7 Players That Boosted Their NBA Draft Stock During the NCAA Tournament
March is over, but boy was it pure madness! The 2019 NCAA Tournament has yielded some classic games, late heroics, trademark performances, and surprising upsets that have captivated the basketball world. While some of the NBA’s projected draft selections didn’t get to participate in the tournament, a lot of the biggest names in college basketball certainly did. Through excellent play, some have boosted their draft stock and may be selected much sooner than they would have before the tournament. Heading into Final Four weekend, here are a few of those players.
Carsen Edwards (PG – Purdue)
Although Edwards and the Boilermakers got knocked out of the tournament, they made it to the Elite Eight and narrowly missed a trip the Final Four with an OT loss to Virginia. That was because of the huge play of Edwards. A brilliant scorer, he helped Purdue pound Villanova in the Round of 32 behind a career-high 42 points and nine threes. He matched that point total in the Elite Eight loss, draining eight more threes and became the only player in tournament history to drain at least eight threes in multiple games. His 28 threes are the most ever recorded in a single NCAA tournament, and he set the record in just four games. He’s also the first player with multiple 40-point games in a single tournament in nearly 30 years.
It was a historic run for Edwards and Purdue for sure. He’s regarded as a potential second-round pick, but he’s done enough in the tournament to vault himself into the first round. His pure scoring ability and competitive fire should allow for immediate success on the NBA level.
Cassius Winston (PG – Michigan State)
I liked this kid a lot in the regular season because of his natural abilities to run an offense. His court vision paired with an ability to score make him a great prospect coming out of the draft. Size and defense are a concern, but he can more than compensate with his passing and scoring skills. Though he may have been overlooked as an NBA talent this season, he’s shown in the tournament that he’s big time. His Michigan State team should rightfully be remembered as giant killers, taking down a Duke team in the Elite Eight that features two top-five picks and potentially four first rounders. Winston came through in a big way in that matchup, notching a double-double behind 20 points and 10 dimes.
Winston has come up big for Sparty repeatedly this season, proving that he is the ultimate competitor who can come through in the clutch. He hasn’t declared for the draft yet, but his stock may not get any higher than it is now. His 19.0 points and 7.8 helpers up to this point in the tournament are solid numbers. I think he’s an early to mid-second round selection if he enters the draft.
Ja Morant (PG – Murray State)
Morant was already regarded as a top-five pick before the NCAA tournament, so the fact that he still managed to improve his stock is impressive. He led the 12-seed Racers to a first-round upset of six-seed Marquette by notching the first triple-double in a tournament game since 2012, when Draymond Green did it for Michigan State. Morant followed up with a solid performance against Florida State with 28 points, but Murray State got smoked. After an exceptional season (averaging 24.5 points, 10.0 assists, and 5.7 rebounds) and a fantastic tournament, Morant is a top-two pick who could actually push Zion Williamson for the first overall pick.
P.J. Washington (PF – Kentucky)
Washington showed a lot of heart coming back for the Wildcats in the Sweet 16 and the Elite Eight after suffering a foot injury that caused him to miss the first two games of the tournament. He played a key role off the bench for Kentucky in UK’s victory over Houston and their loss to Auburn. Against Houston, his presence under the basket caused a lot of problems for Houston’s big men. Washington exploded against Auburn as Kentucky’s biggest playmaker, going for 28 points and pulling down 13 boards. He shouldn’t last past the first 10 or so picks in the second round, but Washington may have gotten himself into the first-round conversation after a couple of big games in the tournament.
Jarrett Culver (SG – Texas Tech)
Widely regarded as a lottery pick already, Culver has boosted his stock even further by leading Texas Tech to the school’s first Final Four. He was huge for the Red Raiders in their two most recent wins against perennial powerhouse programs Michigan and Gonzaga. He’s seemingly done it all for his team to will them to the Final Four, averaging a monster 21.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2.3 steals, and 1.3 blocks in the tournament. Expect him to be a top-10 pick in 2019.
Ty Jerome (PG – Virginia)
Jerome has stepped up tremendously in the NCAA tournament, leading the Cavaliers to their first Final Four in 35 years. With DeAndre Hunter struggling for most of the tournament, Jerome has made plays and has been the catalyst for a deep run. His 24 points, seven assists, and five rebounds were much needed as Virginia escaped a lethal Purdue team in the Elite Eight by the skin of its teeth. With his elevated play in the biggest moments, Jerome has worked his way into becoming a first-round selection.
Brandon Clarke (PF – Gonzaga)
Gonzaga couldn’t make the Final Four, as Texas Tech ultimately sent the Zags home, but Clarke had an impressive run in the tournament and certainly moved up on many big boards. His rebounding and defensive tenacity showed in a big way in the tournament, with averages of 10.0 boards, 3.8 swats, and 1.3 steals. Clarke is a very capable scorer too, averaging 20.3 points in the tournament after averaging 16.9 during the season. Teammate Rui Hachimura still projects as a higher selection and better prospect, but Clarke is clearly a first-rounder.