Brandon Ingram, Jaylen Brown, Kris Dunn, Jamal Murray, Buddy Hield.
These are but a handful of some of the top NBA prospects who will be cast into the spotlight this weekend as the 2016 NCAA Tournament kicks off and makes us all catch hoops fever for the next three weeks.
Missing from that list above, however, is the projected No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons, whose LSU Tigers had a mediocre season finishing 11-7 in SEC play and 19-14 overall before getting pounded 71-38 by Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament semifinals, ending their NCAA Tournament dreams.
As a result, no matter how great a tournament this one may end up being, there will always be a feeling of “what if?”
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The 6-foot-10 240-pound combo forward has been compared to the likes of LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard because of his great combination of size, strength, agility, quickness and skill. His freshman season was one for the ages, leading his team in every major statistical category except three-point and free-throw percentage with a line of 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists and two steals per game on 56 per cent shooting.
Those stats don’t lie and his status as the best prospect isn’t in jeopardy just because his team is missing the big dance, but fans of both the college and NBA game as well as other potential draft picks who may have been matched up against him will be feeling the sting.
First off, fans of just the NBA game are being denied a chance to see the player who will be talked about endlessly as soon as the Finals wrap up on the grandest national stage. There are a lot of fans who don’t necessarily pay attention to the college game but are aware of the top prospects, so for them, this would’ve been the perfect opportunity to get introduced to a player with real superstar potential before he reaches the Show.
For fans who have been watching LSU play this season, this just denies them another chance to watch one of the most electric talents the college game has ever seen one final time, particularly because Tigers coach Johnny Jones said on Sunday that he’d be declining any post-season invitations for his team, meaning Simmons won’t even be playing in the National Invitational Tournament.
Finally, from a player’s perspective, Simmons not even participating in the NIT is a major bummer because a singular game against the No. 1 prospect could potentially help that player’s draft stock. Showing you can hang with the best and can defend and score over him will definitely catch the attention of fans, media and the many, many pro scouts who will be paying attention over the next three weekends.
Conversely, Simmons showcasing his stuff in the most high-profile event he could play in could’ve completely solidified his status as the No. 1 prospect as it would be the last memory in teams’ minds of the player before the draft, something that isn’t to be underestimated (just ask Tyrus Thomas and Derrick Williams).
Alas, it just wasn’t to be, and with his absence from the tournament, should he be taken No. 1 overall in June, he would be the first top pick to not participate in the dance since Andrea Bargnani, an Italian international prospect, in 2006. Digging deeper and looking for the last NCAA player who went No. 1 and missed the tournament in his draft year you have to go back to 1998 with Michael Olowokandi.
It’s not a great look for Simmons despite circumstances being out of his control. Hopefully his pro career will go off without a hitch because right now he’s mostly only known as a guy with tremendous upside who puts up huge numbers, but ultimately can’t turn all that into sustained team success.
So while the tournament is sure to thrill, without Simmons and the Tigers there, it’s undeniable that all involved are missing out on something special.
It sucks, but sometimes that’s just the way things work out.