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Future NBA Players to Watch in NCAA Tourney: Ben McLemore, Victor Oladipo, Cody Zeller and More

Whether your team is gearing up for the postseason or waiting to find out where they’ll pick after the Draft Lottery, NBA fans take interest in March Madness not just for the basketball, but for the prospects.

There is no nationally televised event like the tourney to showcase the future recruits that will revamp your favorite NBA franchise, if you know what you’re looking at. Some have already been eliminated and will next look to shine in the NBA summer league, the greatest deciding factor to where a player will go in the draft.

A good tournament doesn’t hurt either though, something that Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart will be disappointed about considering he is projected to be a top three pick in the NBA Draft. He is joined by fellow top 10 projected picks Shabazz Muhammad of UCLA and Otto Porter of Georgetown. With their team’s losses, the summer league becomes those player’s only chance to shine before the draft. But plenty of players are still in the mix and showing what they can do on the big stage. So here are 10 you’ll want to keep an eye this week as the Final Four is decided.

  1. Ben McLemore (Kansas)- Potentially the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, McLemore is a player that is looking to show just how smart he is on any stage in this tournament. He is picky shooter and unselfish team player, so he may not take over a game, but notice how well he passes the ball for a two guard and the smooth form of his jumper. He can create shots off the dribble and has great athleticism, though his 0-9 from the field, two point performance against North Carolina didn’t really show it.
  1. Victor Oladipo (Indiana)- There may not be a player in the tournament who has done more for his draft standing thus far than Oladipo, who not only shut down Temple star Khalif Wyatt on the defensive end, but also blew up for 16 points and 8 rebounds from the wing. A 6-foot-4 shooting guard/small forward with an NBA ready body, Oladipo is a great athlete and decent shooter as he showed knocking down the game winning three for the Hoosiers on Sunday. His game needs a lot of work when it comes to ball handling and the form of his jump shot, but he shows tenacity in his willingness to work that will attract NBA coaches.
  1. Mason Plumlee (Duke)-Projected to be a mid first round pick, Plumlee has a lot more to prove than his athleticism. At 6-foot-11 with good athleticism, you have to suspect that Plumlee is a solid prospect for a team looking for their next power forward. He can partner a point guard in the pick and roll well and is pretty good shooter, but he needs to be stronger if he’s really going to make it in the NBA. To illustrate, compares him to Yi Jianlian, a comparison the player wouldn’t be flattered by.
  1. Cody Zeller (Indiana)- A 6-foot-11 weapon in the low post is a very attractive commodity in the NBA, so Zeller will probably go in the top 10 if not top 5, but Zeller needs to flex his muscle a little bit better. His brother Tyler has shown an ability to bang inside with the Cavaliers this season, but little brother looks much softer at times. Though he is a better low post player and could develop a nice stable of moves to help him be successful, he has his work cut out for him on the defensive end and on the boards where his softness could cost him.
  1. Michael Carter-Williams (Syracuse)-A good passer and smart basketball player, Carter-Williams will go in the first round, but many have concerns due to the fact that at 22-years old, his body isn’t going to develop much further and he his ability to shoot doesn’t command much in the way of respect from opposing defenders. If he’s going to be successful, he’ll have to control his turnovers and quit passing up open shots, but watch him on the defensive end and you’ll see part of what makes him attractive as an NBA prospect. If he can improve his ability to shoot, it will open up chances to show off his explosiveness going to the basket. If that happens, he could end up being a 6-foot-6 version of Mike Conley.
  1. Tim Hardaway Jr. (Michigan)- Projected to be a late first rounder, Hardaway has to show better shot selection to really attract NBA coaches. His athleticism is solid, he has the defensive ability of his dad at times and he showcases a good jump shot. Against South Dakota State, Hardaway was solid knocking down 8-of-13 shots for 21 points. He followed that with a 14 point outing in the second round, but can really help his draft standing by stepping up in a big way when his team takes on Kansas this Friday.
  1. Adreian Payne (Michigan State)- A quick, athletic 6-foot-10 center in college, Payne could be morphed into a decent power forward in the NBA thanks to his ability to play with his back to the basket. He’s a decent defender and shot blocker thanks to his raw athletic ability, but there are a lot of questions hovering over him about his work ethic from play to play. After a fairly average showing in the first game of the tournament, Payne went for 14 points and 10 rebounds in the Spartans win over Memphis in the round of 32. They’ll need him to do that again when they face Mason Plumlee and Duke this Friday.
  1. Kenny Kadji (Miami)-In a narrow victory over Illinois on Sunday, Kadji was reasonably quiet finishing with 10 points and 8 rebounds. Despite his 6-foot-11 stature and good athleticism, Kadji is such a raw product that he’s expected to be a late second rounder at this point. After two quiet games to start the tournament, look for Kadji to make himself available at the rim more in these next two games or his draft status may slip even farther.
  1. Seth Curry (Duke)- A pretty good shooter who can get to the basket and even more effectively get to the foul line, Curry is a player who can do a lot for himself in the tournament and the summer league. His athleticism makes him desirable, but it’s his basketball IQ that could see him climb the rankings. He has limited his turnovers and gone off for 26 and 17 points in his first two games of the tournament while committing just four turnovers. His transition to the NBA won’t be easy as the expectations for him to run the pick and roll will be great, but he could be a surprisingly good NBA player with enough work and the right coach.
  1. Jeff Withey (Kansas)-Easily the most pivotal player in the Jayhawks victory over North Carolina on Sunday night, Withey finished with a high profile 16 points, 16 rebounds and 5 blocked shots that, if paired with another solid performance this Friday, will help raise his draft status from late first rounder to mid first rounder. A good seven footer, the main concerns with Withey are his ability to catch the ball and finish on the move and how effective he can be in the post on the NBA level. That said, Withey may be climbing the draft order as fast as anyone in the tournament.


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