This is one of the most exciting times in all of sports as the NCAA Tournament aka March Madness is set to begin. The passion and excitement of this event is unlike any other in sports.
Of course, the tournament also gives basketball fans the opportunity to watch many of the top prospects in college basketball on a big, high-pressured stage and this year’s draft is expected to be one of the deepest in a long time.
At the very least, the Los Angeles Lakers will own two draft picks: the Houston Rockets’ first-round pick that they acquired in the Lou Williams trade, as well as their own second-round pick. It’s well known by now that they will only retain their own first-round selection if it lands in the top-3.
So now we are going region by region to give you players to keep an eye on during the tournament. Next up is the East region.
Jayson Tatum, SF, Duke
Tatum probably has the best chance of any prospect to move into that Ball/Fultz/Jackson level and his performance over the past couple of weeks has gone a long way towards that. He has great size and athleticism for the position can score in just about every way possible aside from a consistent three-point shot. Where he has stepped up recently is in showing he can distribute the ball as well as improving his defensive play. Duke is primed for a deep tournament run and Tatum’s play will be crucial to that so continuing his all-around performance will be huge.
Josh Hart, SG, Villanova
Hart is one of those players that does everything well, but doesn’t necessarily have that one skill that makes him stand out. He can shoot (18.9 PPG, 40.7 3PT%), is a good rebounder for a guard (6.5 RPG), can set up teammates (3.1 APG), and is more than adequate on defense (1.6 SPG). He helped lead Villanova to a national championship last year and is the leading scorer once again for the top overall seed. As a senior, his ceiling will be lower than most other prospects, but that thinking has hurt teams before. Another great tournament showing could push Hart into the first round.
Johnathan Motley, PF, Baylor
Motley is the latest long, athletic, bouncy, forward in a line of them that have come up from Baylor recently. While he has flashed a solid face up game, Motley does his best work on the glass and on defense. He is an excellent rebounder and has shown the ability to be a rim protector as well. He is also a great finisher at the rim, even if he doesn’t have a vast array post moves. There have been questions about Motley’s motor and whether he brings it every night, but his physical gifts are difficult to overlook.
Luke Kennard, SG, Duke
Luke Kennard has been one of the best players in college basketball this season and the most consistent player on a loaded Duke team. Kennard’s best ability is obviously his shooting and scoring ability as he is extremely skilled with an array of moves and a high basketball IQ. He shoots 53.8% from the field and 44.3% from deep. The worries for Kennard involve his lack of athleticism and strength. Who will he be able to guard at the next level? But he has shown throughout the season that he can overcome that. A great showing in the tournament will just further that belief and potentially see him fly up the draft boards, because everyone needs shooters.
Semi Ojeleye, SF/PF, SMU
Ojeleye is a very intriguing prospect who fits the mold for the kind of forwards teams are looking for these days. He is a strong, physical player who can guard multiple positions, create his own shot in the half court, and stretch the floor from deep. His motor, especially on defense, has been questioned at times as has his level of competition playing in the AAC. Regardless he has the tools that teams are looking for and a strong showing for an SMU team that many are picking as a sleeper team to make a deep tournament run could vault Ojeleye into the public eye.
Others to Watch: Harry Giles (Duke), Devin Robinson (Florida), Nigel Hayes (Wisconsin), PJ Dozier (South Carolina), Jalen Brunson (Villanova)