There are still several draft prospects left fighting for college glory, and some of them may even be in the Knicks’ draft range.

March is literally over, and figuratively coming to an end. By the end of Monday night, the ball will be tipped and the moment will be shining. Your ears will be serenaded with the sounds of Luther Van Dross while a montage of Jack Gohlke and DJ Burns grace your screens. The madness has come and gone, Cinderellas were made, while others turned into pumpkins. Big men dominated the courts like Godzilla and King Kong, while Connecticut literally beat everybody by 20 points or more on their way to Phoenix.

Wise men might say that you should not put too much stock into a March Madness performance when it comes to the NBA draft. What a player does in six games or even in just one is not nearly as important as what they do for a season. And yet, with all eyes on them in the most important games of their lives, we can’t help but be impressed by what we see. NBA fans around the country are getting to see these players for the first time and for better or worse, that certainly impacts the court of public opinion.

Not every player had a great showing in March and I will cover that more next week after the champion has been crowned.

However, for the four teams still playing deserve their flowers and attention that comes with the standalone games in State Farm Stadium. Each of these teams has won four games and besides UConn, defied the odds in one way or another. They do not all have names that are guaranteed to be called by Adam Silver on day one of the NBA draft. They do all have interesting potential prospects that have made the most of their moments and deserve to be talked about.

Connecticut Huskies

I have talked about all of these prospects at some point or another throughout the season. But when you continuously dominate your opponents including holding them scoreless while you score 30 straight, you deserve at least a little bit of praise. They are doing an unprecedented thing in the tournament besides the precedent they set literally last year. After losing three starters from last year’s team, Dan Hurley’s squad is even better this year.

They faced last year’s runner up San Diego State and won by 30, they went up against Illinois and their top-five ranked offense and won by 25. They have done this without even shooting particularly well, and are looking to continue their dominance on their way to a second straight title. Their game against Alabama is a different sort of challenge, as Alabama’s threes and layups offense causes more variance than anyone else they have played. Of course, Purdue looking for the ultimate redemption arc is theoretically waiting for them in the title, so let’s look at who is leading them there.

Stephon Castle: I wrote that Castle was one of the players to watch with the most to gain in the tournament. While it is hard to say if Castle has taken that leap to usurp the top prospects, he has certainly shown what he is capable of. He had an offensive outburst against San Diego State finishing with 16 points and 11 rebounds, including an impressive shooting performance from both the field and the free throw line. More impressive than his offense however has been his defense. Castle has been the perimeter stopper making the lives of opponents such as Boo Buie miserable, chasing them through every screen and harassing them 90 feet away from the basket. Nothing was more impressive than his defensive performance against the Fighting Illini and Terrence Shannon Jr. Shannon averaged 23 points a game this season and was scoring over 28 points in his three NCAA tournament games before he went up against Castle. Against Castle’s stifling defense Shannon shot 2-12 and scored just 8 points. Alabama’s Mark Sears will be a different sort of challenge for Castle but he has continuously shown NBA teams that he can be a lock down defender.

Donovan Clingan: No one player has made themself more money this March than Donovan Clingan. As someone who has been a fan of Clingan all year and was writing about him last year, I can genuinely not believe the hype he has gotten over the last few weeks. Prior to the tournament, Clingan was looked at largely as a late lottery-mid first type prospect. He was even in the range where the Knicks were a fairly common mock draft outcome for where he would go as a rim protector. This was before he went on to put on some of the most impressive defense in the history of men’s college basketball. This included but was not limited to holding Illinois to a staggering 0-19 on shots he contested. This is not to mention the fact that there are multiple games where people are claiming he has more than 10 blocks with about 8 recorded. Clingan hasn’t answered every question, as he still doesn’t need to play big minutes in these blowouts, but he has suddenly jumped up to the very top of the draft. ESPN’s Jonathan Givony is routinely calling him a top-3 pick and claiming he is now in contention for the top pick of the draft. Clingan will have his work cut out for him with Grant Nelson spacing the floor in the final four before the potential battle of the big men with Zach Edey and Purdue.

