Top prospects to watch, prospect matchups of the opening round of the NCAA tournament

 

The NCAA tournament is here, which means NBA draft season is getting closer too.

With that in mind, here are an assortment of prospects and individual matchups worth watching as your brackets get destroyed on the tournaments opening weekend.

PG Trae Young, Fr., Oklahoma vs. Rhode Island’s backcourt 

During Young’s last eight games — six of which the Sooners lost — the diminutive guard has shot 33 percent from the floor. Even more concerning is his 25 percent 3-point shooting during that span. So what’s happened?

Defenses have loaded up on him, icing ball screens and banging his slight frame with stronger, longer defenders, which is why his turnovers also have skyrocketed. “He got tired,” a former NBA executive told Yahoo Sports. “But he’s a really good player who could help himself [draft-wise] in the tournament.”

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“He hit a little bit of a freshman wall,” an opposing Division I coach told Yahoo Sports. “Shooting is confidence. … Defenses are also guarding him a little bit better. If he hits his first couple shots, you’re in real trouble.”

Young has a tall task now in facing an experienced Rhode Island backcourt that will make him work for everything. The Rams have a pair of outstanding senior guards with tournament experience in Jared Terrell (17 points per game on 42 percent from 3-point range) and E.C. Matthews (13 points per game). Both of them will get a crack at Young, who will have to generate space off ball screens and hunt for transition threes.

PG Collin Sexton, Fr., Alabama vs. Virginia Tech’s backcourt

Let Sexton get downhill and it’s lights out. But contain his drive and force the ball out of his hands by trapping ball screens, and he becomes vulnerable. Sexton did more of the former in the SEC tournament, where he saved the Tide’s season with a game-winning floater against Auburn. In three tourney games, the former top-10 national recruit averaged 26 points on 52 percent shooting, including drilling 10-of-19 3-pointers. The Hokies’ team focus is on the backcourt, an area of expertise for coach Buzz Williams, dating back to his Marquette days with Jimmy Butler, Wes Matthews and Darius Johnson-Odom. Tech, however, is not a great defensive club, ranking outside the top 50 in defensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy.

F Keita Bates-Diop, RS Jr., Ohio State vs. F Mike Daum Jr., South Dakota State

If you like offensive versatility, then this matchup is for you. After earning Big Ten Player of the Year for Chris Holtmann’s Buckeyes, Bates-Diop, who had leg surgery last season, will look to display the type of Swiss Army-knife game that made him so effective this year. At 6-foot-7, Bates-Diop can spot up and bury a three (36 percent), post up or simply isolate and get to the rim. He possesses a nasty pull-up game anywhere inside 20 feet, where he simply uses his dynamic leaping ability to elevate over a defender.

