Sweet 16 NBA Draft Guide: Watching pro prospects in NCAA Tournament

The Sweet 16 is here and there are plenty of reasons to be excited. For one, we’re two weeks away from crowning an NCAA champion. Also, we just endured what might have been the most exciting opening weekend in Tournament history, which means there is a lot of reason to think this weekend could be good.

Also, it means NBA Draft season is in full gear. The eight games on Thursday and Friday all have prospects involved in them worth watching. Overall, those eight games feature 39 prospects featured somewhere on the CBS Sports NBA Draft Big Board of 150 prospects. Seven of those prospects are currently ranked in the top-30, with four others in range of the first round if the draft were to happen tomorrow.

What matchups should you be watching for? What players do you need to know? We’ve got you covered at CBS. I’ve set up a guide for you involving who to watch for, at what times, and what matchups particularly could be intriguing.

Here’s what you need to know, in order of matchups with the most enticing pro prospects.

SOUTH REGION

No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 5 Maryland (Thursday 9:40 ET, CBS)

Total number of top-150 prospects: 9

Kansas prospects: C Cheick Diallo (No. 37), G/F Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (No. 45), G Wayne Selden (No. 46), PF Perry Ellis (No. 59), PF Carlton Bragg (No. 103), SF Brannen Greene (NR), C Landen Lucas (NR), PG Frank Mason (NR), PG Devonte Graham (NR)

Maryland prospects: C Diamond Stone (No. 24), PG Melo Trimble (No. 41), F Jake Layman (No. 54), PF Robert Carter (No. 127), SG Rasheed Sulaimon (NR), C Damonte Dodd (NR)

On the surface, this would appear to be a pretty loaded game with prospects. And overall, that’s not far off, as it features nine players currently ranked in the CBS Sports Big Board as well as a few others that genuinely have a shot in the future to reach that level. More than that though, the game doesn’t actually feature a ton in the way of prospect-on-prospect matchups.

First and foremost, you have to remember that three of Kansas’ best prospects long-term — Diallo, Mykhailiuk, and Bragg — are bench players at best. Mykhailiuk will likely play at least 20 minutes in this game, but minutes for the two freshman big men are scattered at best. Don’t expect anything different in this one.

The best in-game matchup probably comes at the 4 spot, as Maryland will likely throw both Layman and Carter at Ellis at differing points of the game. Carter’s a bit bigger and stronger, but might have problems with handling Ellis on the perimeter. Layman would be better equipped to handle him out there, but Ellis’ terrific post game could give him some issues. Such is the difficulty of playing against the 6-foot-8 senior from Kansas, as he’s a really efficient, smart, matchup nightmare. Layman could likely cause Ellis further problems from out on the perimeter though, and he’s probably a bit too big for Selden if the Terps decide to play big.

Another thing to watch for here will be the performance of Stone against Lucas, who has really asserted himself inside over the last two months for Kansas. Particularly, Stone struggles mightily on the defensive glass, a place where Lucas might be able to take a massive advantage for the Jayhawks. A big performance here from the Maryland big man could go a long way toward improving his draft stock among scouts.

Finally, look in the backcourt for some clarity on how the game will progress. If Trimble can get loose against Mason and/or Graham, it would really help. He’s been much more aggressive in the Terps’ two NCAA Tournament games than he’s shown throughout the course of the season, driving and looking to contact in order to score instead of distribute. That’s when Trimble is at his best, but he’ll have his hands full as both of these guards are really strong defensively.

EAST REGION

No. 5 Indiana vs. No. 1 North Carolina (Friday 9:57 ET, TBS)

Total number of top-150 prospects: 8

Indiana prospects: C Thomas Bryant (No. 20), F O.G. Anunoby (No. 62), PG Yogi Ferrell (No.66), G/F Troy Williams (No. 78), G Robert Johnson (NR)

North Carolina prospects: PF Brice Johnson (No. 33), G/F Justin Jackson (No. 70), PG Marcus Paige (No. 91), Isaiah Hicks (No. 124), Joel Berry (NR), Kennedy Meeks (NR), Theo Pinson (NR)

This game features quite a few guys who could be first rounders.

Let’s start inside. Bryant is the best long-term prospect here. He’s a 6-foot-10 center with a 7-5 wingspan that can step away and knock down shots from outside. Typically, those guys go much higher than No. 20 overall, but there are some athletic concerns with Bryant, especially laterally. He improved a lot defensively throughout the course of the season, but he does still struggle if he’s left out on an island in space like many NBA teams would do. Overall though, the package of tools is a bit too intriguing to pass in the first round.

