Assessing Donovan Clingan, Stephon Castle, and Mark Sears in the Final Four of the 2024 NCAA Tournament

April 7th, 2024

By Alan Lu

Yesterday, I took the time to watch the tournament favorite, the UConn Huskies square off against the upstart Alabama Crimson Tide in the Final Four of the 2024 NCAA Tournament.  Donovan Clingan has been dominant in the postseason, and UConn has consistently blown teams out, with their tremendous second half run against Illinois making them the heavy favorite to win it all.  Alabama’s had strong play from Mark Sears and Grant Nelson in the tournament, and Castle is a possible lottery pick for this year’s draft.  UConn had strong performances from numerous players, most notably Clingan and Castle to get a double-digit win over Alabama, which would enable them to face off against Purdue in the title game.

UConn’s 7-2 sophomore center, Donovan Clingan has been an absolute force in the NCAA Tournament this year, and he is a tremendous shot blocker that is making a strong push to be a top 5 pick in the 2024 draft. (Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images, via Arizona Sports)

Donovan Clingan turned in a strong showing to help lead his team to a double-digit win over Alabama.  He made his presence felt early and often, and he is a mobile rim protector that was extremely effective on the defensive end. Clingan showed a knack for scoring on hustle plays.  He is a very tall, rim running center that thrived at scoring on rolls to the rim, and he was able to throw down powerful dunks on the move.  He also ran the floor to catch a long pass, which allowed him to throw down a thunderous dunk on the break.  Plus, his vast size and solid hands allowed him to catch a lob off of a roll to draw free throws on an alley-oop dunk attempt.  In addition, he also was able to score on a put back after grabbing an offensive rebound.

On the downside, he struggled much more to score out of the post.  When he would get deep position and operate patiently under control, he would score on jump hooks.  However, his footwork would get jumbled up and he struggled with his shooting touch, as he would often miss on drop steps and sling hooks.  He doesn’t project to be much of a low post scoring option at the NBA level, so he’ll have to add a reliable jumper and focus more on being a rim runner and passer on offense. He also showcased satisfactory playmaking skills in this game.  Clingan did a good job of passing out of the post.  He would consistently find the open man, and he also was able to pass out of a double team in the high post to get the ball to a teammate another time.  He also would set solid screens to help get his teammates open jump shots.

On the downside, Clingan didn’t get as many rebounds as he could have for a player his size, but he still was able to get boards on both ends of the floor.  Clingan also defended very well in this game.  He did a great job of blocking shots to help his team protect the paint, and his vast size, length, and instincts combined with having solid athleticism allowed him to rotate and swat many shots to protect the paint for UConn.  He also would deflect passes, and he also was able to break up a lob pass another time.  On the downside, there was one play where he sagged a little too far when defending a roll man off the dribble, which led his team to allow an opponent to score on a floater.

In general, Donovan Clingan played very well to help lead his team to a win over Alabama.  He’s an athletic, high-motor center that thrived at making plays on both sides of the ball, especially in the paint. He is a terrific interior defender, and he could be a future NBA Defensive Player of the Year winner far down the road.  He’ll need to add a reliable jumper to his arsenal, but he looks to be a polished big man that will probably be a lottery pick in the 2024 draft, and he could end up being a solid starter in the NBA.

Stephon Castle has looked pretty mid at times as a prospect this year, but this game will get you hyped about his chances to succeed in the NBA. (Photo: Ross D. Franklin/The Associated Press, via The Dallas Morning News)

Stephon Castle also turned in a very good performance to help lead his team to a double-digit victory over Alabama.  He made his opponents pay for leaving him open early on by making a couple of early three-pointers, and it set up the rest of his game from there on out.  He thrived as a scorer off the dribble, and he also defended well, and he showed that he is a high upside prospect that may have untapped potential, especially when he is making outside shots.

Castle showed a knack for making open threes in this game, as he excelled when making them when he would have ample time and space to get his shot off.  He took advantage of defenders leaving him open, which would allow him to make long-range jumpers from beyond the arc.  He also did a good job of scoring out of the post, and he also was able to score on a powerful dunk another time.  

He also showed a solid ability to score off the dribble.  Castle was able to score on a crafty, running floater.  He also did a tremendous job of driving into the contact and drawing fouls upon his defenders to frequently get to the free throw line.  Plus, he also excelled at scoring on hustle plays, as he was able to score on a roll to the rim, and he also managed to catch a lob pass off of a cut to score on a powerful alley-oop dunk. Also, he displayed decent playmaking skills.  Castle would make the extra pass to move the ball, and he would get the ball to shooters to notch assists.  On one play though, he was called for setting a moving screen that led him to commit an offensive foul and a turnover.

Castle also rebounded and defended well.  He poked a ball away from an opposing ball handler to get a steal.  He also deflected a pass out of bounds another time.  He also defended the baseline and used the sideline as an extra defender to force an opponent to dribble the ball out of bounds.  On the downside, sometimes he would take bad angles and be caught ball watching, which would lead him to be out of position and trail opponents from behind, which would allow his team to allow scores inside the arc.

