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March Madness 2015: NBA Prospect Watch, Week 1

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

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

March Madness has returned, and with it comes the start of our weekly Draft prospects reviews and previews. This year's class has not reached the same hype as the 2014 Andrew Wiggins/Jabari Parker led class did, but collectively it is a talented one. It's a class that favors big men, with almost half of my still-fluxuating Big Board playing either the four or five. Players below are ranked according to my Big Board, but with major changes likely to follow as the Madness carries into April.

Click on the hyperlink on a player to open their DraftExpress profile, which has all their basic information. All true shooting percentages are from hoop-math.com, while the remaining stats all come from sports-reference.com.

C Jahlil Okafor, Duke
First Contest: vs. 16 seed North Florida OR Robert Morris

Okafor is the most polished low-post scorer in recent college hoops history—63% of his shots have come at the rim, and he's scoring an absurd 75.2% of them. He's also an excellent rebounder, snagging 9.0 a contest and putting up a 15.9% offensive rebounding rate. While Duke has done a great job of stacking talented shooters around him, Okafor is the key in an offense that is 4th in the nation in scoring (80.6 PPG) and 3rd in field goal percentage (50.2%).

Okafor's defense isn't anywhere close to his offense, but this ‘weakness' is a tad overstated. He doesn't have great defensive awareness, and sometimes fails to set into solid position to stay in front of his man, which earn him a reputation as a lazy defender. He needs to improve in this area, and he'll need to bulk up in order to consistently face guys as big/bigger than he is, but his fantastic post moves will keep him locked among the top 2015 picks. I've got my fingers crossed on a Duke/ Kentucky championship so we can see a Okafor/Towns matchup.

PF/C Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky
First Contest: vs. 16 seed Hampton

While Oakfor has been resting comfortably as the favorite for the classes' No. 1 draft selection, Towns has been stealing some of that attention with his stellar play over the past month. Since the beginning of February, he's averaging 12.1 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks while shooting 59% from the field and showing significant growth in his offensive game. His extreme athleticism and blocking ability (12.3% blocking rate) have helped disguise his relatively average post and pick-and-roll defense, but as he gains more experience his has the potential to become an excellent NBA defender. There isn't any team in the Country that can fully match up with Kentucky when they boast a big lineup of Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein and Trey Lyes.

PG/SG D'Angelo Russell, Ohio State
First Contest: vs. 7 seed Virginia Commonwealth

Russell was one of the year's more surprising stars, averaging 19.3 points and 5.1 assists on 45% shooting and 41% from three. While his scoring talents and overall feel for the game are exceptional, it is important to point out that his most successful games have been against weaker teams; in six games against Wisconsin, Maryland, Louisville, North Carolina and Michigan State—all tournament teams—his numbers drop to 15.3 PPG and 35% shooting. His tenth seeded Buckeyes don't offer him much consistent help, so it makes sense that he'd struggle as better opponents could double/triple team him, but the drop in numbers is still worrying.

Regardless of those concerns, Russell is a premier player and put up double-digit points in all but one game this season. Yet with the Buckeye's lack of depth, it would be a shame for Russell to only last one or two games into the tournament.

C Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky
First Contest: vs. 16 seed Hampton

While Cauley-Stein was always a good defender thanks to his great length and athleticism, he has developed into one of the better defenders at his position and has significantly improved his defensive awareness. His offensive game is much less developed—except on fast breaks, where he is a terror—but any offensive woes won't be an issue when he's playing on this deep Wildcats squad. The junior is the linchpin of the Wildcats' defense and has become a veteran leader among the youthful squad.

SF Stanley Johnson, Arizona
First Contest:
vs. 15 seed Texas Southern

Johnson is a bruising 6'7 forward who weighs around 240 pounds and can power through most wing defenders with relative ease. He'll be an anomaly in the NBA thanks to his combination of strength and excellent athleticism. He isn't just a physical prospect, either; he's Arizona's top scorer at 14.1 points a contest (45% from the field and 36.6% from three) and snags 6.6 rebounds a contest while playing excellent defense. His decision making isn't great (2.2 turnovers a contest), but his versatility is the biggest reason Arizona is a sleeper pick to knock out Kentucky.

