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If you're a fan of the Bobcats, Suns or Magic, there's a good chance your team will be selecting one of these NBA prospects on display in Thursday's NCAA Tournament action.
They say March is when heroes are made in college basketball. While that's undoubtedly the case, there's always a handful of players whose reputations make them worthy of an NBA lottery selection before they pull off any magic in the Big Dance. Here are some of the players who should be vying to be the next No. 1 selection come June:
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 16 Southern 4:10 ET, TBS
Kelly Olynyk - Junior - Gonzaga: Sure, the seven-foot, inside-outside threat seems like a surefire lottery selection to most, but some teams still might have the bad taste of fellow Zags alum Adam Morrison stuck in their scouting reports. Olynyk is hardly a Morrison clone yet he and the Bulldogs still have a ton to prove to the doubters who questioned how Gonzaga's cupcake schedule could earn them a No. 1 seed. Gonzaga beat their WCC competition by an average of 19.1 ppg and fans should expect a similar result in this one. What the scouts will really be looking for is how Olynyk and Gonzaga fare against Pittsburgh or Wichita State, especially considering they've lost in the second round of the tournament three years running. For more on Olynyk, check out Jonathan Tjarks' take on the West Region's NBA prospects.
No. 5 Oklahoma State vs. No. 12 Oregon 4:40 pm ET, TNT
Marcus Smart - Freshman - Oklahoma State: The 6'4 playmaker is often listed as a combo guard, but Smart features better court vision than most realize. Smart finished seven games this season with seven or more assists and that top-notch ball-handling will be needed against an Oregon team that averages 8.5 steals per game. The Ducks are hardly your average No. 12 seed, so Smart will need to show the poise of a senior to help his Cowboys move onto the field of 32. If that happens, don't be surprised to hear Smart's name dropped as the potential No. 1 overall selection leading up to June's NBA Draft. For more on Marcus Smart, check out Tjarks' NBA Draft Toolbox breakdown.
Markel Brown - Junior - Oklahoma State: While Smart may get most of the national attention, his backcourt mate Brown has quietly been equally as effective. Brown averages 15.3 points per game to Smart's 15.4, with 1.6 fewer turnovers a game along with a 37-percent field goal rate from downtown. Most mock drafts don't have Brown as a lottery selection, but that could change quite quickly if he plays like he did in Kansas back in early February (28 points, four assists, two blocks).
No. 4 Michigan vs. No. 13 South Dakota State 7:15 pm ET, CBS
Trey Burke - Sophomore - Michigan: The Big Ten player of the year enters this first-round matchup against the Jackrabbits averaging 19.2 points, 6.7 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game. Burke will get the luxury of showcasing his skills in the friendly confines of the Palace of Auburn Hills, so he and his fellow Wolverines should have no problem maintaining their NCAA-best turnover rate. If SDSU's Nate Wolters somehow outplays Burke, though, the national player of the year candidate's captain clutch reputation would take a serious dent.
No. 5 UNLV vs. No. 12 California 7:27 pm ET, truTV
Anthony Bennett - Freshman - UNLV: If you had to sum up Bennett's game in one phrase, it would have to "efficiently explosive." The 6'8, 240-pounder averages 16.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in just 26.9 minutes of action per game. Even with those ridiculous numbers, Bennett's draft stock is hurt a bit due to the fact that's he's either an undersized power forward or an awkwardly sized swingman. Teams won't have an issue finding a position for him, though, if Bennett is able to use his massive wingspan and underrated quickness to guide the Rebels to a deep tournament run.
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