With the NCAA tournament complete, the basketball world will now turn its attention to what’s next – namely the NBA Draft. Many key players have already announced their intentions to declare, with more to come between now and the April 23rd deadline.
But looking back on the tournament it’s worth asking: Did any players help their draft stock in the eyes of the NBA? The answer is yes. While the NBA has known about most of these guys since their high school days, it never hurts to have a good game or two (or six) in March.
So who helped their draft stock in the NCAA tournament? Here are seven names.
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Zach Collins, F/C, Gonzaga
The Gonzaga freshman has been on scouts' radars all season – with many projecting him as a first-round pick, despite him coming off the bench. But if there was ever a doubt about what Collins was capable of, he displayed it during the Big Dance.
Collins was Gonzaga's most important player in a 77-73 national semifinal win over South Carolina, tallying 14 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks. And despite being limited to just 14 minutes Monday night because of foul trouble, he still managed to put up nine points and seven boards against North Carolina’s big front line.
Collins refused to discuss his draft decision following Gonzaga’s loss to the Tar Heels. But if he declares, it’s hard to see him falling out of the lottery.
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Jordan Bell, F, Oregon
Things didn’t end well for Bell in the tournament – a missed block-out allowed Kennedy Meeks to grab a game-clinching rebound Saturday night – but he was a breakout star throughout the entire thing. Bell had an unforgettable 11 point, 13 rebound, eight-block performance versus Kansas in the Elite Eight and was better than anyone will remember against North Carolina, tallying 13 points and 16 rebounds.
Bell, a junior, has been considered a second-round pick all season, but hasn't yet declared. If he does, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he snuck into the first round. It’s hard to find a player with his size and athleticism who is happy to do the dirty work. And that’s exactly who Bell is.
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De’Aaron Fox, G, Kentucky
The debate over who the best point guard in the NBA Draft has been centered around Lonzo Ball and Markelle Fultz all season long. But after dominating Ball in a head-to-head Sweet 16 matchup, Fox has played his way into the conversation as the top point guard available.
Fox went for 39 points that night, and after a season full of nagging injuries, he showed exactly what he is capable of doing when fully healthy. It wouldn’t be shocking to see Fox’s name called somewhere in the Top 5 come draft night.
Justin Jackson, F, North Carolina
With an improved three-point shot (he shot 37 percent from behind the arc this season, up from 29 perent in 2016), Jackson has slowly been climbing NBA Draft boards all year. But he saved his best basketball for the biggest games of the NCAA tournament.
Jackson’s offense remained on par with what he did all season (he averaged 19 points per game in six tournament games,) but his defense was even more impressive. As the primary defender on Nigel Williams-Goss, he held the Gonzaga star to 5-of-17 shooting Monday night and played a large part in slowing down Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey, who went 5-of-22 combined in Saturday’s national semifinal.
Sindarius Thornwell, G, South Carolina
Despite winning SEC Player of the Year, Thornwell wasn't on the radar of some NBA scouts - but they may now have to reconsider after he led South Carolina to the Final Four.
The senior averaged over 24 points a game during the Big Dance, and could have played himself into second round consideration
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Cameron Oliver, F, Nevada
Oliver has been on NBA Draft boards since last summer but many wondered how a star player from the Mountain West (where Nevada was the only team to make the NCAA tournament), would handle facing better competition in the NCAA tournament.
Oliver answered that question emphatically in the one tournament game he played. Even in a loss to Iowa State, the 6’8 forward from Oakland absolutely dominated, tallying 22 points, seven rebounds and four blocks. He also displayed three-point range, hitting four from behind the arc. Oliver is still likely a second-round pick, but that performance may have moved him up a few spots.
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Nigel Hayes, F, Wisconsin
Hayes declared for the draft last year and wanted to stay in – but evaluations had him going undrafted. He returned to Wisconsin but seemed more interested in trying to show NBA scouts his improved game, rather than just trying to help his team win -- and his numbers suffered because of it. Hayes went from averaging nearly 16 a game in 2016 to just 14 in 2017.
But in Wisconsin’s three NCAA tournament games, Hayes got back to being a low-post monster who averaged 19 points and eight rebounds per game. At this point, everyone knows who Hayes is, but his performance in the Big Dance should be enough to hear his name called on draft night.