NBA Draft

Top NBA prospects in the 2016 NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Region

Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire

With NCAA Tournament games underway, it’s time to focus on the prospects that we’ll have our eyes on over the next month as teams fight for the national championship. There’s an abundance of talent in this region, as Michigan State, Utah and Gonzaga all have potential lottery picks, while Virginia, Purdue and Syracuse all have first-round hopefuls as well.

In addition, Dayton, Fresno State and Seton Hall all have versatile and talented guards capable of dominating for stretches. Which Midwest Region prospects will stand out and improve their stock over the next month?

1 Virginia vs. 16 Hampton

Virginia: SG/SF Malcolm Brogdon

Hampton: None

Virginia is as complete a team as there is in the country, although the squad lacks the NBA talent of prior years. Brogdon, a senior swingman, has really improved his overall offensive game on top of being a standout defender. If Virginia can make a deep run this tournament, Brogdon will be the biggest beneficiary from a draft stock standpoint.

8 Texas Tech vs. 9 Butler

Texas Tech: SF Zach Smith

Butler: SG Kellen Dunham

This game might feature the least NBA talent among all the games in this region. Smith, the Red Raiders’ athletic sophomore combo forward, has the physical tools to play in the NBA but needs to improve his jumper (just 9/41 in his first two years from three):

Dunham, Butler’s 6-6 senior shooting guard, is one of the best shooters in the country. Unfortunately, he doesn’t do enough in other areas to garner consideration for the NBA and should have a nice career overseas.

5 Purdue vs. 12 Arkansas-Little Rock

Purdue: C A.J. Hammons, C Isaac Haas, PF Caleb Swanigan, SG/SF Vince Edwards

Arkansas Little-Rock: None

Purdue has too much size — NBA size — up front for a mid-major like Arkansas-Little Rock. Center A.J. Hammons is a load in the paint and a potential first-round draft pick thanks to his combination of touch and shot-blocking ability. Center Isaac Haas is 7-2 and has a similar skill set to Hammons, but is just a bit more raw right now. Swanigan, Purdue’s freshman big man, has a polished low post game on a 6-8, 270-pound frame. He needs to improve his range (29.2 percent from three) and his body to reach his full potential. Haas and Swanigan could be quite a force next year, and both could be first-round picks in 2017. Edwards is an athletic swingman with a high ceiling and a name to watch in future years as a potential draftee.

4 Iowa State vs. 13 Iona

Iowa State: PG Monte Morris, PF Georges Niang

Iona: PG/SG A.J. English

This game is one of my potential upset picks, as Iowa State lacks depth and Iona might have the best player on the court. Monte Morris, Iowa State’s point guard, is one of the best point guards in the country nobody knows about and a second-round prospect in the 2016 draft. Morris has struggled with his three-point shot this year, but still does all the little things NBA scouts look for in a point guard. Niang is a skilled big, but it’s unclear how his game might translate to the NBA and he might be better served with a career overseas.

English, Iona’s dynamic combo guard, has really improved as a playmaker while steadily improving his offensive production. He’s one of those talents who has the ability to put a team on his back and carry them in March. If that’s the case for Iona, it’s possible a team falls in love with him and takes him as a second-round pick.

6 Seton Hall vs. 11 Gonzaga

Seton Hall: PG/SG Isaiah Whitehead, SG/SF Desi Rodriguez

Gonzaga: PF/C Domantas Sabonis, PF Kyle Wiltjer

This 6/11 game might be the most intriguing match in the region from an NBA standpoint. Whitehead, Seton Hall’s relentless sophomore combo guard, needs to gain more offensive consistency but projects very nicely to the NBA in a year or two. Rodriguez, a sophomore swingman, has really improved as a perimeter threat (38.3 percent from deep) and might have a higher upside than Whitehead.

Gonzaga has two beasts in the paint with versatile games. Sabonis averaged a double-double on the season and has NBA genes in his blood. Sabonis is firmly projected as a mid-first-round pick in June. Wiltjer, a senior stretch power forward, might have a game that’s better suited for overseas, but there’s a chance a team takes him late in the second round with his shooting touch.

3 Utah vs. 14 Fresno State

Utah: C Jakob Poeltl

Fresno State: SG Marvelle Harris

Poeltl — it rhymes with “turtle” — is my highest-rated prospect in this part of the bracket. He’s a sophomore center with a nice post game and great length to block shots. He should be a top 10 pick in June. Harris, Fresno State’s versatile and defensive-minded swingman, is a promising D-League or overseas prospect who needs to improve his jump shot (32.1 percent from three):

7 Dayton vs. 10 Syracuse

Dayton: SG Charles Cooke

Syracuse: SG/SF Michael Gbinije, SF/PF Tyler Lydon, SG Malachi Richardson

Dayton/Syracuse is one of the rare matchups where the lower-seeded team has more NBA talent than the higher-seeded team. Cooke, Dayton’s versatile and lengthy shooting guard, has the talent, size and shooting touch to be an NBA player, but it’s likely he’ll take another year before heading to the NBA.

Gbinije, Syracuse’s talented and versatile senior swingman, has everything NBA teams look for in a wing prospect and should be an early second-round pick in June. Lydon offers shot-blocking and shooting ability as a stretch 4 and should be someone to keep an eye on in the future. Richardson, a freshman shooting guard, is similar to Gbinije in his versatility, but needs to improve his three-point shot (35.1 percent).

2 Michigan State vs. 15 Middle Tennessee State

Michigan State: PF/C Deyonta Davis, PG/SG/SF Denzel Valentine, SG Bryn Forbes

Middle Tennessee State: None

Michigan State has a pair of likely first-round picks, assuming Deyonta Davis makes the leap to the NBA. Personally, I don’t feel Davis is ready to leave. But I see the upside NBA folks see in him, and if Michigan State were to make a run to the Final Four, Davis will have a hard decision to make:

Valentine, Michigan State’s do-everything guard, is projected as a mid-first-rounder right now and could put the Spartans on his back for a deep tourney run. Forbes, MSU’s lethal shooting guard, is one of the best shooters in college, but likely will have a nice career overseas.

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