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2019 NBA Draft: Top prospects worth watching in the NCAA Tournament -- not named Zion Williamson

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2019 NBA Draft: Top prospects worth watching in the NCAA Tournament -- not named Zion Williamson

Hard-core college basketball fanatics likely know the score. Casual observers diving in deep this week with the start of the NCAA Tournament may soon learn.

Just like the current season of college basketball, the 2019 NBA Draft is Zion Williamson’s world and everybody else is just living in it.

Everyone is aware that Duke’s mega force freshman is the best player in college and poised for number one overall selection status come June’s draft. Yet the long-running narrative stated Williamson’s Duke teammates, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, were not far behind. Murray State point guard Ja Morant turned the trio into an interesting quartet during the season. Surely, other high-impact prospects loomed.

That’s now how many analysts size up the 2019 class.

“I think its Zion and then everybody else,” NBC Sports college basketball insider Rob Dauster told NBC Sports Washington.

This isn’t just about the player who puts the power in power forward even if Williamson is arguably the most exciting prospect since LeBron James.

“In (2018) we knew the top five picks were all going to end up being good players. Then you got 6-10 and you knew there would be some useful starters and maybe there’s a guy who could be an All-Star,” Dauster said. “This draft Zion Williamson is the one guy we know is going to be a really good player. At (picks) 2-8 is normally what you’d see in a 6-11 (range) in a typical year.”

Barrett and Reddish certainly had heady moments during their respective freshman seasons, but more questions remain than expected at this point. While Barrett remains the no. 2 overall prospect on most public draft boards, Reddish dropped to six in the latest ESPN big board.

The two players jumping Reddish in the ESPN rankings highlight the class’ lowered ceiling. Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland rose in the rankings this season despite missing much of the season with a knee injury. Virginia forward DeAndre Hunter’s versatility and skills suggest high-end NBA role player upside. This year that means the fifth overall prospect.

“Zion makes [the class] feel better than it is,” an NBA front office executive

Understand nobody suggests the draft won’t produce helpful players. Identifying those talents is simply much trickier this time.

That’s today. The NCAA Tournament won’t suddenly turn David’s into Goliath’s but projections could certainly shift or solidify depending on how players handle the madness of March. There are NBA draft lottery prospects and other interesting players in each region for NBA fans to consider.

“I think there are maybe 3-4 other guys who have a chance to be an All-Star in this draft after Zion,” Dauster said.

The Wizards currently have the eighth best odds for the no. 1 overall pick (6 %) and a 26.3% chance for a top-4 selection.

EAST REGIONAL

Player: Zion Williamson, PF, Duke, Fr.

Stats: 22.1 ppg, 8.9 rbg, 69.3 FG%

Height: 6-foot-6

ESPN ranking: 1

Rob Dauster, NBC Sports: “I think Zion is unbelievable and I don’t want to put a ceiling on what he could end up being. There are some things about his game that are not perfect, especially his shooting. He makes a lot of defensive plays, but he can also get beaten pretty easily. He’s a great playmaker defensively, but I don’t know if he’s a great defender yet. He can get there, but he’s not there yet. So he does have some flaws, but I think he’s a guy who can be an NBA All-Star…

“I just don’t know what Zion is going to be in the NBA, but I didn’t know what he was going to be on the college level and he’s turned into an absolute freak of nature monster. I don’t want to put a ceiling on him. He has to go number one. Anybody who would consider somebody else is foolish and should be fired. … I would not be surprised to see him a top 10 player in the league three years down the road.”

Player: R.J. Barrett, SG, Duke, Fr.

Stats: 22.9 ppg, 7.5 rbg, 30.4 3FG%

Height: 6-foot-8

ESPN ranking: 2

Dauster: “I don’t think he’s a great shooter. I don’t think he’s a great athlete. He came into college billed as this great all-around combo point guard, and he’s not really a great passer, a takeover guy. RJ is wired differently. People close to him will tell you that he’s got some Kawhi Leonard in him. Not in the sense that they are the same player, but that they are going to will themselves into being great.”

Player: Cam Reddish, SF, Duke, Fr.

Stats: 13.7 ppg, 3.7 rbg, 32.7 3FG%

Height: 6-foot-9

ESPN ranking: 6

Dauster: “I think Cam Reddish has a very high ceiling, but there’s going to be a learning curve for him when he gets to the NBA, let’s put it that way.”

Others: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, F, Virginia Tech (20); Tre Jones, PG, Duke (27); Bruno Fernando, C, Maryland (31)

SOUTH REGIONAL

Player: DeAndre Hunter, SF, Virginia, Soph.

Stats: 15.1 ppg, 3.7 rbg, 32.7 3FG%

Height: 6-foot-7

ESPN ranking: 5

Dauster: “The way the NBA is heading and where it is now, having a guy who is a versatile player who can guard from point guards to 4’s and maybe even small-ball centers, a guy that create in isolation, has 3-point range. He is somewhat understanding that he is something of a role player, which in that Virginia system you have to do, DeAndre Hunter to me just screams 12-year pro. He’s basically OG Anunoby to me. He’s a perfect as a role player in the NBA.”