On the North Carolina side, Johnson has had the best season of his career and firmly put himself on the radar for the first round. He’s improved his touch around the rim and really improved as a rebounder. The biggest key though has been the way he’s looked on defense over the last month. For the first three months of the year, Johnson was — for lack of a better term — an apathetic defender who rarely got down in his stance and was negligent in weak-side rotations. During North Carolina’s hot run toward the ACC championship and Sweet 16 though, he’s been much better at cutting off penetration and he’s become one of the more dangerous weakside shot-blockers in America. There are still some pretty significant questions about his lack of game outside of 10-feet offensively at his height, his overall length, and whether or not the defense will be consistent in the NBA. But overall, Johnson has had a tremendous season and will be right in the first round mix.

Hicks is also a super interesting prospect due to his athleticism and touch at his size. It wouldn’t be a shocker to see him take a leap like Johnson did this season if he returns next year. Meeks has stagnated a bit due to injury, although it was always going to be tough for a 6-9 center with below-average length to make it.

The backcourt battle is also very interesting. Ferrell has seen his stock rise to the point where he could easily be selected in the draft. He’s a tremendous shooter off the dribble, he attacks the lane well, and he’s improved as a perimeter defender despite his size. The kid is a bulldog, and I’d never count him out. On the other side, Paige has had a rough year, but seems to be coming out of his slump at just the right time. He’s a great shooter that has been resigned to playing the 2 next to Berry a lot this season. But he is a point guard in the NBA, and he’ll have to show scouts pre-draft that he can continue to play there in the future.

On the wing, Jackson and Williams are an interesting juxtaposition of style. Williams is the uber-athlete who can sometimes play out of control. Jackson is the high-feel, high IQ guy who knows exactly what every muscle is doing on the floor at the time. Whoever gets the better of this matchup will put his team at a major advantage.

Then there’s also OG Anunoby, Indiana’s freak athlete on the wing at 6-8 with a 7-2 wingspan who acts as a defensive stopper for the Hoosiers. He has skyrocketed up draft boards as scouts continue to get a further look at him. It’s worth having a healthy degree of skepticism with him, given that he’s playing 15 minutes a game and not doing anything that takes him out of his comfort zone just out-athleting everyone. But the sky is quite literally the limit with this kid if he can figure it out and then also continue to develop basketball tools such as his ball-handling and overall body control. Those don’t always come along, but NBA decision-makers certainly like the frame and athleticism, and that’s often a big part of the battle at the next level.

WEST REGION

No. 1 Oregon vs. No. 4 Duke (Thursday 10:07 ET, TBS)

Total number of top-150 prospects: 5

Oregon prospects: F Dillon Brooks (No. 58), G Tyler Dorsey (No. 86), F/C Chris Boucher (No. 130), G/F Elgin Cook (NR), F Jordan Bell (NR), G/F Dwayne Benjamin (NR)

Duke prospects: F Brandon Ingram (No. 2), G Grayson Allen (No. 22), SG Luke Kennard (NR), PG Derryck Thornton (NR), C Marshall Plumlee (NR), C Chase Jeter (NR)

All NBA Draft eyes will be on Ingram here, as the 6-9 forward is the possible No. 1 overall pick in the draft and will get a wide variety of looks from Oregon. With a 7-3 wingspan, it’s extremely difficult to affect Ingram’s shot once he gets into it, which means you have to do your work beforehand and get him away from where he wants to go. At differing points of this game, it wouldn’t surprise me if a combination of Brooks, Cook, Benjamin, Bell or Boucher are on him. The first four are all in the 6-6 to 6-8 range, and have some strength or length to knock him off of his spot. Boucher is a long, skinny shot-blocker who is not quite equipped to deal with the strength of Plumlee. I’d also expect Oregon to go zone at some point as well.

The other matchup that has potential to be tremendous is Dorsey against Allen. Allen is much stronger than Dorsey, and has an NBA-like arsenal in the way that he attacks closeouts off of pump-fakes and gets into the lane in order to draw fouls. On the other side, Dorsey is just a through and through scorer at the lead guard position that can slash to the rim and knock down shots off the dribble.

Brooks is another guy here though that really has a solid matchup at the hybrid forward position. Duke doesn’t have anyone strong enough at their 2 through 4 spots to guard him if he wants to get into the high-post or attack from the 3-point line. He’s a powerful 6-6 athlete that may really be able to send his draft stock to further heights after his strong opening weekend if he can lead Oregon to a Final Four.

