Mid-Major Draft Prospects
These under the radar stars deserve your attention.
Let the Madness begin! It’s the most wonderful time of the year for college basketball fans, and a busy one for NBA scouts. Not only is the NCAA Tournament a perfect time to check out some of the top NBA prospects going head-to-head in high pressure situations, it also is sometimes our only chance to catch some of the off the map, mid-major college prospects on national TV. Here are a few to keep your eye on — but don’t blink, they might be out of the Tournament after one game.
First Game: Thursday @ 4:40 p.m. vs Northern Colorado
Chances are Kawhi Leonard won’t be one of those players you’ll only have one game to check out — San Diego State look primed to make a long run through the bracket. The 19-year-old Cali native had a breakout sophomore season, earning multiple All-American honors and leading the Aztecs into uncharted territory — the top of the polls. A pogo-sticking athlete and rebounding monster (10.7 rpg) despite only standing 6-7, Leonard just need a little more polish on his wing skills to become a very good NBA player. He is currently projected to go late in the lottery in June.
First Game: Thursday @ 7:50 p.m. vs Wofford
Jimmer Fredette: under the radar?! Yeah, that’s a bit of a stretch, as the Cougars’ point guard’s prolific scoring has made him a household name this year as well as many people’s choice for National Player of the Year. In fact, you could arguably call Fredette the most exciting player in college basketball — who else can drop 52 in a game like he did last week? But can he successfully take his game to the next level — the NBA? While he is still more of an undersized shooting guard rather than a true point guard, his ability to create and get off his shot, his ball-handling skills and quickness, as well as his strong build have him projected as going in the late lottery to mid-first round range in the Draft. And assuming he can keep it in his pants, he could lead the Cougars deep into the Tournament.
First Game: Thursday @ 12:40 pm vs Old Dominion
The Cinderella of last year’s Big Dance were of course the Butler Bulldogs, but with top player Gordon Hayward off playing for pay in Utah, the going will be much tougher for them this March. Butler will be relying on junior combo guard Shelvin Mack to spark their offense, but Mack has struggled this year with his shooting. Despite not being a pure point guard, Mack might get some looks in the second round of this year’s Draft due to his scoring ability and strong physique.
First Game: Thursday @ 1:40 p.m. vs Louisville
So, let’s get this straight — Kenneth Faried is only 6-8 and 225 pounds yet he has lead the NCAA in rebounding the past two seasons. He plays at Morehead State yet he has been named to All-American Teams. And despite his lack of size and lack of experience going against top-level NCAA competition, he’s considered a first round NBA prospect? You better believe it. Louisville will get to see first hand the aggressive, gritty, athletic rebounding machine in action on Thursday. Remember to box him out, boys (if that is even possible).
First Game: Thursday @ 4:10 p.m. vs Vanderbilt
No less than an authority than DraftExpress has declared that the Spiders’ Justin Harper might be this year’s Tournament’s “breakout performer.” Despite standing 6-10, Harper is a terror facing the basket and has deep range — he’s hitting more than two three-pointers a game this year. He’s also a dead-eye shooter, averaging 59.1 percent from two-point range and 46.5 percent from three. He’s athletic, quick and highly skilled and could sneak into the late first round in June.
First Game: Friday @ 12:15 p.m. vs Texas
Oakland University isn’t exactly a hotbed for NBA talent — Rawle Marshall is the only alum to play in the League — but they appear to have one now in Keith Benson. A thin, long (6-11, 7-2 wingspan) and athletic player, Benson averaged a double-double the past two seasons for the Grizzlies (18.0 ppg, 10.1 rpg this year) and is a shot-blocking menace — his 366 career blocks are the most in Summit League history and rank 12th best all-time in the NCAA. The main knock on Benson is that he plays a little “soft”, but a strong NCAA Tournament could help change that and push his stock higher than the mid-second round range that he currently is projected in.