• Dalton Pence

Top 10 NBA Draft Prospects to Watch: West Regional

(Associated Press)

In this edition, the top 10 prospects of the NCAA Tournament’s West Region will be highlighted and analyzed. Perhaps the most balanced portion of the bracket, the Anaheim region’s top four seeds are Gonzaga, Michigan, Texas Tech, and Florida State. To make matters more interesting, possible Cinderella teams such as Buffalo, Nevada, Syracuse, and Murray State are also scattered throughout. Without further ado, here are the region’s top 10 prospects to watch.

Just Missed the Cut: Killian Tille, John Teske, Tyus Battle

This is not meant to downplay them, but simply give credit to the various prospects and storylines that dominate this region. This mainly applies for Killian Tille; hindered by injuries for almost all of the year, the big man will fortunately be suiting up for the Zags. However, there are already two other Bulldogs on this list to watch for. Teske has gained some traction from draft analysts and Battle has shown his ability to step up in big games, but they’re both on the outside looking in at this point.

10. Jordan Caroline; Caleb and Cody Martin- Nevada

Three in one right off the bat? Yes. Nevada has the potential to spoil brackets once again this year, with Jordan Caroline and the Martin twins still at the forefront. The trio lead the squad in scoring, combining for 48.2 points per game. All three will more than likely end up being second round selections in June, but this tournament could allow them all to marginally improve their stock, respectively.

9. Luguentz Dort- Arizona State

Before conference play, the Sun Devils had caught eyes around the nation. A lot of that had to do with Dort’s electric performances. People like myself had the freshman landing in the first round of various mock drafts, but Dort and Arizona State weren’t able to maintain that level of play in the Pac 12. However, the bubble team was one of the last four teams admitted into the tournament and will take on St. Johns in a play-in game. This is a chance for Dort to turn heads on the biggest stage.

8. Jordan Poole- Michigan

We all remember Poole’s acrobatic three-pointer at the buzzer that led Michigan past Houston in last year’s NCAA tournament. This year carries a lot more weight for the 6-foot-5 sophomore guard, who has had an impressive season. Averaging 12.8 PPG, Poole has shown his ability to create his own shot and score in a plethora of a ways. Some have him primed to be a first-round selection, while others are not so high on him. Regardless, Poole could do wonders for his stock with a strong showing.

7. Ignas Brazdeikis- Michigan

The only prospect with more to gain on this Michigan team than Jordan Poole is Brazdeikis. Averaging a team-high 15.1 PPG on 42% shooting from deep, the freshman has been the biggest surprise for the Wolverines (much to John Beilein’s delight). The Canadian-native’s name has found its way into more first round mock drafts than Poole’s has, but there is no doubt that both could heavily benefit from solid performances.

6. Shamorie Ponds- St. John’s

Like Luguentz Dort’s Arizona State, St. John’s was one of the last four teams granted a spot in the Big Dance after starting the season off hot, but ultimately cooling down in conference play. There are differentiating opinions on Ponds as a draft prospect due to consistency and size, but there is no doubt that he can score in volumes on the collegiate level. The junior guard will have a prime chance to prove himself in the tournament.

5. Rui Hachimura- Gonzaga

Admittedly, I’m not as high on Hachimura as most are. I question his athletic ability and overall fit in today’s modern NBA. Despite my concerns, the tournament offers a golden opportunity to convince scouts that he is a definite lottery pick. It will be interesting to see what kind of display he puts on in the tournament, in terms of scoring and defense.

4. Markus Howard- Marquette

Howard may very well be the most electric scorer in college basketball, averaging 25 PPG (sixth-best nationally). What’s more impressive is the fact that he’s shooting the deep ball at a 40.8% clip, while averaging just over eight attempts per game. Even though his stock is not as high as the others on this list, his first round matchup with Ja Morant along with his eye-opening style of play makes him a top-four prospect to watch in the West Region.

3. Jarrett Culver- Texas Tech

What a season Culver has had; after waiting his turn last season, he has burst onto the college basketball scene and vaulted his draft stock into the high lottery. A three-and-D NBA wing prototype, Culver will look to not only avenge a disappointing loss to West Virginia in the Big XII tournament, but also to plead his case of being a top-three potential selection.

2. Brandon Clarke- Gonzaga

Like Culver, Clarke has drastically improved his draft stock. Despite his age and lack of vertical height, Clarke makes up for that with his wingspan, defensive and rebounding abilities, and ability to finish around the rim. He will be looking to solidify his lottery status and potentially improve his stock. Clarke’s motor and high energy slot him at #2 on the list.

1. Ja Morant- Murray State

Was there really any confusion as to who the top spot on this list belonged to? Morant has captured the entire attention of the national media through his endless highlight reel of dunks, exceptional vision, and noteworthy offensive arsenal. If not for Zion Williamson, he may very well have been the favorite to go number-one overall in the 2019 NBA Draft. With Cinderella aspirations, Morant and Murray State have the eyes of the whole nation on them.

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