With the NCAA tournament winding down, let’s take a look at who’s left standing, how the key players in this year’s tournament fared, and the impact on the 2022 NBA Draft.
The 2022 NCAA men’s tournament is coming to a close this weekend. Basketball fans rode an absolute roller coaster to get to this point. This year’s March Madness had a little bit of everything, from magical Cinderella runs to the blue-blood Final Four. While the path getting there wasn’t linear, it did give us plenty of stories and moments on the journey to “One Shining Moment.”
As I outlined going into the tournament, there were a ton of potential matchups and storylines to look at on paper, just looking at the brackets. While many of those matchups did not end up coming to fruition, plenty of prospects had opportunities to prove themselves. Some of those took advantage of those opportunities, while others did not. How much stock you put into one game, or even the NCAA tournament at large, is up to you. Regardless, there were still winners and losers through two weekends.
It will always be up for debate on if a player’s performance in March should impact their draft stock, but every year it is the last memory we have from these prospects before they don their NBA jerseys for the first time.
The biggest stars of the class all underwhelmed with possibly every lottery pick out of the tournament except for one team left. This paints a massive narrative target on the backs of the Duke Blue Devils with their five—and now potentially six—first-round prospects. If the stakes were not already high enough in what is supposed to be Coach K’s last NCAA tournament, he gets his arch-rival and first-time tournament opponent in his next potential last game with a matchup against the North Carolina Tar Heels.
The grudge match for these teams goes deeper than just the current rosters with a near century’s worth of animosity, but these current incarnations are one and one this year with everything being on the line for the third matchup. There are a couple of players playing this weekend that have already helped boost their draft stock with a big chance to follow it up in the biggest game(s) of their career.
Nobody has more to potentially gain from this Final Four game than Paolo Banchero. With the three other players in consideration all bowing out in the Sweet Sixteen or sooner, the Italian forward has a chance to take a massive leap in the eyes of many with a monster Final Four performance against his rival. Banchero, depending on the game, has been good to great, which is more than his counterparts can say; furthermore, he is still playing and they are not. While that is certainly not just because of his skill set, he is no small part of that and his shadow looms much larger than his less talented teammates.
The Duke prospects have all helped themselves in this NCAA tournament with some assistance from coaching adjustments that Krzyzewski was unwilling to make in the regular season. It is safe to say that nobody has made more waves in the prospect world in the last two weeks than Mark Williams. We have talked about the big men in this class, but after this performance, Williams has a case to not only be the clear-cut third big in this class and even in consideration with Jalen Duren for the second lottery big man after Chet Holmgren.
Don't sleep on @DukeMBB sophomore Mark Williams.
We highlight the underrated center in our Players to Watch series. pic.twitter.com/RCT8PajyKk
— Stadium (@Stadium) March 31, 2022
The other Blue Devil to raise their draft profile is Jeremy Roach, who has played himself from not even being considered, to a potential late first- early second-round guard prospect. In a class obscenely light on guards, the 6-foot-2 20-year-old has played himself into consideration by being Duke’s most important player late in the games and not the other five prospects including Banchero.
Caleb Love is the other remaining player that has been playing himself up boards with elite scoring and ridiculously tough shot-making. The UNC guard was a heralded high-school point guard prospect, but after a disappointing freshman year, he had fallen off completely. He has had a better yet inconsistent sophomore season but is still a mid-second grade at best—and not even a lock to come out after this year. Love’s tournament is highlighted by his 30-point UCLA performance where he connected on six three-pointers. If he can do something close to that against Duke, or even just get scouts to think he may become more consistent, you can make a case for him late in the first.
On the other side of the bracket, Ochai Agbaji is trying to show the same strength at the end of his senior season that he did early in the year. He has been good for the Kansas Jayhawks in the NCAA tournament and an upgrade from what we saw at the end of the regular season and Big 12, but he will have a chance to continue that against an elite Villanova Wildcats defense. Remy Martin’s comeback for the Jayhawks has helped make things easier for the 21-year-old on the court.
Obviously, we are down to our last four teams trying to play for the national title, but that does not mean that players’ didn’t shine in defeat. Some players went out falling on their swords and made fanbases fall further in love with them during the NCAA tournament, and maybe NBA front offices as well.
Stock Up on Their Way Out
Kennedy Chandler is a Draft Twitter darling, but the six-foot point guard absolutely dominated the game in a way that few prospects can do while being upset. Even though a Rick Barnes team “shockingly” got upset in the second round, the Tennesee Volunteers’ point guard controlled the game and finished with 19 points and nine assists in the loss to the Michigan Wolverines. Not only did Chandler show he can control a game, but he also hit three out of four from behind the arc in their first game which is big for the questions about his jump shot.
