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2017 NBA draft prospect watch: Jayson Tatum, Lauri Markkanen win on big stages

2017 NBA draft prospect watch: Jayson Tatum, Lauri Markkanen win on big stages

With conference tournaments taking over the college sports landscape, a few of the top players in the nation carved out top headlines while others saw their teams fall with a whimper. Who rose to the occasion and who fell silent this weekend? Let's take a look.

Jayson Tatum, forward, Duke (6-8/204)
It's hard to argue that anyone had a better weekend than Jayson Tatum. The Duke freshman was the catalyst for the Blue Devils, who became the first team to win four games in four days to win the ACC Tournament. Tatum played at least 36 minutes in every game and scored 19 points or more in each, including a 25-point effort against Louisville on Thursday. 

Perhaps his best quality was his efficiency. He's been more of a volume shooter at times this season, but he was able to convert consistently for the Blue Devils ... and they needed it. Duke had to make three second-half comebacks against three ranked teams this weekend and he was huge in all of them. His best sequence was a clutch block against Notre Dame, which he followed with a coast-to-coast drive that helped put away the Fighting Irish.

Remember when Duke was ranked No. 1 to start the year? Tatum's potential was a lot of the reason why and he's living up to it right now. He's peaking at the exact right time, proving to be unstoppable on many drives to the hole while showing high basketball IQ in big moments. Sure, he's athletic, but even better are some of his great passes. He had the assist on a Matt Jones three that helped seal Saturday's win over Notre Dame that showed he's isn't all out for himself. 

Lauri Markkanen, forward, Arizona (7-0/225)
Markkanen took only four shots in the Pac 12 Tournament final Saturday night and made all four. Believe it or not, it wasn't his best effort of the weekend. Sure, his 11 points were pretty large in the Wildcats' win over top-seeded Oregon Ducks, but his evening against UCLA on Friday night loomed much larger.

The Finnish frosh had been in a prolonged slump going into the tournament but found his shot in an easy win against Colorado on Thursday (20 points on just nine shots). For the first time in a while, he was called upon as the focal point of the offense, taking 22 shots against the Bruins on Friday. And he made 10 of them, including four threes, and his 29 points helped sink UCLA. It's a quality sign for the stretch four going into the last run of his season.

Lonzo Ball, guard, UCLA (6-6/190)
There's no doubt Lonzo Ball is the top-ranked freshman still going (Markelle Fultz's Washington team bowed out quickly in the Pac 12 Tournament and he's already announced he's going pro). However, for as good as Ball has been at times this year, he slightly subdued expectations with a bit of a down weekend. He had a solid 12-point, 7-assist effort vs. USC, but Arizona stifled him on Friday. 

It's key to note that Ball appeared to suffer a hand injury in the late first half against the Wildcats, and it seemed to affect his play afterward. Still, regardless of the reason for his play, he was off. He was just 2 of 7 from the field (1 of 6 from three) and turned the ball over four times. He did dish out six assists, though. But his efforts weren't enough in an 86-75 loss.

De'Aaron Fox, guard, Kentucky (6-4/171)
Fox has often been overshadowed by fellow Kentucky first-year Malik Monk. However, this weekend and the SEC Tournament belonged to Fox going into Sunday's final. During Friday's quarterfinal and Saturday's semifinal, Fox could hardly be stopped. He made 15 of 24 attempts en route to 48 total points. 

With his recent play, Fox has made an argument to be included among the top point guards in the upcoming draft. Draft Express has him fifth overall in the draft, third among point guards, behind just Ball and Fultz. A solid NCAA Tournament could go a long way to keeping him that high or moving him higher. 

Josh Hart, guard, Villanova (6-6/204)
In his final Big East Tournament, Hart made himself heard loud and clear. After all, he's no stranger to March. His 29 points were an essential part of 'Nova's win over Creighton in the final, but he shined even brighter on Friday. The Wildcats faced a deficit against Seton Hall on Friday night, but Hart led the charge back with 19 points. His three-point play off an offensive rebound with 10 seconds to go was the difference in the victory. 

Hart, a senior, is hardly a top prospect. However, he's at least a second-round selection, if not a late first rounder. As Villanova's leading scorer, he's proven himself a capable wing and will receive the chance to cement himself in an NBA rotation in the near future. 

Quick hits
Florida State forward Jonathan Isaac struggled offensively this weekend (6 for 20 from the field), but the freshman sensation gobbled up 27 rebounds and had four blocks over two games.

Kansas forward Josh Jackson was suspended for Kansas' Thursday conference tourney opener and the Jayhawks paid for it dearly. Without their prized freshmen, the Jayhawks were upset by TCU in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament.

