PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kentucky, # 14 on ESPN
Gilgeous-Alexander was # 19 earlier in the week, so excuse me for including him despite being on the official lottery list now. That rise comes as a result of a really strong run in the SEC Tournament, where the freshman demonstrated some take-charge leadership. By far, his most appealing trait is his size/length, at 6’6″ with a 7’0″ wingspan. In that way, he reminds you some of Frank Ntilikina last year.
C Daniel Gafford, Arkansas, # 16 on ESPN
The springy 6’11” freshman flashes explosive potential, with some big dunks and 2.2 blocks in only 22.6 minutes of action. That low minute count is partly due to his youth, but also partly due to fouls (3.3 per game). However, if there’s ever a time to “unleash” him, this would be it. Despite being the # 7 seed, the Razorbacks are +1.5 underdogs against # 10 Butler and would face a loaded Purdue team in R2. If Gafford can lead the team to a win or two, he may rise up into the lottery.
SF Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State, # 23 on ESPN
Villanova’s Mikal Bridges (#10) has taken the mantle of the do-it-all college veteran, but Keita Bates-Diop isn’t too far behind him. The 4th year junior has an all-around game. He leads the team with 19.8 points, but also shoots 35.8% from beyond the arc on 5.1 attempts, grabs 8.8 rebounds, 1.0 steals, and 1.7 blocks per game. To my eye, the 6’7″ SF has NBA-level athleticism as well. To rise up into the lottery, the # 6 seed Buckeyes would need to win several games. That won’t be easy with Gonzaga in R2 and Xavier in R3, but it’s possible.
C Jontay Porter, Missouri, # 36 on ESPN
With his superstar big brother Michael Porter Jr. out for the majority of the season, Jontay saw extra opportunity to shine this year. He projects as a stretch big, shooting 37.7% from three while blocking 1.7 shots per game. He’s also very young, as you’d expect from someone who’s the younger brother of a college freshman. The Missouri team needs to figure out its chemistry with score-first Michael back, but they have the talent to challenge a weak #1 seed in Xavier if they can survive a 50/50 game versus Florida State in R1.
SG Gary Trent Jr. Duke, # 52 on ESPN
Although he was a hyped prospect, Trent Jr. has fallen into the shadow of his superstar teammates. However, if the Blue Devils make a deep Final Four run (currently, I have them winning it all) then Trent Jr. will get more attention himself. He plays SF for them, but projects as a SG with nice size at 6’6″. Right now, he’s shooting 41.5% from three (on 6.2 attempts per game.) In some ways, he reminds me of Tim Hardaway Jr., who was a secondary option on a Trey Burke – Michigan Final Four team.
SF Kris Wilkes, UCLA, # 64 on ESPN
This one may be the biggest stretch, because the freshman isn’t quite ready for the spotlight yet. He’s firmly in the shadow of junior PG Aaron Holiday (Jrue’s brother) who’s more of a polished product right now. However, at 6’7″/6’8″, Wilkes has the size and shooting stroke to be an effective pro player down the road. He’ll need a major run from the First Four and maybe a few upsets in the main bracket to rise up into NBA consideration right now.