The 2021 NCAA Tournament is officially over, with the Stanford Cardinal coming away victorious.
So, after a competitive tournament that featured some great games and some gutsy performances, which players increased their draft stocks? Which ones left the tournament in a worse position than they arrived?
Aari McDonald, Arizona
Stock: Way, way up
Aari McDonald was the breakout star of the NCAA Tournament. Sure, those of us who’ve paid attention to college basketball have known how good she was, but casual basketball fans who didn’t get to watch much Pac 12 basketball finally got a chance to see the Arizona guard.
The two-time Pac 12 Defensive Player of the Year, we already knew going into the tournament that McDonald was arguably the best on-ball defensive guard in the country (depending on how you categorize DiDi Richards). McDonald can go up against anyone and get a stop. She can poke balls away, igniting the break with her steals. But what we didn’t know was if she could consistently shoot the basketball.
See, coming into the tournament, McDonald was on her way to a third consecutive season shooting under 30 percent from deep. For a 5-5 lead guard, not being able to consistently knock down threes is an issue. There’s a lot more size inside in the W, making it tougher for smaller players to drive inside. So, a sub-30 percent mark from three? Not going to cut it.
Well, McDonald shot 48 percent from deep in the tournament. That coupled with some positive indicators of shooting improvement via her free throw shooting, which I wrote about this week at Fansided, have me—and everyone else—feeling good about what McDonald, who could have played her way into a lottery spot.
Charli Collier, Texas
It seems weird to say a player who made it to the Elite Eight saw her stock go down, but Collier’s performance against South Carolina in that game really highlighted the concern that many have had about the presumptive lottery pick.
Collier had some great games this season. When she wasn’t facing a team with elite players up front, Collier was dominating on both ends of the floor, putting up 20 and 10s with ease. And to open the NCAA Tournament, Collier looked like the version of herself that Dallas Wings fans are hoping they get when they assumedly draft her: 23 points on 8-for-11 shooting with 15 rebounds.
But then, uhh, the rest of the tournament happened. She had 16 points against Maryland, but combined for just nine points in the team’s other two games. Against UCLA, her five points were largely a result of her shooting just three times in 26 minutes, but against South Carolina, Collier got 10 attempts. She made two of them, finishing with four points and pulling down just four boards. It was the same kind of issues she consistently had against Baylor: with strong defenses on her, she wasn’t able to finish plays. She had more fouls than made buckets twice in the tournament, just like she did in all three games Texas played against Baylor.
Look, I’m still one of the biggest Collier believers there is. She needs some work, but she has the ability to be a top big on both ends of the floor who can score on multiple levels. But if we’re judging solely by this tournament, you can see why people think Aari McDonald has surpassed her in the rankings. I’m not ready to go that far, but I can see where people are coming from.
Dijonai Carrington, Baylor
Carrington came off the bench for the Lady Bears this year. Like with McDonald, Carrington struggled from deep, shooting 28.5 percent from three on 5.1 attempts per game. It was clear that she wanted to shoot for Baylor, but the shots just weren’t going in.
They didn’t go in during the tournament either, as she never shot over 30 percent in any tournament games. But she did a lot of scoring, especially showing off in transition. Her size will help make her an above-average defensive wing in the pros, and this tournament showed that even if she’s not able to connect from deep, she can score. Yes, we’d have liked to see Carrington diversify her offensive output more, but she still showed enough in the tournament to boost her draft stock into the early/mid second round.
Destiny Slocum, Arkansas
In a draft with some really good point guards, Destiny Slocum needed to differentiate herself in the tournament and prove she could be the third-best point guard after Dana Evans and Aari McDonald.
Instead, she was 1-for-8 with two points in an upset first-round loss to Wright State.
Slocum played for an Arkansas team that was designed to score a lot of points, making it hard to really know how to judge her senior season. She averaged 15 points per game and shot 48.3 percent from the floor while also shooting 39.7 percent from deep, plus she added 3.9 assists per game, but she also played for Mike Neighbors, who might be the best offensive coach in college basketball, or at least one of the best.
So, a strong showing in the tournament, when defenses clamp down and it becomes harder to score, was important. It didn’t happen.
I still think Slocum has a lot of upside as a change-of-pace sixth woman, but we’ll have to see where she gets drafted. Ben Dull had her 11th in his last mock for Winsidr, but a slide into the second round behind point guards like Kiana Williams and Shyla Heal wouldn’t be a surprise.
Natasha Mack, Oklahoma State
Stock: Up, mostly
Even though Mack’s Oklahoma State team ran into the Stanford buzzsaw in the second round, the former JuCo star’s showing against Wake Forest in the first round highlighted why some of us in the WNBA world are so high on Mack and think she’s a potential lottery pick.
In that game, Mack scored 27 points despite attempting just one free throw. She was 13-for-22 and grabbed 15 rebounds. She blocked four shots.
Mack led the country in blocks per game with four per game. She was also ninth in rebounds per game, third in two-pointers made per game, and 33rd in points per game.
As I mentioned earlier this year in a profile for Fansided, Mack’s not just an interior threat. She has some range, even if that range doesn’t extend to the arc. Mack’s an above-average mid-range shooter in addition to being a strong inside finisher. She can defend at multiple levels. She’s really, really good, and the nation got to see that against Wake Forest.
Mack still keeps showing up late in the first round in too many mocks. She’s a top-five talent in this draft class.