Duke guard Luke Kennard, the one sophomore in this post, scored 80 points in four games for the Blue Devils in the ACC Tournament. Particularly impressive was his 10 for 10 performance at the free throw line in Duke's upset of North Carolina on Friday night.

Joel Embiid questionable vs. Jazz with left knee soreness

Joel Embiid questionable vs. Jazz with left knee soreness

CAMDEN, N.J. -- Joel Embiid is questionable for the Sixers' Monday's matchup against the Jazz but the big man expects to play. 

Embiid will be a game-time decision because of left knee soreness. He is experiencing tightness and will go through pregame warmups to see how he reacts. After that, the call will up be up to him. 

"My whole body's a little bit sore, but I think I should be playing tonight," Embiid said. "If I feel good, I'll play. It's not on them (the Sixers). I think it's more on me."

Embiid took three-point shots and free throws after shootaround Monday. He did not attribute the discomfort to one play in particular. He took a tough spill Saturday against the Warriors but said that wasn't the specific cause.

"Maybe just a little bit because I landed on both of my knees," Embiid said. "It wasn't a little bit painful but it's nothing to be worried about." 

Embiid said his questionable status was not because of needing a day to rest. Embiid played 33 minutes Saturday. In fact, he said he was going to be "set free, basically" in terms of his minutes following that game. 

Embiid shot "a little bit" at Sunday's practice and did not go through shootaround Monday, something he has been doing to make keep his body ready for the game itself. 

"There's still a schedule in place," Embiid said. "I'm not cleared for back-to-backs yet. I expect at some point this season to be playing back-to-backs. You've just got to follow the plan and see how my body reacts. But it's been going well so far." 

Embiid has sat out twice this season, the last time being against the Jazz in Salt Lake City. The Sixers won that game, 104-97. 

The Sixers know what they have to do if Embiid cannot play. Dario Saric scored 25 points and JJ Redick added 20 in the Sixers' victory over the Jazz. Richaun Holmes started that night in place of Embiid, but he also is questionable because of gastroenteritis. Expect Amir Johnson, who did not play against the Warriors, to see more minutes if neither big can play. 

"In that case [without Embiid], we need to share the ball, we need to move a lot, we need to play a little bit faster," Saric said. "Try to attack Utah in the fast break because they are a really good defensive team of the half court." 

Jerryd Bayless is cleared to return after missing the last six games because of a left wrist injury. Justin Anderson (left leg) and Nik Stauskas (right ankle) are out. 

Markelle Fultz progressing, but not ready to return to Sixers yet

Markelle Fultz progressing, but not ready to return to Sixers yet

Updated: 2:45 p.m.

CAMDEN, N.J. -- Markelle Fultz isn't cleared to play just yet.

The Sixers rookie was reevaluated Sunday for right shoulder soreness and scapular muscle imbalance and will be reevaluated again in approximately 2-3 weeks, the team announced. 

His return date will be based on how he handles training and practices. An examination by Dr. Ben Kibler, Medical Director of the Shoulder Center of Kentucky at the Lexington Clinic, showed Fultz's soreness and muscle balance is improving. Fultz met with Kibler on Oct. 29 and has seen multiple shoulder specialists. 

The rehab plan is for Fultz to continue with physiotherapy treatment.

"Just the fact we expect to get back into full basketball activity soon," Brett Brown said after practice Sunday, "I don't know the exact timeframe of that, but the news is good in relation to the improvement of his shoulder, enough for us to put out a press release saying what I just said and look forward to bringing him into the team and playing basketball again."

The No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA draft has appeared in only four games this season, averaging 6.0 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists off the bench. He has been battling the shoulder discomfort since training camp, and his shot was visibly affected by it.

Fultz has been traveling with the Sixers. He is staying engaged with the team during his own pregame warmups, assisting with rebounding after practices and staying incorporated with teammates off the court. 

Bayless to return
The Sixers anticipate getting one player back from injury Monday.

Brown expects Jerryd Bayless (left wrist) will play against the Jazz. Bayless went through practice Sunday. Brown looks forward to having Bayless' veteran experience, playmaking, and on-ball defense back in the mix. Bayless has missed the last six games and doesn't plan to have any minute restrictions on his return. 

"It's feeling OK," Bayless said of his wrist. "It's feeling like it's ready to go. I'm excited to play and be back out there." 

Justin Anderson (left leg) and Nik Stauskas (right ankle) remain sidelined. As a result of all the injuries, guards T.J. McConnell and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot have seen a bump in minutes.