As we've mentioned throughout the NCAA tournament, NBA scouts will be keeping a close watch on the prospects in action. Here are three underclassmen in Friday's NCAA tournament games whom you should keep your eyes on, too. Each is critical to his team's success and, to varying degrees, has piqued the curiosity of NBA scouts in this tournament and throughout the season. With decisions looming on whether to return to school or opt for the league, consider this a viewer's guide for Friday's games in evaluating the right choice for each player.
Kyle Singler, F, junior, Duke
Singler is who he is. For NBA teams, he will be a slow small forward -- but that's OK. His combination of basketball skills, high motor and excellent on-the-court acumen have raised his NBA draft status, in my opinion, as he should land solidly in the middle of the first round if he chooses to declare this year.
After weathering a midseason, eight-game shooting slump during which he made only 15 of 49 3-point shots, Singler is back on track and actually finished the season shooting 39 percent behind the line. I wish his release were quicker, but it's an area he will improve with time. He has a chance to be a very good shooter from the NBA line, a much tougher shot than people think.
Singler is very active on both ends of the court, and his mental quickness makes up for some of his physical deficiencies. Defensively, he is a good help defender who is usually in the right place on the court. Offensively, he is in constant motion, sees the game well and is always alert.
Great effort is never an issue for this Blue Devil, and his toughness belies his average Joe physical appearance. He has a healthy nasty streak that will serve him well in the NBA. It will be interesting to see whether Singler stays for his senior year at Duke. It's possible that what happens this weekend in Houston and perhaps next weekend in Indianapolis will determine whether he returns.
Scotty Hopson, G, sophomore, Tennessee
Hopson is an enigma. If the sophomore is thinking about entering the NBA draft, I'd tell him to stay in school. The former McDonald's All-American has prototypical size and athleticism for an NBA shooting guard but doesn't have the necessary strength to play in the "men's league" right now.
Hopson's skill level needs to improve in order to get NBA teams excited. Most players need to shoot the ball with more arc, but with him, his high-arcing jumper is difficult to control and causes inconsistent results. He is shooting about 35 percent from deep in his first two seasons at Tennessee.
Ball skills are important for an athletic player who can get to the rim, and Hopson is a pretty elusive ball handler. I also like his first-step quickness. And although he's more likely to get all the way to the rim with his right hand, he often shoots the pull-up jumper when he goes left. An area of weakness that will improve with time and work ethic is his aforementioned strength, because he is not a strong finisher in the lane and gets to the foul line at a very low rate.
Overall, Hopson has had an inconsistent season. He can tease you with some spectacular plays, but according to some NBA scouts, he also tends to disappear. In fact, he has scored fewer than 10 points in three of his past five games.
This will be a huge offseason for Hopson, because although his reputation preceded his arrival in Knoxville, it's time for him to become the player who will excite NBA scouts. He's not there yet.
Durrell Summers, G, junior, Michigan State
Against Maryland this past weekend, Summers was sensational. Where has that Summers been all season? He has been missing ... and missing his jump shots. Like Hopson, Summers has been a riddle with his inconsistency. On occasion, he will do something spectacular -- such as his monster dunk over UConn's Stanley Robinson in last year's Final Four -- but most times he is an average spot-up shooter who makes only 33 percent of his 3s.
Of Summers' shots, 72 percent are catch-and-shoot jumpers, with only about 11 percent coming off the dribble, according to Synergy Sports Technology. In addition, he is an average ball handler who has gotten to the foul line only 73 times this season. That's a low number for someone with his athleticism. And he's had twice as many turnovers (60) as assists (28) this season.
Luckily, Summers can count on Spartans coach Tom Izzo to tell him to return to Michigan State for his senior season. If he can improve both his inconsistent outside stroke and his ball skills, we'll be talking about an All-Big Ten player a year from now. That will improve, in my opinion, his nonexistent NBA draft chances right now.
Some tournament notes
• I got my first in-person look at BYU's Jimmer Fredette at the first- and second-round site in Oklahoma City. He is a point guard in a linebacker's body.
First of all, Fredette is a great open shooter who has a wicked step-back move that creates space to get his shot off. He also plays a very crafty game, and in the Cougars' deliberate offense, he sometimes gets to hold the ball for the entire 35-second shot clock. His strength makes him tough to keep out of the lane, but I am not sure he handles the ball well enough to be an NBA point guard.
Fredette plays with supreme toughness, but his below-average NBA athleticism will limit his opportunities. But he sure is fun to watch.
• Saint Mary's Omar Samhan is the most technically sound big man in the NCAA tournament. The fifth-year senior has improved his offensive repertoire each year in Moraga and has shed the baby fat of his first couple of seasons. One potential negative is that he may be a short 6-foot-10, not his listed 6-11. At least, that was my impression of him last season when I covered a Gaels game at San Diego State in the NIT.
• The Brian Zoubek who is anchoring the middle for Duke is the Brian Zoubek I saw in high school. Injuries may have hampered his Blue Devils career, but if he plays as he has recently, I'll be able to assure you that worse players than the 7-1 Zoubek have made an NBA roster.