March Madness 2014 - NBA Prospect Watch

Jamie Squire

Selection Sunday has lined up the matchups for 68 NCAA teams. We take a look at the top NBA prospects in the tournament.

(Welcome Bryant West to the Sactown Royalty Editorial staff. You'll know Bryant as bswest5, a longtime member of the community, and also from A Royal Pain, where he's been a staff writer for a while now. Bryant has come on board as StR's draft and college guru, and with his first post will be previewing the upcoming March Madness tournament in terms of prospects to keep an eye on. - Akis)

March Madness is officially here, complete with one of the most hyped draft classes in recent memory. While not all the top NBA prospects will be playing in the tournament (Australia's Dante Exum and Indiana's Noah Vonleh are the highlights), much of this deep, deep class found their way into the madness.

Here are my top NBA prospects competing in the tournament - click their names and you'll open their DraftExpress profile, which has all the basic information for the players.

All true shooting percentages are from hoop-math.com.

SF Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
First Contest: vs. 15 seed Eastern Kentucky

Wiggins played his best basketball of the season in the past week. He put up massive numbers against West Virginia and Oklahoma State (a combined 71 points and 16 boards on 21-35 shooting) and looked fully comfortable with the offense depending on him. While Saturday's 94-83 loss to Iowa State in the Big 12 semifinals wasn't spectacular for Wiggins (22 points, seven rebounds, 7-21 shooting), the full-on aggression was still there.

Key thing to watch: there's a myth (an incorrect one) that Wiggins isn't a great defender. The South Bracket has a number of good wing players for him to match up against, such as New Mexico's Kendall Williams, Syracuses' C.J. Flair/Jerami Grant combo, and UCLA's Kyle Anderson.

SF Jabari Parker, Duke
First Contest: vs. 14 seed Mercer

Parker, like most of the fab freshman, has had an up-and-down year that's mainly tilted towards the positive. He's got a solid 56% true shooting percentage, and continues to show he's an offensive threat from all over the floor. His 36.4% three point percentage, while not great, is better than expected.

Duke is in the "region of death", and could see matchups against Michigan (Glenn Rice III), Louisville (Montrezl Harrell), Kentucky (Julius Randle) or undefeated Wichita State.

C Joel Embiid, Kansas
First Contest: vs. 15 seed Eastern Kentucky

It's still unclear how much of the NCAA Tournament Embiid will see. He missed the Big 12 tournament with his back injury, and was expected to miss at least the first weekend of the Big Dance. If Kansas survives long enough without their 7'0 defensive star, it'll be interesting to see just how much Embiid plays.

He's an exceptional defensive player and a growing scorer, and his size and athleticism are top notch. It'd be a shame if he missed most (if not all) of the Tournament, but unless his back gets even more concerning, he's still a lock for a top 3 pick come June.

PF Julius Randle, Kentucky
First Contest: vs. 9 seed Kansas State

If you've never seen Randle play, imagine a smaller DeMarcus Cousins; he doesn't have Cousins' jumpshot (34% on two-point jumpers), but he's got pretty much everything else. He's a bruiser in the paint, an exceptional rebounder at 10.6 boards a game, and he rolls over defenders with his bulk and quirky athleticism.

While he was considered the most NBA ready prospect early in the season, his stock has dipped thanks to consistency issues and constant double-teams in the paint. Big example - in the SEC tournament, he was just 9-29 from the field.

Kentucky almost upset No. 1 ranked Florida in the SEC tournament, and they're as hot as any team heading into the tournament. They've got a high profile potential third round matchup against undefeated Wichita State, but the dream matchup for scouts would be Randle and the Wildcats against Parker and Duke in the Elite Eight.

PG Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
First Contest: vs. 8 seed Gonzaga

Smart was a lock for a top-3 selection in last year's draft but elected to remain in school one more year. While his shooting stroke is a concern going forward (his true shooting percentage is a average 55.4%), he's still the best defensive guard in the class and has an excellent basketball IQ.

If Smart and the Cowboys can defeat Gonzaga in the first round, they'd likely face No. 1 seed Arizona, which would provide Smart a golden opportunity to showcase his stardom.

PF Aaron Gordon, Arizona
First Contest: vs. 16 seed Weber State

Gordon is a highlight-reel making athlete, with incredible athleticism, excellent defensive fundamentals and great energy. He'd be a much higher profile draft prospect if he was a few inches taller, though - at 6'8, he's an undersized power forward or a small forward without a good shooting ability.