SF Justice Winslow, Duke
First Contest:
vs. 16 seed North Florida OR Robert Morris

First the bad; Winslow is shooting 22.9% on his two point jumpers, and only 61.4% from the free throw line. The good; other than his shot, he's otherwise a very versatile player. He attacks the basket well (67.4% on looks at the rim, which comprise 45% of his total shot selection), is a smart, determined defender, and has a spectacular motor. The odd thing about his offense is that his three point percentage is a very respectable 39.6% on nearly three looks a contest; in the right situation, he could become a premier role player with his three point shot and exceptional defense.

PF/C Myles Turner, Texas
First Contest:
vs. 6 seed Butler

Texas is an exceptionally inconsistent squad and likely won't last long into the tournament, so take this opportunity to check out Myles Turner. The 6'11 center is raw, but he has a solid foundation in just about every aspect of his game; he's shot 42.7% on two-point jumpers, shown a few solid post moves, dominates the defensive glass with a 24.2% rebounding rate, and is the classes premier shotblocker with 2.7 a contest. All those skills make an excellent prospect, but his court awareness and general basketball IQ are lacking and he's too reticent to settle for jumpers instead of backing down opponents.  He'll need years of work before he's an NBA level player, but he's one of the most unique players in a unique heavy class.

PF/C Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
First Contest:
vs. 16 seed Coastal Carolina

Kaminsky is one of only three seniors on my Big Board, and while he lacks the exceptional potential that some of the players in his draft range possess, he's also one of the most NBA ready prospects in the class. His game lacks any serious glaring weakness—he's developed a solid post game, has excellent range out to the three point line (49.3% on two point jumpers, 40.5% on threes), improved his defensive rebounding rate from 18.4% last year to 25.5% this year, and has become an solid defender. He's not going to be the strongest or most athletic big man on the NBA level, but he's a smart player who will develop into a solid starter. Wisconsin has one of the best non-Kentucky shots at winning the tournament, and while they have a talented roster, Kaminsky is the country's best player and alone makes them must-watch.

The idea of a Wisconsin/Arizona is the most tantalizing matchup of the West Region, but a potential Sweet 16 matchup against Arkansas would pit Kaminsky up against the next player on this list.

PF Kevon Looney, UCLA
First Contest:
vs. 6 seed Southern Methodist University

While UCLA was one of the most controversial selections for this year's tournament, it keeps one of the more interesting draft prospects in the conversation. While slightly undersized at 6'9, he makes up for it with a 7'3 wingspan, and is quick enough with a solid jumpshot that will allow him to slide over to the three spot as needed. As the season progressed, he's also worked on developing his three pointer, and has gone 9-14 on deep shots in his past nine contests. Nothing about his game is refined, but he's show enough on both ends of the court to be a tantalizing prospect.

PF Bobby Portis, Arkansas
First Contest:
vs. 12 seed Wofford

Portis is a well-rounded big man with a developing offensive game—he's shooting 77% on shots at the rim, and has improved his mid-range game as the season progressed. While not an exceptionally great athlete, he has a quick first-step and favors catching the ball on the perimeter and using that first-step to burn defending bigs who crash him too quickly. He's improved as a rebounder and as a defender, but needs to become more consistent at both. Portis does have a good chance to bounce back from a poor SEC Tournament showing—no one on Wofford is close to the 6'11 big man in height, and while 4 seeded North Carolina has depth in the paint, none of their players have the size Portis has.

SF Kelly Oubre, Kansas
First Contest:
vs. 15 seed New Mexico State

Oubre came into the season as one of the more hyped freshman, but a dreadful start killed that off quickly. He's slowly rebounded, and while his play is still maddingly inconsistent he did reel off a five-game stretch in early March where he averaged 15.6 points on 47% shooting. He's one of the rawest prospects in the lottery range, but he's an exceptional athlete with a solid offensive range and loves to attack the basket. While a potential Elite Eight matchup against Kentucky would be the highlight, a contest between Kansas and 10 seeded Indiana—who have a ton of speed and scoring power but little defensive awareness—would be a great chance for Oubre to shine in a fast paced game.

PG Kris Dunn, Providence
First Contest:
vs. 11 seed Dayton OR Boise State University

Dunn draws comparisons to Orlando Magic rookie Elfrid Payton, last year's 12th overall selection; Dunn is an excellent athlete, has solid size for the point guard (6'3), and is the 2nd leading assist man in the NCAA with 7.6 a game and a 50.5% assist rate. He's a mediocre shooter for the position, making 42.2% of his two-point jumpers and only 34.6% of his threes, and he's also tops in the NCAA for turnovers at 4.1 a game. Even with his turnover struggles, his total potential is enticing; if Providence can beat Dayton/Boise State and then upset likely-opponent Oklahoma, it would be great for the small-school Dunn to get some big screentime.

