Sweet 16: The Best NBA Prospects Remaining In March Madness
- We have reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, and while the number of teams has decreased, the pool is still ripe with NBA prospects.
As the Sweet 16 tips off Thursday evening, NBA scouts will flock far and wide to evaluate the college ranks’ premier talent. Below, The Crossover presents a game-by-game guide for NBA fans to evaluate all of the tournament’s remaining prospects for this year’s draft and beyond.
(Update: With Thursday's games in the books, here's a look at Friday's slate of games.)
North Carolina vs. Butler, 7:09 p.m.
Justin Jackson | SF | Junior
Jackson returned to school and left quite the impression this season, displaying a much-improved three-point shot to go with his strong scoring instincts and long 6’8” frame. He’s likely played his way into the first round of this year‘s draft. He’s totaled 36 points in two tourney games and shot 8–14 from three, and will be relied on to anchor the Tar Heels’ attack against Butler, and likely beyond.
Tony Bradley | C | Freshman
A super-efficient interior scorer who’s been terrific all season playing limited minutes in UNC’s deep frontcourt rotation, Bradley’s shown enough to put himself in the first round conversation. His touch and rebounding ability give him a solid floor as a prospect. He’ll be critical as the Heels look to overwhelm Butler’s thinner front line, and the deeper they go in the tournament, the better Bradley’s case for leaving this season might be.
Joel Berry II | PG | Junior
Berry has been the force that makes Carolina tick, pacing the offense with his playmaking, three-point shooting and a nose for important baskets. He‘s undersized for the NBA and will have more to prove as a senior. A tough batch of Butler guards could make life tricky for him in this one.
Isaiah Hicks | F | Senior
Hicks has always been an interesting physical specimen and averaged a career-best 12.4 points and 5.7 rebounds this season, finally gifted with a prominent role. He has little perimeter game and likely won’t be drafted, but should receive summer league looks as an energy big with some defensive versatility and skill around the basket. His efforts are key to Carolina’s title hopes.
Kennedy Meeks | C | Senior
Meeks has continued to improve his conditioning and has thrived as a senior accordingly, averaging 12.7 points and 9.1 rebounds. He’s got the height and length to play center in the NBA, but will have to prove he can compete athletically at the next level. He’s limited as a scorer, doing most of his damage on post-ups and offensive rebounds, and will have to find ways to score around length. He’ll benefit from a smaller matchup in Butler’s Tyler Wideman.
Theo Pinson | SF | Junior
After missing the first half of the season recovering from a broken left foot, Pinson has returned to log important minutes for the Tar Heels. He was a touted recruit and has a nice pro frame for a wing, but has struggled as a scorer, doesn’t take a high volume of shots and has a checkered injury history (he missed much of his freshman year with a another break in the same foot). Producing next season will be crucial to his NBA chances.
Seventh Woods | G | Freshman
Woods garnered fame for a high school mixtape that showcased his incredible athletic ability, and though he’s done next to nothing production-wise as a freshman, improved skill level could make him an NBA player. He’s a name to follow for the next couple seasons.
Kelan Martin | F | Junior
Butler’s leading scorer, Martin took a small step back in production from his sophomore year but has had some big-time performances this season. He’s been coming off the bench for the last month and used a mixed bag of offensive skills to be impactful, with jump shooting his calling card. For Butler to have a chance at an upset, they’ll need a big game from him, and his likely matchup with Justin Jackson will be worth a watch.
Baylor vs South Carolina, 7:29 p.m.
Johnathan Motley | PF | Junior
Motley’s breakout has been the main reason for Baylor’s success this season, and he’s hovering around in the late first round conversation with strong measurables and production. He’ll be tested by South Carolina’s elite defense, but has scored in double figures in all but two games this season. His impact on the glass will be critical to controlling the game, particularly if the Gamecocks are able to bottle up Baylor’s guards.
Manu Lecomte | PG | Junior
The Belgian guard has been impactful after transferring from Miami, leading the team in assists and serving as an important shot creator, particularly late in games. He’s undersized, but his shooting and ability to use screens will at least keep him on the map. He’ll face a serious challenge against the South Carolina backcourt.
Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. | C | Junior
Although the big man struggles offensively and has been an awful free throw shooter, his defensive impact (2.5 blocks per game) makes him a critical player for Baylor. As a 7-foot shot blocker, he could garner pro looks on the fringes next summer, but has a ways to go in terms of offensive skill. He’ll be key in keeping South Carolina’s guards away from the rim.
Sindarius Thornwell | G | Senior
Thornwell is the SEC’s Player of the Year and has been one of the players of the tournament to date, with two stat-stuffing performances under his belt already. He’s big, strong and dynamic on both ends of the floor and his toughness has set the tone for the rest of the team. His advanced age for a prospect is a factor here, as a lot of his game relies on his physical dominance and perhaps caps his upside. But Thornwell’s had an exceptional senior year and can keep the buzz going if the Gamecocks pull another upset.
PJ Dozier | G | Sophomore
Dozier’s not a finished product, but his height, length and athletic ability make him a clear NBA prospect. He’s smooth and natural in transition and was productive, though not efficient as a scorer. He’s not a good jump shooter and could use another year to hone his craft, but Dozier was great against Marquette, solid versus Duke and will have plenty of eyes on him this weekend.
Kentucky vs UCLA, 9:39 p.m.
De’Aaron Fox | PG | Freshman
Fox has been playing outstanding ball the past few weeks and is a surefire lottery pick at this point, checking every box you want in a point guard except for jump shooting. His form doesn’t look broken but he’s struggled to make threes all season, which stands as his the biggest obstacle to stardom. He’ll get a marquee matchup with Lonzo Ball (who he effectively corralled earlier this season) on Friday, and the deeper Kentucky goes, the harder teams will have to think here.
