Top 5 Performances in the NCAA Tournament From Future Pros
The NCAA tournament presents a unique chance for prospects to improve their draft stock. Some have the opportunity to substantially help or hurt their profile, while others don’t have much room to fluctuate.
Each year there are a handful of exceptional, head-turning performances around the nation, and this spring was no different. When ranking the top performances the 2019 March Madness, statistics are obviously considered, but context and matchups hold weight as well.
Here are the top-five performances from NBA draft prospects in the NCAA Tournament:
5. De’Andre Hunter vs Texas Tech (National Championship)
Stat line: 27 points (4/5 from deep), nine rebounds
Hunter’s impressive performance in the National Championship on Monday night couldn’t have come at a better time. Following a disappointing outing against Purdue in the Elite Eight and an average showing against Auburn in the Final Four, the pressure was on. Fortunately for Virginia, the 6-foot-7 sophomore rose to occasion.
Many scouts are torn on his future role in the NBA; As a prospect, Hunter is an enigma. His defense and toughness was put on full display, and he was a main reason why Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver went 5-22 from the field.
Hunter also showed his court vision by dishing out impressive passes. In one play he drove baseline and found a wide-open Ty Jerome for a three-pointer at the top of the key right before the first half ended.
Scoring and offensive identity have always been concerns for the wing. On the biggest stage, Hunter hit 80% of his perimeter shots; two of them proved critical, with one tying the game with less than 15 seconds to play and the other extending the Cavalier lead in overtime. Along with the deep ball, he demonstrated multiple times his ability to drive and finish around the rim.
Ultimately, it was a performance that NBA Draft scouts were yearning for. On top of that, Hunter proved to be instrumental to Virginia’s victory in a close-fought National Title game.
4. Brandon Clarke vs Baylor (Round of 32)
Stat Line: 36 points (15-18 FG), eight rebounds
Clarke’s performance against Baylor is the epitome of exploiting a matchup disadvantage. None of Baylor’s starters measured over 6-foot-7, meaning Clarke could use his strength and size to great effect.
The Gonzaga big man put his motor and athleticism on full display, throwing in a slew of alley-oops and rim-rattling dunks. Clarke shot a staggering 83.3% from the field, solidifying the narrative that he is exceptional at scoring around the rim. Defensively, Hunter served as an anchor yet again for his club, with five gargantuan blocks in the game.
The junior has risen significantly across draft boards this season, and this performance was one that solidified his name in the lottery conversation.
3. Zion Williamson vs Central Florida (Round of 32)
Stat Line: 32 points (12-24 FG), 11 rebounds
In all honesty, context is the only reason why Williamson’s performance ranks ahead of Clarke’s. Nonetheless, Zion put on a show in his first true NCAA tournament challenge.
UCF had a three point lead when he drew a crucial and-one that fouled out big man Tacko Fall. The ‘Fall vs Williamson’ matchup was one that many wanted to see, and the future No.1 overall pick did not disappoint.
On a stage that can rattle young players’ nerves, Williamson exploded for a game-high 32 points that contained a handful of emphatic dunks and crafty dribble-drive finishes at the rim. Even the 7-foot-6 Fall couldn’t even keep Zion out of the paint. The toughness and resilience that has been shown all season long, was present in this game as well (and it was critical for a Duke win).
2. Ja Morant v Marquette (Round of 64)
Stat Line: 17 points, 16 assists, 11 rebounds
Russell Westbrook, is that you? Morant’s eye-opening triple-double captured the attention of the whole country, and for good reason.
When the tournament bracket first came out, the 5 vs 12 matchup of Marquette and Murray State had fans excited because it meant pitting Morant against the talented Markus Howard. Morant would prove victorious, stuffing the stat sheet in the process.
Not only did Murray State win, but they did so in blowout fashion. The 83-64 rout was full of exceptional passes and crafty scoring. The only regret regarding Morant’s season was that we didn’t get to watch him on television enough.
Rising onto the scene during the 2018-19 season, the nation’s underdog has been rumored to be the draft’s second-best prospect. His first tournament game only confirmed the electricity that Morant’s game possesses.
1. Carsen Edwards vs Virginia (Elite Eight)
Stat Line: 42 points (10/19 from deep)
Fun fact: I was actually in attendance to see Edwards put on this scoring clinic. His tournament-high 42 points resulted from a valiant shooting effort that ultimately saw his team fall just short. Throughout the first three rounds, the junior point guard lit up the stat sheet, which proved to be instrumental to taking down Villanova and then Tennessee. That set up a matchup with Virginia, a team known for their stolid and poised defense. On that night, it didn’t matter who the Cavaliers threw at him, Edwards was knocking down shots with confidence and bringing the crowd to its feet while doing it.
Most notably, the second half was one for the books. With Virginia threatening to pull away, Edwards hit three straight triples, and finished with six in the second half alone. In some cases, it’s not the three-pointers that are the most impressive, but how they were made. There has been chatter of how Edwards’ scoring will translate to the NBA with bigger defenders, but even De’Andre Hunter (ACC’s best defender) couldn’t alter the 6-foot-1 guard’s shots. Pulling up five feet behind the line or fading away and banking in a three-pointer, it did not matter. Edwards caught fire and almost single-handedly took down Virginia, as none of his teammates scored over seven points.