Alabama

Nate Oats is one of the best stories in college basketball, because if you haven’t heard, he was a high school basketball coach. If you haven’t heard that yet, you will likely hear it repeatedly this weekend, along with his revolutionary offense. However, you probably won’t find the idea of threes and layups to be very revolutionary if you have followed the NBA for any point in the last ten years. The college game is a different beast however, and Alabama is bringing the efficiency with their shot selection to the NCAA tournament. This creates a high variance offense with the quantity of threes they are taking, which makes them a team that can get hot and beat anyone. They proved this to be true when they upset one seed North Carolina and put an end to Armando Bacot’s very very long and illustrious college basketball career. They will have to play their absolute best this week against UConn, but for a team whose ceiling has always been high, it makes them extremely dangerous. Donovan Clingan’s rim protection will hurt their ability to score in the paint, but if they can catch fire and shoot from the outside, it is anybody’s game.

Grant Nelson: It is possible you learned this name for the first time in his breakout Sweet 16 game against North Carolina where he broke out with 24 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 blocks. Or…. you might remember this name from the North Dakota State highlight tapes of him dunking on guys in the Summit League. The viral sensation transferred to the SEC this year and joined the Crimson Tide, picking them over other high profile teams like Kentucky, Baylor, and Arkansas. This was a questionable decision that resulted in a tumultuous outcome for the Bison transfer. After averaging 18 and 9 at NDSU, he averaged just 11 and 5 in Tuscaloosa and shot a very disappointing 27% from three. While the shot percentages are less than impressive, he has an off the bounce ability that is very impressive at 6′ 11″ including a versatile shot diet. He is a bouncy athlete and can play above the rim and Nate Oats thinks he has proven his toughness. He has a very intriguing game and the flashes are enough to garner anyone’s interest. There is a reason his highlights made him a viral star, and this weekend gives him a chance to reach even higher highs. The stars left in this tournament are the biggest of big men, and Grant Nelson’s theoretical floor spacing makes him a unique matchup for both Zach Edey and Donovan Clingan. Right now, he is still just a theoretical idea of potential, someone a team may be willing to take a flyer on, but an impressive weekend could make him a real deal prospect.

Mark Sears: Mark Sears is both an incredibly exciting college basketball player and an extremely divisive NBA prospect. More than one twitter draft analyst has been burned falling in love with small guard prospects –  hell, I still believe in both Sharife Cooper and Kennedy Chandler.

There is an inherent risk that comes with being a smaller guard with defensive limitation, even when you have extremely high creation upside and playmaking. However, what Mark Sears has shown is an ability to shoot the lights out of the gym. The Ohio Bobcat transfer averaged 22 points and shot 43% from three over the course of the regular season, and has hit 17 threes in his four tournament games on nearly 45% from deep. This included an impressive 7/14 shooting performance in the Elite 8 against Clemson. Whether you think the Jalen Brunson comparisons hold any weight, that is up to you.

I think they may be more aesthetic than performance based, as Sears spends very little time in between the three point line and the paint. However, he does have the same strength and weight behind him that allows him to hold his own against bigger players on both sides of the ball. There are people in the draft community that have him late second or undraftable due to the size issues, but The Ringer’s Kevin O Connor has him at 19 on his most recent big board. Wherever you stand on his potential in the NBA is one thing but there is no denying his scoring prowess at the college level. He has a creative arsenal of dribble moves to create space and get his shot off against anyone. If Alabama is going to have a shot against the Connecticut defense, Sears is going to have to hit at least another 7.

