Assessing Paul Atkinson Jr., Nate Laszewski, and Caleb McConnell in the 2022 NCAA First Four

March 17th, 2022

By Alan Lu

Yesterday, I took the time to watch Notre Dame play against Rutgers in the First Four of the 2022 NCAA Tournament.  This featured two prospects that could be selected within the first 45 picks of the 2022 draft in Blake Wesley and Ron Harper Jr., and so this was going to be a competitive game with NBA scouts and teams tuning in. 

Early on, Rutgers was able to get some hot shooting from unexpected sources, and they received an unusually strong sharpshooting display from senior forward Caleb McConnell in the first half, and Ron Harper Jr. also played very well in the early going.  However, Notre Dame’s big men consistently thrived at scoring the basketball, and their guards also passed the ball well. 

Notre Dame’s guards played very well as the game wore on, and they kept making shots while Rutgers’ offense stalled at times, and they seemed to be desperate in looking for scoring production.  Ron Harper Jr. made a couple of very deep threes late, and Cliff Omoruyi threw down a handful of dunks, but Rutgers couldn’t keep Notre Dame’s big men from making shots from anywhere on the floor, and Notre Dame was able to make enough plays to get a double overtime win over Rutgers.  Here are my thoughts on how various prospects fared in this game.

Paul Atkinson Jr. scored 26 points to lead Notre Dame to a double overtime win over Rutgers in his team’s First Four win in the 2022 NCAA Tournament.
(Photo:
Aaron Doster/Associated Press, via Los Angeles Times)

Notre Dame’s senior big man, Paul Atkinson Jr. had a strong showing in his team’s double overtime win over Rutgers.  He consistently thrived as a scorer in the paint, and he also made hustle plays to help his team on both ends of the floor. Atkinson did a good job of scoring in the post.  He would often get deep position, and he has good scoring touch that enabled him to often score on jump hooks using either hand.  He would sometimes use spin moves to get past his man, and he would use strong moves to finish plays at the rim. 

He also showed a knack for scoring on hustle plays.  He often would score on rolls to the rim and quick put backs, and he was able to make the go-ahead, game-winning put back in double overtime.  Also, Atkinson was able to score on a drive to the basket off of a broken play another time.

He also displayed fairly average playmaking skills.  Atkinson did a good job of setting screens and rolling to the rim, and he was able to find an open corner shooter after getting the ball on a roll once.  However, sometimes he would make careless mistakes that would lead to turnovers.  He dropped a pass that went out of bounds early on, and he also was called for traveling after trying to use a quick shoulder fake out of the post on a separate possession.

Also, Atkinson did a decent job of rebounding the basketball.  He especially thrived at crashing the glass to get offensive rebounds, and he provided his team with numerous second chance points.  He also played satisfactory defense in this game.  He did a good job of blocking shots to help his team protect the paint, and he also would contest mid-range jumpers to force misses.  However, early on, he sagged off his man and allowed his opponent to score on a mid-range jumper.  Another time, he struggled to defend an opposing ball handler off of a screen, which led him to commit the foul that time.

Overall, Paul Atkinson Jr. played very well to help lead his team to get the double overtime win in this game.  He is a tall, mobile big man that thrived at making plays in the paint on both ends of the floor, and he would outwork his opponents on both sides of the ball.  He may be an underrated prospect, and he is a tough, gritty player that could project well into a rotational big man role in the NBA.

Nate Laszewski scored 18 points, made 2 three-pointers and had 6 rebounds off the bench to help lead Notre Dame to a double overtime win over Rutgers in the 2022 NCAA Tournament.
(Photo:
Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)

Nate Laszewski had a tremendous showing to help lead Notre Dame to a double overtime win over Rutgers.  He is a tall, mobile big man that showed off versatile scoring skills, and he made a lot of hustle plays to help his team on both ends of the floor.  He showed that he can stretch the floor, but he can post up, put it on the deck, and he also showed some defensive versatility by being able to guard both out on the perimeter and in the paint to get stops for his team.

