The List: The NBA fan’s guide to NCAA tournament prospects

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It’s that time of the year when NBA heads come out of hibernation and declare themselves viable evaluators of college talent. We will know within a few possessions if Billy Big Man can “play in the league” or whether Johnny Jump Shot has “an NBA future.” It’s a gift, really.

Armed with scouting reports from the internet, aided with insight from SB Nation’s own Ricky O’Donnell, and fortified with some actual intel from scouts, here are a few of the players who will have our attention this week.

If you combined DeAndre Ayton, Mo Bamba, and Jaren Jackson you’d have Anthony Davis. All three big men bring something to the table. Ayton is a physical freak. Bamba is a revolutionary defensive player. Jackson’s skillset is emerging — dare we say it, tantalizing.

Of course, all three are flawed in some way. Ayton looks the part but has a few glaring question marks on the defensive end. Bamba is a monster defender (7’9 WINGSPAN!) but a little raw on the offensive end. Jackson has range and skills, but is still developing physically. Taken as a whole you’re reminded why players like AD are generational talents instead of an every-year occurrence.

All three figure to be top-five talents in this year’s draft. Ayton dominated the Pac-12 tournament and his Wildcats have a potential marquee matchup with Kentucky in the second round. Jackson and Michigan State are staring at Duke and Marvin Bagley (another top-fiveish prospect) in the Sweet 16. Bamba and Texas snuck in as 10-seed so catch them early.

Mikal Bridges is my favorite player in the draft. The Villanova junior has been around long enough to be recognizable to college fans and draftniks. He’s an excellent 3-and-D prospect who’s added little bits to his game over his three years with the Wildcats.

Specifically, Bridges has taken on more of scoring load this season, but he’ll make his living in the league with an ability guard multiple positions and knock down open threes. Bridges isn’t likely to be a star, but he’s a safe value play for someone in the latter parts of the top 10.

He’s a star in his role kind of player and guys like that tend to drop just a bit and then become mid-round gems. What can I say, I like Big 5 dudes who know their role and execute them perfectly. It’s a Philly thing.

Wait, I lied. Collin Sexton is absolutely my favorite player in the draft. God, I love this kid. He’s fearless and fun right up to the point that some might consider him “polarizing.” Don’t be that person. Did you see him pull a Tyus Edney on Texas A&M in the SEC tournament? No? Please check it out because it’s delightful.

Sexton and the Tide drew an 8/9 matchup in the first round with Virginia Tech. If they survive the first round, they’ll get at shot at Villanova in the second round. All eyes will be on Sexton vs. Nova’s veteran standout Jalen Brunson.

College basketball gods, we don’t ask for much, but give us that one, please.

Duke and Kentucky have players. As a certified NBA snob the Blue Devils have grown on me ever since they got deep into the one-and-done business. Duke has two lottery talents this year: Bagley and Wendell Carter. They also have Grayson Allen so let’s not get too carried away with the Duke devotion.

I’m not sure NBA scouts like Bagley as much as college fans do, so that’s always a fun dynamic. Carter is just a good big man prospect. Not as good as the three mentioned above, but good.

Kentucky is weird this year. Kevin Knox is probably the Wildcats’ best prospect, but point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (a non blue-chipper) is their best player. The real question here is what are we going to call that dude when he makes the league: SGA?

Lonnie Walker is this year’s Donovan Mitchell. That’s totally unfair because D-Mitch had a few years of college seasoning under his belt before he took the league by storm this year. But Walker looks the part — long wingspan, nice shooting stroke, high level of athleticism — and he plays like it with a scoring mentality. (Just watch this play. Goodness.)

Walker got off to a slow start this season after a knee injury over the summer, but he came into his own after an injury to fellow prospect Bruce Brown. The Canes drew a six seed and on the basis of having watched them play exactly half of one half, I’ve got them making a deep run.

Daniel Gafford is a Ricky Pick. No one watches more college hoop than Ricky O’Donnell and if he says the Arkansas big man has some Clint Capela in his game I’m inclined to believe him. Gafford blocks and dunks everything, plus he plays a mean set of drums.

ODonnell has got the Razorbacks going to the Sweet 16 from the No. 7 seed, but they have to get past Butler in the first round. Tough call there. Can’t go against the fightin’ Brad Stevens’s.

Remember when Trae Young was turning college basketball on its head? The Oklahoma guard has one more chance to make an impression after the Sooners pulled a 10-seed despite going 2-8 down the stretch. He’ll have to do it against a tough Rhode Island squad in the dreaded noon Thursday time slot.

All in all this is a fine collection of college talent with many of the top prospects spread out among the featured teams. Let’s try and remember, fellow NBA heads, that no one cares if you think the games are not up to your high aesthetic standards. It’s just basketball.

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