March Madness is upon us, but for some players there’s more at stake than just a National Championship. The NCAA Tournament is the perfect showcase for players who want to increase their standing in the upcoming NBA Draft
With such a wide-open draft class this year, a strong tournament showing can make the difference between several draft slots — and millions of dollars at the pro level.
But fail to deliver against the top competition and scouts will start to wonder what they ever saw in you in the first place.
And for some talented unknowns hiding at small conference schools, the tournament is their one big chance to show off their stuff on a national stage. Or bomb trying.
Ohio State's foul-drawing stalwart of the lane is a likely top-5 pick. But Sullinger also has the expectations of being on the top team in the country weighing down on him. The freshman has stayed a consistent monster all year, and could secure the No. 1 overall pick if he spearheads an Ohio State championship run.
NBA insiders know about Morehead State senior Kenneth Faried's large body of work, but almost no one has seen the Eagles play live on TV this year. The lack of elite competition they face hurts Faried's stock, but the rebounding machine (14.5 per game) did extremely well this year against ranked opponents, posting double-doubles at Florida and Ohio State, which helps legitimise his presence as a projected first-rounder.
The 13-seed has 4-seed Louisville up in the first round, and Faried must be sure to flex his rebounding might one last time (or perhaps more) for the scouts.
North Carolina's phenom Harrison Barnes was a preseason All-American before his freshman year, but he goes into the tournament with some questions to be asked after being smothered by Duke's Kyle Singler.
He has evolved at a remarkable pace after a slow start and even dropped 40 on Clemson in the ACC tournament, but Barnes has to show more consistency in his mid-range game. The superstar quality is there, and he'll have the chance to prove it in the tourney. He may have the most 'upside,' but scouts need to see it on the court before they roll the dice in the draft.
Kawhi Leonard averaged a double-double this year for a West Coast team that flew under the national radar for much of the year. But the Aztecs bulldozed all opposition aside from BYU, leading to their selection as a 2-seed in the tournament. SDSU hasn't seen much of the national stage, but with Duke, Texas, and Connecticut in the West bracket, there are plenty of opportunities for Leonard to draw millions of eyes.
Athletic freshman guard Brandon Knight shares the limelight with one-and-done counterpart Terrence Jones at Kentucky and they both look to make statements in the tournament. But Knight has more to prove: he has a chance at being the top guard in the draft if he can prove his worth on the big stage.
No one's draft day stock has increased more over the past month than Kemba Walker's. UConn's magnificent 5-wins-in-5-days run in the Big East tournament propelled Walker into the forefront of the Naismith College Player of the Year discussion. But can the undersized guard keep it (and UConn) going down the stretch?
Kyle Singler's biggest knock is his lack of athleticism, but the Duke senior has been the model of consistency throughout his tenure. Singler must prove that athletically he's serviceable enough to add value to an NBA squad. He's had a tendency to get lost in the fray beneath teammate Nolan Smith, and it will only get worse with Kyrie Irving likely returning to the Duke lineup.
Pac-10 player of the year Derrick Williams steamrolled his weak conference this year, but 5-seed Arizona finds itself with a tough road, starting off against a feisty 12-seed in Memphis (a school that he turned down), with Texas and Duke looming. Williams has constantly ranked in the top 10 of mock drafts since February and will need to carry his team through some of the toughest competition in the field.
Jimmer was one of the stars of last year's tournament after putting up 37 points in a first-round win, but some still question if there's a place for him in an NBA lineup. Brigham Young's star senior guard has developed into a prolific scorer in the college game, but is he able to find his own shot (or play any defence) in the NBA? His weakness is his lack of speed and athleticism, but can he prove that pure shooting prowess and killer instinct warrant a top-10 pick?
Duke's star freshman point guard Kyrie Irving went down with a toe injury -- that was bad enough to warrant wearing a boot -- back in December and is hoping to return for the tournament. Nobody knows if or when he will be able to play, but one thing's for sure: if he risks stepping foot on the court, all the eyes of the NBA will be on him.
Potential top-3 pick Perry Jones and the Baylor Bears won't be marching this year. Jones was suspended for the last game of the season by the NCAA for receiving improper benefits in high school and his team got no postseason bids as a result. Whether the NCAA blacklisted the Bears or not, we'll likely never know. What we do know is that Baylor wasn't invited to ANY tournament this year, and Jones won't have a final opportunity to prove himself after the scandal.
Every year it seems like there's one player you've never heard of who throws a team on his back and carries them deep into the dance. Who will be this year's Stephen Curry or Harold Arceneaux or Steven Nash? Or even Dwyane Wade? (Not an unknown at the time, but his 2003 performance -- a triple-double and a Final Four run -- defied all expectations and turned him into a top 5 pick.) The star of this tournament will probably be the player you least expect.
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