In summary, Stephon Castle played very well in his team’s win over Alabama.  He did a good job of knocking down shots on offense, and he also defended well, as his activity and ball pressure made things difficult for opposing ball handlers.  He’s an athletic, energetic guard that can score and defend, but his jump shot could be the key to unlocking his potential at the NBA level.  Currently, Castle projects to go in the late lottery range, maybe even higher, and he is a talented player that could end up being a very good player in the NBA.

Mark Sears’ strong shooting and scoring display in his team’s Final Four loss definitely helps his case to be selected in the 2024 draft, and he could end up moving up to the late first to the early second round range pretty soon. (Photo: Brynn Anderson/Associated Press, via Dothan Eagle)

Mark Sears had a solid showing in his team’s loss to UConn.  He is an agile, skilled point guard that excelled as a shooter and scorer on offense, and he also moved well off the ball, which enabled him to create havoc upon his opponents and help his team score in this game. Sears did a very good job of scoring off the dribble.  He is a crafty scorer that would change speeds to throw his opponents off balance, and he showed good scoring touch to consistently score around the basket.  He also showed a knack for making spot-up threes, and he also ran off of a ball screen to make a smooth, corner three once.  

He also showcased adequate playmaking skills.  Though he has a score-first heavy mindset, Sears would sometimes throw timely passes, and he would also make passes off the dribble to find open shooters.  However, he would sometimes tend to over-dribble, which would lead him to getting the ball poked away and turn the ball over.

He also did a good job of rebounding the basketball.  Defensively, he looked to be fairly average.  In this game, he was able to block a shot, and he is an active defender that played and competed until the very end, even in the final seconds.  On the downside, there was one play where he basically faceguarded an opponent on an inbounds play and ended up committing a foul off the ball that time.  Another time, he was a bit late to contest a corner three, which led his team to give up the basket.

Overall, Mark Sears played very well in his team’s loss to UConn.  He is a skilled, shot making point guard that excelled at making plays on offense, and he also showcased better athleticism than advertised.  He’ll still need to improve his court vision and show that he can be as good or almost as good of a distributor as he is as a scorer on offense, but his ability to make shots and plays with the ball in his hands could enable him to thrive as a role player in the NBA.

Cam Spencer turned in a strong showing to help lead his team to a win over Alabama.  He is a crafty, high-motor combo guard that did a very good job of shooting, scoring, and defending when he was on the court, and he is a gritty gamer that helped his team get the victory. Spencer is a crafty scorer that excelled at making shots in a variety of ways.  He is a good spot-up shooter off the catch, as he has a very good three-point shot in particular, and he was able to make threes both off the catch and dribble.   He also was able to run off ball screens to make threes and mid-range jumpers.  He also has a solid pump fake move that enables him to score off the dribble.  Even though he’s not super fast or athletic, he moves well off the ball, and he uses his smarts and scoring touch to score the basketball.

Cam Spencer is an incredibly crafty shot maker whose scoring prowess and hustle gave off some strong JJ Redick-vibes in this game, and Spencer may be a much more underrated prospect than previously thought.
(Source:
Twitter/@MarchMadnessMBB)

Also, Spencer passed the ball very well.  He would throw nice touch passes to get the ball to roll men to notch assists.  He also did a very good job of taking care of the basketball.  Plus, Spencer did a great job of rebounding the basketball, and he was able to leap up high to snag an impressive offensive rebound in this game.  He also defended well.  Spencer was able to rotate to block a shot off of a roll to a teammate to show off surprising athleticism and timing, and he also intercepted a pass to get a steal.  On the downside, he would sometimes play too aggressively, as he ended up committing a couple of touch fouls when defending in the backcourt.

Overall, Cam Spencer had a sterling showing to help lead his team to get a double-digit win over Alabama.  He played very well in this game, and he is a skilled, high-motor combo guard that could end up going in the late first to the second round range in the 2024 draft.

Samson Johnson put forth a tremendous performance in UConn’s win over Alabama.  This was a coming out party for him, and he was making very impressive athletic plays to give his team a boost on both ends of the floor.  He’s a very athletic big man that thrived at making hustle plays, especially on offense.  He consistently would roll hard to the rim to score the basketball, and he was able to throw down a couple of high-flying dunks in this game. 

Here’s one of several of Samson Johnson’s highlights in UConn’s win over Alabama.
(Source:
Twitter/@TSN_Sports)

He also defended well.  He was able to tap a ball in the air to get a deflection, and Johnson was able to block a shot hard off of a roll another time.  Although he didn’t get many rebounds in this game, Johnson was able to get an offensive board once. Overall, Johnson played very well, and he thrived at scoring on off-ball motion plays and at defending in the paint in this game.  He is a very athletic, energetic big man that excels at making hustle plays.  He will need to expand his skill set offensively and improve his rebounding, but he is a big man that may have considerable upside, and he could end up being a good find for an NBA team, especially if he’s available for them to select in the second round of the 2024 draft.