Laszewski shot the ball very well, especially off the catch.  He was able to make a couple of spot-up threes to provide floor spacing, and he also was able to make one off of a pick-and-pop play.  He also excelled as a scorer out of the post and off the dribble.  Laszewski would make quick moves to score from the post.  He was able to deftly go to his right to score on a quick jump hook.  He also utilized a pump fake to score and get the extra free throw another time.  He also drove hard to the hoop and used a smooth spin move to draw free throws on a separate play.

Plus, he also thrived at scoring on hustle plays.  Laszewski ran in to score on a quick put back, and he also scored on a roll to the rim another time.  He also showed off satisfactory playmaking skills.  He was able to find an open shooter to notch an assist, and he also handled the ball well. 

Also, he showed a solid ability to rebound the basketball, and he would actively crash the glass to help his team get boards on both ends of the floor.  Laszewski also played solid defense in this game.  He would get his hands on passes to get steals and deflections.  He also would look to actively stay with his opponents and then use his length to contest outside shots to force misses.  He also managed to successfully draw a charge when defending a drive another time.  On the downside, there was one play where he didn’t effectively communicate a screen to a teammate, and it led his team to give up a mid-range basket.

Overall, Nate Laszewski played very well, and he had a strong all-around game in his team’s win over Rutgers.  He showed immense value to his team by being able to make shots from all over the floor, and by making hustle plays to help his team on both ends of the court.  Laszewski came up big to help his team advance to the next round, where they will face off against Alabama, and he could be an intriguing prospect in the second round range of the 2022 draft.

Rutgers’ senior forward, Caleb McConnell scored 23 points, made 2 threes, and hauled in 11 rebounds in his team’s double overtime loss to Notre Dame in the 2022 NCAA Tournament.
(Photo:
Aaron Doster/Associated Press)

Rutgers’ 6-7 senior forward, Caleb McConnell played very well in his team’s tough, double overtime loss to Notre Dame.  He especially thrived early on, and he put forth a tremendous effort to help his team in this game.  He was tremendous in the first half, especially on offense.  However, Notre Dame geared up to defend him much harder in the second half and in overtime, and he had trouble getting the ball or shots up late in this match.

McConnell shot the ball very well in this game.  He was able to make a couple of open, spot-up threes off the catch to show his sharpshooting prowess.  He also did a tremendous job of knocking down mid-range jumpers.  He thrived at scoring on pull-up, mid-range jumpers in this game, as he was able to make a one-legged, mid-range jumper from the baseline, and he also ran off a curl cut to make a fadeaway jumper another time. Plus, he also scored on a strong, right-handed drive to the hoop while getting an extra free throw early on.  He also excelled at scoring on hustle plays.  McConnell was able to run in to score on a quick put back.  He also utilized a Euro-step move to score on an aggressive drive in transition.

Also, McConnell displayed satisfactory playmaking skills.  He is an unselfish player that can pass and handle the basketball, and he did a good job of passing out of the post to find open shooters.  On one drive to the hoop, he attempted to throw a pass but got intercepted on that occasion.

He also did a tremendous job of rebounding the basketball.  McConnell has a keen nose for the basketball, and he hauled in many boards on both sides of the ball.  He also played decent defense in this game.  McConnell was able to run in to quickly intercept a pass to get a steal.  He also managed to chase a shooter off the three-point line to force a miss, and he also contested a shot off of a drive to get another stop for his team.  Sometimes though, he would be too aggressive in trying to make plays, and he would commit reach-in fouls as a result.

Overall, Caleb McConnell put forth a strong performance in this game, and he shot the ball incredibly well, especially in the first half in his team’s loss to Notre Dame.  This was a statement game he made, and he is an underrated prospect that could project well into a 3 and D role in the NBA.

Ron Harper Jr. also played well in his team’s double overtime loss to Notre Dame.  He showed off versatile scoring skills, and he excelled as a shooter and scorer in this game.  He did a great job of knocking down spot-up threes off the catch, and he was able to make a couple of them from way out. 