Otherwise, there are some interesting prospects for the future here. Kennard is known as a tremendous shooter with terrific feel for the game despite struggling a bit at times this year. Thornton is a really strong athlete that’s probably still a year away from being consistently effective after reclassifying the 2015 class. Cook and Benjamin are solid, senior scorers on the wing. Bell is a powerful, physical athlete that is built like a linebacker and defends like one too. Jeter has a shot to turn into something long-term, but don’t expect much in this one.

SOUTH REGION

No. 3 Miami (Fla.) vs. No. 2 Villanova (Thursday 7:10, ET, CBS)

Total number of top-150 prospects: 5

Miami (Fla.) prospects: SG Sheldon McClellan (No. 44), C Tonye Jekiri (No. 105), SF Davon Reed (NR), JaQuan Newton (NR), Angel Rodriguez (NR)

Villanova prospects: SG Josh Hart (No. 72), Daniel Ochefu (No. 134), PG Jalen Brunson (No. 142), G/F Mikal Bridges (NR), PG Ryan Arcidiacono (NR), F Kris Jenkins (NR)

Overall, this isn’t the best game for prospects this weekend, but there are a couple of fun matchups. The one most will have their eye on is Sheldon McClellan against Josh Hart. McClellan is the slightly better prospect here due to his athleticism and improved shooting ability. But Hart gets by on terrific feel for the game and with how hard he plays at all times. They’re both strong on both ends as well, meaning neither will be able to take a possession off and expect to come away the victor.

The matchup inside is terrific as well. For the NBA, Jekiri is the slightly better prospect due to his mobility on the perimeter defensively. Watch particularly for the way he’s able to cut off pick-and-rolls. Ochefu is the better interior player though, and he does slightly more offensively. Each has a shot at being a second round pick with strong pre-draft processes.

On the rest of the board there are some interesting guys. Brunson is the only other guy ranked in my top-150, and that’s more on the back of his terrific past performances than what he’s shown this season in more of a bit role at Villanova. Bridges and Reed are interesting guys for the future, as Reed is a 3-and-D type and Bridges is a tremendously long wing prospect. At the point, Arcidiacono and Rodriguez aren’t really NBA prospects at this juncture, but the way they play could have the most critical impact on the game as a whole.

MIDWEST REGION

No. 11 Gonzaga vs. No. 10 Syracuse (Friday 9:40 ET, CBS)

Total number of top-150 prospects: 4

Gonzaga prospects: PF Domantas Sabonis (No. 16), PF Kyle Wiltjer (No. 76), G Eric McClellan (NR), G Josh Perkins (NR)

Syracuse prospects: G Michael Gbinije (No. 68), PF Tyler Lydon (No. 116), SG Malachi Richardson (NR)

Sabonis is the prize here. He could be a lottery pick in 2016, as he’s done an excellent job of rounding out his game. The 6-10 Lithuanian is no longer just a rebounder with a post-game that can finish around the basket. He’s now able to step out and knock down jump shots, he’s a terrific passer, and his defensive game has taken a fairly large leap both in terms of defending around the rim and out on the perimeter. He will likely wreak havoc in the middle of Syracuse’s zone in this one.

Beyond him are two potential second rounders. Gbinije has had an excellent senior season at Syracuse, as he’s become a tremendous knock-down shooter and good defender in the zone. He’s also a guy that’s not afraid to make the extra passer, and he can attack a closeout with his ball-handling ability. Overall, a smart player. Wiltjer, on the other hand, is possibly the best shooter in college basketball, and that’s largely his NBA skillset. He shoots from distance, from the midrange, from mid-post situations, down on the block. He’s simply just a gifted scorer. The 6-10 forward really struggles defensively though, especially in pick-and-roll situations.

A few guys for the future round out these rosters. Lydon is a stretch-four type with solid athleticism who could develop into a first rounder at some point if he continues to round out his game. Richardson also has a solid, albeit inefficient freshman season. Finally, Perkins is probably the best athlete at the point guard position Gonzaga has had up in Spokane, and could continue to develop over the next few years into a really good player.

EAST REGION

No. 7 Wisconsin vs. No. 6 Notre Dame (Friday 7:27 ET, TBS)

Total number of top-150 prospects: 4

Wisconsin prospects: F Nigel Hayes (No. 47), PF Vitto Brown (NR), G Bronson Koenig (NR), F/C Ethan Happ (NR)

Notre Dame prospects: PG Demetrius Jackson (No. 21), F/C Zach Auguste (No. 102), G/F V.J. Beachem (No. 131)

Jackson is the one to watch here. Notre Dame’s 6-1 point guard is an explosive athlete that has solid passing instincts and a good jump shot. Basically, every part of Jackson’s game is solid, and he’s in the mix to be the second point guard drafted this season behind Kris Dunn of Providence.

