On the biggest stage in men’s college basketball, there are a few players each year who elevate their game in March and force NBA personnel to reevaluate their draft boards.
Oregon played in only two games last year, but it was enough for Chris Duarte, who averaged 22 points and 6.5 assists in the tournament, to get some lottery buzz. The Indiana Pacers took him with the No. 13 pick.
Duke’s Paolo Banchero is at the top of his game and playing the best basketball he’s played all season, averaging 18.5 points during the tournament. He’s already the potential No. 1 pick, but is making a strong case for why teams should consider drafting him over Jabari Smith and Chet Holmgren.
Yahoo Sports takes a look at seven players who are rising up draft boards after strong showings in the men’s NCAA tournament.
Caleb Love, North Carolina
2021-22 stats: 15.7 ppg, 3.7 apg
North Carolina is headed to the Final Four for the 21st time in school history and the first under first-year head coach Hubert Davis. Love had one of the most impressive second halves in a win over UCLA to advance to the Elite Eight. He had 27 of his 30 points to close out the game and knocked down six 3-pointers. Love was a little hot and cold during the season, but is starting to show more consistency and more confidence with the ball in his hands as the tournament goes on. The intangibles are all there to be a strong, lead guard at the next level, but he has yet to put everything together for an entire season. This run in the tournament will help his draft stock, and he should start to get some early second-round looks.
2021-22 stats: 11.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg
Samuels and point guard Collin Gillespie were both freshmen on the Villanova team that won the 2018 championship. Now, as fifth-year seniors, they’re leading the Wildcats back to the Final Four. Samuels is averaging 16 points and nine rebounds in the last six postseason games and was named the South Region MVP after a strong performance. Samuels has been more decisive when attacking the paint during tournament play and has limited his turnovers. He’s been crucial on the offensive glass and finds the right man on the perimeter for 3-pointers. Defensively, he’s able to switch on every pick-and-roll and despite being just 6-foot-7, he does a pretty good job on players with a size advantage. Head coach Jay Wright has a great track record for producing productive, reliable NBA role players. Saddiq Bey, Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart and Donte DiVincenzo took the time to develop under Wright and his staff, and Samuels could be that next.
Mark Williams, Duke
2021-22 stats: 11.3 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 2.9 bpg
Duke’s impressive run starts with Banchero, but a lot of credit should go to Williams, a 7-foot center. In the first two rounds, Williams averaged 14 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks per game, playing 33 minutes. His 7-foot-7 wingspan gives opponents trouble in the lane, and head coach Mike Krzyzewski said it was Williams’ rebounding that led to success late in the tournament.
“He was a difference-maker for us,” Krzyzewski said after the win over Arkansas. “His defensive rebounding is one of the biggest one or two things in this game.”
Defense has always been Williams’ strength, and he’s considered one of the best shot blockers in the country. Williams has improved on offense where he’s shown better shot selection on ball screens and more confidence around the rim. He’s not fading away as much off turnaround jumpers and is stronger with the ball when guards are dropping down low in a double-team. With Duke’s run to the Final Four, NBA scouts are getting a chance to see more of Williams and teams are starting to look at him as a late first-round draft prospect.
Jaylin Williams, Arkansas
2021-22 stats: 10.9 ppg, 9.8 rpg
There wasn’t really any draft buzz around Williams until the postseason. He has great size at 6-foot-10 and 240 pounds and moves well off the block, creating space for his teammates. Williams averaged a double-double during the tournament (14.3 points and 11.8 rebounds) and was named to the West Regional All-Tournament team. He’s been the X-factor for the Razorbacks all season. He does an excellent job at protecting the paint and is athletic enough to guard the perimeter off screens.
Although his 3-point shooting needs improvement, the shooting mechanics are there and he can easily work on it and improve at the next level. Williams’ transformation took place between his freshman and sophomore seasons when he cut down some of his body fat and added muscle mass to help bring his game to the next level.
“I feel like me changing my body is one of the biggest things of my game,” Williams told the Hog Pod earlier this season. “I feel quicker. I feel like I’m jumping better. My outside shot has gotten better. Just being able to play more physical, faster. I’m able to switch on smaller guys a lot better, play better on defense. I don’t get tired as easy. Really, I think a lot of my game is around my body changing this past year.”
Williams could elect to return for his junior year and continue to help his draft stock. Coming in next year as a freshman is one of the best guards in the country, Nick Smith. Head coach Eric Musselman should hope Williams returns to have another chance at a big run in the tournament next year.
Kameron McGusty, Miami
2021-22 stats: 17.8 ppg, 2.4 apg
McGusty is one of the oldest players in this draft at 24 years old, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing anymore. Some established teams prefer a plug-and-play guy over a high-ceiling player who needs developing. It worked out for the Pacers with Duarte last season and the Phoenix Suns, who selected four-year college player Cameron Johnson in the 2019 lottery.
McGusty was one of the best guards on the court during the NCAA tournament. At 6-foot-5, he has great size and is extremely athletic. In the loss to Kansas, McGusty had 14 points in the first half and Bill Self put three different defenders on him to slow him down. His first step is so quick and he can get into the lane with a two-dribble pull-up with ease. McGusty averaged just under 20 points in the tournament and defensively, he’s an elite on-ball defender who forces turnovers and can pickpocket other guards. In games against Auburn and Iowa State, McGusty had four steals each and averaged two steals for the season.
Armando Bacot, North Carolina
2021-22 stats: 16.5 ppg, 12.8 rpg
In the win over Saint Peter’s, Bacot set the ACC single-season record for most rebounds (468), passing Tim Duncan’s mark (457) in 1996-97. Bacot also tied the former Wake Forest star and NBA legend for most double-doubles in a season in ACC history. He has been tremendous in the paint this season and right up there with Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe in dominating the glass. He recorded a double-double in every game during the tournament and had his best performance against the Peacocks, grabbing 22 rebounds and netting 20 points. Bacot is making the right reads off the block and can bang down low in the post on defense. The 6-foot-10 forward is a main factor in North Carolina’s run to the Final Four, and he should get some second-round draft looks.
Christian Koloko, Arizona
2021-22 stats: 12.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg
Arizona’s run was cut short in the Sweet 16, but Koloko proved he’s more than a rim-running center and had a season-high six assists in the win over Wright State. He rarely leaves the paint on ball screens but when he does, he has more mobility than his 7-foot-1 frame would indicate and can guard pretty well. He knows his role and plays to his strengths. Almost all of his shots are inside the key, not forcing anything from deep range. In Arizona’s win over TCU, Koloko was the first player with 25 points, 10 rebounds and 90% shooting in a NCAA tournament game since Blake Griffin in 2009 against Morgan State. Because of his strong showing to close out the season, Koloko is now a projected late first-round to early second-round pick.