The NCAA Tournament kicks off in full on Thursday, so I will just give some thoughts on some prospects from each region before each weekend. These are not meant to be scouting reports or evaluations, just some thoughts on how the play of certain pro prospects can affect their team’s ability to advance.
Next up is the West where Gonzaga is the top seed. (See the Midwest Region here)
Olynyk has come back from his redshirt season to become one of the best offensive players in the nation. A 7-footer who can score in different places, he helps spread the court for the Zags' offense. Olynyk’s key is going to be stepping it up on the defensive end to help the Zags deal with some physical teams, including potential match-ups with Wisconsin and Pittsburgh. While neither has a great post scorer, they do have big men who crash the boards and help facilitate the offense.
Berggren is almost the opposite of Olynyk. A top-level defender, Berggren is not often a major factor on the offensive end. If Wisconsin wants to advance in the Tournament, Berggren will have to try and establish himself as an offensive option to help free up space for the perimeter shooters. If he can be a solid contributor on offense to go with his lane protection on defense, Wisconsin should be able to establish their tempo.
Love him or hate him, he provides excitement. However, with a first-round match-up with Wisconsin coming up, Henderson could be facing the toughest defense he has seen this year. The perimeter shot isn’t always going to be there, so Henderson will need to be creative and, if possible, try not to force the action. The Badgers won’t be flustered by his actions, so it may be up to Henderson to be the one to adjust his game.
Leadership is one of the keys to making a deep tourney run, even more so when you have a lot of young players in the rotation. Hill is a good scorer and defender, but what he brings to the Wildcats is top-shelf leadership abilities. With a tough Belmont team in the first round, Hill will need to make sure his team stays focused and he needs to be willing to step in if things aren’t going as planned.
After a strong game against San Diego State, Kirk was held at bay in the Mountain West final against UNLV. Kirk’s ability to play inside and out on offense is key to creating the spacing which allows Tony Snell and Kendall Williams to operate. While Harvard doesn’t have the size to impact Kirk without freeing up the perimeter, a potential 2nd round match-up with Arizona could be an issue. Kirk needs to use his size and strength to establish the basket area, and then he can worry about heading to the perimeter to open up the floor.
Harvard entered the season reeling from ineligibility issues, but the Harvard team rallied behind freshman point guard Siyani Chambers and leading scorer Saunders. Though Saunders is a bit undersized at the 3, he is quick and fearless going to the basket, and he will need to attack the seams in the New Mexico defense early and often to give Harvard a real chance here. His ability to draw and finish through contact may cause some personnel issues for a New Mexico team that isn’t deep with big men.
Check back as we go through each region leading up to Thursday.
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