NBA Draft Prospects to Watch in the NCAA Tournament (2021 March Madness)
We’re just days away from the official start of March Madness with the first games of the NCAA Tournament. This year’s field of teams is loaded from top to bottom, and there are more than a few future NBA studs who will make an appearance and potentially rise up draft boards with strong showings. The top prospect in this year’s NBA Draft, Cade Cunningham, has little to prove and should remain the top selection regardless of his or Oklahoma State’s performance. Other lottery selections and borderline first-rounders, however, can bolster or even raise their stock over the next few weeks. Today, we’ll talk about six of those players who
Franz Wagner (F – Michigan)
Wagner is widely considered a first-round pick this year, but there’s room to rise up big boards with a strong tournament run. With the loss of Isaiah Livers due to a stress fracture in his foot, Wagner will be asked to take on a larger role in Michigan’s offense. The Wolverines are the top seed in the East division, but the team is on upset alert with the loss of one of its top playmakers. Wagner can do wonders for his outlook with some big performances in an expanded role.
James Bouknight (G – UConn)
Can Bouknight become the next hero for the Huskies with a deep tournament run? UConn captured the title in 2011 led by Kemba Walker, but obviously that team was more talented and a three-seed compared to this year’s squad, which is a seven-seed. Bouknight has worked his way into the top-10 conversation with strong scoring and rebounding this season, including two double-doubles and highlighted by a 40-point eruption against Creighton back in December. The Huskies have a favorable draw in the East Region, and if Bouknight impresses and carries his team to a couple of victories, he could solidify his draft capital.
Jalen Suggs (G – Gonzaga)
Suggs is ranked just behind Cade Cunningham in my latest Big Board, and he’s considered a consensus top-5 pick in this year’s draft. He’s not a lock to go in the top three picks, though, with competition from Evan Mobley, Jalen Green, and Jonathan Kuminga. Gonzaga heads into the tournament undefeated with one of the strongest teams we’ve seen in years. If Suggs can lead the Zags to the title and a perfect season while playing great ball, he can cement himself as one of the first two or three picks in the draft.
Ayo Dosunmu (G – Illinois)
Dosunmu is right on the NBA Draft first-round bubble, but he’s got a chance to boost his stock significantly with a productive NCAA Tournament run. The third-year guard averaged 20.7 points 6.3 rebounds, and 5.3 dimes to lead Illinois to a 23-6 record and a top seed in the Midwest Region of the tournament. Kofi Cockburn is a powerful force at center, but Dosunmu was the Illini’s catalyst for success this season. As he goes, they go, and according to BettingPros, Illinois is (+700) to win the tournament and (+150) to make it to the Final Four. Expect him to land squarely in the first-round conversation if Illinois can live up the pre-tournament hype.
Cameron Thomas (G – LSU)
Thomas is widely regarded as a mid-first-round pick, but could he surge into the lottery with a huge tournament showing? Thomas is a walking bucket who led all freshman in points per game (22.6) and finished fourth in the country in scoring among all players. Thomas led LSU’s eighth-highest scoring offense (82.1 PPG) and will need to pack a scoring punch to take the Tigers on a deep run. His team is an eight-seed in the East Region and will face St. Bonaventure in the first round with a potential second-round showdown with the top-seeded Wolverines. If Thomas can dazzle and lead LSU past Michigan, he’s sure to see his stock rise at draft time.
Kai Jones (F – Texas)
Jones is one of the most athletic players in this year’s draft class, and he’s got a ton of upside as a potential lottery selection. His length and ability to elevate make him a force on both ends of the court, and while he’s a reluctant three-point shooter, he ‘s nailed nearly 40 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc this season. Texas has a navigable path to the Final Four, and if Jones can contribute meaningfully on a deep run, he can punch his ticket to the lottery.