continues to play at this level on both ends, he could very well play himself into the first round of June’s draft. (This feels a lot like Oregon’s Tyler Dorsey last March.)
He would help his cause even further by showing the ability to get into the paint — Newman attempts just 3.6 free throws per 40 minutes — and finish or create for others. But a low assist rate isn’t an issue if you understand what you’re getting with Newman. He is a scorer at heart and most recently a highly efficient one. Newman currently boasts a 120.4 offensive rating, per Sports Reference. As a point of reference, consider that Allen posted a 123.3 rating this season.
F Moe Wagner, Jr., Michigan
“He’s all right,” an NBA scout told Yahoo Sports about Wagner. “He might go higher because of his tournament run.” If so, it would be the second consecutive year a versatile Michigan big man parlayed a successful tournament with becoming a higher draft pick. Wagner appears to have a more polished game — and more upside — than D.J. Wilson, the former Wolverine whom the Milwaukee Bucks reached for at No. 17. Wilson has spent his entire rookie year in the G League.
What makes Wagner so attractive is his versatility. At 6-11, 245 pounds, the German forward can really shoot the basketball. He has made 40 percent of his 3-point attempts each of the past two seasons. Against Texas A&M’s strong frontline duo of Tyler Davis and Robert Williams, he also showcased his soft hands and dexterity. Wagner can catch on the move, rolls well to the hoop and snags most 50-50 rebounds.
Assuming he declares for the draft, it will be interesting to see how well he measures in terms of wingspan and hand size. Regardless, there is both a fluidity and a ruggedness to Wagner’s game that should translate well at the pro level. In other words, he’s a new-age NBA big with a throwback style of play. He’s a competitor — the type of player who rises to the occasion — hence his 21-point effort against the Aggies and his superb tournament in 2017.
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Jordan Schultz is an NFL, NBA and NCAAB insider/analyst for Yahoo Sports.
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