46 PHOTOS
NCAA basketball tradition of cutting down the nets
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NCAA basketball tradition of cutting down the nets
CHAPEL HILL, NC- CIRCA 1968: Rusty Clark #43 of the University of North Carolina Tar Heels cuts down the net after the win in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by North Carolina/Collegiate Images/Getty Images)
EAST LANSING, MI- CIRCA 1978: Magic Johnson #33 of the Michigan State University Spartans cuts the net down after a win at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Michigan State/Collegiate Images/Getty Images)
MARCH 7, 1982: Matt Doherty #44 of the North Carolina Tar Heels cuts down a piece of the net on March 7, 1982 after Carolina defeated Virginia in ACC Conference Tournament final 47-45. (Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - CIRCA 1981-1984: Hakeem Olajuwon, #34 center of the University of Houston Cougars football team cuts down the net after a game at Hofheinz Pavilion in Houston, Texas. (Photo by University of Houston/Collegiate Images/Getty Images)
CHAPEL HILL, NC- CIRCA 1990: Rick Fox, #44 forward of the University of North Carolina Tar Heels cuts down the net after a win at the Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by North Carolina/Collegiate Images/Getty Images)
APR 1991: MIKE KRZYZEWSKI, HEAD COACH OF DUKE BASKETBALL, CUTS DOWN THE NET AFTER WINNING THE NCAA NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP. DUKE BEAT KANSAS 72-65 AT THE HOOSIER DOME, INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA. Mandatory Credit: ALLSPORT USA/ALLSPORT
NEW YORK CITY, NY - CIRCA 1992-1996: Kerry Kittles, #30 guard of the Villanova University Wildcats cuts down the net during the BIG EAST Conference men's basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York. (Photo by BIG EAST Conference/Collegiate Images/Getty Images)
11 Mar 1995: UCLA GUARD TYUS EDNEY CUTS DOWN THE NET IN CELEBRATION OF THE BRUINS'' PAC-10 CHAMPIONSHIP AFTER A VICTORY OVER OREGON STATE AT PAULEY PAVILION IN LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA.
23 Mar 1996: Tony Delk of Kentucky cuts down the net after defeating Wake Forest 83-63 in the NCAA Midwest regional final at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Delk was voted the regional''s outstanding player as Kentucky advances to the FinalFour.
31 Mar 1996: Head Coach Pat Summitt of Tennessee and her son Tyler celebrate while cutting down the net after the Lady Volunteers defeat Georgia in the championship game of the NCAA Women''s Final Four played at Charlotte Coliseum in Charlotte, North Carol
ST. PETERBURG, FL - MARCH 22: Head coach Tubby Smith of University of Kentucky Wildcats celebrates cutting down the basketball net after winning the 1998 NCAA South Regionals Final game against Duke University Blue Devils at Tropicana Field on March 22, 1998 in St. Petersburg, Florida. The Wildcates won 86-84. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice: Copyright 1998 ( Photo by: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
26 Mar 2000: Coach Billy Donovan of the Florida Gators cuts down the net after the NCAA East Regional Game against the Oklahoma Cowboys at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York. The Gators defeated the Cowboys 77-65. Mandatory Credit: David Leeds /Allsport
25 Mar 2001: Arizona Wildcats center #3 Loren Woods sticks out his tongue while cutting down the net after defeating Illinois during the NCAA Midwest Regional final at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. DIGITAL IMAGE Mandatory Credit: Ronald Martinez/ALLSPORT
24 Mar 2002: Head coach Roy Williams cuts down a piece of the net after they beat Oregon during the NCAA Mens Basketball Tournament at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wisconsin. The Kansas Jayhawks beat the Oregon Ducks 104-86 to advance to the Final Four in Atlanta, Georgia. DIGITAL IMAGE. Mandatory Credit: Elsa/ Getty Images.
DALLAS - MARCH 16: Guard Hollis Price #10 of the Oklahoma Sooners steps down from cutting a piece of the net after winning the finals of the Phillips 66 Big XII Championships against the Missouri Tigers at the American Airlines Center March 16, 2003, in Dallas, Texas. Hollis led the Sooners with 14 points and Oklahoma won 49-47. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
