As we head into March, expect to hear more and more about how the 2006 Draft is weak, and that 2007 is the year teams will really be cashing in. In general this might be true, as the 2006 draft is without high schoolers or the depth in the international pool weve seen in recent years coming in the form of young and unproven players. There are quite a few wing prospects available, but very little in terms of post players or point guards.
However, one look at the DraftExpress 2007 mock should tell you that 2006 being down is far from a sure thing. Sophomores dominate the first round, sixteen in all at the moment. The sophomore class is incredibly deep and talented. Not only have we seen plenty of top level talent already jump to the NBA (Howard, Telfair, Jefferson, Marvin Williams, etc), but there is also a very, very deep second tier of players that are talented enough to consider making an early exit to the NBA at some point.
Players such as Jason Smith, Kyle Lowry, Cedric Simmons, and Gabe Pruitt (to name a few) are considered to be a year away at the moment, but given how weak the 2006 draft looks and how loaded things appear in 2007, not too many people would be surprised to see a few of these sophomores (or others) put their names in a year early.
Looking at the current 2006 first round bubble, we see players like Hassan Adams, Dee Brown, and Quincy Douby. While the super sophomores in question would be nearly unanimously better served by heading back to college for another season, is there any doubt which group of prospects is better?
There is a definite opportunity for a prospect playing it smart to avoid a 2007 draft that is absolutely bulging at the seams, and start their NBA career a year early at the same time. Dont think for a minute that people around these players arent inundating this super sophomore class with this exact argument on a daily basis.
On the other hand, there is also a certain danger that comes from using up that draft card too early. Just ask Brandon Bass, who ended up stuck in the 2nd round a season ago (and is now openly saying he wished he stayed at LSU), or players like Jermareo Davidson and Marcus Slaughter who have shown marked improvements this season but are left with irreversible decisions to make this spring. Should these two declare for a second time, they will be in for good, whether they end up being drafted or not. Any underclassman must carefully weigh whether this is the right time to declare, as it takes away a valuable option down the road.
To be honest, I really dont get too excited about Richard Roby or Darius Washington as 2006 first round prospects. I personally believe that both would be much, much more prepared for the pros after another year of development. However, I also understand why they are being listed as First Rounders on current mocks.
My guess is that ready or not, a couple of these talented sophomores take advantage of a shallow 2006 pool, and end up staying in the draft. Whether that ends up being a good decision is anyones guess at this point.
SEC Standings Shakeup
Even as recently as a couple of weeks ago, Florida was the toast of the SEC. Alabama had just lost Chuck Davis for the season after a horrendous non-conference slate, and Arkansas was busy blowing games to Mississippi State and Ole Miss. Funny how quickly things change, isnt it?
As we have seen with several of Billy Donovans teams in recent years, the Gators are sputtering down the stretch. Florida has now dropped three in a row, and fallen into a second place tie in the SEC East with the once-dead Kentucky. And of course, the Gators will be making a trip to Lexington to end the regular season on March 5.
It isnt that Floridas level of play has dropped completely off the map, but it is clear that the rest of the SEC is improving, where the Gators have not. Florida gave up an average of 81 points in the three close losses, and was manhandled in the paint in the second half of Sundays defeat at Alabama. I remain in the camp that says Florida can make some noise in the tournament, as these losses have been close and the Gators are a team with a lot of improvement left in them.
Perhaps these losses have more to say about the teams that won rather than anything about Florida.
Arkansas was looking like the Notre Dame of the south less than two weeks ago, after another heartbreaking loss to a poor Ole Miss team on the road. Consecutive wins over Florida, Tennessee, and Alabama, and the Hogs have essentially punched their ticket to the tournament. One trend that I have noticed with this team is that they have a tendency to fall behind early, and pull back into the game at the last possible moment. This has cost Arkansas games all season, but the Razorbacks made the plays down the stretch to come away with big comeback wins against both the Volunteers and the Crimson Tide.
This is a team that can make some noise in the tournament. Ronnie Brewer, despite some inconsistent recent play, is a legitimate SEC Player of the Year candidate. Stan Heath has a legitimate post scorer in Darian Townes, and one of the top shot blocking specialists in the country, Steven Hill. There are also a couple of nice glue guys, in Jonathan Modica and Charles Thomas. So why have the Hogs found themselves down by double digits in so many games this season? This team really struggles to score when Brewer doesnt assert himself. As late game stretches during the win streak have shown, good things happen when he does decide to take things into his own hands. Hopefully for the Razorbacks, Brewer can start bringing it for a full 40 minutes.
Just as remarkable as the turnaround Arkansas has managed to pull off has been the resurrection of Alabamas season. The Crimson tide were downright horrible in the preseason, and most people stuck a fork in them the minute Chuck Davis was lost for the season. But after wins over LSU, Tennessee, and Florida, Mark Gottfried somehow has his team back in the NCAA Tournament.
The Crimson Tide have been playing some nasty interior defense, riding the physical frontcourt of Alonzo Gee, Richard Hendrix, and Jermareo Davidson. All three could play in the NBA someday. Just as important has been the remarkable play of point guard extraordinaire Ronald Steele, who is single-handedly carrying Alabama in the backcourt. He doesnt blow you away with one particular aspect of his game, but he simply makes plays. Whether it is finding a teammate for an easy basket, hitting a big three, or slicing up a press by himself with his masterful ball-handling skills, Steele has come through for Gottfried in the clutch time and time again. He is now making a major push for First Team All-SEC honors.
Heading into February, who would have thought that we would be talking about Arkansas and Alabama in such glowing terms?
An early All-America Ballot that doesnt count
G Randy Foye, Villanova
SG J.J. Redick, Duke
SG Brandon Roy, Washington
SF Adam Morrison, Gonzaga
PF Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina
Others deserving consideration: Shelden Williams, Duke; Mike Gansey, West Virginia; LaMarcus Aldridge, Texas; Rodney Carney, Memphis; Glen Davis, LSU
Updated NCAA Top 25
7. Ohio State
8. George Washington
11. West Virginia
15. North Carolina
19. Boston College
25. NC State