WNBA draft prospects in the 2014 NCAA Tournament: Lincoln region

A quick summary of players for WNBA fans to watch in the 2014 NCAA Tournament's Lincoln region.

The SB Nation-NBA staff generally puts together a NBA fan watch guide prior to the NCAA men's basketball tournament to help pro fans catch up with what they've been missing in the college game.

Since most of you at this site watch both women's NCAA and WNBA ball, there's probably not as much of a college-pro disconnect - this "watch guide" is usually just for me to catch up to those prospects who deserve a mention on the site as potential WNBA prospects and haven't yet gotten it. And here we're not necessarily limiting the scope to WNBA draft prospects - some of these are players who might have a reasonable shot at earning some team's 18th spot in training camp but never actually seeing regular season court time. Nevertheless, they caught our eye for one reason or another during the season and are worthy of a little pub as they appear on the big stage.

For each region, I'll simply list players we've already been over and then add any new thoughts on additional players that could make an impact in the tournament. You can find whatever we've written previously about those players in our 2014 WNBA Draft prospect watch storystream.

Players we've already discussed:

(organized by team, then alphabetical order; team name links to Dance Card, player name links to WBB State profile)

Connecticut, #1 seed

Stefanie Dolson, C, UConn

Bria Hartley, G, UConn

Duke, #2 seed

Tricia Liston, G/F

Haley Peters, F

Nebraska, #4 seed

Jordan Hooper, F

N.C. State, #5 seed

Kody Burke, F

Markeisha Gatling, C

Gonzaga, #6 seed

Haiden Palmer, G

Oklahoma, #10 seed

Aaryn Ellenberg, G,

Morgan Hook, G

BYU, #12 seed

Jennifer Hamson, C, BYU

Prospects we haven't discussed much:

Kirby Burkholder, G (6'0", James Madison - Dance Card)

Burkholder is the leader of a JMU squad that had to win their conference tournament in order to make the NCAA tournament with only one quality win. But she has put together a solid, though not spectacular, year individually.

Her 2-point percentage of 46.3% is good for a prospect. Her 3-point percentage of 37.8% on 270 attempts is also pretty good. Her offensive rebounding rate of 7.2% is outstanding for a guard and shows a measure of athletic ability to go with her scoring touch. All of that in a 6-foot-0 frame seems promising.

The problem? Three point shooters just haven't fared well in recent years and Burkholder shot 62.7% of her attempts from beyond the arc, which is an extremely high rate and one that constitutes a red flag based on the past. What still does stand out is that someone who spends so much time behind the arc also manages to mix it up for offensive rebounds, but rebounding doesn't necessarily carry a guard into the league either.

Karla Gilbert, C (6'5",Texas A&M - Dance Card)

We actually did touch upon Gilbert (and Griffin) previously as one of the top senior shot blockers in the nation. But what actually stands out even more than the shot blocking is her scoring efficiency: it's really hard to be more efficient than having a true shooting percentage of 66.1%; it's so hard in fact that only one other center in the nation (Gatling, who has a TS% of 70%) is ahead of her. With efficient scoring and solid offensive rebounding (11.19% by percentage, solid for any post player), it might be surprising that she isn't discussed more often.

The reason for the lack of attention to Gilbert might be two-fold though: first, her 17.5% usage rate reflects the fact that she really isn't that involved in her team's offense and it's somewhat rare to see low usage (i.e. under 20%) players make a major impact in the league because it's even more rare for a player to become more involved in their pro team's offense.

Second, Gilbert's personal foul efficiency (stl+blks/PF) is well below the threshold for a successful WNBA center (0.87). Although former teammate Kelsey Bone is coincidentally one of the most visible exceptions to that pattern, what that usually reflects is a player who struggles to make defensive plays in the post without fouling whether that be due to foot speed, reaction time, or poor positioning. In Bone's case, part of the explanation was that she just wasn't a shot blocker (despite her considerable physical tools); in Gilbert's case, she is a good shot blocker and the low PF efficiency probably reflects fouls from being overzealous on occasion.

Nevertheless, those are somewhat minor statistical weaknesses: 6-foot-5 bodies who show the kind of efficiency Gilbert has are hard to find, which probably makes her a "fringe" prospect.

Nicole Griffin, C (6'6", Oklahoma - Dance Card)

A question alluded to in that piece about Jennifer Hamson's draft stock as a shot blocker is whether Griffin would actually be as good or better as a target for a team looking to take a shot blocker. The argument in favor of Griffin is pretty simple: Griffin is also among the nation's top-50 shot blockers and has done so against much better competition. And, similarly, the fact that both are inefficient ball handlers but Griffin's turnovers have come against much better defenses in the Big 12 suggests that both might be equally fringey - their both rather slender post players who one might expect to struggle with the physicality of the WNBA.

What ultimately hurts Griffin as a prospect - and might put her below both Gilbert and Hamson at the center position - is her combination of a low PF efficiency (0.83) and mediocre offensive rebounding for a 6'6" player (9.59%). But as Tulsa Shock coach Fred Williams has alluded to recently, history would suggest that sixth or seventh center prospect in a draft is more likely to find themselves out of luck than on a roster spot and Griffin could see the same fate.

For more on these and other WNBA prospects, check out our 2014 WNBA Draft prospect watch storystream.

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