He also did a good job of scoring in the post, and he would make strong moves to score down low.  Harper also managed to score on a fadeaway, mid-range jumper.  He also scored on a tough, switch of hands layup on a strong drive in transition.  Harper though had some trouble getting open or creating his own shots as the game wore on.  While he was able to draw a couple of non-shooting fouls on half-court drives, he also had his shot blocked another time.

Also, Harper showed off solid playmaking skills.  He did a great job of throwing crisp, accurate lob passes to set up scores for his teammates around the basket.  He played unselfishly, and he would look to find the open man to notch assists.  However, he also committed a couple of turnovers in this game.  He threw an errant pass that got intercepted once.  He also collided into a defender on a drive to commit a charging foul on a separate occurrence.

Though he didn’t get many rebounds in this game, Harper was able to get boards on both ends of the floor.  He also played satisfactory defense.  Harper was able to block a mid-range shot to a teammate.  He also would actively contest shots in the paint to force misses.  On the other hand, there was one play where he got beat off the dribble, and he ended up fouling his man and allowing the score at the same time.

Overall, Ron Harper Jr. shot the ball very well, and he played well in this game.  He kept his team in it by making key shots down the stretch, and he also played a sound all-around game.  He’s not someone who can continually create his own shot, so he and his team reached some offensive limitations that also hindered them a bit down the stretch.  Still, Harper is a good shooter that can score from the post, he also generally passed and defended well, and he is a team player that could be a solid pick for an NBA team in the second round range of the 2022 draft.

Cormac Ryan played very well in his team’s double overtime win over Rutgers.  He especially thrived as a shooter and scorer in this game.  He did a very good job of scoring on tough shots from the post, as he would dribble his way to the block and score in traffic.  He also was able to score on a strong drive as well as on a pull-up, mid-range jumper, and Ryan showed a solid ability to score off the dribble.  Ryan also shot the ball fairly well.  While he was a bit streaky with his three-point shot, Ryan also managed to make a couple of quick, spot-up threes off the catch.

He also is an unselfish player that can pass and handle the basketball, and Ryan was able to notch a pair of assists.  However, he also dropped a pass out of bounds once that led his team to commit a turnover.  He also defended well in this game.  Ryan would often intercept passes to get steals for his team.  He also contested a mid-range jumper to force a miss.  However, he also was called for handchecking when defending an opposing ball handler another time.

Overall, Cormac Ryan is a tough, gritty guard that made very good plays throughout this contest, and he thrived as a shooter, scorer, and defender in this game.  He continually played hard, and he made sound, smart plays to help his team get the win.  While he may not be an overwhelming athlete, he is a smart, skilled player whose intangibles and skill set could enable him to project into a bench role in the NBA.

Dane Goodwin also played very well in his team’s win over Rutgers.  He showed off versatile scoring skills in this game.  He didn’t take man shots, but he was very efficient in making shots overall.  He thrived at making threes, as he was able to move off the ball to get the basketball, and he was able to make one off the catch and another off the dribble. 

He was able to use a spin move to score out of the post to show some post-up skills.  Goodwin also used a pump fake to score on a strong drive while getting an extra free throw another time.  He also played smart, sound basketball, and he was able to throw a sharp interior pass to notch an assist once.  Overall, Goodwin played very well in this game, and he is a very efficient shooter that could compete for a roster spot in the NBA someday.

Cliff Omoruyi was able to throw down a high number of thunderous, roaring dunks much to the crowd’s applause, and he excelled as a finisher around the basket, but I felt that in terms of his impact on his team in this game, it was overstated because he seemed to struggle quite a bit on the defensive end at times.

Omoruyi did a good job of scoring on hustle plays.  He would often catch lobs off of cuts and rolls to score on powerful alley-oop dunks, and he excelled at catching lobs to score on slam dunks afterwards.  Sometimes though, he would go in too forcefully, which would lead to misses on occasion.  He also did a decent job of scoring in the post.  Omoruyi generally thrived at scoring on very powerful dunks.  However, he missed on a right-handed hook shot when double-teamed once.  He was able to make an open, mid-range jumper early on.

