DeMarcus Cousins, C, Kentucky. When John Calipari coaxed Cousins into following him to Kentucky, you knew this kid was going to be special. Cousins is widely viewed as the next great 20-10 guy in the NBA. At 6-11, 270 lbs., he is almost unstoppable once he gets his normally deep low post position. His footwork and left hand still need work but his touch doesn't. Cousins is a horse in the paint and a potential top three pick should he declare after the season.
Maturity issues and laziness have been an issue at times for him however, but remember he's only a freshman. Cousins plays similar to Minnesota T-Wolves big man Al Jefferson, a bruising big man who will bang all game long until he wears you down. He has excellent hands down low too. If he's anywhere around the ball, he'll find a way to corral it, whether on a rebound or pass.
The key against Wake Forest is to avoid early foul trouble (Chas McFarland is a genius at this), and to find his shooters once doubles come. Both of these have been issues all season long for Cousins. He is not at the stage in his game where he understands how to evaluate the floor. For Wake to have any chance here, making Cousins uncomfortable and not letting him get in a rhythm is crucial. Should the game be close, he is a dreadful free throw shooter at 63 percent.
Eric Bledsoe, SG, Kentucky. Much of the buzz out of Lexington all year has surrounded John Wall and Cousins, but Bledsoe is no slouch either. The "other" freshman for the Wildcats has quietly put together a very impressive season, earning a spot on the All-SEC Freshmen team beside his two teammates.
Much of Kentucky's (and Wall's) success can be attributed to Bledsoe. The 6-1 freshman from Alabama has absorbed much of the ball handling responsibilities when Wall is either in scoring mode, or on the bench.
A natural playmaker who loves to penetrate the lane, Bledsoe is still void of the basketball IQ necessary to excel at the next level. In other words, he doesn't know how to run a team yet, exemplified in his nature to over-dribble, poor shot selection, and the tendency to get sped up and lose his awareness. That said, the physical gifts and raw tools are there. Like Duke's Nolan Smith, he is a bit undersized to be an NBA point guard, but when you're as explosive and athletic as Bledsoe is, these issues can be nullified.
Bledsoe's best weapon is in transition where he can blow by anyone and has the strength to finish at the basket. He's still not a good passer in the half-court, but does show better vision on the break where he often finds open teammates. He is also a better shooter than Wall, converting on a respectable 41 percent of his threes, although much of this has to do with the fact that he gets a ton of open looks, either from Wall's penetration or the double-teams demanded by Cousins and Patrick Patterson.
Defensively, he once again shows the tools, but not the production. His lateral quickness is outstanding – right on par with Wall – but he still reaches in too much and gets lazy at times. Even so, his recovery speed is great, and he's such a well built young kid that it's only a matter of time before he learns how to become a full-time lockdown defender.
Bledsoe is far from a finished product and should stay in school at least another year, but he has a lot of assets that scouts and GM's covet, and when he does decide to turn pro, he could very likely be a first round draft choice.
Patrick Patterson, PF, Kentucky. He's only a junior, but Patterson is the elderly spokesmen on this young Wildcat team. With the addition of John Calipari at the helm, he has dramatically improved a once-suspect jump shot, and has fit his game into Cal's dribble-weave offense. But don't be fooled. The 6-9, 235 lb. Patterson is a load in the paint, capable of scoring on either block with both hands. He is surprisingly quick off his feet for such a big kid too. In an age where many four-men prefer to stay away from the hoop and avoid getting hit, Patterson seems to seek out contact and put a beating on his opposition. Whether he turns pro this summer or returns for his senior year, a solid performance in the dance could elevate Patterson into the lottery.
Quincy Pondexter, SF, Washington. We've seen our fair share of quality match-ups already, but the Pondexter-Darington Hobson duel is going to be great. Like Pondexter, Hobson is a rangy athlete who gets up and down the floor very fast, and flies toward the rim. Pondexter is a more polished offensive player with his post-ups and flurry of moves (see end of Marquette game), but Hobson is the type of guy that matches him athletically and perhaps slow him down. The Lobos will probably shift him around, maybe even to guard little man sensation Isaiah Thomas at times, so his effects will be felt in a number of ways. If he cannot shut down Pondexter though, than UW could very likely spring another upset.
Jimmer Fredette, SG, BYU. Don't say we didn't warn you! Fredette's 37 points in the first round against a guard-heavy Florida team were impressive yes, but it was the way in which he got those 37 that was more impressive. During the first half, when the Gators keyed heavily on his three-point shot, Fredette used a bundle of head-fakes, stutter-steps, and hesitation moves to penetrate the lane and finish at the basket. When he established that he could blow by anyone, he used just the tiniest bit of space to fire from long distance and send the 10 seed back to Gainesville. You have to love the way this BYU team plays, and how they free up their star in the half-court. Back-screens, down-screens, pick-and-rolls, they do it all. Unlike many scorers, Fredette gets it done within the natural framework of the offense. Kansas State has two talented guards in Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente, but neither can consistently guard Fredette. K-State's major advantage is down low with Curtis Kelly and Wally Judge, but this will be a much closer game than many people may think.