The start of the NCAA Tournament also means that NBA Draft season is revving up!
It might still be more than three months out, but as the madness ramps up this weekend, NBA front offices — especially those out of the playoff picture — will be watching tournament games closely to find out more about the draft class of 2023.
The uncertainty in this year’s class actually lies in the college pool of players, with French center Victor Wembanyama and G League Ignite star Scoot Henderson stealing the headlines at the top of the board. Some think the 7-foot-4 Wembanyama has the highest upside since a high school kid named LeBron James, while Henderson’s scoring ability combined with high-level maturity for a 19-year-old has made him a desired talent.
But back to the madness … we went region-by-region to give NBA fans a viewer’s guide to first-round NCAA Tournament action, picking five potential prospects from each of the four regions.
Brandon Miller, Alabama: Averaging 20 points and eight boards per game, Miller is the top college prospect and led the Crimson Tide to the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament for the first time in program history. His 6-foot-9 frame makes him the perfect fit for the NBA, and shooting 40% from downtown makes him even more appetizing. Catch Alabama at 2:45 p.m. ET on Thursday.
Keyonte George, Baylor: The 19-year-old, 6-foot-4 guard for the Bears plays with great quickness and can be very difficult to defend. Some front offices believe his ability to attack the rim will make him a lottery pick. George is posting 16 PPG on 39% shooting from the floor, so efficiency is one question. Catch Baylor against UC Santa Barbara at 1:30 p.m. ET on Friday.
Terquavion Smith, NC State: The 6-foot-4 sophomore guard is an absolute bucket, and his offensive game is what teams would be drafting him on. Averaging 18 points and four assists per game, he’s put up a trio of 30-point games this season, including last week in the ACC Tournament against Virginia Tech. Catch Smith and the Wolfpack against Creighton at 4 p.m. ET
Arthur Kaluma, Creighton: The 6-foot-7 sophomore is a versatile forward who can score the ball in a variety of ways while also being able to defend multiple positions. Averaging 12 and six per game, his ability to both back people down and hit a fadeaway, or nail a catch-and-shoot 3 is what makes him promising. His versatility is the key to his upside. Catch Creighton against NC State on Friday at 4 p.m. ET
Azuolas Tubelis, Arizona: Averaging 19.8 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, the 6-foot-11 junior from Lithuania has had an All-American caliber season. His touch around the rim, rebounding prowess and ability to put the ball on the floor and make something happen in transition makes him appetizing as a second-round prospect. Catch the Wildcats against Princeton on Thursday at 4:10 p.m. ET
Dariq Whitehead, Duke: It’s been a tough season for the 6-foot-6, 18-year-old wing, having a foot injury that sidelined him at the beginning of the season and a setback to his leg. A big positive: his 41% mark from downtown. The NCAA Tournament is a spot where he could help his stock because beyond scoring, it’s hard to know exactly how he projects in the NBA.
Dereck Lively II, Duke: His rim protection is what has him on course to be a first-round selection. The 7-foot-1 center with a 7-foot-7 wingspan has emerged as the Blue Devils’ defensive stopper. Lively ranks in the top 15 nationally with 17 rejections on the year.
Kyle Filipowski, Duke: The 19-year-old, 7-footer has been as important as any piece to the Blue Devils’ success, averaging 15.4 points and 9.0 rebounds per game on 45% shooting from the floor. He can score in a variety of ways, and his ability to move well without the ball in an offense makes him intriguing. Catch the Blue Devils in action against Oral Roberts on Thursday at 7:10 p.m. ET
Cason Wallace, Kentucky: Watching him play defense is something you have to do because his activity on that end of the floor is beyond his years and off the charts. His motor knows no limits, and on the offensive end, he is shooting 41% from downtown. His shot off the dribble is the one area for improvement, but overall, there’s enough to like about Wallace to suggest he could be a lottery pick. Catch Kentucky in action against Providence on Friday at 7:10 p.m. ET
Bryce Hopkins, Providence: It’s one of the top storylines to the first round, that a former four-star John Calipari recruit will meet his former team in a 6-11 game in the East Region. Hopkins is wired to score, with a 6-foot-7, 220-pound body. He’s averaging 16.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per game and could be a second-rounder. Catch Providence in action against Kentucky on Friday at 7:10 p.m. ET
Jarace Walker, Houston: The 6-foot-8 forward could be argued as the second-best prospect in the draft class. He was known as a great defensive fit in Kelvin Sampson’s system, but his feel for the game and evolution offensively (11.1 PPG on 47% shooting from the floor) has come on. The switchability on the defensive end for Walker makes him so dangerous. Catch the Cougars against Northern Kentucky on Thursday at 9:20 p.m. ET
Kris Murray, Iowa: He’s taken the alpha role from his twin brother, Keegan (now in the NBA), and run with it for Fran McCaffery’s Hawkeyes. Not only is the 6-foot-8 junior a scorer at 20.4 PPG, but he’s shot 48% from the floor in the process. He can knock down 3s consistently and his 6-8 frame makes him a first-round prospect.
