With the Sixers are playing some frustrating basketball of late, everyone could use a reminder of just how beautiful the sport of basketball can be. There is no better example of this than the NCAA Tournament, which is set to tip-off this year. The Sixers may be without a draft pick at the moment but there’s still plenty of exciting young talent to watch in this year’s NCAA tourney.
The Big Dogs
Excluding a major trade, it is pretty certain that the Sixers will not have a chance to get their hands on any of these players, but there are still some notable names to watch in the NCAA tournament. These players are expected to be off the board in the first few selections and could even end up changing the landscape of the NBA moving forward, so it is worth giving them a watch now.
Jabari Smith – Auburn 6’10 PF
Proving to be one of the most polished players in the draft, Jabari Smith has risen up draft boards this year due to his strong play with Auburn. The freshman is averaging 17.3 points and 7.2 rebounds while shooting 44.4% from beyond the arc. Smith can handle the ball, create his own shot, and also defend effectively.
He shows all tools of a versatile NBA wing and seems most likely to be the top pick in the draft this year. Auburn is a number two seed in this year’s NCAA tournament and will face off against Jacksonville State at 12:40 PM on Friday.
Paolo Banchero – Duke 6’10 PF
Another potential NBA cornerstone on the wing, Paolo Banchero, has a complete game but could improve some as a shooter. The freshman averages 17 points and 7.8 rebounds per game while shooting 30.6% on three-point attempts. Banchero elevates well, is fairly mobile, and also teases playmaking potential. Duke has not been playing their best basketball of late, so the Duke star will have to try to turn things around ahead of their 7:10 matchup on Friday with 15th seeded Cal State Fullerton.
Jaden Ivey – Purdue (6’4) PG
The first guard expected to come off the board, Jaden Ivey, is extremely exciting to watch play. The Purdue star possesses an elite burst with the ball and intriguing offensive potential. Ivey averages 17.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.2 assists in his second season in college. He needs to improve as a shooter; although his 3-point percentage rose from 25.6% his freshman year to 35.6% this season, it’s his slashing ability that will still earn him a high selection. Purdue is a three-seed in the NCAA tournament and will face off with Yale at 2:00 on Friday.
Chet Holmgren – Gonzaga (7’0) Center
Chet Holmgren is one of the most interesting prospects in recent college basketball. Standing 7-feet tall but weighing just 194 pounds, the concerns about Holmgren’s body are more legitimate than his play. The freshman tallied 14.2 points 9.6 rebounds, and shoots 41.3% from beyond the three-point arc.
Holmgren is an excellent shot-blocker tallying 3.4 blocks per game and bringing competitiveness on both sides of the floor. Gonzaga is the top overall seed in the NCAA tournament and will face off with the Georgia State Panthers at 4:15 on Thursday. There are a ton of varying opinions on what Holmgren’s NBA trajectory will be, but at the very least, he is a blast to watch play.
Despite the Sixers not having a draft pick, they will be certain to have their eyes peeled for any players who slip through the cracks in this year’s draft. Capitalizing on impactful undrafted players can be extremely impactful for an organization, and with no other rookies ahead of them, Philly could be looked at as a desirable spot for these free agents.
You also can’t rule out Daryl Morey buying back into the 2nd round in the same way that he did last year with the pick that turned into Charles Bassey. These are a few guys in the NCAA tournament who may not get as much buzz but have a chance to find an NBA role for themselves moving forward. Each of these players projects as borderline second-round picks but could climb with a good performance.
EJ Liddell – Ohio State (6’7) PF/SF
Recently named to the All-American Third Team alongside Paolo Banchero and Collin Gillespie, EJ Liddell has been a valuable part of Ohio State’s team for the past three seasons. This past season Lidell averaged 19.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 2.5 blocks per game. He is a high IQ player who does the little things for Ohio State and projects as a versatile wing in the NBA. Liddell probably has the highest pedigree of any of the players on this list, and a good tournament performance could propel him back into the first-round pick conversation. His game is a little too post-heavy at the moment, but his defensive versatility is very appealing on the NBA level. Ohio State is the 7th seed in the NCAA tournament and will face off against 10th seed Loyola Chicago at 12:15 on Friday.
Terrence Shannon Jr. – Houston (6’6) SF/SG
Terrence Shannon Jr. would immediately be the best athlete on the Sixers by a pretty wide margin. The quick-twitch wing effectively explodes to the basket and can bring down the house with his dunking ability. There also have been some encouraging signs of development in Shannon Jr’s jumper, which has improved all three years he has been at Texas Tech. This season he has connected on 37.2% of his three-point attempts on a respectable 3.4 attempts per game. Texas Tech plays a hard-nosed brand of basketball which is represented in Shannon Jr’s game. The third-seeded Red Raiders will tip-off at 1:45 on Friday against the Montana State Bobcats.
Keon Ellis – Alabama (6’6) SG
Keon Ellis will be one of the oldest prospects in the draft as he is approaching his 23rd birthday already. The versatile guard spent 2 seasons at the JUCO level before transferring to Alabama for the remainder of his college career. Ellis has an impressive motor, exciting athleticism, and the ability to guard multiple positions. The senior averages 12 points, 6 rebounds, and 1.9 steals per game this season and has been a 35% three-point shooter during his time at Alabama. Ellis is projected as a fringe second-round pick at this point, but his athleticism and defensive versatility seem likely to get a team to take a chance on him. Alabama will tip-off Friday at 4:15 and will match up with the winner of Rutgers or Notre Dame in the First Four matchup.
Andrew Nembhard – Gonzaga (6’5) PG
While Gonzaga’s play is dominated by Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren, Andrew Nembhard also plays a vital role in the Zag’s success. He is an advanced passer and a pure point guard who reads the game very well. The senior averaged 11.7 points and 5.7 assists this year and has good size for the position. It is unclear how likely Nembhard’s NBA future is, but he is a name to watch during this tournament. There tend to be a few guards who go underrated in the draft each year due to their backseat role in the offense, and Nembhard could fit this bill. Gonzaga is expected to be a major contender for the championship this year and will begin this journey on Thursday at 4:15.
There are plenty of other exciting names to watch as well in the non-stop two-days of basketball which begins on Thursday. Gonzaga, Duke, and Auburn are the three biggest favorites to win the tournament, with Villanova carrying the fourth-best odds. Two years ago, the NCAA tournament was canceled due to the pandemic, and last season the NCAA adapted to the tactic of using a bubble to ensure player safety, so this year, we will see the tournament return to all of its typical greatness.