When Duke and Gonzaga tangled in late November, the Chet Holmgren – Paolo Banchero match up was being billed as the battle to be the number one pick. And for some the two remained as the top two projected picks for much of the college season. But there’s a scenario now where neither end up in the top three with the emergence of players such as Jaden Ivey, Jabari Smith, Benedict Mathurin and AJ Griffin. The top 6 of this year’s draft are all extremely intriguing, and struggling NBA teams will close out the season jockeying for a bottom four finish to secure a chance at a potential franchise talent.
Jaden Ivey, PG/SG Purdue
Ivey is quickly putting himself in position to be the top overall pick in this year’s NBA draft. Today’s NBA has progressively become guard-centric with “high usage” players essentially seen as having the importance of an NBA team’s quarterback. It’s not just Ivey’s elite speed and athleticism that makes him unique. His isolation ability, and creativity getting to the basket or pulling up from the perimeter is quickly becoming elite. Ivey’s game parallels players such as Donovan Mitchell and Russell Westbrook with his dynamic explosiveness and ability to beat opponents off the dribble. And with such a muscular frame and the ability to improvise and make incredibly creative plays off the dribble, Ivey is Ja Morant meets Anthony Edwards. Ivey used the first weekend of March Madness to show that the clutch gene is intact. He answered critics hitting a huge 3 pointer in the final minute against Texas to push the lead out to six and essentially secure the win. He proved he’s not only the best athlete in college basketball but can hit big shots and reliably knock down important three pointers. He went 3-6 against Yale and 2-4 against Texas from deep. With an improved looking form on his shot; outside shooting being the one real trouble spot to his game in the early part of the year, the sky is the limit for him. Knocking down 50% of his three point shots and averaging 20 points (22 and 18) over the first weekend, Ivey shows the ability to be a lead guard at the NBA level and as a high usage player with ball handling and passing. He has leapfrogged Jabari Smith on both our 2022 mock draft and Top 100 big board and currently sits at 1 heading into the second weekend of the tournament.
Bennedict Mathurin, SG/SF Arizona
With Arizona down 3 with the clock winding down on their season, Mathurin took it upon himself to will Arizona to victory, when it looked like TCU might put them away. His huge three pointer to tie the game in the closing minutes showed he possesses a clutch gene. He also converted a three point play at the end of overtime battling for a rebound and powering through contact for an integral And-1 to put the Wildcats up for good. While ball handling remains an area to focus on, he showed the ability to pull up and hit a 3 point shot from five feet beyond the arch in a play that will go down in Arizona basketball history, especially if they are able to make a deep run and win the title. Matherin is one more bigtime talent in the growing assembly line of the Canadian basketball factory. And like Ivey, the fact that he was a late bloomer and wasn’t among the top 50 players in his class (Rated 127 by 247Sports) kept him shielded from the negative aspects that can come with being a highly rated AAU player at a young age. Mathurin has put himself in position to be a top five pick in this year’s draft.
Paolo Banchero, PF Duke
Banchero made a number of key plays late to help Duke overcome a 5 point lead by Michigan State. He made a bully ball drive and converted the basket to put Duke in front and Michigan State would not be able to re-claim the lead as their lack of quality ball handlers eventually caught up with them. Banchero has proven on a number of occasions that he is an excellent decision maker, particularly in the clutch. He put up 17 and 10 against Fullerton and 19 and 7 against Michigan State in the team’s first weekend match ups. His ability to make drive and dish scoring opportunities for teammates in the paint is another impressive aspect of his game. While not an overly explosive athlete, his body control, shooting ability, cerebral decision making and competitiveness will give him looks in the top 3 and he’s a virtual lock to go top 5. If he continues to put Duke on his back and exhibit clutch ability, he can further boost his draft stock.
Malaki Branham, SG Ohio State
The sweet shooting Branham is the hottest name around scouting circles right now. He has made a push to be a one and done lottery pick with consistent quality play as the season progressed. He’s exactly what NBA teams fawn over as he’s a bucket-getter and high level scorer. Branham has averaged 20.2 ppg over his past 10 games and with great consistency scoring at least 13 in each. He also has shown a solid ability to find teammates in scoring positions with 4 assists in three of the last five and averaging 2 per game on the season. In their season ending loss to Villanova, Branham went for 23 points on 10-19 shooting. He came in as a top 40, four star recruit and most assumed he would be at Ohio State for a minimum of 2-3 years. But as the season progressed it became apparent that he’s one of the elite freshman in the country and a player that could potentially make the jump this year and be a first rounder. If he elects to enter the draft, he figures to get workouts with lottery projected wings and stands a good chance of being a green room invite and lottery pick. how he measures will be key, but Branham looks bigger than his listed 6-5, 180 lb size. He’s likely to be minimum 200 lbs and possibly an inch or two taller as well. He has a near 7′ foot wingspan, so there are similarities to former Buckeye Kris Middleton with both his body type and game.