Catch the Hawkeyes against Auburn on Thursday at 6:50 p.m. ET
Colby Jones, Xavier: The 6-foot-6 wing does so much for Xavier, from running the offense at times, to coming off screens and hitting catch-and-shoot 3s, to defending at a high level. He’s a do-it-all type of guy, averaging 15.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game on 52% shooting from the floor. Catch the Musketeers against Kennesaw State on Friday at 12:40 p.m. ET
Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana: He’s had a tremendous college career and has made such an immense impact for the Hoosiers that a second-round selection is within range. Averaging 20.8 points and 10.9 rebounds per game, TJD could be the national player of the year if not for the presence of Zach Edey. Jackson-Davis has also grown a ton as a passer. He’s elite at that skill, posting 4.1 assists per game. The one issue: no perimeter game. Catch the Hoosiers against Kent State on Friday at 9:55 p.m. ET
Dillon Mitchell, Texas: He’s a 6-foot-8 explosive athlete who can pop off the floor and has a motor, but the scoring at the college level hasn’t always been there. This would be a projection pick in the second round. Catch the Longhorns against Colgate on Thursday at 7:25 p.m. ET
Trayce Jackson-Davis turns into a superhero
Indiana’s star forward showed what he can do in a recent game vs. Maryland.
Gradey Dick, Kansas: Big. Time. Shooter. That’s what comes to mind with the Kansas freshman, who feels like he’s been around Bill Self’s program for much longer than just one season. He has an incredible offensive feel for the game and has shot 40% from beyond the arc. For the pure scoring ability and upside at the age of 19, he’s a top-15 pick. Catch the Jayhawks against Howard on Thursday at 2 p.m. ET
Nick Smith Jr., Arkansas: The top recruit in the 2023 freshman class has battled knee injuries, but he’s come back to the fold and shown his shot and playmaking ability. He gives Arkansas the ability to be a dark horse as an 8-seed, averaging 20 PPG over the last six contests. Catch the Razorbacks against Illinois on Thursday at 4 p.m. ET
Jordan Hawkins, UConn: Another elite shot-maker, Hawkins has played his way onto the first-round radar already in charging the Huskies to a 25-8 record and a 4-seed. Shooting 41% from the floor and 37% from 3, he’s a tough shot-maker from the perimeter and can get hot in a flash. The defense is also solid. There’s a lot to like about him, and he could charge Connecticut to the second weekend while building his stock too. Catch the Huskies against Iona on Friday at 4:30 p.m. ET
Jaime Jaquez Jr., UCLA: The senior has epitomized the term “winner” over his four-year career at UCLA, averaging 17 points per game while defending at a really solid level and doing all of the intangibles for Mick Cronin’s team. His leadership cannot be overstated, and while he’s not overly explosive, he can create his own shots and is hard-nosed in the way he plays. With another UCLA tournament run, Jaquez could be a back-end first-round selection. Catch the Bruins against UNC Asheville on Thursday at 10:05 p.m. ET
Julian Strawther, Gonzaga: The key swing piece to what the Zags do, Strawther is a 6-foot-7 wing who can be a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. Why? The jumper has really evolved. He’s gone from a 36% shooter last season to 43% from beyond the arc this season. Combine that with a solid frame and athleticism, along with him being a willing defender, and he fits a guy who could build his stock in this tournament on the radars of NBA scouts. Catch the Zags against Grand Canyon on Friday at 7:35 p.m. ET
John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.
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