ATLANTA - APRIL 8: Ann Strother #43 of the University of Connecticut Huskies helps with the ceremonial cutting of the net after defeating the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers in the NCAA Women's Championship game at the Georgia Dome on April 8, 2003 in Atlanta, Georgia. Connecticut defeated Tennessee 73-68. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO - APRIL 5: Ben Gordon #4 of the UConn Huskies holds a piece of the net in his mouth after cutting it down after defeating the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 82-73 during the National Championship game of the NCAA Men's Final Four Tournament at the Alamodome on April 5, 2004 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS - APRIL 6: Diana Taurasi #3 of the University of Connecticut Huskies cuts down the net after defeating theTennessee Lady Vols 70-61 in the National Championship game of the NCAA Women's Final Four Tournament at the New Orleans Arena on April 6, 2004 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
ALBUQUERQUE, NM - MARCH 26: Larry O'Bannon #32 of the Louisville Cardinals cuts down the net after the Cardinals' victory over the West Virginia Mountaineers in overtime during the Elite 8 game of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament on March 26, 2005 at The Pit in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Cardinals won in overtime 93-85 and will advance to the Final Four. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
DENVER - MARCH 11: Head coach Elaine Elliott of the Utah Utes cuts down the net after her women defeated the Brigham Young University Cougars 84-60 in the championship of the Women's Mountain West Conference Basketball Tournament on March 11, 2006 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Florida's Joakim Noah cuts down the net as the Florida Gators beat the UCLA Bruins 73-57 in the championship game of the Final Four Monday, April 3, 2006 at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Harry E. Walker/MCT/MCT via Getty Images)
BOSTON - APRIL 04: Head coach Brenda Frese of the Maryland Terrapins celebrates as she cuts down the net after defeating the Duke Blue Devils 78-75 in overtime in the 2006 NCAA Women's Basketball Championship Game on April 4, 2006 at the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
CHICAGO - MARCH 11: Head Thad Matta of the Ohio State Buckeyes cuts down the net following Ohio St.'s 66-49 win against the Wisconsin Badgers during the Final of the Big Ten Men's Basketball Conference Tournament March 11, 2007 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
ATLANTA - APRIL 02: Joakim Noah #13 of the Florida Gators cuts down the net after his team defeated the Ohio State Buckeyes during the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship game at the Georgia Dome on April 2, 2007 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND - APRIL 03: Head coach Pat Summitt of the Tennessee Lady Volunteers celebrates after cutting down the net after Tennessee's 59-46 win against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights to win the 2007 NCAA Women's Basketball Championship Game at Quicken Loans Arena on April 3, 2007 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 29: Ty Lawson #5 of the North Carolina Tar Heels cuts down the net after defeating the Louisville Cardinals during the 2008 NCAA Men's East Regional Final at Bobcats Arena on March 29, 2008 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Tar Heels defeated the Cardinals 83-73 to advance to the final four. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
TAMPA, FL - APRIL 08: Head coach Pat Summitt of the Tennessee Lady Volunteers celebrates cutting down the net as her son Tyler holds the trophy after their 64-48 win against the Stanford Cardinal during the National Championsip Game of the 2008 NCAA Women's Final Four at St. Pete Times Forum April 8, 2008 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - MARCH 13: Da'Sean Butler #1 of the West Virginia Mountaineers puts the net around his head after cutting it down after defeating the Georgetown Hoyas in the championship of the 2010 NCAA Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 13, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS - APRIL 05: Head coach Mike Krzyzewski of the Duke Blue Devils cuts down a piece of the net following their 61-59 win against the Butler Bulldogs during the 2010 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 5, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO - APRIL 06: Center Tina Charles #31 of the Connecticut Huskies celebrates while cutting down the net after a 53-47 win against the Stanford Cardinal during the NCAA Women's Final Four Championship game at the Alamodome on April 6, 2010 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CA - MARCH 26: Kemba Walker #15 of the Connecticut Huskies cuts down the net after defeating the Arizona Wildcats during the west regional final of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at the Honda Center on March 26, 2011 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall cuts down the net and celebrates with fans after his team defeated Drake University, 81-58, and won the Missouri Valley Conference regular season title at Charles Koch Arena in Wichita, Kansas, Saturday, February 