Players are listed in order of my current draft rankings; note that my rankings do not currently include international players, who I will be studying after the tournament. Click on a player's name to open their DraftExpress profile, which has all of their basic information; stats all come from sports-reference.com or hoop-math.com.
2. SF Brandon Ingram, Duke
Next Contest: vs. 1 seed Oregon, Thursday, March 24th
This shouldn't take away from Ingram's success, but he hasn't faced a good defensive matchup in this tournament; Neither UNC Wilmington nor Yale had any defenders close to Ingram's size or capable of keeping up with him athletically. Oregon on the other hand is a youthful, athletic team with a number of capable defenders they can try on Ingram.
5. SG Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
Next Contest: vs. 3 seed Texas A&M, Thursday, March 24th
Hield scored 29 of Oklahoma's 41 second half points in a 85-81 squeaker against VCU. He's the collegiate game's most capable scorer, able to hit from any of the three levels. Over the two games in week 1 he scored 63 points on 55.8% shooting (19 of 34) while only committing three turnovers, which is crazy considering how ball-dominant he's forced to be in the Sooners offense.
While Oklahoma has surrounded Buddy with capable, smart veterans, it's not hyperbolic to suggest that without Hield the Sooners wouldn't be in the tournament. Hield has absolutely carried Oklahoma this season, and his ability to create his own shot and take over when needed shows to this armchair scout, at least a veteran who won't just be a role player in the NBA.
12. PG Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame
Next Contest: vs. 7 seed Wisconsin, Friday, March 25th
Jackson had two solid games in the tournament, averaging 14.5 points and four assists on 10 of 18 shooting. He hasn't had the breakout contests I was hoping for, but he's run the floor well and given the ball up to hot scorers to spur big Irish runs. He did show off his elevation with this highlight dunk.
The Irish needed a late-game tip-in to survive against Stephen F. Austin, and will next face off against a surprisingly good Wisconsin team. Jackson and Notre Dame will likely try to pick up the pace against the Badgers, but Wisconsin has shown an ability to play fast or grind out defensive battles as needed. While they might not guard each other constantly, Jackson versus Wisconsin's Bronson Koenig (clutch in their victory over Xavier) is the best matchup of the night.
14. PF Thomas Bryant, Indiana
Next Contest: vs 1 seed North Carolina, Friday, March 25th
Bryant was slowed throughout the season with foul troubles and a foot injury, but his performance against Kentucky showed off his solid foundation of post skills. A whopping 76% of his shots come in the post, although he's making over half of his two-point jumpers, so the potential to stretch his game is there. A 6'10, 250 lbs big man who lacks great mobility doesn't fit a huge need in today's NBA, but Bryant has plenty of room to grow and his 7'5 wingspan compensates for some of his faults. If he opts for the NBA this year, I wouldn't be surprised if he goes in the late lottery.
15. PF/C Domantas Sabonis, Gonzaga
Next Contest: vs. 10 seed Syracuse, Friday, March 25th
While he lacks his father's sheer size, he's got great mobility for a big man and has killer low-post footwork. He's developed a well-rounded offensive game - almost 40% of his 17.5 points come from two-point jumpers, and he's making 47.3% of them while also dishing out 1.9 assists per game at a 11.4% rate. If Sabonis can add more bulk and stand up to NBA bigs on the defensive end, he'll be a very good role-playing stretch four in the NBA.
Despite two wins against Dayton and Middle Tennessee, I don't have faith that Syracuse can stop Gonzaga (Syracuse shouldn't have made the tournament while Saint Mary's didn't... totally bitter about that). The Orange play good team defense, and have locked down their opponents in the tournament; Dayton and Middle Tennessee shot a combined 31% in the post against Syracuse. On the other hand, neither of those teams had a post player close to Sabonis' talent.
16. C Diamond Stone, Maryland
Next Contest: vs. 1 seed Kansas, Thursday, March 24th
Stone has been an inconsistent player for much of the season, but the matchup with Hawaii was one of his better performances; Maryland was struggling from the outside in the first half, and their offense didn't get going until they dumped the ball down low to Stone. He scored eight of his eventual 14 points and stabilized the Terrapins, and by the second half Maryland's shooters had broken out of their slump.
Kansas' strength is in their wings, and Stone has the size advantage over Jayhawks bruiser Landen Lucas. It'll be interesting to see if Maryland tries to set their offensive tempo through Stone again - while I expect the Jayhawks to prevail, the Terrapins have an excellent starting five and I think it'll be closer than many expect.
24. SG Grayson Allen, Duke
Next Contest: vs. 1 seed Oregon, Thursday, March 24th
After a slightly disappointing freshman season, Allen has broken out in his sophomore stint. His usage hasn't gone up much this year (23.5% to 26.9%), but his points (4.4 to 21.8), efficiency (58.3% true shooting to 62%) and assist rate (7.8% to 19.8%) have skyrocketed. The Blue Devils don't have a true point guard, and he's taken more of the ball-handling role by necessity; While his decision making isn't great, he's got a nifty handle and a willingness to make the right pass rather than force the issue himself.
While Allen is primarily known for his deep shot, he's also capable of attacking the basket at the collegiate level and has thrown down some nasty dunks. He'll need to get significantly stronger to matchup at the NBA level, but he's proven he can score at all three levels and has a strong basketball IQ; potentially could be a good bench player after a few years of development.
Allen is averaging 26.5 points in the tournament, and made up for a 4 of 12 shooting night in the first round against UNC Wilmington by getting to the line 17 times (and making 15 of them). Duke's defense hasn't been great over the past month (UNC Wilmington scored 85 against them) and has been exposed by athletic squads just like Oregon. Allen and Ingram make a talented offensive force, but they'll need to bring it on both ends to beat the Ducks.
Week 1 Notes:
Additional players to watch: PG Melo Trimble, Maryland, PF Brice Johnson, North Carolina, SG Wayne Selden, Kansas, SF Perry Ellis, Kansas, PF/C Cheick Diallo, Kansas, SG Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia, SF Dillion Brooks, Oregon
Top potential 2016 Draftees outside the Tournament: 1. F Ben Simmons, LSU, 3. PG Kris Dunn, Providence, 4. SG Jamal Murray, Kentucky, 6. SF Jaylen Brown, California, 7. C Jakob Poeltl, Utah, 8. PF Henry Ellenson, Marquette, 9. PF Ivan Rabb, California, 10. PF/C Skal Labissiere, Kentucky, 11. SG Denzel Valentine, Michigan State, 13. PF/C Deyonta Davis, Michigan State, 17. F Taurean Prince, Baylor, 18. PG Wade Baldwin, Vanderbilt, 19. PF Marquese Chriss, Washington, 20. PF/C Damian Jones, Vanderbilt, 21. PG Tyler Ulis, Kentucky, 22. PG/SG Caris LeVert, Michigan, 23. C Stephen Zimmerman, UNLV, 25. Gary Payton II, Oregon State,
Top International prospects: PF Dragan Bender, Croatia, SG Furkan Korkmaz, Turkey, SG/SF Timothe Luwawu, France