Last week, our NCAA experts discussed the early studs and duds of the 2015 NCAA Tournament. But which players, teams and coaches have stepped up since then? Our Yannis Koutroupis and Cody Toppert shared their thoughts.
Karl-Anthony Towns (Kentucky, Center): What more can you say about the freshman big man that hasn’t been said already? On a night when Kentucky looked as mortal as ever, he could not be contained. His 25 points against Notre Dame helped the Wildcats’ quest for perfection stay alive, and it moved him ahead of Jahlil Okafor on some people’s draft boards, mine included, as Okafor has been contained by double-teams the last two rounds.
Sam Dekker (Wisconsin, Forward): On a weekend full of great performances, Dekker may have had the best outing over the course of the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. His pro potential was on full display as he defended well, did it all offensively and came through in clutch moments. He’s quickly climbing past his teammate Frank Kaminsky on draft boards and up to the lottery, maybe even the top 10.
Gregg Marshall (Wichita State, Head Coach): Despite going out in disappointing fashion against Notre Dame in the Sweet 16, you cannot take anything away from Coach Marshall’s Shockers and the run they’ve been on the last four years. Marshall’s incredible job has Alabama aggressively trying to make him their next coach and sources say their offer starts at $3 million annually.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers talked a big game leading up to their Sweet 16 matchup against the Kentucky Wildcats. They had aspirations of channeling the 2010 Mountaineers, who defeated a Kentucky team that featured five eventual first round picks, but instead just awoke the scariest version of the Wildcats. This game was over as soon as it started, and the Mountaineers never stood a chance.
Stanley Johnson (Arizona, Forward): In what will likely be his only NCAA Tournament, Johnson’s play got worse as the tournament went on. He started with 22 points against Texas Southern, but scored that much over the next three games combined, including just six points before fouling out against Wisconsin in the Elite Eight. Johnson is still going to be a very high draft pick, but for a player who was one of the most winningest players in California high school hoops history, he’s definitely knocked down a notch because he couldn’t help get his team to Indy.
– Yannis Koutroupis
Wisconsin’s Dynamic Duo: Of the stars that shined brightest in the Elite Eight, Wisconsin’s Frank “the Tank” Kaminsky and Sam Dekker stood out the most. The duo combined for 56 of the Badgers’ 85 points. Kaminsky may have sealed his position as the nation’s best player and Dekker perhaps thrust himself into mid-lottery NBA draft status. With a victory over Kentucky, the legend will be complete. Don’t bet against this Wisconsin team, as they seem to come up big just when it matters most.
Tom Izzo (Michigan State, Head Coach): Tom Izzo leads his Cinderella Spartans into the seventh Final Four under his watch. Yes, you heard that right: the Cinderella Spartans. There is something to be said for leading a team that finished 12-6 in Big 10 play to the Final Four. MSU is tried and tested, having played eight overtime games on the year. The rematch from November 18 game played in Indianapolis may have a different result this time around if Izzo can work his magic on Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow. One thing is for sure, you shouldn’t count Izzo out.
Kentucky’s Frontline: Karl-Anthony Towns’ performance against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish was the stuff that dreams are made of. He scored every way possible, but made post isolation look like a walk in the park. The skill level this kid possesses is downright special and his versatility is astonishing. What’s more, he complements his running mate Willie Cauley-Stein with a refined and polished skill set. On the other side, Cauley-Stein made perhaps the play of Kentucky’s season when he contained and blocked the three-point attempt of Jerian Grant with under a minute to go. The versatility of a big man his size to contain the penetration, force the jumper and then use his 7’0-plus wing span to block the shot without fouling demonstrates why he has the athleticism and potential to be a future NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
Louisville Frontline Free Throw Shooting: Montrezl Harrell and Mangok Mathiang combined to go 6-13 from the free throw line in Louisville’s Elite Eight loss to Tom Izzo and his Michigan State club. Had the Cardinal big men been able to knock down shots from the charity stripe, they may very well have been playing in Indianapolis. How many times have we seen games decided by such a close margin come down to a made or missed free throw? We can only hope the younger generations take note and practice this important (but unfortunately oftentimes overlooked) aspect of the game.
Arizona Clock Management: With just under a minute to go in Arizona’s Elite Eight loss to Wisconsin, they elected not to foul and lengthen the game. This proved to be a costly mistake since the amount of possessions in the game were reduced and time ran out on the Wildcats’ Final Four dreams. It is, of course, a difficult task to figure out when to start the foul game and how to play it out. In this case, Arizona was on the wrong side of the guessing game and the 20 seconds lost could have been the 20 seconds needed to punch their ticket to the Final Four.
– Cody Toppert
Which players, coaches and teams have impressed you? Leave a comment below.
Yannis Koutroupis is Basketball Insiders’ College Basketball Editor and Senior Writer. He has been covering the NBA and NCAA for seven years.
Cody Toppert is a former standout player at Cornell University (one of the top three-point shooters in Ivy League history), who played eight years professionally (NBA D-League, Spain, Italy, Germany) and now serves as the Director of Basketball Development at ELEV|8 Sports Institute (Ganon Baker Basketball Academy). He trains professional players (five 2015 NBA Draftees) and coaches prep schoolers for Ganon Baker’s nationally ranked prep school program. Toppert also serves as a contributing writer for FastModel Sports. You can follow Cody and ELEV|8 on social media @Topp33 and @E8hoops.