NBA Draft

Top NBA prospects to watch in the 2016 NCAA Tournament’s East Region

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

The 2016 NCAA Tournament is underway, so 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. The East Region is loaded with talented guards likely to be first-round picks come June, and it’s arguably the most talented bracket of the bunch.

North Carolina, Indiana, Kentucky and Providence all have potential lottery picks, while Hawaii and Stony Brook have prospects who could really boost their stocks with a March run. Which East region prospects should you have your eye?

1 North Carolina vs. 16 Florida Gulf Coast

North Carolina: PF/C Brice Johnson, SG/SF Justin Jackson, PG Joel Berry II, PG Marcus Paige

FCGU: None

North Carolina has one of the biggest and most athletic frontcourts in the country. Johnson, a senior big man, could be a lottery pick come June, while Jackson, a 6-9 sharpshooting swingman, has first-round talent. Berry, a sophomore point guard, is a future star and potential first-round pick in 2017. He averaged 12.7 points and 3.6 assists (only 1.6 turnovers) on 39.1 percent from three-point range this season. Paige is the Tar Heels’ leader as a senior point guard and projected as a second-round pick, but he needs to improve his jump shot.

8 USC vs. 9 Providence

USC: SF/PF Bennie Boatwright, PG/SG Julian Jacobs

Providence: PG Kris Dunn, PF Ben Bentil

USC has a pair of elite athletes and great defenders with high ceilings at the NBA level. Boatwright is a 6-10 freshman combo forward with a decent three-point shot (35.4 percent), but he needs to add strength and improve inside the arc (just 39.1 percent). Jacobs might be the best athlete in college basketball. He’s also a great defender who might just get drafted some day if his offensive game comes around:

Dunn is the top point-guard prospect in the country with his combination of size, quickness and playmaking ability. Bentil, a 6-9 scoring power forward, is a perfect pairing with Dunn and a solid NBA prospect in his own right. These two are the reason Providence has the talent to compete with some of the best teams in the country. Dunn could be a top five pick in June.

5 Indiana vs. 12 Chattanooga

Indiana: C Thomas Bryant, SF Troy Williams, PG Yogi Ferrell, SF/PF OG Anunoby

Chattanooga: None

Indiana won the Big Ten outright and is a dangerous team as the fifth seed in this region. Bryant is a load in the paint and potential lottery pick, while Williams is an elite athlete on the wing who needs to improve on the offensive end. Ferrell is their senior point guard and leader, but it’s likely he has a successful career overseas. Anunoby is a 6-8 combo forward with endless length and elite athleticism, but he’s extremely raw on the offensive end of the court.

4 Kentucky vs. 13 Stony Brook

Kentucky: PG/SG Jamal Murray, PF/C Skal Labissiere, PG Tyler Ulis, PF Alex Poythress

Stony Brook: PF/C Jameel Warney

Kentucky isn’t quite as talented as it was a year ago, but there’s still plenty there for the Wildcats to make a run. Murray, a possible top five pick, has everything NBA folks look for in an NBA combo guard. Labissiere, an athletic big man with a soft touch, has finally turned the corner and looks like a potential lottery pick. Ulis, their sophomore point guard, could be a late first-rounder despite his diminutive stature. Poythress has recovered nicely from an ACL injury, and he could be a solid small-ball 4 in the Association.

Stony Brook has a prospect in Warney who has the talent to make an impact in this game. He’s athletic and relentless up front, and should be able to do some things against Labissiere in the paint. If Stony Brook pulls off the upset, it’ll be behind Warney and his impact down low.

6 Notre Dame vs. 11 Michigan/Tulsa

Notre Dame: PG Demetrius Jackson, PF Zach Auguste

Michigan: PG Derrick Walton Jr., SG Zak Irvin, PG/SG Caris LeVert (Injured)

Tulsa: None

Notre Dame could have a tough matchup with Michigan if it’s able to beat Tulsa on Wednesday. Demetrius Jackson is a quick, tough junior point guard with the talent of a first-round pick who did a nice job replacing Jerian Grant from last year. Auguste, a senior big man, is a good athlete with nice hands and rebounding ability, but he’s likely to earn a Portsmouth Invite once the season ends.

While Tulsa lacks any NBA prospects, Michigan has a couple prospects in its backcourt to keep an eye on. Walton is their senior leader at point guard, but he’s more likely to have a successful career in the D-League or overseas. Irvin, a junior shooting guard, took a step back this year after recovering from offseason back surgery. He can still get hot from deep, though, and is a name to watch for the 2017 draft. Star Caris LeVert was once thought of as a first-round lock, but a season-ending injury has him watching the tournament from the bench and may push him into the second round.

3 West Virginia vs. 14 Stephen F. Austin

West Virginia: PF/C Devin Williams

Stephen F. Austin: None

This game might be the least watched by NBA scouts. Williams, a junior big man, is the lone prospect in this game. Williams has improved each season, averaging nearly a double-double this season, and should be primed for a big-time senior year in 2016-17. He’s strong in the post, using his great size (6-9, 255) and nice touch to finish around the rim.

7 Wisconsin vs. 10 Pittsburgh

Wisconsin: SF/PF Nigel Hayes

Pittsburgh: None

Another game with limited NBA prospects. Hayes, Wisconsin’s versatile forward, should be someone to watch if the Badgers make a run. At 6-8 and 235 pounds, Hayes has the size and ability to play either small or power forward. He struggled adjusting to being the No. 1 option after Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky left for the NBA, but the junior should be primed for a big senior year if he returns to Madison.

2 Xavier vs. 15 Weber St.

Xavier: PG/SG Edmond Sumner, SG/SF Trevon Bluiett

Weber St.: PF Joel Bolomboy

Xavier has a pair of intriguing prospects for the next level. Sumner, a 6-5 redshirt freshman combo guard, is an elite athlete and playmaker who could be a lottery pick as soon as next season, though he needs to add weight to his 170-pound frame:

Bluiett, a versatile 6-6 swingman, is their Swiss-Army Knife on the wing. Bluiett has averaged 15.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists on 39.9 percent from three this season.

Bolomboy, Weber State’s talented big man, is a double-double machine who has consistently improved throughout his four years. The senior is a versatile scorer who can do a bit of everything and is firmly on the second round radar of the 2016 draft.

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