You know you're getting into the trying part of college basketball season once all the undefeated teams start to fall because they're getting their toughest tests yet in conference play. Just like the ACC with North Carolina, the Big 12 saw their only undefeated team fall this past week with Oklahoma losing to Arkansas. The Big 12 has yet to start conference play, but we've seen plenty at this juncture to judge their top prospects' stock.
Blake Griffin - 6'10 Power Forward (Oklahoma)
Firmly established at the top of just about every 2009 mock draft is Oklahoma's Blake Griffin. Coming into this season he was considered one of the select few who had an opportunity to rise to the top and Griffin has truly broken away from the pack. Griffin ended 2008 on a very strong note, leading his team to a 13-1 record while averaging 22 points and just under 14 rebounds a contest.
The only thing that can prevent Griffin from going number one in this year's draft is if a team set at power forward wins the lottery. The Oklahoma City Thunder are keeping their fingers crossed right now hoping that they can add Griffin to what is already a promising young core with Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, and Russell Westbrook. One thing is for sure, Griffin is ready to do big things in the NBA.
Projection: Top three.
Curtis Jerrells - 6'1 Point Guard (Baylor)
Throughout his four years at Baylor Curtis Jerrells has not improved at the rate that many hoped he would after a strong sophomore season. He has improved every year, but for the most part it's just been marginal increases across the board. Thanks to the experience he's gained at Baylor though scouts are starting to see him as a very capable point guard at the next level.
Jerrells' biggest strength is his speed, ranking among the fastest in college basketball. He's made more plays for his teammates this year, averaging a career high six assists per game. The turnovers still come at a rate that is too high, but every team that is in need of some help in the backcourt is going to be giving Jerrells some strong consideration come draft time.
Projection: Mid-late 1st round.
Dexter Pittman - 6'10 Center (Texas)
Just three years ago Dexter Pittman was a 400-pound project a long way away from being able to be an impact player at the collegiate level. Thanks to his strong work ethic and dedication, Pittman has not only become a major factor on the eighth-ranked Longhorns, but a definite big man prospect in the NBA.
Pittman has a nice set of moves inside the paint, a soft pair of HUGE hands, and the ability to finish above the rim thanks to his newfound fitness. Pittman still needs to lose some weight in order to play for longer periods of time, but right now he's one of the players truly on the rise and it should only continue throughout the rest of his career at Texas.
Projection: Late 1st round.
Cole Aldrich - 6'11 Center (Kansas)
It's amazing what kind of opportunities present themselves once three big men leave the team to play professionally. After having to battle some early season foul trouble Cole Aldrich has come on in a big way, helping Kansas get off to a 10-3 start. Unlike last year when there wasn't enough minutes to go around, Aldrich is the featured big man on this Jayhawk team and has really done a lot of good for his NBA stock.
Aldrich knows how to utilize his size very well. Nearly every time he has a smaller opponent on him he's going to take advantage because he works hard at establishing position. He's not just a power player though, as Aldrich has a variety of moves from the block. Ideally for Kansas Coach Bill Self Aldrich would stay in Lawrence for another season, but the way his stock is rising he may not be able to say no to the draft.
Projection: Late lottery.
Craig Brackins - 6'10 Power Forward (Iowa State)
In just his sophomore year Craig Brackins has seen a dramatic increase in nearly every category except for three-point shooting percentage. While Brackins might be young in age, he's shown great maturity and poise this season. This team cannot win without him producing at a high rate, and on most nights Brackins has been the leader they need. Brackins possesses the ability to score consistently from just about anywhere on the court except from beyond the arc.
Being at Iowa State is really going to work to his benefit when it comes to the draft because of the experience he's been getting as the team's top player. Brackins handling of the large amount of pressure put on him in just his sophomore year says a lot about his character and ability. He may not be a household name because of where he plays, but NBA scouts and GMs know exactly who he is.
Damion James - 6'7 Forward (Texas)
This was supposed to be the big year for Texas' Damion James since he was out from under the shadows of Kevin Durant and D.J. Augustin. It's become evident at times throughout the season though that James misses having them take away so much attention. He's still putting up solid numbers that rival what he did last year, they're just not what we expected them to be before the season.
There's no real question about James' talent and versatility. He could potentially play both forward spots at the next level and should he stay at Texas for his senior season - they would really be one of the favorites in 2009. He's just hasn't taken to being the star and the leader of this team as well as many have hoped up to this point. His stock is down, albeit not by much.
Projection: Mid 1st round.
Kevin Rodgers - 6'9 Power Forward (Baylor)
NBA scouts, GMs, and Baylor fans have been waiting for Rodgers to just explode since his sophomore season, and it has not happened. Now 14 games into his senior season Rodgers is averaging the same amount of points and rebounds that he did two years ago. It's really one of the bigger mysteries, because at one time Rodgers was thought as someone who could work his way into the first half of the first round.
It's farfetched to talk about him going that high now though, especially when you consider his limitations as a 6'9 big man without a lot of strength or versatility. Rodgers may catch the eye of a team that likes to push the ball thanks to his explosiveness, but right now in terms of an NBA draft prospect Rodgers is simply disappointing.
Projection: Mid-late 2nd round.
Connor Atchley - 6'10 Center (Texas)
It's been a long process for Atchley to develop into a player that has NBA aspirations. When he first arrived at Austin he wasn't even good enough to play his first year, but his junior season he put himself on the NBA radar thanks to his strong fundamental base. Atchley isn't a jaw-dropping athlete, he just plays the game the right way. He can really hurt you from beyond the arc, and he's very active defending the rim.
The development of Dexter Pittman, who has taken some of Atchely's minutes this year, is not the cause for his stock dropping. What has killed Atchley more than anything is foul trouble. He's playing six minutes less per game this year because he simply cannot keep from fouling, partially due to his lack of athleticism. In Texas' first thirteen games Atchley has gotten less than three fouls only three times, and is watching his stock suffer as he spends too much time on the sideline.
Projection: Mid-late 2nd round.
Ibrahima Thomas - 6'11 Center (Oklahoma State)
Going into this season there were a lot of teams keeping an eye on Ibrahima Thomas, anxiously waiting to see how he develops under new head coach Travis Ford. Thomas didn't last long under Ford though, nearly immediately making his way to his doghouse and eventually being dismissed from the team.
Right now Thomas has a lot of baggage. Thankfully for him though he has at least another two years of eligibility to prove to teams that he has matured from the player that couldn't make it at Stillwater. Thomas is reportedly on his way to Cincinnati where alongside Yancy Gates he could help form one of the best inside duos in the country. As of right now Thomas has a lot of work to do, but it's hard not to like his chances to succeed. All reports on Thomas indicate that he's a good kid that just didn't make it under Ford.