Player: Ty Jerome, PG, Virginia, Sr.

Stats: 13.0 ppg, 5.4 apg, 39.7 3FG%

Height: 6-foot-5

ESPN ranking: 30

Dauster: “Ty Jerome might be the most underrated point guard in this (draft) class. I rate him the same way I rated Jalen Brunson and Fred VanVleet. He’s got some of the athletic limitations, but I think he’s a good enough defender to be able to make up for it. He’s a knockdown shooter. He can get to the rim a little bit, can create some space for his jumper. Smart player. What I like about him most is he’s super competitive. I think he’s tough as hell. I want him being my backup point guard in the NBA. He can play off the ball too.”

Player: Grant Williams, PF, Tennessee, Jr.

Stats: 19.0 ppg, 7.6 rbg, 3.1 apg

Height: 6-foot-7

ESPN ranking: 26

Dauster: “I like him. He’s become a better shooter, better passer. There’s a little bit of versatility in terms of what positions he can guard. Smart, heady player.”

Others: Eric Paschall, F, Villanova (33); Admiral Schofield, F, Tennessee (34)

MIDWEST REGIONAL

Player: P.J. Washington, PF, Kentucky, Soph.

Stats: 14.8 ppg, 7.5 rbg, 41.9 3FG%

Height: 6-foot-8

ESPN ranking: 13

Notes: Washington didn’t begin the season as the Wildcats’ top draft prospect, but he surged throughout the season. The grinder scored at least 20 points eight times during a 10-game stretch during the SEC regular season.

Malik Monk, Hornets guard and former Kentucky standout: “He’s a dog. He’s been there before. He knows what it takes (to win). He’s the leader on this team.”

Player: Coby White, G, North Carolina, Fr.

Stats: 9.4 ppg, 4.6 rbg, 29.3 3FG%

Height: 6-foot-6

ESPN ranking: 11

ESPN: “A shot-maker by trade… White is having a strong statistical season and has become a first-round favorite among some scouts, but he has his drawbacks. White was more of a catch-and-shoot guard at the high school level, and that's really where he has found success this season, not yet showing that he is the most savvy pick-and-roll player.”

Player: Nassir Little, SF, North Carolina, Fr.

Stats: 9.4 ppg, 4.6 rbg, 29.3 3FG%

Height: 6-foot-6

ESPN ranking: 16

Dauster: “I don’t really know if he understands how to play. I get the appeal of what he could end up being. He’s got the same kind of build as a DeAndre Hunter. He’s got the length. He’s 6-foot-7. He’s switchable. In theory, he became a better scorer over the year, but I’m not convinced he really understands basketball. I would probably lean toward not taking Nassir Little either, although I do believe he’ll probably get drafted very high based on people saying Roy Williams didn’t trust his freshman.”

Others: Keldon Johnson, SF, Kentucky, (17); Tyler Herro, SG, Kentucky (19); Cameron Johnson, PF, North Carolina (21)

WEST REGIONAL

Player: Ja Morant, PG, Murray State, Soph.

Stats: 24.6 ppg, 10.0 apg, 32.7 3FG%

Height: 6-foot-3

ESPN ranking: 6

Dauster: “With the way that point guards are used in the NBA and his athleticism, his ability to read the floor, his basketball Ix, his passing ability, he’s a guy who has the ceiling of a John Wall kind of player. I don’t expect him to get past the top three.”

Player: Jarrett Culver, SG, Texas Tech, Soph.

Stats: 18.5 ppg, 6.3 rbg, 3.7 apg

Height: 6-foot-5

ESPN ranking: 7

Dauster: “He is a really intriguing player. He’s listed at 6-foot-5, but may have grown. He’s got pretty good length. He’s not shooting it great right now, but you watch him shoot and coaches around the Big 12 believe he’s better than what the numbers show. He can really operate in ball screens, is a good passer. I think he’s an above average defender, but he’s not an elite athlete. There are some questions there.

Player: Shamorie Ponds, PG, St. John's, Jr.

Stats: 19.5 ppg, 5.2 apg, 2.6 spg

Height: 6-foot-1

ESPN ranking: 46

Villanova head coach Jay Wright: “Ponds can be a poor man’s version of Allen Iverson. So dynamic and creative. As much of a scorer as he can be he can get teammate shots.”

Others: Rui Hachimura, PF, Gonzaga (15); Brandon Clarke, SG, Gonzaga (22); Luguentz Dort, SG, Arizona State (29)

Click here to join NBC Sports Washington’s NCAA Tournament Bracket Challenge and compete against Wizards analysts Drew Gooden and Jimmy Patsos for a chance at great prizes.

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Mark Turgeon still frustrated with officials as Maryland prepares for next test at Minnesota

Mark Turgeon still frustrated with officials as Maryland prepares for next test at Minnesota

Riding a nine-game winning streak, the Maryland Terrapins entered Sunday’s matchup at Ohio State off as strong a month as the program has had under Mark Turgeon.

