For better or worse, the NCAA Tournament has an outsized impact on a player's draft stock.
On one hand, players, especially those from mid-major conferences, are matched up against some of the best competition they will face all year. On the other, a string of favorable matchups can artificially increase a player's value while poor coaching can unfairly decrease it.
Teams that have scouted the college ranks all season view the tournament as one piece in a much larger puzzle of player evaluation that (surreptitiously) goes back to his AAU days, but it can seriously distort the perception of the talent pool for those front offices trying to cram in a year's work of worth in a few weeks.
As one front office told ESPN's Dave Telep last year:
Our research has shown teams have put too much stock in NCAA Tournament performance. Guys that see a big bounce in their stock due to a big tournament run tend to perform under the average player selected at the same spot in the draft (i.e. a player has a great tournament to move to No. 9 on the board from No. 20, but does worse than average output expected of the ninth player in draft).
Now that I've gotten all the boring disclaimers out of the way, let's look at which players did the most to boost and hurt their reputations with NBA teams over the last two weeks.
STOCK UP: Bradley Beal, Florida
The talent was always there, but it's been fairly well hidden most of the season on a Florida team built around a shoot-first, shoot-second and shoot-third backcourt of Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker.
There isn't a player in the country more athletic than Beal, a 6'3 210 shooting guard with a 6'7 wingspan and video game speed. Before the Gators' Sweet 16 matchup with Marquette, many analysts were saying Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder was the best player on the floor. There wasn't anyone saying that after Beal carried Florida to the victory, putting up 21 points on 8-10 shooting with six rebounds, four assists and two blocks.
Earlier in the season, I thought Andre Iguodala was Beal's ceiling, but that may be closer to his basement. Because Billy Donovan decided to build his offense around a 5'5 PG who lives to take pull-up three-pointers with 25 seconds left on the shot clock, it's hard to say how good Beal would be if he could dominate the ball for 30 minutes a night.
STOCK DOWN: Jeremy Lamb, UConn
March can be a fickle beast. Just last year, Lamb was one of the toasts of the NCAA Tournament, giving UConn a secondary scoring option behind Kemba Walker while taking over Final Four games with his advanced shot-making skills and preposterous 7'1 wingspan.
But as a sophomore, Lamb will be judged for the embarrassing disintegration of one of the nation's most talented teams, which culminated in a 77-64 first-round drubbing to Iowa State.
Lamb still averaged 17.7 points and 4.5 rebounds on 48 percent shooting this season. However, if he's going to become an All-Star caliber player, he'll need to improve his playmaking skills and create shots for his teammates, as he averaged only 1.7 assists on 2.0 turnovers.
STOCK UP: Royce White, Iowa State
White's dominant performance on the glass against UConn (13 rebounds) was nice, but what's going to have scouts buzzing is his play against Kentucky, particularly a three-minute stretch at the start of the second half.
With Iowa State down nearly 10 points, their 6'8 270 point forward let the dozens of NBA scouts who have followed the Wildcats on a nightly basis know what his name was. He had two coast-to-coast dunks, including one over Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, before bull-dozing Terrence Jones on the low block for an and-1, taking the ball from Anthony Davis defensively and then running the fast break to find a shooter for an open three. He was swagging so hard CBS had to cut away from him pounding his chest and cussing out one of the most dominant college basketball teams in recent memory.
White is one of the most unique players in college basketball, as he led the Cyclones in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks last season. He's a more athletic Boris Diaw, but the real concern for NBA teams may be off-the-court. Being afraid of flying isn't exactly going to work in the professional ranks.
STOCK DOWN: Harrison Barnes, North Carolina
This actually happened: During the final minute of Ohio's excruciating 73-65 OT loss to UNC, my friends and I began cheering and applauding as soon as Barnes got the ball. We knew that A) he wouldn't pass and B) he couldn't get into the lane off the dribble. Sure enough, he airballed a three-pointer and was stripped on a last-second drive by an Ohio defender.
Barnes should still be a solid NBA starter at the small forward position, but he cost himself a lot of money by coming back to school.
STOCK UP: Terrence Jones, Kentucky
Jones has been plagued by whispers about his effort level, attitude and discipline all season long, but he picked the right time to pick up his play. He's played within himself during the NCAA Tournament, filling up the stat sheet and displaying his impressive all-around game at 6'9 250.
Against Baylor, he had 12 points on 6-9 shooting to go with nine rebounds, six assists and two blocks. He's eerily similar to Josh Smith, down to the penchant for taking ill-advised jumpers and poor body language. Your mileage may vary on whether you think that's a good thing. (I do.)
STOCK DOWN: Quincy Miller, Baylor
I'm possibly the last person still on the Quincy Miller bandwagon, although his struggles have been overshadowed by the Perry Jones III melodrama.
Here's my defense of the two Baylor forwards: their coach is Scott Drew, and their PGs this season have been "Lucky" Pierre Jackson and AJ Walton. Against Kentucky, Jackson shot 9-19, including 1-7 from the three-point line, while committing four turnovers and four personal fouls. Walton shot 0-4 while committing four personal fouls in only 19 minutes.
Let's pretend that Thomas Robinson played on Baylor: how would he look if he was stuck in the middle of a 1-3-1 zone defense all season (neutralizing his ability to dominate the backboards) while never getting the ball in a position to score?
Miller would probably be better off returning next season as he continues to recover from an ACL injury he suffered in high school, but I wouldn't blame him for fleeing to the NBA after the crimes against basketball and common sense that was Baylor's season. If he slips into the middle part of the first round, he has the talent to be the biggest steal of 2012.