Two years ago, Jarrett Culver was a 3-star recruit headed to Texas Tech. Last season, he was a role player. On Monday night, he'll be the main draw for hungry NBA lottery teams scouting the national championship game.
He came alive late Saturday night in the Final Four, burying Michigan State with a game-sealing pull-up that highlighted his evolution from spot-up shooter to lead scorer.
Culver's transformation has helped elevate both the Red Raiders and his personal draft stock. Against Virginia, he'll be competing for a title and interest from NBA teams deciding whether to insert him into the same tier as projected top picks (excluding Zion Williamson) RJ Barrett and Ja Morant.
Scouts couldn't have picked a better opponent for Culver from an evaluation-setting standpoint. De'Andre Hunter is as close to an NBA wing defender as there is in the country, and Ty Jerome, another potential first-rounder, brings a different style of defensive toughness and pressure.
It's a perfect opportunity for Culver to replace memories from Saturday's 3-of-12 showing with flashes of takeover scoring against future pros.
If there is hesitation from scouts about his NBA upside, it's stemming from a lack of explosion. That raises questions about his potential to create separation in the pros. Scoring on Hunter and Jerome could help diminish those concerns, though Culver has already brought it against top competition this season, totaling 25 points against Duke, 26 against Kansas and 31 against Iowa State.