25, 2012. (Travis Heying/Wichita Eagle/MCT via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MARCH 24: Jared Sullinger #0 of the Ohio State Buckeyes looks on after cutting down the net after defeating the Syracuse Orange during the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball East Regional Final at TD Garden on March 24, 2012 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 30: Ron Baker #31 of the Wichita State Shockers celebrates by cutting down the net after defeating the Ohio State Buckeyes 70-66 during the West Regional Final of the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Staples Center on March 30, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - APRIL 09: Heather Buck #32 of the Connecticut Huskies cuts down the net after defeating the Louisville Cardinals during the 2013 NCAA Women's Final Four Championship at New Orleans Arena on April 9, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - APRIL 09: Overhead view of Geno Auriemma, head coach of the Connecticut Huskies, cutting down the net following a victory over the Louisville Cardinals in the National Final game of the 2013 NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship at New Orleans Arena on April 9, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 30: Head coach Kevin Ollie of the Connecticut Huskies cuts down the net after defeating the Michigan State Spartans to win the East Regional Final of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 30, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN - APRIL 08: Breanna Stewart #30 of the Connecticut Huskies cuts down the net after defeating the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 79 to 58 in the NCAA Women's Final Four Championship at Bridgestone Arena on April 8, 2014 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
DALLAS, TX - MARCH 8: Ben Moore #00 of the SMU Mustangs cuts down the net after defeating the Tulsa Golden Hurricane and winning the American Athletic Conference regular season championship on March 8, 2015 at Moody Coliseum in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - APRIL 06: Marshall Plumlee #40 of the Duke Blue Devils cuts down the net after defeating the Wisconsin Badgers during the NCAA Men's Final Four National Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 6, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Duke defeated Wisconsin 68-63. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
12 March 2016: Oregon head coach Dana Altman cuts down the remainder of the net and points to the crowd as he celebrates the victory during the men's Pac-12 Basketball Tournament championship game between the Utah Utes and Oregon Ducks at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, NV. Oregon defeated Utah 88-57. (Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 13: Shonn Miller #32 of the Connecticut Huskies cuts down the net after winning the Final of the 2016 AAC Basketball Tournament against the Memphis Tigers at Amway Center on March 13, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
SAN JOSE, CA - MARCH 25: Nigel Williams-Goss #5 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs cuts down the net after their 83 to 59 win over the Xavier Musketeers during the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament West Regional at SAP Center on March 25, 2017 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MO - MARCH 25: Dillon Brooks #24 of the Oregon Ducks cuts down the net after his teams 74-60 win over the Kansas Jayhawks during the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Midwest Regional at Sprint Center on March 25, 2017 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 26: Hassani Gravett #2 of the South Carolina Gamecocks celebrates by cutting down the net after defeating the Florida Gators with a score of 77 to 70 to win the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament East Regional at Madison Square Garden on March 26, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
MEMPHIS, TN - MARCH 26: Luke Maye #32 of the North Carolina Tar Heels cuts down the net after making the game winning shot and defeating the Kentucky Wildcats during the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at FedExForum on March 26, 2017 in Memphis, Tennessee. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Bates-Diop will have his hands full with the Jackrabbits’ Mike Daum, a hyper-efficient offensive player with shades of Kevin Love. Can he body Daum and use his length? If so, he wins the matchup and the Bucks advance. If not, the 6-foot-9 Daum — the two-time Summit League Player of the Year — will becomes an instant storyline. He’s averaging 23.8 points (sixth in country) and 10.4 rebounds (tied for 13th) this season, while connecting on over 42 percent of his threes.

