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Bracket Busting Prospects
As the NCAA Tournament play-in games tip-off tonight, lets take a look at a handful of prospects who have a chance to lead their teams on a Cinderalla run this March
Well, it’s that time of year again…MARCH MADNESS! What truly creates the “madness” is, of course, the upsets. Each year we all take pride in filling out our brackets, attempting to pick out which teams will play spoiler and end up being this year’s “Cinderella.” 2006 George Mason, 2008 Davidson, 2011 Butler/VCU, and 2013 Florida Gulf Coast are just a handful of the recent Cinderella stories that are hard to forget. While there aren’t always notable NBA Draft prospects in each instance, I believe this year has a ton of talent on the lower seeded sides. And given this is an NBA Draft-centric website, I thought I would help you navigate these under-the-radar teams by highlighting some potential prospects in each region who have the ability to carry their teams to victory (or victories). Below I will cover one prospect from each region and provide some background and reasoning why they are guys to keep an eye on this tournament.
Team: Davidson Wildcats
First Round Opponent: Michigan State Spartans
Prospect to watch: Hyunjung Lee
Stats: 16.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.9 APG, 47.6 FG%, 37.7% 3P%, 77.7% FT%
Davidson is a team that is not new to the Cinderella life during this time of year. You may remember another 10-seeded Davidson team back in 2008 that made it all the way to the Elite Eight led by some guy named Stephen Curry who shot the lights out. Now, this Davidson team is not the same as the 2008 version. However, there are some similarities, and they start with this year’s draft prospect: Hyunjung Lee. Like Curry, Lee is one of the best shooters in the country and is an underrated playmaker (no, I am NOT saying that Hyunjung Lee is as good as Stephen Curry). Checking in at 6’7” and 210 lbs., Lee has NBA-ready size to go along with his silky smooth jumper. Davidson does a tremendous job drawing up plays for Lee to get open, and he is one of the best off-ball movers in the class—just watching him weave around screen after screen is tiring. His frame allows him to get his shot off in traffic as well, and he is an underrated finisher at the rim. If Davidson has any magic left in them, it will most likely be Hyunjung Lee channeling his inner Stephen Curry and having a couple of huge shooting nights.
Team: Chattanooga Mocs
First Round Opponent: Illinois Fighting Illini
Prospect to watch: Malachi Smith
Stats: 20.1 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 3.1 APG, 50.5 FG%, 41.5% 3P%, 83.2% FT%
If you are looking for a do-it-all guard from a small school to take the NCAA Tournament by storm, look no further than Malachi Smith. We saw what 15-seed Oral Roberts did last year with tournament darling Max Abmas, and I think a similar story could play out with 13-seed Chattanooga and Malachi Smith. The 2021-2022 Southern Conference Player of the Year is the engine of Chattanooga’s offense and is one of the most skilled scoring guards in the country. His frame (6’4” and 205 lbs.) allows him to attack the basket with ease, but he is also not afraid to pull up from deep three-point range. He is also not going to back down from a challenge on defense. Chattanooga has some other skilled players on the team, including Kansas transfer Silvio De Sousa, but if they make a run, it will most likely be Malachi Smith leading the way.
Team: South Dakota State Jackrabbits
First Round Opponent: Providence Friars
Prospect to watch: Baylor Scheierman
Stats: 16.2 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 4.6 APG, 51.2 FG%, 47.3% 3P%, 80.7% FT%
Baylor Scheierman is one of my favorite players to watch in the country and was voted 2021-2022 Summit Conference Play of the Year. The headband, the hair, the deep step-back jumpers. What’s not to love? The 6’6” and 205 lbs. guard out of South Dakota State is another sharp-shooter who teams must keep eyes on at all times. Knocking down 47.3% from three-point range on over five attempts per game is not something to ignore. But he isn’t just a shooter. He leads the team in RPG, APG, and SPG while being just 0.3 PPG behind leading scorer Douglas Wilson. He is very much another do-it-all guard who will not shy away from the moment. If you haven’t watched South Dakota State at all, you need to tune in. They put up a ton of points and are one of the most fun teams to watch, and Baylor Scheierman plays a big role in that. His lateral movement will be the thing holding him back in terms of NBA translation, but he plays within himself and under such control that I can see him carving out a role in the league.
Team: Wyoming Cowboys
First Round Opponent: Indiana Hoosiers (play-in), then Saint Mary’s Gaels
Prospect to watch: Hunter Maldonado
Stats: 18.4 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 6.3 APG, 49.5 FG%, 23.8% 3P%, 71.6% FT%
This one might be the deepest cut of the group as Hunter Maldonado is a Senior out of Wyoming who will be turning 23-years-old later this month. However, it is rare to come across a guy with his size (6’7” and 203 lbs.) with point guard skills. One of the best passers in the country for his size, Maldonado has a 38.6% AST% with only an 18.8% TO%, per barttorvik.com. He is an extremely versatile offensive player who has no problems breaking down defenses and finding open teammates or scoring himself. His ability to pass the ball really opens up the floor and allows him to attack the basket at will. He is relentless and not afraid of contact, boasting a 53.6 Free-Throw Rate (FTr) and 6.9 FTA per game. There is no other player in college basketball with his combination of size, passing, and foul drawing ability. The question that NBA front offices will have on him is the shooting. He has not shot the ball well from three-point range in any of his seasons with Wyoming. However, for this tournament, if Wyoming goes on a run, Hunter Maldonado will most likely be the guy in focus.