If you’re a college basketball junkie, you’ve come to the wrong place.
If you’re an NBA fanatic who only tunes into college basketball when it’s NCAA Tournament time, we’re glad you’re here.
While college basketball die-hards are beyond hyped for the return of March Madness after last year’s COVID-induced hiatus and well informed about the players and teams participating in the tournament, there will be plenty of NBA fans casually catching tournament games for different reasons, including using the greatest sporting event on the American sports calendar to familiarize themselves with the college stars who will be first-round selections in this summer’s NBA Draft. If that’s you, know that there are more than a dozen kids playing in this year’s NCAA Tournament that could be first-round selections since this year’s class is widely considered to be deeper and choc full of impact players on the next level compared to the 2020 draft headlined by Anthony Edwards, James Wiseman, and LaMelo Ball.
So one day after offering up a look at six sleepers that can bust up your bracket—if you’re into that sort of thing—we’re offering up a rundown of the 10 college basketball stars NBA fans need to see as the first-round of the NCAA Tournament tips Friday.
Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma St
2020-21 Stats: 20.2 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 2.6 APG
There’s a pretty good chance you’re looking at the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft watching Cunningham lead Oklahoma State in the NCAA Tournament. TNT NBA analyst told us on Tuesday’s episode of The Complex Sports Podcast that Cunningham is the best player in the NCAA Tournament and it’s hard to argue against him. The freshman’s size (6’8”), production, and playmaking abilities are unlike any point guard in the tournament. His pro comparisons are vaunted names like Grant Hill and Luka Doncic, which is slightly nuts, but the kid’s ceiling is through the roof. What he might lack in explosiveness he makes up in so many other areas and that’s why Cunningham became just the fourth baller in Big 12 history to pick up Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year honors. He joined Marcus Smart, Michael Beasley, and Kevin Durant in that prestigious club.
Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga
2020-21 Stats: 14.3 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 4.5 APG
Well, if you watched Gonzaga’s come-from-behind victory over BYU in the WCC Tournament championship game then you know the deal with Suggs. He carried the Bulldogs down the stretch of a game that easily could’ve gone the other way and derailed Gonzaga’s pursuit of a perfect season. But the 6’4” freshman poured in 23, including two dagger threes in the final few minutes, to ward off their conference rival. While the point guard’s averages aren’t eye-popping, the most heralded recruit Gonzaga has ever landed has the athleticism and chutzpah to put the Bulldogs on his back and not just carry the program to another Final Four, but to the its first national championship. Expect him to be a top 5 pick in the draft. His teammate Corey Kispert, the 6’7” sharpshooting senior, easily could be a top 10 selection and is another pro prospect to keep an eye on. So, too, is Joel Ayayi, the Bulldogs’ 6’5” junior combo guard that could go in the first-round.
Evan Mobley, USC
2020-21 Stats: 16.8 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 2.2 APG
The 7’ center, projected to go as high as the top 5 in this summer’s draft, is stupidly skilled. Normally guys Mobley’s size, with his massively long limbs, struggle with their coordination and footwork. The Pac-12 Player of the Year, Freshman and the Year, and Defensive Player of the Year doesn’t since he’s an incredible athlete who exceeded expectations during what will be his one and only season with the Trojans. On top of putting up excellent offensive numbers, Mobley was a beast defensively averaging 3.0 BPG leading up to the NCAA Tournament, helping USC morph into one of the better defensive squads in the nation. Because of Mobley’s ability to dominate both sides of the ball, the sixth-seeded Trojans in the East region are one of our NCAA Tournament sleepers.
Moses Moody, Arkansas
2020-21 Stats: 17.4 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 1.8 APG
It’s a pretty safe bet that the SEC Freshman of the Year will land somewhere in the lottery after a scintillating first, and only, season with the Razorbacks. Regardless of where draft projections have him going—anywhere from the top 10 to early teens—he’s not going to last very long. That’s because the 6’6” guard is an elite college scorer. He put up some ridiculous numbers down the stretch of the regular-season, averaging 24.5 PPG in the Razorbacks final four games before going off for 28 in a losing effort against LSU in the SEC Tournament semifinals. The leading scorer for the Razorbacks this season, he helped Arkansas earn its first top 10 ranking since its national championship season in 1995. That’s why he’ll become the first one-and-done player drafted in the school’s history.