C Wendell Carter, Fr., Duke

Two GMs have told me how much they like Carter. “He has a lot of Al Horford to him,” one noted. “The way he moves, he has soft hands and a soft touch.” While fellow superstar freshman Marvin Bagley III has garnered most of the headlines this year, the 6-foot-10, 259-pound Carter has been a glass-eating nightmare for opponents. Able to finish with both hands in the paint, run the floor and step outside to 18 feet, Carter could conceivably catapult himself into the top five with a strong performance in the tournament. One executive told Yahoo Sports that even at the beginning of the year, he was more impressed with Carter than Bagley. “He can do a lot of things,” the executive said. “I like him.”

F Michael Porter Jr., Fr., Missouri

He’s played less than 30 minutes this season because of a back injury, but Porter Jr. remains one of the most talented players in the tournament. “He’s a freak,” said a former college coach who recruited Porter. “Michael can do it all. Whatever you need, he can do it.” Fair enough. Porter has to show a more fluid game, however, than he did in the Tigers’ SEC tournament loss to Georgia, when he missed 12-of-17 shots and lacked his trademark explosiveness.

F Killian Tillie, Soph., Gonzaga

Tillie is off the national radar, but not for long. At 6-foot-10, the bouncy Frenchman has all of the tools NBA executives look for in a new-age four man: Tillie is athletic and can step away from the basket and shoot it (50 percent on threes, 76 percent free throws). He also guards ball screens well and displays a nastiness and grit that is required at the next level. From a per-40-minute basis, few bigs are more productive than this 20-year-old, who averaged 21 points, nine rebounds and nearly two blocks per game this season. An argument can be made that Tillie has more upside than former Gonzaga big Domantas Sabonis, a lottery pick in 2016 who’s enjoying a solid season with the Pacers.

F Miles Bridges, Soph., Michigan State

At a sturdy 6-foot-7, 230 pounds, Bridges’ stock seemed to have dipped, simply because he returned for his sophomore year. All he’s done this year though is average 17 points and seven rebounds on a highly efficient 46-37-88 percent shooting split. Maybe he’s Michael Beasley, or maybe he’s a more versatile version. Bridges can really help himself in March if he displays a consistent ability to make 3-point shots and guarding both the block and perimeter at a high level.

C Mohamed Bamba, Fr., Texas

One Big 12 college head coach told Yahoo: “He intimidates you. You walk out on the floor and you’re like, ‘Oh, snap.’ He’s so long and physically imposing. You combine the length [7-foot-9 wingspan, 9-foot-6 standing reach] and athleticism, and he’s very scary.” Bamba blocks 3.7 shots per game and has the dexterity necessary to excel on both ends of the floor. How aggressive he is and how well he shoots the ball in the tournament could ultimately determine his draft position.

G D’Marcus Simonds, Soph., Georgia State

Simonds can really go. He may be the Russell Westbrook of the mid-majors. Simonds has a power game, able to attack the paint and enforce his will. The Georgia native ranks in the top 25 nationally in scoring (21.1 points per game), but it’s Simonds’ overall floor game that will impress scouts the most: He nabs over six rebounds and dishes out nearly five assists per game. He gets downhill in a hurry, using his excellent first step and then relying on his strength to absorb contact in the lane, hence his six free-throw attempts per game.

F Mikal Bridges, Jr., Villanova

Bridges, the Big East Tournament MVP, continues to improve in all facets. One GM raved that the 6-foot-6 Bridges is the prototypical 3-and-D wing and said he loves his 7-foot-2 wingspan and ability to guard at least three NBA positions. He also noted his strong character. Watch for Bridges to score off the ball while also locking up opponents and making winning plays. He is a better version of Bates-Diop.

G Zach Lofton, Sr., New Mexico State

A vagabond of sorts, Lofton — playing for his fourth Division I program — has been lights out all season. Creative off the bounce, he can fill it up in a hurry. Lofton has six games with at least four threes and is a terrific rebounder for his size, collecting over five boards per game. At 6-foot-4, he has enough size to play as a combo guard in the pros and enough scoring punch to isolate off the dribble. The 12th-seeded Aggies are a trendy upset pick, and Lofton is the main reason why. He has a difficult first-round matchup against an athletic Clemson team that has multiple wing defenders. The Tigers rank eighth in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy.

More NCAA tournament on Yahoo Sports:
March Madness bracket: Tournament field of 68 revealed
Printable bracket: Start making your picks
Selection Sunday winners and losers: Kentucky, Duke get rough roads
Five biggest tournament snubs
Everything you need to know before filling out a bracket
For beginners: Tips and tricks to filling out a bracket
Non-traditional ways to spice up your bracket pool






 

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