Michigan and Texas Tech on Thursday contains a ton of storylines. The top-2 defenses in college basketball. John Beilein and the Wolverines trying to continue its run back to the Final Four, and Chris Beard’s Red Raiders working their way to their first ever.
Another is the litany of future NBA talent that will be on the court. For Texas Tech, that means potential lottery pick Jarrett Culver. The sophomore guard is considered the No. 6 overall player per ESPN, No. 11 per NBA Draftnet and as high as No. 3 by Sports Illustrated.
Michigan will have to counter with its own pro talent, including Charles Matthews, Jordan Poole and Ignas Brazdeikis. With a big performance here on a national stage, could this trio climb up draft boards?
Let’s take a look at all of their draft stocks.
Matthews tested the NBA waters after last year’s run to the NCAA final, but decided to return for this season. He’s seen his standing wilt a bit after his late February ankle injury versus Michigan State.
Jeremy Woo of SI.com places him right at the bottom of the second round (No. 60) in his updated Big Board, praising his defense but calling him “inconsistent” offensively.
“He’s become a stopper for Michigan’s elite defense, using his size and length on a consistent basis and helping set the tone as a leader,” Woo writes. “His tools have always intrigued NBA teams, and although he remains inconsistent offensively, he does plenty to help the team win and has shown a little bit of improvement as a jump shooter. He’ll likely never be elite from outside, but as long as Matthews can continue to knock down catch-and-shoot threes at a decent clip, he’ll make a case for himself as a glue guy who does a little bit of everything.”
Personally, I need to see the Matthews of the Montana game to feel confident about even a second-round selection. That was the 6-foot-6, 205-pounder at his best, as he was able to manufacture points in various ways.
He’s a sneakily good offensive rebounder for his lanky frame, as evidenced by his putback to score the game’s first points. He moves well off the ball, whether that’s in a halfcourt offense or in transition.
When he’s feeling it, he is able to drain midrange jumper after midrange jumper. He is incredibly springy, which means he is able to hit fadeaway jumpers in the post to help Michigan late in the shot clock.
As I talked about earlier in the first game against Indiana, he’s simply an elite defender. He punked a first-round hopeful in Hoosier guard Romeo Langford.
That defensive prowess extended to the Florida game, as he helped hold the Gators to under 50 points and .8 points per possession. His offense slipped again though, as he notched just nine points and seven boards.
If he reverts to the player who scored in double figures in five of last year’s six tournament games, his stock should rise. His defense needs to be paired with more consistent offense.
Projection: Late second-round
The 6-foot-4 swagster from Milwaukee looked like a pro versus the Gators, scoring 19 points on four triples, some through contact. The sophomore even bulled his way into the lane for an and-one.
This is the Poole that fans have wanted to see this year. Poor shot selection doomed his performances against Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament (2-for-9 from deep) and the home game versus Maryland (eight points). He’s seen his scoring output dip to just above 12 points a game, and his 3-point percentage fall from above 40 percent to 37.5.
His NBA projections have suffered as well. Bryan Kalbrosky of Hoops Hype aggregates five different mock drafts from major publications, and Poole appears on just one.
Sam Vecenie of the The Athletic is that optimistic take, having Poole go No. 35 to the Atlanta Hawks.
“So far in the Schlenk era, the Hawks have really valued getting floor spacing,” Vecenie writes. “Poole is a terrific shooter who can create as a secondary ball-handler out of pick-and-roll. He also has an innate understanding of spacing from having worked in Michigan’s scheme. Defense is a real worry with Poole, but he has the look of an interesting back-up scorer once he irons out his consistency.”
Eric Shaprio of UMHoops does a good job showing Poole’s defensive struggles, as the sophomore sometimes gets caught wildly out of position.
Despite limited involvement, Jordan Poole left a *lot* to be desired on defense against Michigan State: pic.twitter.com/WQxjxN438T— Eric Shapiro (@eric_shap) February 26, 2019
ESPN has Poole just outside the second round as the No. 63 overall player, as well as the No. 13 shooting guard. Right now, that’s probably right.
If he plays like he did against Florida in the Sweet 16 (and possibly beyond), he could play himself into a paycheck this summer.
Projection: Second-round/returns for junior year
This one is more interesting. His personal skill-set is vast: good physique, repeatable shot, excellent hustle. He’s scored in double-digits in just about every conference game, plus he racked up 24 in the November rout over No. 1 seed North Carolina.
Bleacher Report called him a “fringe first-round prospect” back in early December.
However, conference season showed a major issue: his offense doesn’t facilitate production to others. He dished out only 19 assists in 20 conference games and frequently gets tunnel vision when driving to the lane. When he gets the ball, he’s either doing it all himself or relinquishing the ball early in the possession.
Since then, the projections have him either in the second round or out of the draft entirely. Jonathan Wasserman has him as the No. 36 overall prospect.
“Averaging 18.0 points over Michigan’s last six games,” Wasserman writes, “Brazdeikis is scoring and shooting with obvious confidence entering March Madness. As a ball-handler shot-maker, he’s competitive and skilled with NBA size for a wing. But he isn’t a great athlete and has totaled just 30 assists all season, despite playing 29.7 minutes per game.”
Aran Smith’s NBA Draft Net still pegs him as a second-round option as his No. 47 overall prospect.
The disparity in opinion could mean that while not every team is ready to draft him, some scout may think similarly to the more optimistic takes and want to take him. The better play would be for him to return, learn under Beilein’s tutelage and enter the draft next summer.
That would help him follow the path of former Wolverine first-rounders Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert and Trey Burke. Iggy, wait that one year to make the real paper.
Projection: Returns for sophomore year