Kennedy Chandler showed what makes him intriguing as a NBA point guard prospect with his speed, creativity, vision, perimeter shooting, and ability to make reads out of PNR, finishing with 19 points and 9 assists in Tennessee's NCAA tournament loss to Michigan. pic.twitter.com/KvnPGt5CNS
— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) March 20, 2022
For as long as there have been NBA players there have been defensive pests and monster workers, Jeremy Sochan showed to be exactly that in Baylor’s second-round upset from North Carolina. The wild 25-point comeback attempt from the Bears leading to overtime was spearheaded by Baylor’s physical play and defense leading to a very chippy game and questionable officiating. Whether you believe Brady Manek deserved a Flagrant 2 and ejection, it was spurned by the Polish big-man prospect along with a double-double, elite defense all game including being switched onto an island against a red-hot guard on the last play of regulation. Sochan’s performance led to comparisons to anyone from Dennis Rodman to Draymond Green, but both are sure to help his draft stock, along with the step-back three he hit at the end of regulation.
Arkansas’ Jaylin Williams is known to some as the “Charge King” with his record-setting numbers of offensive fouls forced. He put that on display in both the massive upset of the overall top-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs and top prospect Chet Holmgren. Williams took big-time charges against Chet whether the calls were right or not (they weren’t) along with suffocating team defense against the Zags’ frontcourt. Williams’ had a double-double in both the win against Gonzaga and the loss against Duke. While the Hogs kept us from the Chet/Jabari rematch, Williams took full advantage of the opportunity and thrived in the role of the pesky hardworking underdog.
While all of those players performed well under pressure and looked good in defeat, not everybody had that luxury. When you lose, and especially when you lose to a double-digit seed, it is hard to look good as a top prospect. It should be no surprise that two of our biggest losers lost to everybody’s Cinderella darling: the Saint Peter’s Peacocks.
Stock Down On The Way Out
The first titan to fall this March was the second-seeded Kentucky Wildcats, who got upset by Doug Edert and the scrappy kids from Jersey City. While it took overtime for the Shaheen Holloway–led Peacocks to take down the blue-blooded giant, TyTy Washington was nowhere to be found. While some prospects like Holmgren have the excuse of poor officiating and foul trouble to hold them down, the Kentucky freshman played 32 minutes and in that time had just five points on 2-of-10 shooting. He looked completely lost and showed no ability to take control of the game or smooth things over when they were falling apart which is a tough look for the top point guard prospect in the class.
Kentucky as a whole was outclassed, but at least Oscar Tshiebwe showed heart and toughness in defeat. TyTy showed zero resiliency and faded away into oblivion. He will still be the top guard taken and will likely still be a lottery pick, but it was a sad end to his Kentucky career.
Jaden Ivey arguably had the most to gain in this NCAA tournament. A little outside of the top three but still the consensus fourth prospect in a four-player draft with nowhere to go but up. No matter what he did, it was unlikely for him to fall to five on most big boards, but with many considering him the highest ceiling player in this draft, he had a chance to show that by taking over games for a deep Purdue Boilermakers run. However, the exact antithesis of that happened with Ivey showing significant flaws on the court and body language you hate to see from a top-five pick.
Ivey had an inconsistent second-round matchup against the Texas Longhorns where he struggled mightily but took over late in the game and hit big shots to put the game away. That made Purdue fans and fans of Ivey alike feel good going into a Sweet Sixteen matchup with a measly 15-seed all while being the prohibitive favorite left in the region. What happened next was a disaster class from Ivey, who finished with more turnovers (six) than made shots (four) where he finished with nine points on 4-of-12 shooting and a horrendous 1-for-6 from downtown. What kept Ivey apart from the top three even though he has a massive upside is that he is flawed halfcourt and potentially mediocre in the halfcourt, which was on full display in the disappointing Boilermaker loss.
While Jabari Smith Jr. is the only marquee player in this grouping to avoid Saint Peter’s, he still lost to a double-digit seed. The Auburn Tigers did not just lose to the Miami Hurricanes but were dominated. Watching that game, you would not have known who was the two-seed and who was the 10-seed. Unlike his high-profile teammate Smith, who also had a disappointing game but still had an impact, Walker Kessler completely disappeared. The potential Defensive Player of the Year in college basketball was resigned to just 13 minutes and zero made field goals. Without getting into foul trouble, the North Carolina transfer was completely run off the court, showing massive flaws in his game. It is entirely impossible to watch that performance without questioning Kessler’s ability to play in the modern NBA. The elite, rim-protecting big man was taken away from the basket and rendered useless on defense against the small ball Hurricanes and was unable to take advantage of that scoring only two points on 0-of-6 shooting.
The NCAA tournament is beautiful in its chaos and shenanigans, but it does have further repercussions in more ways than one. Nobody will ever forget this Saint Peter’s run or the upcoming North Carolina/Duke grudge match, but it is more than that for these players. They have the opportunity to earn or lose millions of dollars on their rookie salary based on how they play in these one-to-six-game stretches. Some players took advantage of that, while others let it slip. With one weekend left to make history, how will you remember the prospects from this tournament?