Jamaree Bouyea, PG San Francisco
Bouyea showed that he can step up when it matters most with a huge NCAA tournament performance, making numerous key plays with dynamic drives to the basket and knocking down three pointers in their close loss to Murray State. He hit a three with 17 seconds to tie the game and send it to OT, and had a big three in the overtime to keep it close. But in the end the Racers withstood the Bouyea onslaught (36 points on 13-26 shooting) and pulled out the close first round win. Bouyea struggled at the end of the year with consistency, particularly when matched up with rim protectors such as Chet Holmgren who made it virtually impossible for him to drive. But over the weekend Bouyea certainly helped his cause and is seen by some as a sleeper, despite his age, for this year’s draft. While first round might be overly optimistic, he’s put himself squarely in the second round with a chance to move up with quality workouts.
Christian Koloko, C Arizona
Koloko went for 28 and 12 against TCU but it was his efficiency that was so impressive as he shot 12-of-13 from the floor. The Arizona bigman is making a case to be a late first round pick in this year’s draft. He’s got intriguing shooting touch and the ability to rim protect. Nearly all of Koloko’s points versus TCU came by way of dunks and lay ins. He did not take one three pointer all year, but the fact that he’s such a good free throw shooter (73%) gives his perimeter shooting some promise. Koloko was also a factor with his defense, blocking 5 against Wright State and 3 against TCU. He struggled some matching up with the size and physicality of Eddie Lampkin giving up 20 and 14 to the emotional lifting TCU big. Koloko tallied 17 and 12 against Wright State and will likely get the opportunity to play against better big man competition to possibly solidify a spot in this year’s first round.
Trayce Jackson-Davis, PF/C Indiana
Indiana got bounced and Saint Mary’s was able to hold Jackson-Davis to just 12 and 5 in the tourney, but give TJD a lot of credit for his tremendous play over the past month including the Big Ten Tournament, helping the Hoosiers secure one of the last bids in the Big Dance, and also his performance in their first tournament game. In Indiana’s three Big Ten Tournament games, TJD averaged 23 and 9 and put up 29 and 9 in their play in win over Wyoming, putting Indiana on his back in that game. He was huge in must win games over Michigan and Illinios, which allowing Indiana into the NCAA Tournament. Jackson-Davis is a smooth lefty who shoots it better than his stats show, perhaps due to defenses keying on him. In time he should be able to extend his range and consistency. With his timely play, Davis likely solidified a spot in the late first round with his tremendous play in March.
Brady Manek, C/PF North Carolina
Manek got ejected in their win over Baylor but it doesn’t change the fact that he had two incredible tourney performances. 28 and 26 points in the opening weekend match ups. Not bad for a 15 ppg scorer. Projecting Manek to the next level, he’s got the shooting ability to spread the floor which fits in perfectly with today’s league. Manek is knocking down 50% of his three pointers in the tourney having gone 5-10 against Marquette and 4-8 against Baylor from 3. He was arguably North Carolina’s best player on the floor in both games, and the proof is how quickly they fell apart against Baylor after he was ejected for elbowing Jeremy Sochan. Manek has likely solidified a spot in the second round and could move into the first half of the second with continued standout play in the second weekend and in workouts.
Gabe Brown, PF Michigan State
Another senior that deserves some love. Despite the season ending loss to Duke, Brown played out of his mind knocking down 4-6 from three and converting some insanely athletic break away dunks, finishing with 18 points in the Spartans biggest game of the year. At 215 lbs, he’s rail thin, but seems to absorb contact well and has always been a good outside shooter. Izzo generally lets seniors shine and Brown utilized the opportunity this year to post a career high 11 ppg. His shooting efficiency over the past two seasons, averaging 42% from 3 and 89% from the line last year, and 38% and 88% from the stripe and line this year. Those numbers indicate that Brown may have been slightly under utilized from a volume standpoint and that he may be underrated as a prospect for the next level due to not having stand out production.
Kennedy Chandler, PG Tennessee
Chandler showed a lot of heart, playing incredible ball all year and capping off what will likely be his only season in college hoops with a 19 point and 9 assist game in defeat against Michigan. Chandler carried Tennessee all season as one of the most impactful freshmen in the country and despite a lack of height at 6’1, he has a good wingspan at 6’5 and really polished skills for his age. He played off the ball for a lot of the year with freshman Zakai Zeigler running the point, however in high school and in spot duty Chandler has proven beyond question that he is a competent lead guard with excellent passing and decision making. At times he gets up for explosive dunks and is a sneaky athlete. Bu overall he lacks dynamic strength and athleticism and may struggle some physically, particularly defensively, because of that at the next level. Because of his tremendous play all season and in the tournament, he should get looks in the mid first round and end up in the teens or early 20s on draft night.