They had to lose eventually, and Ohio State proved to have the right formula to slow down stars Anthony Cowan and Jalen Smith. Behind their suffocating defense and lights out shooting night both beyond the arc and at the free throw line, the Buckeyes, held Maryland at bay just long enough to come away with a seven-point win over a top ten team.

No one on the Terrapins was making excuses after the game. They didn’t play well enough to win in the end, and their focus is fully on their next game, Wednesday night in Minnesota.

That didn’t stop head coach Mark Turgeon from making a point to call out the officiating Sunday.

Turgeon lost his most important, and experienced, player with just a few minutes left in the game thanks to a technical foul given out by the officiating crew after Anthony Cowan kicked his foot out in frustration after a no-call.

The Maryland head coach unsurprisingly came to the defense of Cowan, but didn’t directly complain about the officials in regards to the call.

What really stuck with Turgeon was the physical play the refs allowed Ohio State to get away with down low.

It’s very unlike Turgeon to so vocally complain about the officiating. Maryland has been on the receiving end of plenty of coaching complaints to league officials -- Melo Trimble’s foul rate dropping dramatically after his freshman year comes to mind -- but public comments rarely lead to anything positive.

The fact that he was so willing to voice his displeasure shows just how far Turgeon felt Kaleb Wesson and the Buckeyes were able to push the line.

It wasn’t just a reaction in the heat of the moment, either. Turgeon doubled down on his statements Tuesday as the team prepared for their Wednesday night game.

He admitted the likely futility of his comments, but Turgeon is still making a point to the officials here. The game needs to be called fairly, and referees are there to be the adults in the room. 

Turgeon is also likely looking ahead to the Big Ten Tournament with his comments. Right now, Maryland would be set up to potentially face Ohio State in their first game of the tournament, and Turgeon wants to get out ahead of the officiating in the rubber match.

With a two-game lead in the Big Ten and four games to play, the Minnesota game is an important one for Maryland. Like Ohio State, the Golden Gophers have a physical specimen in the paint of their own in Daniel Oturu.

If the officials allow Oturu to bully Jalen Smith in the post, coming across as one-sided as Turgeon felt they were in Columbus, Maryland’s head coach isn’t going to hold back again.

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Don't fret Terps fans, Maryland is still in the driver's seat for a No. 1 seed

Don't fret Terps fans, Maryland is still in the driver's seat for a No. 1 seed

Maryland missed a golden opportunity on Sunday to rise to the No. 1 seed conversation for the NCAA Tournament. But despite losing after being in a prime position, they still are the best team capable of earning the final top seed in March. 

Three of the then-projected No. 1 seeds by ESPN's Joe Lunardi lost on Saturday. Baylor lost to a fellow No. 1 seed Kansas, but Gonzaga and San Diego State both lost to teams outside of the AP Top 25. And in San Diego State's case, a team that isn't making the NCAA Tournament. 

It was a prime situation for Maryland to rise from the No. 2 line that they have been strapped to all season long. Alas, they fell on the road to Ohio State to pause the conversation for the time being - albeit in a loss that was not without some controversy

The loss, however, does not permanently remove the Terrapins from becoming a No. 1 seed. In fact, Maryland is in the driver's seat for the final No. 1 seed currently occupied by San Diego State. 

Kansas, Baylor and Gonzaga are untouchable for Maryland unless one of those teams fall down the stretch. Kansas has 11 Quadrant 1 victories, Baylor is 10-1 in Q1 chances and 6-0 in those on the road and Gonzaga is 22-0 in non-Q1 chances. No one is passing one of those three based on that alone.

The final spot is open. SDSU, Maryland, Duke, Dayton and Florida State are the last remaining teams in consideration for the final No. 1 seed. A crowded field to say the least.

None of them have what Maryland has though: four Q1 opportunities left on their regular-season schedule. 

SDSU has none, Duke and Dayton have one, while Florida State has two after beating Louisville on Monday evening.

IF the committee regards Quadrant 1 wins as much as the NET rankings claim, then logic dictates that Maryland has the best opportunity to take that spot. Quadrant 1 games are defined as a home game against an opponent ranked 1-30 in the NET, a neutral site opponent from 1-50 or a road opponent from 1-75.

Before losing to Ohio State, Lunardi said that Maryland "would [ascend] to the No. 1 seed" with a win over the Buckeyes. That would slide the Aztecs to the No. 2 seed line. And losing to Ohio State is just another Q1 loss. Of all the losses from the top teams last week, including Duke's loss to NC State, Maryland's was the second-best in the eyes of metrics. They really shouldn't be hurt from that loss whatsoever. 

On top of those four regular-season games, the Terrapins would likely get at least two more Q1 chances in the Big Ten Tournament in the semifinals and the championship game, assuming they kept winning. But all of this hinges on continuing to win down the stretch. 

Maryland would have a better resume than any team that wins the ACC (Duke, Florida State or Louisville) and definitely better wins than either Dayton or San Diego State. 

The opportunity for a No. 1 seed is still there, now they can just focus on themselves. 

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