While he didn’t seem to grab enough rebounds in this game, Omoruyi was able to haul in his fair share of boards when he was on the floor.  On the downside, he also was called for an over the back foul when going for an offensive board once.  Defensively, I felt he struggled at that in this game, especially as an on-ball defender.  Omoruyi was at his best when defending in the paint, where he would rotate and roam to block and alter shots off of drives to force misses.  However, he looked to be unusually bad at defending in the post in this game, as he would often not show much or any resistance down low, and he would give up deep position, which would often lead him to allow scores.  Other times, he would over-hedge onto pick and roll ball handlers, and allow opponents to score on rolls to the rim.  He also would sometimes get beat on moves to the hoop, and there was also one play where he gave up an open jumper on a switch that led his team to allow a mid-range basket.

Overall, Cliff Omoruyi had some good moments, and he certainly knows how to throw down a ferocious dunk, but he didn’t seem to defend nearly as well as he should have, and he would often let opposing big men have their way with him on the defensive end.  He will need to expand upon his game offensively and improve his on-ball defense, and he should probably stay in school at least another year to work on his game.  Still, he is an athletic, energetic big man, and he could project to be a solid rim protector in the NBA if he works hard to improve his game over time.

It wasn’t the best game for Notre Dame’s freshman guard Blake Wesley, but he made enough plays to help his team get the double overtime win over Rutgers.  While he struggled to make shots, he competed hard throughout the contest, and the further his team gets in the NCAA Tournament, the better it will be for him, as he will be more battle-tested in postseason play.

Wesley was at his best in making energetic, hustle plays in this game.  There were still times where he played too wildly, but he would make aggressive moves that would put his opponents on the defensive.  He managed to score on a quick backdoor cut early on.  He also managed to draw a non-shooting foul on an aggressive drive to the hoop.  Wesley also drew free throws on an energetic put back after grabbing an offensive rebound.  He also missed on a rushed layup off of a drive in transition, but his athleticism and motor seemed to bring his team some much needed energy.

He struggled to consistently score off the dribble, but he appeared to be better at driving hard to the hoop than trying to shoot the ball from medium to long distances in this game.  Wesley was able to score on a crafty, reverse layup early on.  He also would score on strong, right-handed drives to the hoop.  The curious thing though was, even though he would often go to his left to try to score, he was much less effective at doing so rather than going right, and Wesley had plenty of shots blocked in traffic.  However, he was even worse in trying to knock down outside shots, and he ended up missing all of his mid-range and three-point shots that he took.

Wesley showed off adequate playmaking skills in this game.  He is a quick, aggressive guard that can handle the basketball.  He was able to find an open shooter on a pick and pop play to notch an assist.  However, he would sometimes drive recklessly to the hoop, which would lead to careless, ball-handling turnovers.  He also threw an inaccurate pass early on that ended up going out of bounds.

Also, he showed a solid ability to rebound the basketball.  He was quite active at crashing the glass, and he was able to chase down balls to get boards on both ends of the court.  He also played perhaps adequate defense.  Wesley is an aggressive defender that would poke balls away from opposing ball handlers to get steals and deflections.  However, sometimes he would miss on steal attempts, and it would sometimes lead to scramble situations.  He also was caught ball watching and was late to rotate back to his man, which led him to give up a three-point basket that time.

Overall, Blake Wesley didn’t have his best game, but he made enough plays to help his team get the win over Rutgers in the First Four of the 2022 NCAA Tournament.  He is an athletic, energetic guard that can play multiple positions, and he is a talented prospect that may have a good amount of upside.  However, he will still need to improve his jump shot, and he will need to play more under control in the meantime.  Still, Wesley had some good moments in this game, and his team will be advancing to the next round, and he could be a solid pick for an NBA team in the late first to the second round range of the 2022 draft.

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