By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) For those of us who generally prefer the pro game, a Final Four featuring the top seed from each region is always preferable.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Rounding Out The Warmest Weekend Of The Winter
Watching blue-chip talent that will remain part of our hoops viewing lives in seasons to come is more inviting than knowing that most of the guys on the floor will soon be in another line of work, selling life insurance, coaching high school ball or managing an Applebee’s.
We can put up with all the things that still grate us about college basketball – the interminable 35-second shot clock that allows an offense to cycle through a meaningless string of activity for no good reason; the imperious coaches over-controlling the action and basking in the bland praise lavished upon them by broadcasters; the missed shots; and the gnawing awareness of the whole icky NCAA lie underneath all of it – when the product delivers.
And for that, forget “student-athletes.” Let’s see a court full of “athlete-athletes.”
We have it Saturday, with three top seeds that feature enough future NBA players that we need to write them all down. Using scouting site DraftExpress.com as an objective measure, this would appear to be a historic display of pros-to-be, with nine projected 2015 first-round picks – nearly one-third of the entire first round – including the top two, five of the top 10 and eight of the first 19.
Here are the names, with mock draft position in parentheses. Kentucky has Karl-Anthony Towns (1), Willie Cauley-Stein (6), Devin Booker (17) and Trey Lyles (19). Duke boasts Jahlil Okafor (2), Justise Winslow (5), and Tyus Jones (26), while Wisconsin is represented by Frank Kaminsky (10) and Sam Dekker (16).READ MORE: MISSING: Khoshaba Dikyanos, 84, Last Seen In Lincoln Square
And that’s not even all. Kentucky has two projected second-round picks this year in Dakari Johnson (39) and Andrew Harrison (53), and DraftExpress.com’s 2016 draft projection includes two more first rounders: Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes (16) and Kentucky’s Marcus Lee (26). A concerted effort to include Michigan State in this exercise would mean broadening the scope to include the full 2015 top 100 prospects list, which then on the fringes reveals Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis (90) and finally the Spartans’ Branden Dawson (96).
Welcome to the party, Sparty. If anything, all this information suggests Tom Izzo’s coaching job this year merits special attention. Even if some are quick to cite favorable placement in a less-daunting region that also saw top-seeded Villanova ousted in its second game, his team had to beat the two, three and four seeds in consecutive games to reach Indianapolis, and Michigan State did so with only a single material player close to being any kind of NBA prospect. That’s something.
When a program of the history and quality of Michigan State is the outlying entrant in the Final Four – the upset interloper – it speaks well of the weekend to come. The scrappy mid-major successes that rise from America’s heartland to captivate those lacking a proper aesthetic basketball standard are not for me, so full credit to Dayton and Butler and Wichita State and Northern Iowa for exiting the stage at just the right time, making way for the big boys.
It’s the time to shine for the rosters full of guys who are going to be doing this basketball thing for a while — and for a lot of money.
Lucas Oil Stadium can seat more than 70,000 people when configured for hoops, and don’t be surprised if 15,000 of those in attendance are NBA personnel of some kind, all scribbling madly in their pebbled-leather notebooks and pecking at security-encoded tablets as they try to keep poker faces while reacting to all the raw materials on that floor. In that respect, it’s not really all that different from the NFL Scouting Combine held weeks ago in the very same building.
An all-you-can-eat buffet of talent, competing for something significant. College basketball at its best.MORE NEWS: Chicago Speed Cameras To Start Issuing $35 Tickets To Drivers Going 6 MPH Over The Limit On Monday