Chet Holmgren, C Gonzaga
The Zags hopped on Drew Timme’s back and overcame their 10 point halftime deficit against Memphis and pulled out the win in the second half. There were times in both first round match ups where Homgren looked weak physically and was pushed around, making it a challenge to operate around the basket. He’s extremely intriguing due to his incredible skill set with shooting, ball handling, shot blocking, along with displaying incredibly nimble feet. But he’s clearly a risky pick as it’s unclear how his body will develop and look in 3-5 years. The biggest mystery is whether Holmgren’s frame hold additional weight and allow him to maintain the same mobility and quickness. And also is he a player destined to have a short prime, with a number of years filling into his body at the front end, and struggling to stay healthy in the back end? Time will tell. Like AD, he could be a player that perpetually struggles to play 82 games. Whether he proves to be a rare durable bigman remains to be seen, but the rail thin frame for a bigman will certainly give teams deciding on the top picks reason for concern. Holmgren has proven to struggle in back to back games as he did against St Mary’s twice and against Memphis last weekend. So the the brutal, rapid fire schedule, not to mention physicality at the next level, figure to be a challenge for him to adjust to. The good news for Holmgren is that with Gonzaga surviving and advancing, he still has time to recapture momentum. Gonzaga winning it all along with strong performances over the next two weekends could certainly revitalize his draft stock.
Jabari Smith, PF Auburn
The Tigers ran into a buzzsaw in Jim Laranega’s Miami team and Auburn was unable to reach the Sweet 16. Some of Smith’s wrinkles were made more apparent. He has such a pure shooting stroke, which obviously will translate extremely well at the next level. But it’s clear he can become too reliant on his outside shot and forget to use his athleticism by not trying to get shots closer to the basket. His inability to utilize ball handling and get by defenders was clear as he often took contested fade-away shots without attempting to dribble, or even threaten to dribble. Perhaps he was worried about getting the ball stolen, but it allowed for an easy defensive strategy of crowding him and not allowing him to get clean looks on the outside. He’s also an elite level athlete as he showed with his monster dunk in round one. On the positive side, Smith grabbed 14 and 15 rebounds in the first two match ups. Rebounding is one area that Smith has not been as dominant this season, so that was a real bright spot. However, he went extremely cold shooting, knocking down 3 of 16 from the floor (18%) in what will likely be his final college game. Smith remains one of the top candidates to go first in this year’s draft, however his struggles against Miami opened the door for a player like Jaden Ivey to leapfrog him on draft night. He remains a top 2 pick on our draft board.
Blake Wesley, SG Notre Dame
Wesley came out of no where this season after not even being a top 100 recruit coming out of high school. The team took flight, after a rough start, when Coach Brey made the decision to turn the keys over to Wesley and make him a starter and their primary ball handler. And the team went on a tear and ended up the 2 seed in the ACC tournament. At times Wesley looked like a potential lottery pick. But his shooting efficiency will make it difficult for him to go that high and there’s a good case that he would greatly benefit by returning to South Bend for a sophomore year. He could easily develop into a top 10 pick if he makes the jump that many players make between their freshman and sophomore years and adds consistency and better control of his skill set. He struggled at the end of their tourney loss to Miami, getting blocked and double teamed and making costly turnovers and having his shot blocked. he would likely be a first round pick if he entered the draft, but as mentioned would likely benefit in the long run from another year of seasoning.
TyTy Washington, PG/SG Kentucky
Washington struggled mightily against the Saint Peters guard hitting just 2-10 for 5 points. The Wildcats got 30 and 15 from their bigman Oscar Tschibwe, but Washington was a virtual no show, finishing with 1 assist and 2 turnovers in 32 minutes of action. Washington is seen as a potential late lottery pick but could see his stock fall some. Washington had a solid year, and is seen as a solid scorer from the lead guard position with his length and shooting ability. He may need some strong workouts leading up to the draft to solidify his status as one of the top lead guards available for this year’s draft.
Kandall Brown, SF Baylor
Brown struggled mightily in Baylor’s two tournament games shooting a combined 0-5 from three and averaging just 5 points and 4 boards over their two games. He was once a projected lottery pick early in the year, but has really been exposed as an athlete in need of refining his skill set. He could still potentially work his way back into the late first with great workouts, but right now it appears he’s on the outside looking in with regard to being a first round pick and probably would be best served by returning to Baylor, working on his skill set and becoming a bigger factor on the offensive end of the floor. While Brown’s 34% from three on the year looks decent, the fact that he made just 14 on the season, less than one every two games, makes it difficult to put much faith in his perimeter shooting. If he returns and can hit double or triple that number at a similar clip and improve his ball skills, he could recapture the mid first round hype he had early in his freshman season.
Walker Kessler, C Auburn
Kessler was dealing with a shoulder injury over the past three weeks so it’s probably unfair to focus too much on his no show in their loss to Miami. He had 9 blocks in their opening round win over Jacksonville State as well as 13 and 10. But his stinker (2 points and 2 boards) in Auburn’s last game of the year was a disappointment nonetheless. He had an impressive year, especially on the defensive end, proving to be a difference maker as a shot blocker, 4.6 per game and despite the shift away from traditional bigs at the next level, he shows some signs of being able to translate with his solid mobility and touch. He averaged just 60% from the line as a sophomore, so improving his shooting will obviously be imperative.