Malik Monk | SG | Freshman
It’s been almost a month since Monk had one of his massive shooting nights. He’s the draft’s top perimeter scoring prospect and has won games for Kentucky basically by himself this season. He’s entrenched in the lottery along with Fox for his scoring gifts, but isn’t a great defender and lacks ideal size as a two. Monk showed a bit more of his all-around game against Wichita State and will be a prime focus for UCLA’s defense in the Sweet 16. He burned them for 24 points in a loss earlier this season.
Bam Adebayo | F/C | Freshman
Adebayo anchors the middle for Kentucky and has put together a strong second half of the season. He’s a projected first-rounder with a relatively wide range, offering a decent floor but lacking starry upside as an athletic, two-way big. UCLA’s potent offensively but not especially physical up front, giving Adebayo an opportunity for a huge game.
Isaiah Briscoe | PG | Sophomore
Briscoe’s on the draft fringes, lacking elite NBA athleticism or a calling-card skill other than his competitive streak. He still plays a big role in Kentucky’s rotation, and will get looks from teams late in the draft and at summer league. He’ll be leaned on for defensive contributions as Kentucky tries to curtail the Bruins’ high-scoring offense.
Derek Willis | PF | Senior
As a rare four-year Kentucky player, Willis has shown he can stretch the floor at 6’9” with good length and athleticism. That and the UK pedigree will get him workouts after the season, though his upside is likely limited to filling out a roster at best. His role is limited, but an unexpected, timely big shooting night from Willis could be a difference-maker against UCLA.
Lonzo Ball | PG | Freshman
Ball’s a likely top pick in this year’s draft and has arguably been the face of college hoops this season, engineering a high-octane Bruins offense (and unimpressive defense) that’s been a ton of fun to watch. His size, passing ability and intuitive understanding of the floor let him influence games without scoring. He’s staring down a matchup with one of the best defensive guards around in De’Aaron Fox.
T.J. Leaf | PF | Freshman
The other key to UCLA’s attack is Leaf, whose inside-out game gives the Bruins a critical element and allows them to properly space the floor for their guards to attack the basket.
Ike Anigbogu | C | Freshman
Anigbogu is arguably the only player on UCLA who’s focused on defense, and he’s quite good at that. He’d be one of the youngest players in the draft if he comes out this year, and his measurables and athleticism at 6’10” will likely keep him in the first round picture. He has a long way to go as a scorer, but even a rudimentary offensive game could make him an impact player given his considerable potential as a rim protector. He’s key to UCLA’s title hopes.
Thomas Welsh | C | Junior
Possessing perhaps the most reliable 15-footer in college hoops, Welsh adds a dimension to the UCLA attack as a screener, rebounds well and could play a similar role in the pros. The 7-footer should have a place somewhere if he perfects that type of role at the next level.
Aaron Holiday | PG | Sophomore
Jrue and Justin’s little brother has plenty of talent in his own right, shining in stretches for the Bruins this season and playing a key role in the rotation as a ballhandler. He’ll need another year of school, but with his lineage, toughness and shooting touch could be ticketed for the NBA down the line. He could be an X-factor for UCLA creating in the half-court if their offense should stall.
Bryce Alford | G | Senior
Alford can‘t guard anybody, but can fill it up as a shooter and will at least earn himself a summer league invite after a big senior season.
Isaac Hamilton | SG | Senior
As a three-and-D prospect with an NBA pedigree (older brother Jordan played in the NBA and other brother Daniel is currently in the D-League). Hamilton will garner some looks after the season and has been a strong secondary scorer for the Bruins this season.
Florida vs Wisconsin, 9:59 p.m.
Devin Robinson | SF | Junior
A pair of big tournament games has Robinson buzzing at the moment, and he’s been a major part of Florida’s success all year. Considered a fringe prospect coming into the season, he’s an NBA athlete with a developing two-way game and may earn a combine invite off the strength of his March. He can guard several positions and was extremely effective against Virginia, sticking all over the floor as Florida slugged their way to a big win. He’s still polishing up the rough edges of his game, but as a wing who can shoot and defend, he’s clearly on the radar.
Kasey Hill | PG | Senior
Hill was a McDonald’s All-American coming in under Billy Donovan, and though he’s never quite delivered, he‘s a defensive energizer and playmaker for this team. He struggles shooting the basketball, but his athletic ability and upside guarding the ball should get him workouts. He’ll have a tough cover in Bronson Koening on Friday night.
Nigel Hayes | PF | Senior
Hayes by and large has not helped his draft stock much this season, lacking a clear NBA position and not markedly improving his shooting, which hurts his case as a small ball four-man. He’s extremely long for 6’7”, but without a calling-card skill may not capture a ton of serious interest after the season. That doesn’t diminish how critical he is to Wisconsin’s hopes—they’ll need him at his very best to keep their run going.
Ethan Happ | F/C | RS Sophomore
The versatile Happ is Wisconsin’s best player and has been a load on the glass and scoring inside 15 feet. He’s an outstanding defensive player who forces turnovers and patrols the paint effectively, anchoring the Badgers throughout an up-and-down season. His scoring has been modest through the first two games, but he does everything well except for shoot threes (he doesn’t take those, period). Happ’s a serious sleeper.
Bronson Koenig | PG | Senior
Koenig is on the NBA fringes, but he’s hit big shot after big shot in this tourney and should earn himself summer league looks. He’s a strong three-point shooter and solid athlete with good size at the point. The big knock on him is his lack of assists—he’s a scorer first and foremost at the college level, but will have to find other ways to impact the game if he wants to stick. For now, he’s the guy who’ll have the ball in his hands when it counts.