March Madness 2022 is over.
This year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament definitely lived up to the hype. Multiple upsets and last-second finishes busted brackets across the nation, with No. 1 Kansas coming out on top as the champions.
As college basketball programs start preparing for next season, some of the top prospects in the nation will instead change gears and focus on the 2022 NBA draft.
The Big Dance provided these players a last chance at showcasing their skills in a real-game atmosphere before the draft on June 23. Let’s look at the prospects who seized the opportunity and increased their stock in the 2022 draft:
Paolo Banchero, F, Duke
There’s no consensus No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft. However, three freshman have dominated the conversation: Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren, Auburn’s Jabari Smith and Duke’s Paolo Banchero. You can’t go wrong with any of the three, but after Holmgren and Smith got bounced early from the dance, Banchero can put “Led My Team to the Final Four” on his resume, which can’t be said for others.
Banchero, a 6-foot-10 forward, averaged 18.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.2 blocks while shooting 50% overall and 52% from 3-point range throughout the tournament. He put his shotmaking and playmaking abilities on center stage against tough defenses as Duke advanced in the tournament, and the 19-year-old forward still has room to improve in the big leagues.
If he wasn’t on your radar as a potential No. 1 pick yet, he should be now.
AJ Griffin, F, Duke
Griffin, Banchero’s teammate, is another freshman who has flirted with top-five potential in this year’s draft. A 6-foot-6 wing, he has the 3-and-D archetype teams want to extract from players of his caliber. Griffin already has the 3 down: he shot 44.7% from distance on 4.1 attempts a game this year.
He’s a poised knockdown shooter with a stroke that should translate to the next level with more polishing, but his shooting profile extends to the mid-range area along with being a smart cutter and passer.
The defense needs to be more consistent, but his 7-foot wingspan is one of the key reasons he’s touted as a high selection. His 18-point game on 7-for-9 shooting against Arkansas in the Elite Eight definitely turned heads, even though his Final Four outing (6 points on 1-for-7 shooting) wasn’t the best way to end the season.
Mark Williams, C, Duke
We’ll take a break from Duke prospects after this – promise. If you look up the definition of efficiency, you’ll read about sophomore center Mark Williams. Williams, a 7-foot big man with a 7-foot-7 wingspan, served as a robust interior anchor for Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils.
Williams’ floor is a typical traditional 5 who can protect the paint and finish easy dunks on offense. But he leveraged the tournament to prove he can be so much more. The sophomore center averaged 13.2 points on 80.5% shooting, and he displayed more shot creativity than just dunks. His 72.7% free throw percentage on the season also indicates some range in his jumper. Pair that with his 3.8 blocks per game throughout the dance and there’s an elite two-way center in the making. His peak in the draft is likely a late-lottery selection.
Think Robert Williams of the Boston Celtics as a strong comparison, and not just because they have the same last name.
Jaylin Williams, F, Arkansas
Sophomore big man Jaylin Williams progressed as the season went on, except for two sub-par showings in the SEC Tournament. But he bounced back and supplied four vital outings during Arkansas’ run to the Elite Eight as a No. 4 seed.
Williams’ hype hit the national stage in the Razorbacks’ upset win over No. 1 Gonzaga in the Sweet 16. The 6-foot-10 forward posted 15 points, 12 rebounds, three assists and a block, including a 2 of 5 clip from deep. He’s not the quickest player on either end of the floor, but he came up with several game-winning plays with his high-IQ reads on and off the ball.
His 3-point shooting needs to become more consistent at the next level, but he’s still only 19. Williams could be a late first-round pick at this rate, and with his size and two-way potential, some team could make an excellent choice.
Christian Braun, G/F, Kansas
Ochai Agbaji is the Kansas Jayhawk projected to go in the lottery, but junior wing Christian Braun has chatter of being a late first-round pick who could go in the early 20s. At 6-foot-7, Braun has enhanced his two-way skills every year.
He’s a 38.6% 3-point shooter this season but only on 3.4 attempts. That volume – and asserting himself earlier in games – would need to increase if he is to reach his potential on the offensive end, but he’s also helped his case this season by growing as a passer off the dribble.
Defensively, he has the tools to succeed against 2s and 3s of his size; how he performs at the NBA Draft Combine could definitely swing his stock after a solid showing during March Madness. His 12-point, 12-rebound game in the national championship was vital for the Jayhawks.
Brady Manek, F, UNC
North Carolina big man Brady Manek, 23, had little draft buzz before the tournament started, but now there’s justifiable talk of him going in the second round, likely in the latter half. The 6-foot-9 prospect is a fifth-year player at UNC, which is his first season at the program after playing his first four seasons with the Oklahoma Sooners.
His tournament form has been a huge reason why UNC made it to the Final Four as a No. 8 seed. He had a 28-point, 11-rebound game in the first round against No. 9 Marquette, and he followed it up with a 26-point performance in an upset win against No. 1 Baylor. Manek also had huge two-way games against Duke and Kansas to end the tournament, likely bumping his stock more.
