- Chad Ford, ESPN Senior Writer
The NCAA Final Four is an exciting time for college basketball fans ... that is unless one team in the final game shoots 18.8 percent from the field. The Connecticut Huskies are NCAA champs, but their final win over Butler was just plain ugly.
The Final Four turned out to be, for the most part, a non-event for NBA GMs and scouts as well.
Most of the draft's elite prospects played in the tournament but didn't make it to the Final Four. The few that moved on didn't play particularly well.
We spoke with a number of NBA scouts and GMs who, while they continue to maintain the tournament doesn't affect the draft stock of a player, for the most part, were excited about a few prospects they saw. Here's a look at who helped and hurt themselves in the Final Four, along with a few other draft notes.
Top 100 Rank: 9
Walker was rarely spectacular in the Final Four. He shot 11-for-34 from the field and 1-for-9 from 3-point range and had just one assist more than he had turnovers -- not the stuff we normally think about when describing a potential lottery pick. But Walker proved once again that he's a winner. UConn was unranked coming into the season. Its second best player, Alex Oriakhi, is a raw but physical big man. The rest of the team was made up of freshmen -- many of them not particularly heralded. They shocked a lot of people by winning the Maui Invitational, they stunned even more by winning the Big East tournament and now they're national champions.
Through it all, Walker did the heavy lifting. He carried his team on his back all year. He hit baskets when his team needed it. Even when his shot wasn't falling, he showed toughness and heart. NBA GMs like winners, and Walker has proven he's one.
There will be concerns about him come draft time. He's undersized and his jump shot still needs work and teams wonder whether he sees the floor well enough to be a point guard. But his quickness, toughness and constant improvement on the floor should get someone to roll the dice on him -- somewhere between the fifth and 13th pick on draft night.
Jeremy Lamb, G/F, UConn
Top 100 Rank: 34
All those people who claim the NCAA tournament does not affect how NBA teams rank players are going to have a hard time explaining Lamb's meteoric rise.
Coming out of high school, he wasn't ranked in ESPNU's Top 100. UConn was so depleted that he started for the team anyway. In Maui, in front of a slew of NBA scouts, he had a combined four points against Michigan State and Kentucky. Every scout I talked to in Maui was intrigued with his length and athleticism but thought he was years away from being a NBA prospect.
Five months later, Lamb is the buzz name of the NCAA tournament. No player did more to help his draft stock over the past three weeks. Lamb averaged 16 points per game, shot 63 percent from 3 and proved to be a terror on the defensive end, thanks to his freakishly long arms and quickness.
His role in creating problems for Butler star Shelvin Mack all game can't be undersold. Scouts are always looking for long, athletic players that can guard on the perimeter. Some are comparing him to a shorter Tayshaun Prince, others to fellow UConn standout Richard Hamilton.
Lamb clearly needs a lot of time in the weight room and he still shows freshmen lapses. But if he were to declare for the draft, I think he'd go somewhere in the first round. If he returns to UConn for another season and plays the way he did in March, he's got the chance to be a lottery pick.
Top 100 Rank: 74
Skeen was not ranked in our top 100 coming into the NCAA tournament. The 22-year-old Wake Forest transfer was pretty much an afterthought this year. His averages of 15 ppg and 7 rebounds per game weren't going to wow anyone, not at his age and in the conference he was playing in.
But Skeen was special in the tournament and saved his best for last : a 26-point, 10-rebound outburst against Kansas' NBA-sized front line and 27 points against Butler in the Final Four.
Skeen's a true inside-outside player. He battles for position in the paint and he can let it fly from 3-point range. He's not going to be a lottery pick, but he's moved from certain free agent to a legit shot at getting drafted -- either in the late-first round or the second round.
A Mixed Bag
Top 100: 10
Knight is a tough one to peg. He had the best game of his career -- a 30-point outburst against West Virginia -- and hit two game-winners for Kentucky against Princeton and Ohio State.