With him are a pair of interesting guys. Auguste is a 6-10, 240-pound banger inside who finishes around the rim and rebounds on both ends. The question with him is on the defensive end. He’s been much, much better there over the last three weeks of the season, but he was a pretty big part of the Irish’s struggles early on that end. He’ll need to show NBA teams that he can play on that side of the floor consistently. Beachem is fascinating from the perspective of 6-8 guys with a 7-0 wingspan who have picturesque shots don’t come around often. The rest of his game is lacking, but anyone at that size with that length who knocks down 44 percent of his 3s is a guy worth looking at if you’re an NBA GM.

On the Wisconsin side, Hayes has had a rough year as a prospect. He struggled to step up efficiently on the offensive end, and took a bit of a step back as a shooter from last season. The defense is solid as he can guard a variety of players in switches. And he’s shown the ability to be a good role player before, which would be his place in the NBA. But he’s more of a second round guy than a first rounder now.

Brown, Koenig, and Happ are all semi-interesting. Brown is a 6-8 kid who can step away and shoot. Koenig is a scoring guard who had an inefficient year. Happ was among the best freshmen in the Big Ten.

MIDWEST REGION

No. 4 Iowa State vs. No. 1 Virginia (Friday 7:10 ET, CBS)

Total number of top-150 prospects: 3

Iowa State prospects: PG Monte Morris (No. 50), SF Georges Niang (No. 93), C Jameel McKay (NR), F Abdel Nader (NR), G/F Deonte Burton (NR)

Virginia prospects: SG Malcolm Brogdon (No. 31), PF Anthony Gill (NR), PG London Perrantes (NR), C Mike Tobey (NR), SG Marial Shayok (NR)

Brogdon has placed himself into the national player of the year race, and with that he’s helped his draft stock tremendously throughout the season. At 6-5 with long arms, he might be the best perimeter defender in the entire country. He’s physical, he knows exactly how to angle himself to knock you off of your spot, and he’s among the best in the country at really getting out and contesting shots and denying the ball. Pair that with an improved offensive game — where he’s now become one of the most deadly weapons in college basketball at moving without the ball and shooting off of screens — and you have a potential late first round pick despite his being 23 years old.

On the other side, you have a pair of top-100 guys. Morris projects as the better NBA prospect due to his playmaking ability for others and effectiveness in limiting turnovers. He’s also become a better scorer this year under Steve Prohm. But I wouldn’t necessarily sleep on Niang either. He’s not quite traditionally athletic enough and he doesn’t necessarily have the best frame for the NBA, but I’m not sure there is a higher IQ basketball player in the entire country. Niang is beyond skilled — a tremendous shooter and passer — and he knows how to use his strength and frame to get to his spots on the floor. It wouldn’t shock if he ended up playing in the NBA for a while.

Beyond those three, Jameel McKay is a solid athlete who might catch on with a summer league team. Anthony Gill is super smart, a good rebounder, and a good defender. Perrantes has taken a leap forward this season. Nader is a senior who will likely be a good pro overseas. Shayok is one for the future, as he has a solid frame and a tremendous wingspan.

WEST REGION

No. 3 Texas A&M vs. No. 2 Oklahoma (Thursday 7:37 ET, TBS)

Total number of top-150 prospects: 2

Texas A&M prospects: G/F Danuel House (No. 75), C Tyler Davis (NR), PG Alex Caruso (NR), F Jalen Jones (NR), F D.J. Hogg (NR), G Admon Gilder (NR)

Oklahoma prospects: SG Buddy Hield (No. 11), G Isaiah Cousins (NR), PF Ryan Spangler (NR), C Khadeem Lattin (NR), PG Jordan Woodard (NR)

The key matchup here involves the only two ranked players on this board. Hield and House should be matched up directly against each other, as both teams like to play two point guards next to their wing scorers. House is a bit bigger and more athletic, but Hield is one of the most prolific scorers in the country for a reason. He just finds a way to get loose off ball and get open for shots. Texas A&M has a really sound team defense, and it’ll take more than just House to slow down the potential national player of the year.

Beyond that, I’d say look toward Cousins against Caruso as your other best thing to watch here. I would assume both of these guys will be at Summer League next year — Caruso for his terrific defense and all-around game, Cousins for his shooting and the ability to run a competent point. Spangler and Jones also might join them at Summer League.

Brice Johnson highlights North Carolina's list of pro prospects.(USATSI)
Brice Johnson highlights North Carolina’s list of pro prospects.(USATSI)

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