A look at the top prospects, by team, to watch for in the Sweet Sixteen.
Kentucky: Anthony Davis, PF/C
John Calipari’s prospect machine at Kentucky keeps churning ‘em out. Led by Davis, six Wildcats will likely be drafted, five of which could go in the first round (Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, and Marquis Teague). With absurd length (7′ 6" wingspan) and tremendous shot blocking instincts (4.6 bpg), Davis is the most unstoppable defensive force the college game has seen in years. That ferocious D mixed with great offensive efficiency (14.3 ppg on 64.2% shooting) make him the heavy favorite to be the #1 pick in the draft.
North Carolina: Harrison Barnes, SF
The Tar Heels boast four first round talents including Barnes, Kendall Marshall, Tyler Zeller, and John Henson. Barnes is the top prospect among them and a near lock top-five pick, as one really must nitpick to find the holes his game. During his two years at Carolina he’s showcased not only top-grade athleticism and a tremendous scoring prowess, but also the maturity of a player beyond his years.
Kansas: Thomas Robinson, PF
Robinson headlines a trio of Jayhawks that could get drafted in 2012 (along with Jeff Withey – if he leaves – and Tyshawn Taylor). After serving as the Morris twins’ backup the past few seasons, Robinson finally got a chance to start this season and has made the absolute most of his opportunity. He’s flashed everything a team would want in a prototypical power forward – a formidable back-to-the-basket offensive game, solid post D, and the combination of size and athletic strength. Expect to hear his name called in the top-five picks.
Florida: Bradley Beal, SG
A projected lottery pick, Beal is the only Gator likely to be drafted in 2012 (though keep an eye on Patric Young and Kenny Boyton for 2013). He’s a well-rounded shooting guard prospect with an outstanding jump shot. Beal might not be the most eye-catching prospect, but his complete game on both ends of the floor will make him a solid pro for years to come. What he lacks in upside he makes up for by having a high floor.
Ohio State: Jared Sullinger, PF
The Buckeyes’ inside-outside duo of Sullinger and William Bufford will both hear their name called on draft day. Sullinger didn’t do his draft stock any favors by coming back to Ohio State for his (slightly disappointing) sophomore campaign, as there’s a very high chance he’ll get picked lower than he would’ve had he come out after last season (when the talent pool was shallower). But while his stats are virtually identical to his freshman numbers, he’s trimmed some of his excess fat and still can bang in the post with the best of ’em.
Baylor: Perry Jones III, SF/PF
Baylor is stocked with potential NBA talent, including Perry Jones III, Quincy Miller, and Quincy Acy. Unfortunately that talent is often inconsistent, both on a team level and individually. Jones III has arguably the highest offensive upside of any player in the draft with his combination of size (6’11”) and elite athleticism with a guard’s shooting touch. But while he has the potential to drop 20+ points every night, he often disappears (see: only 2 points in Baylor’s opening round win versus an athletically overmatched South Dakota State club).
Syracuse: Dion Waiters, PG/SG
All year Syracuse has been about balance and that theme should continue on draft night. Waiters, Kris Joseph, and the no longer eligible Fab Melo all profile as mid-first to early-second round picks in 2012. Waiters may be Syracuse’s sixth man, he’ll most likely be the first Orange picked this year. As a combo guard, his best attributes are his top-notch strength and defensive prowess, but he can also knock down 3s from NBA range and run the pick-and-roll effectively.
Michigan State: Draymond Green, SF/PF
The heart and soul of the Spartans is also their top draft prospect. Green has willed the Spartans to a #1 seed and a spot in the Sweet 16 with excellent rebounding, jump shooting, and passing. However, right now Green is a borderline late-first round pick, mainly because it’s unclear if he has an NBA position. He’d be very undersized for a power forward and lacks the athleticism to hang with professional small forwards. Green seems like the classic college player who just doesn’t fit into the NBA, but he’ll certainly get drafted and have a chance to prove the skeptics wrong.
Indiana: Cody Zeller, PF/C
The Hoosiers don’t have any players who will be drafted in 2012, but Zeller is shaping up to be a top-five pick in 2013. Cody is, for all intents and purposes, a better version of his big brother Tyler. In addition to a high basketball IQ, Zeller has terrific post moves and runs the break with a purpose, making him one of the more efficient and effective players in the country. While he could stand to put on a little bulk, he’s shown the ability to bang in post and consistently get to the free throw line.
North Carolina State: CJ Leslie, SF/PF
NC State is a team to watch in 2013. If Leslie and Lorenzo Brown return for their junior seasons (and they should), the Wolfpack could be an even more formidable opponent and both could be first round picks. Leslie’s versatility and quickness for his size is the type of package that can leave scouts drooling. On the downside, almost everything about his game still seems raw. Leslie’s overconfidence often leads to poor decision making and his fundamentals lack an overall polish.
Louisville: Peyton Siva, PG
Rick Pitino has built a very good Louisville team without the help of a first round talent. The best prospect on the team is Siva, who is a projected second rounder (and potential sleeper) in 2013. Siva is an undersized point guard prospect with blazing speed and a terrific ability penetrate the lane and finish. He could boost his draft stock with a killer senior season, but he needs to greatly improve his outside shooting (23.8% on 3s) and take better care of the ball (3.5 turnovers/gm).
Xavier: Tu Holloway, PG
As Tu Holloway goes, so goes Xavier. This season’s been a rollercoaster ride for both. There’s no denying Holloway’s confidence or his scoring ability. With a solid jumper and knack for cutting to the hoop, he’s a threat to drop 20+ points every time he hits the floor. But his decision making and distribution skills have been shaky at times and he was also the lightening rod who essentially started the Xavier-Cinci brawl. Holloway is most likely a mid-to-late second round pick.
Marquette: Jae Crowder, SF
What Marquette lacks in elite talent they make up for in hard work and toughness. None of their players better personifies this than Crowder, one of the most improved players in the country and the Big East Player of the Year. The projected second rounder has a great basketball IQ to go with a physical body and excels on the defensive end. While he can’t create his own shot, he can still score because he knows exactly where in the flow of the offense.
Wisconsin – Jordan Taylor, PG
Wisconsin is never a team that is going to wow anyone with talent, but Jordan Taylor is a potential second round pick. After being one of the most improved players in the country during the 2010-11 season, Taylor has had a massively disappointing senior campaign. His numbers are down significantly across the board and he also appears worse via the eye-test. An unexpected trip to the Final Four could redeem not only Taylor’s season, but also his draft stock.
Cincinnati – Yancy Gates, PF
The Bearcats aren’t loaded with pro talent, but there’s an outside shot that Yancy Gates could sneak into the second round of the draft with a few more solid games and a strong pre-draft showing. The senior has a bruising frame which he uses to muscle around smaller foes for rebounds and easy buckets. He seems to have overcome his prominent role in the Xavier-Cinci brawl and assumed a leadership role with his club, but his involvement in the fight could still be a red flag for certain NBA teams.
Ohio: DJ Cooper, PG
To be frank, Ohio doesn’t have any draft prospects at the moment. The key phrase being at the moment. We’ve seen strong tourney runs lead to inflated draft stocks (see: Bradley’s Patrick O’Bryant in 2006). The most likely Bobcat to gain such a boost is junior point guard D.J. Cooper, who leads the team in points, assists, and steals. Another big game or two might open some scouts’ eyes.