PF Trey Lyles, Kentucky
First Contest:
vs. 16 seed Hampton

The least discussed of the Kentucky starters, Lyles' improvements over the season are easily forgotten next to Town's February explosion/Cauley-Stein's defensive intensity/the Harrison twins. Of the Wildcats top rotation players (including the next player on this list) he's the rawest NBA prospect but has higher ceiling than anyone not named Towns or Cauley-Stein. He's a good rebounder, has a consistent outside jumper (shooting 42.6% on two point jumpers, best on his team), and is quick enough to beat slower defenders to the basket. His defensive awareness isn't great and that weakness gets covered up by the rest of Kentucky's solid defenders, but there's nothing worrying long-term.

SG Devin Booker, Kentucky
First Contest:
vs. 16 seed Hampton

The last of the Kentucky products on this list, Booker has much that NBA teams want in a shooting guard; he's got great size at 6'6, is a NBA level athlete, plays solid perimeter defense, and is shooting 43% from three this season. Exactly half of his shots this season have come from beyond the arc, but his success has taken a nose-dive in the past month. Since the beginning of February, he's shooting 15-49 (30.6%) on threes. Look for Booker to rebound as Kentucky mauls its way through the first weekend of the tournament.

PG Jerian Grant, Notre Dame
First Contest:
vs. 14 seed Northeastern

Grant is one of the NCAA's best floor generals, averaging 6.6 assists while maintaining a 3-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He's also a capable scorer, averaging 16.8 points on 46.8% shooting, and is an above-average defender with excellent height (6'5) and solid athleticism.  His shot selection needs work as he's too fond of his three point shot (37.8% of his shots were from three while making only 32.8% of them). Another "downside" is his age; he's a 22 year old senior who missed most of last season due to academic issues, but while he may not have the potential of some of the younger guards (Dunn particularly), he'll also be more NBA ready then most in this class.

PF/C Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
First Contest:
vs. 13 seed UC Irvine

Harrell is an undersized power forward (6'8, and that's being generous) who will make an NBA roster due to his intensity. He's a terror on the glass with 9.5 boards a contest and a 15.1% rebounding rate, and even when he plays against bigger forwards/centers, he makes up for it defensively with his athleticism, muscle and sheer force of will. He decided this season he wanted to showcase his midrange game (36.1% on two-point jumpers) and even tried to add a three-point shot (24.3% on those), but he wasn't going to be drafted for his offense regardless. His ceiling is as an NBA garbage man—rebounding great defense and rebounding—but wherever he ends up, he'll be a fan favorite.

SG/SF Justin Anderson, Virginia
First Contest:
vs. 15 seed Belmont

Anderson has shown massive improvements this season over his first two years at Virginia—he went from being a terrific athlete to being a terrific athlete who can play lock-down defense and makes 46.9% of his threes (up from 29.4% last year). His mid-range game still needs work, as he's shooting just 25.6% on two-point jumpers. There's still some worry that Anderson may not be ready to play by the start of the tournament as he's missed over a month due to both finger surgery and an appendectomy.

SF Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona
First Contest:
vs. 15 seed Texas Southern

Hollis-Jefferson will carve out a niche in the NBA due to his top-notch defensive abilities; he's 6'7 with a 7'1 wingspan and fantastically quick feet, and will be able to defend three positions in the NBA. Aside from his rebounding (19.9% defensive rebounding rate, 6.6 total a game) and speed in transition, his game is otherwise very raw—he's shooting 33.7% on two point jumpers, and 23.1% from three. While those numbers are scary, his defensive ability is so above the norm for his age that I'd bet he's a lock for a late 1st round selection if he comes to the NBA this year. Arizona Coach Sean Miller has a history of developing good defensive players, and Hollis-Jefferson is one of his best.

Additional players to watch: SF Sam Dekker, Wisconsin; C Jakob Poeltl, Utah; PG Delon Wright, Utah; SG R.J. Hunter, Georgia State; PG Tyus Jones, Duke; PF Cliff Alexander, Kansas