EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

The best NBA Draft prospects remaining in the NCAA Tournament

Mar 19, 2018, 7:16 AM | Updated: Mar 23, 2018, 3:37 pm
Duke's Marvin Bagley III (35) is defended by Rhode Island's E.C. Matthews during the second half of...
Duke's Marvin Bagley III (35) is defended by Rhode Island's E.C. Matthews during the second half of an NCAA men's college basketball tournament second-round game, in Pittsburgh, Saturday, March 17, 2018. Duke won 87-62. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
LISTEN: Empire of the Suns

The NCAA Tournament’s first two rounds have not only decimated brackets. They’ve eliminated more than a half-dozen potential NBA lottery picks.

Arizona’s Deandre Ayton, Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson and Miles Bridges, Oklahoma’s Trae Young, Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr. and Mo Bamba of Texas didn’t last more than two games in the Big Dance.

With that, the Sweet 16 doesn’t feature many any matchups of high-caliber NBA prospects. There are, however, a few remaining potential lottery picks who remain in the tournament and could clash down the road.

For the Phoenix Suns, who could potentially pick three times in the top and middle of the first round, here are the best remaining prospects and what they’ve done in the tournament so far.

Duke F Marvin Bagley

Averaging 22 points and 8.0 rebounds per game in two 20-point blowouts by the Blue Devils, Bagley is shooting 75 percent (18-of-24) from the floor while hitting 2-of-3 from deep and 6-of-9 from the foul stripe.

Like the regular season, the 6-foot-11 forward has done a lot of damage scoring on the offensive glass, and by using his length and spin moves in post-up situations.

The limits of his skillset still haven’t been tested as he’s just one of many options in Duke’s offense, but the point stands: He’s going to push for double-doubles based on his athleticism alone. Because of the situation playing in a zone and having relative ease finding 20 points a night, he can’t really hurt his stock.

What will he do to improve it enough to become a legitimate top-3 selection?

Duke C Wendell Carter Jr.

Carter Jr. doesn’t get the same hype as senior Grayson Allen or Bagley. He’s not flashy, and he was limited to 19 minutes in the second-round game against Rhode Island due to foul trouble, but he’s very much a key piece to Duke’s ongoing run.

The 6-foot-10 big man has averaged 11 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.0 steal and 1.0 block per game while shooting 10-of-15 from the floor.

Carter Jr. is an integral part of the Blue Devils’ zone defense that takes advantage of their length. He’s a more refined post player than Bagley who can pass, face up or attack with great footwork. Carter’s passing ability will play a huge role in avoiding an upset Friday against No. 11 Syracuse’s length and its own zone defense that stymied Arizona State, then TCU, then No. 3 seed Michigan State.

A top-10 pick, the more people can appreciate his game — say on a title run — the more his stock will rise.

Villanova SF Mikal Bridges

If you hadn’t figured out why the 21-year-old junior is sneakily right in the mix to be a top-seven pick, just watch Bridges’ second half against Alabama. It’s one in which he turned Villanova’s close game against the Crimson Tide into a blowout thanks to dunks, midrange floaters, made threes and blocks. The 6-foot-6 Bridges finished with 23 points, two blocks and three rebounds after an 0-for-5 first half.

That followed Bridges’ 13-point, six-rebound effort in the first round in a 87-61 win over Radford. So far, he’s shot 12-of-26 from the field and 8-of-14 from deep in the tournament.

Next up for the Wildcats and Bridges: Purdue.

Kentucky PG Shai Gilgeious-Alexander

He’s going to have to prove the three-point jumper can be as accurate (41.8 percent on the year) with increased volume (1.5 attempts per game), but Gilgeous-Alexander can’t do much wrong. After filling out the box score with 19 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and five steals in a 78-73 tournament opener against Davidson, the freshman point guard put up 27 points, six rebounds and six assists in a 95-75 victory over Buffalo.

The slim 6-foot-6 point guard isn’t overly-explosive, and it’s a wonder how his success as a slashing guard translates against better athletes; Buffalo didn’t exactly have the personnel to stop him in transition.

Still, where he lacks in shooting and athleticism, the Ontario native makes up for in running the offense and picking and choosing his spots. He plays older than he is.

Gilgeous-Alexander continues to rocket up mock drafts. An unlikely one-and-done to begin the year, he’s suddenly in the conversation to push for a top-10 selection.

In a wonky South Region, Kentucky plays Kansas State next. Nevada and Loyola Chicago are the other schools left in that quadrant of the bracket.

Texas A&M C Robert Williams


Formerly considered a top-10 pick, the sophomore center hasn’t lived up to expectations this season, but he can perhaps regain some momentum as Texas A&M continues a surprising run.

The No. 7 seeded Aggies slipped past Providence thanks to Williams’ 13-point, 14-board outing in the first round before he scored eight points to go with 13 boards in a 86-65 upset of No. 2 seed North Carolina on Sunday. No, Williams may not be much more than a double-double threat, but he’s one of the best athletes in the draft and has been a consistent rim protector down the stretch of the season.

Is it weird that he only found three shots — all makes — against the Tar Heels? Maybe. With another capable center in Tyler Davis playing alongside Williams, it’s hard to say Williams’ stock is being hurt all that much because of it. When he plays in more space and with more rim-running out of the pick-and-roll in the NBA, he’s going to be plenty helpful on offense.

Williams and Davis will next be tested against inside-outside Michigan big man Moritz Wagner.

Kentucky F Kevin Knox

Knox is thriving working out of the high post, attacking the baseline and throwing up floaters or fadeaway jumpers. He’s been great in transition as well.

Against No. 12 seed Davilson, Knox scored 25 points, hitting half of his 16 shot attempts while getting to the foul stripe 11 times. He only scored eight points to go with four assists, four turnovers, four fouls and three boards in the rout of Buffalo.

The only concern for the likely mid-first-round pick: He’s gone 0-of-6 from the three-point line, not helping his ‘meh’ 34-percent shooting from deep during his freshman season.

Best of the rest: Duke G Trevon Duval, Duke G Grayson Allen, Kentucky G Hamidou Diallo, Gonzaga F Killian Tillie, Villanova G Jalen Brunson, West Virginia G Jevon Carter

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