By Jack Drapkin
We made it. It’s a bittersweet time of year for many college basketball fans as the Final Four is here but so is the end of the college basketball season. For us at Talking Ball, this is going to mark the beginning of a ramp up in NBA Draft content. We’re going to begin with a pair of prospects from each remaining Final Four team.
North Carolina vs Oregon
I spent the time before the Tournament began on the underrated Theo Pinson. Now I’m going to talk about the two star players for UNC; Joel Berry and Justin Jackson.
Berry has been battling an ankle injury throughout the tournament and may be limited in the Final Four. If so, that would be a major issue for North Carolina against a strong Oregon squad. He’s been the engine for this team all season long and the starter of its offense. Even if his defense is so-so, his ability to create his own shot and create for others (3.6 apg) is a must for Carolina.
Justin Jackson is the best pro prospect on Carolina for my money due to a combination of size (6’8”, 210lbs) and shooting ability (38% from deep this season). Recently named to the AP All-American First-Team, Jackson has delivered on much of his promise his junior season. However, it was his defensive intensity on Malik Monk that has me very excited about his pro potential.
Speaking of DEFENSE, WOW Jordan Bell has been putting on a show throughout the tournament huh?! Bell led Oregon to the Final Four with a monster eight block performance. He is a classic rim-to-rim center who makes his mark as a finisher on offense and as a guy who can not only protect the rim but also switch onto smaller players on defense.
Dillon Brooks put himself on the national map with his performance and postgame interaction against Duke in last year’s Sweet 16 but cemented himself as an NBA prospect this season. As a tweener forward, he can thank guys like Draymond Green for paving a path for NBA success. Brooks who had a slow start to the season coming off an injury improved his 3pt shot from 34% to 41% his junior season. Brooks is unquestionably the leader of this Oregon team and for them to move on expect a big performance out of him.
Gonzaga vs. South Carolina
Two surprises in the Final Four, one from a seeding perspective in South Carolina and another in the expectation realm with Gonzaga. The Gamecocks have two clear cut NBA prospects in Sindarius Thornwell and PJ Dozier, with a third Rakym Felder, who may turn out to be the best prospect on this team in a few years. However, the focus here is on Thornwell and Dozier.
Thornwell has been the star of the team all season en route to being named SEC Player of the Year. Able to score his points all over the court, he is a gritty player who makes plays on both ends of the court.
Dozier came into South Carolina a high-profile recruit who struggled a bit with the defensive expectations of Frank Martin his freshman campaign. Well, his numbers are up across the board and as a 6’6” ball-handler he could become a real problem at the net level if he figures out his three point shot (30%).
The Zags play a solid nine-man rotation and there are a handful of prospects one could discuss here but I am going to focus on Nigel Williams-Goss and Zach Collins here.
Williams-Goss a transfer from Washington, indicating the power of the Gonzaga program, has emerged as the primary playmaker for this team with averages of 17 ppg and 4.5 assists. With good height for the point guard position at 6’3” and a 6’6” wingspan he has the intriguing combination of size and playmaking that NBA teams covet.
Zach Collins, a rare McDonald’s All-American at Gonzaga, has been rising draft boards throughout the entire season. Coming off the bench behind the massive Przemek Karnowski, Collins has stymied the opposition with 10 points and six boards a game in only 17 minutes of court time. Buoyed by a strong basketball IQ and knack for putting the ball on the floor at 7′ tall, he is an intriguing NBA prospect to keep an eye at this year’s Final Four.