The trials of Harrison Barnes this past weekend are actually something of an oddity in college basketball. Not all that often does a player so highly skilled and highly hyped essentially fall flat on his face on a stage like the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 of the NCAA Tournament.
While you can't say definitively that the North Carolina
star cost the Tar Heels a trip to the Final Four in New Orleans, you can pretty
much say it. Forget for a moment that Carolina was playing without point guard
Kendall Marshall, a key cog in their machine.
The game of Barnes -- until this past weekend a consensus top five pick in June's NBA Draft -- went to crap when Carolina hit the Midwest Regional in St. Louis, shooting a combined 8-for-30 (including 2-of-14 from three) with 25 points in two games against Ohio and Kansas.
If you look closer however, the sophomore's struggles aren't
new. Barnes has had moments of struggle throughout his two years in Chapel
Hill, raising questions about everything from shooting that's too streaky, to a
bad handle to lack of a killer instinct. They're basically the same issues that
kept him from going pro last year, but his performance in these final games
that mattered put him in a weird situation this year.
Regardless of whether he blows away teams (including the Raptors) in pre-draft workouts now, scouts will still have his showing at the Edward Jones Dome -- and a lot of other inconsistencies -- in the back of their minds.
Not that everybody believes that however. The Raptors' Ed
Davis, a fellow Tar Heel, told Eric Koreen of the National Post last week that
Barnes will be better off in the pros thanks to the fact he'll get more
isolation plays, and therefore will get more of an opportunity to score.
There's no question that Carolina coach Roy Williams runs a system that could actually be referred to as high-strung. So the question for Barnes now becomes go back to school, or take a chance in the draft with damaged stock.
The right answer is probably to go back to Chapel Hill -- another year of school never hurt anybody -- but players don't always make the right decisions in this regard these days. One thing you can count on: A lot of Raptors fans, shell-shocked (both rightly and wrongly) from drafts past, will fear his name being called. There's no point in trying to devise a mock lottery when we don't know where the Raps' balls will land, but they currently sit as the seventh-worst team in the NBA. Solely using that as a template, they'll be out of the running for the Kentucky kids -- Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
If we can produce two Canadians in the NBA Draft every
season, then we're doing very well. And at the moment, that should be the case
for the second consecutive year. While there's no lottery pick along the lines
of Tristan Thompson in 2012, both Andrew Nicholson and Kris Joseph should hear
their names called in June.
You could throw in Gonzaga's Robert Sacre as an outside possibility as well. While Joseph remains on the fence with some scouts, Nicholson's stock has risen given his position as catalyst for St. Bonaventure the past two seasons.
There are questions as to if he can handle the demands of an NBA power forward, but the Mississauga native's upside and intelligence (he's a physics major) will count for something. He could stand to gain some more weight, but so could most 22-year-old basketball players. Both he and Joseph are pegged as late first-round at best, maybe-second round-ers.
Joseph's projection in recent mocks has dropped, although that's partially due to the type of team game Syracuse played this season. A friend of mine wanted to draw comparisons between Joseph and another late-drafted Canadian of the past, Denham Brown, but that doesn't fly. Brown never really stepped up offensively in his four years at UConn, and he was a different kind of player than Joseph.
While the Montreal product can't even be called the best offensive player on the Orange roster, he possesses the athletic ability to at least land an NBA contract. There are still questions about whether he can create his own shot in the pros and it's difficult to gauge his one-on-one defensive aptitude given Syracuse's tight 2-3 zone system. He will need some strong workouts for NBA scouts, but he at least knows some more hard work is ahead.
"I don't count my chickens before they're hatched," Joseph told me about the next level in March.
On the topic of Canadian basketball talent playing in the States -- here's a belated congratulations to Andrew Wiggins and Tyler Ennis for being named ESPN/ Gatorade state high school player of the year honours in the respective states where they play. If you haven't heard of Wiggins yet, you will in the next three years.
I've always thought it was insane to christen teenagers as
the next big thing in any sport, but the hype surrounding Wiggins may
eventually live up to itself.
Not only is he being called the best basketball prospect for his age in Canadian history, his skill set one month after turning 17 is being compared to names like LeBron James. And if you look at tape from when he was 15, you'll see why.
Wiggins, the Vaughan-Ont. raised son of onetime NBA player Mitchell Wiggins and former Canadian track Olympian Marita Payne, copped the honour after his first season playing at Huntington Prep in Huntington, West Virginia (he moved from Vaughan last fall).
After averaging 24.2 points, 8.5 boards, 4.1 assists and 2.7 blocks per game as a sophomore, the best part is he's got two years of prep ball left and he's already being recruited by Kentucky, North Carolina and his parent's alma mater, Florida State.
Ennis meanwhile racked up 15.2 points and seven assists a game for St. Benedict's Prep in Newark. He's got one year of high school left, and according to ESPN has offers from more than a dozen schools -- including Syracuse, Georgetown and Kansas.
Like I thought to myself last week, I have nothing against curling -- my mom loves it, for instance. But there will come a day in Canada where it won't pre-empt basketball.
Finally, to give you an idea about how ridiculous March Madness is, and to prove it's really not possible to be an expert on it, consider this: There were 1,381 entries in the bracket pool I was in -- including several employees of ESPN -- and five (5), correctly picked the final foursome of Kansas, Ohio State, Kentucky and Louisville.
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