Although March Madness is about celebrating college basketball players, it’s also an opportunity for top talents to make their final statements in advance of the NBA draft. Who are some of the top guys to watch heading into the NCAA Tournament?
Many of the blue blood programs boast elite-level prospects. Though they’ve struggled a bit down the stretch and face some uncertainty heading into March Madness, the Duke Blue Devils could have up to five first-round picks, including potential No. 1 overall selection Paolo Banchero.
Let’s look at some of the top prospects to watch during the NCAA Tournament. A couple of these players, like Banchero, should hear their names called very early on June 23. Others have the chance to grab more of the national spotlight and boost their stock among NBA executives.
Without further adieu …
F/C Chet Holmgren, Gonzaga Bulldogs
Unfortunately, some of the dialogue surrounding Holmgren has become overly focused on his frame. Sure, the concept of a 7-footer who barely weighs 200 pounds lends itself to skepticism. But the focus should be on the Gonzaga star’s skills.
And boy, does Holmgren have plenty of skills. They should be on full display for a Gonzaga team capable of dominating March and winning the NCAA Tournament.
The Minneapolis native possesses unicorn-like upside. Holmgren averaged 14.2 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 3.6 blocks in 29 games with the Bulldogs. He shot over 61% from the field and 41.2% from beyond the arc on 3.3 attempts per contest.
Holmgren is the furthest thing from a paint-bound big. He runs the lane in transition. He screens and rolls to the rim or pops for open triples. Perhaps the most notable element of his game is the handle.
Holmgren assumes ball-handling duties in the half court and brings the ball up himself, sometimes pulling up for jumpers if defenses aren’t set. He can go to either hand and beat defenders off the bounce with a quick first step that’s made deadlier because of the respect opponents must show for his perimeter shooting stroke.
Additionally, while Holmgren has a physically slender frame, he challenges bigs at the rim and embraces contact. He can play-make off the dribble as well, with the vision to spot hard cuts.
Holmgren is another one of the names in the running for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. He might cement his spot at the top during March Madness.
G Ochai Agbaji, Kansas Jayhawks
Agbaji’s veteran mentality, three-level scoring ability, and explosiveness all make him well-suited for the NBA.
The Kansas Jayhawks star has improved his three-point shooting every season. He converted on 40.5% of his triples this season on a healthy volume of 6.9 attempts per game. His free-throw shooting soared to a career-high 77.3% last season after a 68.9% clip last season.
That pure shooting touch serves as a backbone for Agbaji. He creates space for himself by using pindown screens and constantly moving off the ball. Sometimes, the senior will slip backdoor for layups or alley-oops at the bucket.
Agbaji doesn’t necessarily have a ton of creativity on the ball. Still, he can get to his spots and push the ball in transition. Will he score enough to lead the Jayhawks to an NCAA championship?
The relative absence of on-ball dynamism and juice off the dribble might prevent Agbaji from going in the top 10 of the upcoming NBA draft. But, if history has shown basketball fans anything, it’s that experienced college players with demonstrable success often make for some of the most productive NBA guys.
F Keegan Murray, Iowa Hawkeyes
Murray is one of the best scorers in the country. He ranked fourth in the NCAA in scoring average (23.7) and led the Big Ten in that category. However, merely labeling him as a scorer is a disservice to his game.
The Cedar Rapids native can show the full extent of his game during March Madness.
Murray dominates on both ends. In addition to the scoring average, he racked up 8.6 rebounds per contest, including 2.8 offensive boards, as well as 2.0 blocks and 1.3 steals. Those are significant numbers in a conference that is routinely one of the best in college basketball.
Indeed, Murray’s physicality gives him an edge. He’s quite strong, especially on the low block, where he can immediately get deep position in the paint.
But Murray doesn’t limit himself to playing inside. He shot 40.6% from beyond the arc on 4.7 attempts per game. He can pull down a defensive rebound and start the Hawkeyes in transition. Although Murray’s handle can occasionally get a bit loose, he can beat defenders off the dribble and explodes past slower bigs.
The Hawkeyes have been one of the more surprising teams in the country during the 2021-22 NCAA campaign. Can they make a deep tournament run? Much of that will depend on Murray.
G/F Wendell Moore Jr., Duke Blue Devils
Many eyes will undoubtedly be fixated on Paolo Banchero and AJ Griffin. However, Moore demands a lot of respect and might actually be Duke’s X-factor in making a deep NCAA Tournament run.
Moore has made tremendous gains in the past couple of seasons. He’s become increasingly confident as a playmaker, averaging 4.6 dimes and orchestrating the Blue Devils’ offense with precision.
The Charlotte native is also a far more efficient scorer and off-ball threat than he had been in his first two seasons in Durham. Moore shot a career-high 40.2% from beyond the arc on 3.4 attempts per game. He knows how to fill space when Banchero and others get into the paint on dribble drives. Moore’s also been a sniper from the corner.
Although Moore lacks the same upside as some of his other teammates, the gains he’s made as a creator and outside shooter are pretty notable, particularly for someone with his athleticism. He profiles as a late first-rounder in the 2022 NBA Draft, but a solid tourney run could see his stock rise.
F/C Trevion Williams, Purdue Boilermakers
Williams is one of the best passing big men in the country. It’s pretty crazy, then, that he comes off the bench for a Purdue team surely yearning for the chance to make noise during March Madness.
The Chicago native might enter with the second unit, but he gives the Boilermakers starter-level production. Williams averaged 11.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, and a whopping 3.1 assists in under 20 minutes per contest.
Williams is a big body who can use his size to bully his way to the basket and finish with jump-hooks. He also leverages his frame on the boards. The physicality and size on the low block are probably enticing to NBA executives. However, the patience and vision make Williams an intriguing prospect.
The senior never rushes in the post. Even when he has his back to the basket, he’s constantly trying to spot shooters on the perimeter or cutters diving to the rim. Williams displayed his guard-like vision with some outstanding dimes in the Big Ten tournament, including multiple late-game assists in a win over the Michigan State Spartans.
Now, there are some downsides. Williams can sometimes be sloppy in terms of his decision-making. He occasionally falls prey to the ill-advised dribble drive, though his jab-crossover move is surprisingly effective. Additionally, his age and defensive shortcomings probably see him slip to the second round in the NBA draft.
However, the totality of Williams’ skills makes him an incredibly intriguing player to watch this March. If the Boilermakers win the NCAA Tournament, he’ll surely be a large reason why.
Stats are courtesy of CBB Reference and are accurate as of March 13.