Aaron Estrada had a solid showing in his team’s loss to UConn.  He is a crafty scorer that excelled at making shots in this game from all over the floor.  He showed a knack for making smooth, step-back threes off the dribble to show his shooting prowess.  He also showed an adequate ability to score off the dribble.  Estrada was able to score on a wrong footed floater, and he also managed to use crafty moves to score another time. Plus, he also managed to draw a foul when operating out of the post to show that he can be a post-up guard.  On the downside, he would also tend to miss on dribble, mid-range jumpers, which hurt his shooting efficiency a bit in this game.

Also, he also displayed adequate playmaking skills.  Though he looked primarily to score, Estrada would sometimes find the open man to get the ball to shooters.  On the downside, he would sometimes commit careless ball handling turnovers, as he lost the ball when dribbling on the baseline that went out of bounds once. He also was able to get boards on both ends of the floor, and he especially excelled at hauling in offensive rebounds.  Overall, Estrada excelled as a shooter and scorer on offense, and he is a crafty, skilled combo guard that projects to be a second round prospect for the upcoming draft.

Alex Karaban had a solid showing in his team’s win over Alabama.  He is a fairly athletic, skilled forward that thrived at making plays on both ends of the floor.  He showed off versatile scoring skills in this game.  Karaban showed a knack for running the floor and getting quickly to open spots to make spot-up threes, and he did a good job of subtly moving off the ball to get it on offense.  Plus, he also managed to score on a crafty drive to the hoop, and he also managed to score on a put back off of an offensive rebound.

He also would move the ball to set up scores for his teammates.  He also did a good job of rebounding the basketball.  Karaban was able to haul in multiple boards on both ends of the floor.  However, there was one play where he committed an over the back foul when going for an offensive board once.  Also, Karaban played solid defense.  He was able to stay with an opposing ball handler to block a corner three to force a shot clock violation.  He also managed to swat a shot off of a drive to a teammate due to possessing good length, mobility, and instincts.  He also deflected a pass out of bounds another time.  Sometimes though, he would play too aggressively, which would lead him to commit touch fouls.

Overall, Karaban played very well to help lead his team to a win in this game.  He is a skilled forward that thrived as a 3 and D forward, which is his projected NBA role, and he could be a solid pick for an NBA team in the late first to the second round range of the 2024 draft.

Grant Nelson had a decent showing in his team’s loss to UConn.  He didn’t have a dominant performance and he ran into some foul trouble in the first half, but he did manage to throw down a tremendous dunk to give his team a boost midway through this game.  Nelson did a good job of scoring off the dribble.  He was able to throw down a thunderous dunk in traffic on a drive in transition.  

Grant Nelson threw down a thunderous dunk on Donovan Clingan midway through this game.
(Source:
Twitter/@YahooSports)

He also managed to score after using a subtle Eurostep, as well as on a running layup another time.  Nelson also managed to make a three as well as score on a put back other times, and he also did an adequate job of scoring out of the post.  However, he struggled to make open, spot-up threes as he didn’t shoot well from the outside, and sometimes he would take tough, off-balanced contested shots that would lead to misses.  He also would get his shots blocked, as he would struggle to score on Clingan in this game. 

Also, he did a tremendous job of rebounding the basketball, and Nelson was a chairman of the boards in this game.  He also played adequate defense.  He was able to deflect a pass to nearly get a steal.  He also contested a shot out of the post to force a miss.  Sometimes though, he would commit touch fouls due to over-aggressiveness.  He also sagged too far off of a shooter, which led him to give up a three-point basket.

Tristen Newton also had a solid showing to help his team get a win over Alabama.  He did a great job of passing the basketball, and he also would make timely shots to help his team on offense.  In addition, his length and size allowed him to make solid defensive plays to help his team in this game. Newton showed a solid ability to make threes in this game.  He was able to make threes both off the catch and dribble, and he also was able to make one from deep.  He also ran off a ball screen to make an open corner three smoothly another time.  Newton also managed to score on a contested, running layup off the dribble.  However, he would sometimes take tough, off-balanced shots that would lead to misses due to rushing.

He also showcased good playmaking skills.  He did a good job of finding open teammates on the move, and he also was able to throw a lob pass to a cutter to notch an assist.  He excelled at finding teammates in stride to rack up assists.  On the downside, he did throw an inaccurate interior pass that sailed out of bounds once.

He also was able to chip in on the boards to get a few defensive rebounds.  He also defended well.  Nelson was able to apply significant ball pressure to help force a ball handling turnover.  He also used his length, quickness, and positioning to contest a mid-range shot to force a miss.

Overall, Newton played well to help his team get the win over Alabama.  He’s quietly had a solid senior season, and he is a skilled, versatile playmaker that could be a good pick in the second round of the 2024 draft.

All in all, those are my thoughts on how Clingan, Castle, and other various prospects fared in this game.  Thanks for reading.

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