The NCAA Tournament has historically been a time for prospects to boost their stock heading into the NBA Draft. Over the last few years, solid performances have put some guys on the radar and also shot some guys up draft boards. These players will be able to make similar moves up or down this tournament.
* Indicates player whose team is suspected to be on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament
*Michael Porter (Fr. SF, Missouri)
Is he back to full strength? He was understandably rusty in his first game back. It would be nice to see a less reluctant version of Porter in the tournament to reassure scouts that they can focus their evaluation on his game, not his health.
Grayson Allen (Sr. SG, Duke)
It had been a relatively drama-free season until Allen hip checked (or butt tripped) Garrison Brooks. Every NBA team will bring up his dirty plays in interviews. Two or three stellar games where his shooting is on point, finishing is consistent, and his presence is as a leader and not a distraction would help his case.
Rui Hachimura (So. PF, Gonzaga)
Right now I have him listed as returning next year to bolster his stock with more touches. That could all change if the explosive, fluid forward takes off on a large stage. Coming off the bench, watch for Hachimura’s versatility and activity.
*Bonzie Colson (Sr. PF, Notre Dame)
In only five games back, any questions about Colson’s health should be out the door. But due to a layoff throughout ACC play, he hasn’t had as many opportunities to show his improved game. Leading the Irish to the second weekend could give a good runway into the draft process and push the undersized four into the late-first round conversation.
Moritz Wagner (Jr. PF, Michigan)
I tabbed Moe as a lottery pick in the preseason, admittedly a little ambitious. Still, I have seen some of the improved toughness and rebounding (7.0 to 10.4 rebounds per 40) that I was looking for. In doing so, he maintained the offensive efficiency from a year ago. Michigan is hot right now, and if Wagner can help keep that trajectory, we will see a lot more of the country appreciating the stretch four nightmare. The first round is not out of the question.
Jalen Brunson (Jr. PG, Villanova)
This is not to say Brunson hasn’t already proven a lot; he’s my National Player of the Year. But he hasn’t faced any premier point guards to this point. I’d like to see him go head-to-head against a DeVonte’ Graham or Collin Sexton, so he verifies that he can take out NBA-caliber floor generals.
Mike Daum (Jr. PF, South Dakota State)
Daum will be the best mid-major player in the tournament with serious pro talent. This isn’t a case of, “Show me you can do it against big schools”, as he put 21 and 11 on Kansas, 31 and 6 against a stout Wichita State defense, and 17 and 7 in the tourney last year against top-seeded Gonzaga. This is just another chance for Daum to stomp with the big dogs, especially in a year where he has a legit shot to go to the NBA.
Silvio De Sousa (Fr. PF, Kansas)
We’re finally starting to see why De Sousa was a five-star recruit, and it’s coming at the perfect time for the Jayhawks. If he can keep thriving as a rim-runner who cleans the glass, he could attract enough attention to warrant an invite to the NBA combine. That feedback would help give him confidence moving forward.
*Aaron Holiday (Jr. PG, UCLA)
Holiday had an under-the-radar All-American type of season for the Bruins. He’s been a precise playmaker all year and looks to be next in the line of Holidays in the NBA. A talented UCLA team can challenge a lot of opponents, especially if Holiday takes over like he is known to do. Though they’re a blue blood, Holiday still has that giant-killer look to him. That should only make his draft prospects soar.
Omer Yurtseven (So. PF, North Carolina State)
He came to college as an expected one-and-done. After a slow freshman year, he has reestablished himself as a future pro, averaging 23.0 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 3.1 blocks per 40 minutes. In NC State’s big wins, he has been a difference maker. If the 7-foot, Turkish force can have a similar performance (or two) on a large platform, scouts will have to take a closer look.
Zhaire Smith (Fr. SG, Texas Tech)
Smith is probably still more of a 2019 prospect, but the athletic off-guard has the two-way potential that jumps off the screen. With Keenan Evans a little banged up, I’d expect Smith to shine on the big stage and put himself in a position to test the waters this summer.
Dean Wade (Jr. PF, Kansas State)
Wade is a hometown kid that finally put it all together, leading to an All-Big 12 season. He is a tweener in the sense that he’s a solid athlete with a decent handle, but not a true wing. His touch, footwork, and feel may allow him to be a good pick-and-roll option, but he’s far from a lock in this year’s class. Wade has been in double-digits for 20 straight games, which could be really eye-opening if continued into the highest stake games of his career.
Donte DiVincenzo (So. SG, Villanova)
Struggling of late, DiVincenzo was terrific for a majority of the Big-East season. Playing on a team with Final Four aspirations, he could be the x-factor for a deep run with his ability to score the ball, force turnovers, and make plays off penetration. He’ll be in a spot next year to take another big jump, but it’s never too early to put NBA teams on notice.
Kellan Grady (Fr. G, Davidson)
Of all players in the tournament, a few big games from Grady may have the best draft implications. Grady is the best Davidson freshman since Steph Curry. At 6-5, he has great size for a combo guard and elite scoring instincts for a freshman. He’s a big shot maker for the Wildcats and does so efficiently. Is he a potential one-and-done? No. But he can make sure every college basketball fan knows his name a week from today.
Malik Pope (Sr. SF, San Diego State)
If you drafted based on the eye test, Pope would probably go in the lottery. He’s been on radars for his lanky 6’10 frame, outside shooting, and defensive potential. But he never really amounted to the expectations of a dominant two-way player. We shouldn’t hold that against him. Pope will finally be able to show America how far he’s come since losing to Duke in the 2nd round as a freshman. The physical tools are there to allow an impressive showing to hold some weight.
Nana Foulland (Sr. C, Bucknell)
Foulland is one of the best defensive anchors in the country. He has shot over 60% from the field for two years now as well. There is no doubt he will at least make a summer league roster, but his effectiveness in his second straight NCAA Tourney, after having 18 and 7 against West Virginia last year, should do him wonders for cementing his potential at the NBA level.
Jon Elmore (Jr. PG, Marshall)
Elmore is one of the most underrated point guards in the country, with an all-around game (22.8 ppg, 6.9 apg, 6.0 rpg) that isn’t seen often. He declared for the draft a year ago and is likely to do the same after the tournament. While his shot is streaky, once he catches fire he is nearly unguardable. A hot shooting stretch over the next week will add some fuel to the chance of teams working him out in a few months.