But it wasn't all easy sailing for Knight in the tournament. He really struggled shooting the ball (only 26-for-79 from the field) and had 17 turnovers. In his toughest game, matched up against Walker, he shot 6-for-23 from the field.
Knight clearly has talent, but scouts that question his ability to step in and run a team have legit concerns that weren't totally satisfied in the tournament.
Nevertheless, he could still end up being the second point guard off the board by going ahead of Walker on draft night. He's younger, taller, a better shooter and a better defender.
Shelvin Mack, G, Butler
Top 100: 49
Scouts had high expectations for Mack coming into the season, but for much of the year he really struggled to find his shot. That changed somewhat in the tournament. He had huge games against Pittsburgh and VCU, going a combined 18-for-27 from the field and 12-for-18 from 3. But against a longer, more athletic UConn backcourt, led by Lamb, he struggled once again. He shot 4-for-15 from the field in the title game, which was actually pretty good compared to the rest of the Butler team. Factor in rough shooting nights against Wisconsin and, to a lesser extent, Florida, and I'm not sure what you have.
Mack has played on the biggest stage for the past two years. He is what he is: an undersized shooting guard with a good NBA body. If he declares, his stock will probably never be higher, but even at its height he looks like a second-round pick.
• We're still waiting to hear the NBA plans for many of the top underclassmen in college basketball.
• Duke's Kyrie Irving is expected to declare for the draft soon, according to sources. Arizona's Derrick Williams is also leaning strongly in that direction. Ditto for Perry Jones, Walker, Terrence Jones and Jordan Hamilton.
• On the other side, Ohio State's Jared Sullinger has said he's returning to school. North Carolina's Harrison Barnes, as we've been reporting for months, is also seriously considering returning for his sophomore year. North Carolina's John Henson, Knight and Texas' Tristan Thompson also are considering returning to school. Given the weakness in the draft, GMs are seriously wringing their hands right now. Losing Sullinger and Barnes at the top, along with Henson, Knight and Thompson in the lottery, would take an already weak draft and make it even weaker.
• To see who's "In and Out" of this year's draft, click here.
• Now that the Final Four is over, NBA draftnicks may be asking, "What's next?" A lot, actually.
• On Wednesday the annual Portsmouth Invitational gets underway. The event invites the top college seniors to play in front of a host of NBA GMs and scouts. The event was prestigious 20 years ago, but its luster has faded considerably. Most of the top seniors skip the event, and you're left with a number of players playing for a few spots in the second round. Still, every year there is one or two gems. Players such as John Salmons, Carl Landry, Jason Maxiell, Willie Green, Chuck Hayes and Wes Matthews have jumped from the PIT to stable roles in the league the past few years.
• On Saturday, Nike hosts its annual Nike Hoop Summit. Most years this one is all about next year's draft, but maybe not this year. Two potential first-round picks in 2011 -- Bismack Biyombo and Lucas Nogueira -- are playing for the international team.
• Biyombo is a huge draw for NBA scouts and GMs. Very few of them have seen him up close. He's a 6-foot-9, 245-pound Serge Ibaka-type player with a crazy 7-foot-7 wingspan. He's been playing well in Spain of late, and every week he seems to be creeping up NBA draft boards. If he has a big tournament against the best American high school prospects in the country, he could easily be a lottery pick.
• Team USA also will sport most of the top players on our 2012 Big Board. Six of our top seven players -- Anthony Davis, Austin Rivers, Michael Gilchrist, Bradley Beal, James McAdoo and Marquis Teague will be playing. Many scouts believe Davis is the odds-on favorite to be the No. 1 pick in 2012 -- even if Sullinger and Barnes return for their sophomore seasons.
• Finally, the last date for underclassmen to declare for the 2010 NBA draft is April 24 at 11:59 p.m. You can expect a flood of underclassmen to continue to declare over the next few weeks. Per the new NCAA rules, underclassmen who declare and don't hire an agent have until May 8 to withdraw from the draft and still preserve their college eligibility.
Chad Ford examines the draft stock of the top prospects in this year's Final Four.