Purdue

No college basketball team has ever lost to a 16 seed and not followed it up by winning the title the very next year. It is a small sample size, but it is true until proven otherwise, and Purdue is trying to prove it true. You do not have to like Purdue, and you do not have to like Zach Edey, but they are two games away from doing the unthinkable. You can argue that the nobody believes in them narrative is false because they have literally been a one seed for two straight years, you can also argue that the doubters were more than validated by Fairleigh Dickinson. The discourse around Purdue has become more toxic than the discrepancy in fouls for Zach Edey itself. It is truly impossible to officiate the big man at this level, and he certainly gets a lot of leniency from the refs, but there is nothing that can be done about that. They have beat everybody in there way, including a underrated Gonzaga team and an absolutely on fire Dalton Knecht. They have to turn NC State back into a pumpkin before getting the juggernaut from Storrs.

Zach Edey: What more needs to be said about Zach Edey that hasn’t already been said? He is arguably the most efficient male college basketball scorer in the history of the sport. He is about to win his second straight Naismith award and has somehow been more impressive in the tournament than the regular season. He capped this off with a truly historic Elite 8 performance against a tough Tennessee defense where he got whatever he wanted on his way to 40 points and 16 rebounds. He has lived long enough to see himself become the villain with Rick Barnes slander and a chip on his shoulder mentality. Now, he parlays that into a matchup with DJ Burns and the world’s darling NC State where nobody will be rooting for him. If he can be the one man to stop Burns’ feathery touch and elite footwork, the world will continue singing his praises. He has potentially played his way into the lottery and if he can do this against Donovan Clingan’s rim protection in the national title… who knows what may be possible for the 7’4 behemoth.

NC State

I would tell you to take a drink every time they mention Jim Valvano this weekend but I care about your health too much for that. If you believe in a team of destiny, it would have to be the Wolfpack. After finishing 10th in the regular season with a losing record in ACC play, the Wolfpack have been on a miraculous 9 game run including beating rival Duke twice. They do not have a single NBA player on their roster. They have their work cut out for them after already beating 6 potential NBA players in their last two games between Kam Jones, Tyler Kolek, Oso ighodaro, Jared McCain, Kyle Filipowski and Tyrese Proctor. Their reward for a truly historic run is Zach Edey and the Purdue Boilermakers for a chance to play the most dominant team in modern history. I don’t know if I would exactly say that if any team is going to do it, it will be them. I also wouldn’t have given them much of a chance against Duke or Marquette, so they probably want me to keep doubting them. Survive and advance they say….

DJ Burns

DJ Burns is not an NBA prospect, but that does not stop him from being one of the most entertaining players in college basketball. It is easy to see why people might thing he has a chance, considering that nobody has shown even the slightest ability to stop him yet. He has taken the world by storm, including getting the attention of reigning Finals MVP Nikola Jokic.  His fancy footwork gets him to create space when there should be none, and even when there is none, he has the touch to be able to hit just about anything. Last week he made Kyle Filipowski look like a junior varsity player, but now he has to do it against someone bigger in stature and better in skill. Zach Edey is going to try to make it impossible for him to hit those little hook shots, but we will see if it makes a difference. Nobody is giving NC State a chance, and that is just how they like it. Burns will likely never play in the NBA, but would be a fun addition in Summer League or…. maybe a team drafts him on April 25th instead.

In all honesty: this article was hard to not just write about a potential Donovan Clingan versus Zach Edey matchup. The ins and outs of what that could look like are remarkably intoxicating and I have spent far too much time thinking about what it could look like. It would truly be an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object, and I have no idea what would happen. Would Clingan shut down Edey? Or at least would his ability to guard him in single coverage allow Tristan Newton and Steph Castle to hound Purdue’s shooters and give up nothing easy? Or would Edey get him into foul trouble and abuse the lack of front court depth around him, breaking down their elite defense? It is a matchup that every college basketball fan should be hoping for, and one every NBA draft fan is dreaming about. However, this is march… Which means we may never see it at all, and that is what makes the whole thing so great. Enjoy the madness, and enjoy each shining moment we have left.

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