The Oklahoma native can stretch the floor with a 40.3% 3-point percentage on 6.2 attempts, but his lack of athleticism may impair him on the defensive side of the ball. Still, big men who can shoot are a hot commodity in today’s floor-spacing NBA systems, and Manek has shown during this tournament he could be worth gambling on.
Hunter Dickinson, C, Michigan
Freshman forward Caleb Houstan is the hot name this year for the Michigan Wolverines, but their best player this season was Hunter Dickinson. The 7-foot-1 sophomore center took on a larger role this season and excelled, averaging 18.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.5 blocks on 56.3% shooting overall. He also improved from 3-point range and the charity stripe, shooting 32.8% from deep on 2.0 attempts – he attempted just four total 3s his freshman year – and 80.2% from the free throw line on 3.6 attempts.
As the focal point of the offense and the anchor on defense, Dickinson played a vital role in Michigan’s run to the Sweet 16 as a No. 11 seed. He had a 21-point game on 80% shooting to upset No. 6 Colorado State and a 27-point, 11-rebound game to shock No. 3 Tennessee.
Unfortunately, his 15-point, 15-rebound, three-assist and two-block game could not lift the Wolverines into the Elite Eight against No. 2 Villanova. Nova emphasized sending help to Dickinson to force his teammates to step up and they did not, which is why the big man shot just 6 of 16 from the floor.
But if he declares for the draft, he could go as high as somewhere in the mid-second round; his stock could jump if he stays another year in Ann Arbor, but it might also never be higher after this showing.
Wendell Moore Jr., G/F, Duke
Circling back to another Duke prospect, Wendell Moore Jr. has certainly elevated his game to become a near-lock first-round pick. Moore has been more involved as a playmaking wing his junior season, and his refined shot selection has dramatically improved his shooting percentages.
Moore shot 50% from the field this season after going 41.7% last season. He also hit 41.3% of his 3-point shots after going just 30.1% last year (and 21.1% as a freshman). Moore is also a career 81.4% free throw shooter, so he’ll just need to increase the volume (2.6 attempts) to unlock a new level in his scoring bag.
The 6-foot-5 wing has posted career-high averages this season of 13.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.4 assists, which has translated into solid outings in the Big Dance. Prospects his size with the ability to make plays on and off the ball aren’t easy to find, so he could be good value anywhere in the 20s.
Drew Timme, F, Gonzaga
Holmgren is undoubtedly Gonzaga’s best prospect this year, but junior big man Drew Timme has been the team’s pulse the last two seasons. However, despite averaging 18.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists on 58.6% shooting this season, Timme could go undrafted if he enters his name.
Why is that the case?
Though he’s 6-foot-10, Timme does not have the lateral quickness or athleticism to protect the rim against NBA athletes. He also is not a reliable 3-point shooter, going 29.4% on 0.5 attempts throughout his three years with the Bulldogs. His case is similar to former Iowa big man Luka Garza, who was the 2021 Naismith Player of the Year but got drafted No. 52 overall. Toeing that fine line of being elite in college basketball but not good enough for the NBA can be a tough one to decipher for certain prospects.
But after averaging 27.3 points and 11.3 rebounds in three NCAA tournament games this year, maybe some team will take a chance on Timme’s interior scoring ability late in the second round instead of going undrafted. There could be something in Timme’s scoring arsenal, and maybe his tournament showing – though cut short – gave him enough juice to hear his name called in the 2022 draft.
Caleb Love, G/F, UNC
Caleb Love initially did not make this list because his name hasn’t gotten much chatter, but his performances to end the tournament has made it possible he could go late in the second round. He’s put up three 20-point-plus games in the Big Dance: 23 against Marquette, 30 against UCLA and 28 against Duke.
Despite a lackluster 5-for-24 shooting performance in the final, the 6-foot-4 guard possesses an intriguing 6-foot-9 wingspan, which bodes well for his defensive versatility along with being a matchup nightmare offensively if he develops properly. Becoming a consistent shooter is at the top of his developmental list, as highlighted against Kansas, but his 36.0% 3-point mark and 86.3% clip from the free throw line suggests he could evolve into a strong multi-level scorer.
Los Angeles Lakers wing Talen Horton-Tucker is a recent case study of a prospect with similar intangibles to Love, except Love is already a more polished scorer. He’s a low-risk, high-reward bet for a team with the patience to gamble on him.
Ochai Agbaji, G/F, Kansas: jumped from late lottery to a potential top-10 pick
Bennedict Mathurin, G/F, Arizona: jumped from late lottery to a potential top-10 pick
Armando Bacot, C, UNC: jumped from likely undrafted to a potential second-round pick
Remy Martin, G, Kansas: jumped from likely undrafted to a potential second-round pick
Kameron McGusty, G, Miami: mid-to-late second-round buzz due to pure scoring ability
R.J. Davis, G, UNC: late second-round possibility; tough bucket-getter who plays with all heart