His NBA development aside, he's as hard a worker as you'll find in this class. His Arizona team is deep and possesses the 5th best defense in the nation. That defense will be tested - Oklahoma State (16th), Gonzaga (40th) and Oklahoma (7th) are on Arizona's side of the West bracket, and they all are top 50 offenses.

PG Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
First Contest: vs. 14 seed Western Michigan

Ennis and Syracuse have cooled off since a roaring start to the season. His shooting stroke is still a work in progress, as his true shooting percentage is a low 51.2%, but he's got the court vision and passing ability to become a very solid NBA starter. He's averaging 5.6 assists per game with a solid 32.2% assist rate.

A true test for Ennis could be in the 2nd round with a potential matchup against Ohio State. Aaron Craft isn't an elite NBA prospect like Ennis, but he's the best defensive guard in college basketball.

PF Doug McDermott, Creighton
First Contest: vs. 14 seed Louisiana-Lafayette

McDermott combines an elite level shooting stroke with excellent post skills, and is arguably college basketball's best player. The senior forward is averaging 26.9 points and seven rebounds a contest, and is the favorite for the Wooden Award.

He's not an elite NBA prospect due to his average defense and athleticism, but he's still a joy to watch at the collegiate level. A Creighton/Arizona Final Four game is possible, which would provide a fantastic McDermott/Aaron Gordon matchup.

SF James Young, Kentucky
First Contest: vs. 9 seed Kansas State

Young is an all-around solid player, but one who, like his Kentucky Wildcats as a whole, has suffered major consistency issues. His best skill is his defense, and he's got a great motor and is strong enough for either wing position in the NBA.

It'll be a while before he could be a feature part of an NBA offense, as he's shooting just 40% from the field this season and 34% from three (while still shooting 6.4 threes a contests). He's the fourth option on a talented Kentucky team, but keep an eye out on him on defense - Kentucky will likely keep sticking him on the opponent's best scoring wing.

SG Gary Harris, Michigan State
First Contest: vs. 13 seed Delaware

Harris has struggled as Michigan State's top option this season, scoring 17.2 points on 41.9% from the field. Both his field goal percentage and three point percentage (35.5%) have declined since his freshman season, the latter being a significant concern when over half of his shots are three pointers.

He maintains his NBA intrigue due to his above-average defense, his ability to get to the basket (where he scores at a 55% clip) and his full-on-attack style of play. Michigan State has a big chip on their shoulder after a disappointing season, and don't be surprised if Harris leads them on a surprising run.

SG Rodney Hood, Duke
First Contest: vs. 14 seed Mercer

Hood, a 6'8 sophomore who transferred over from Mississippi State, has a great shooting stroke that has skyrocketed him up draft boards. He's got a 60.1% true shooting percentage, which is exceptional since 41.5% of his shots are three pointers.

He's got excellent size and athleticism, and has carved himself a niche at Duke that many NBA teams would like him to fill. A big test in the tournament will be his defense - he's not a liability, but he's not NBA ready, either.

C Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky
First Contest: vs. 9 seed Kansas State

Cauley-Stein is 7'0 tall with a great wingspan and exceptional athleticism and speed for his size. That's all you need to know to judge his worth in the NBA.

He's raw offensively, but he's a tough worker and currently a solid rebounder (6.2 a game) and shot-blocker (2.9 a game). If he can stay on the floor, not get into foul trouble, and consistently contribute on the defensive end, he could end up a top 10 pick come June.

PF Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
First Contest: vs. 13 seed Manhattan

An undersized power forward, Montrezel makes up for it with excellent athleticism and defensive tenacity. His offensive game is very raw and he's a terrible shooter (47.5% from the free throw line), but he's a good rebounder with 8.1 a contest. He'll carve out a spot in the NBA as an enforcer/backup big man.

SF Jerami Grant, Syracuse
First Contest: vs. 14 seed Western Michigan

Grant is stuck without a true position. He's very versatile and athletic, and is solid at everything except shooting - he shoots 65% from the post, 34.6% on two-point jumpshots, and hasn't made a three pointer all season. His physical gifts and defensive skills will make him a solid NBA player, but if he ever manages to become a competent shooter, he could be the steal of the class.

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