Top Draft Prospects: Sweet 16

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Raphielle Johnson
·12 min read
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The second weekend of the 2021 Men’s NCAA tournament is finally here, with Sweet 16 games scheduled for Saturday and Sunday. As is the case in any year we’ve bid farewell to some talented players, including Illinois’ tandem of Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn, Iowa’s Luka Garza and Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham. But that doesn’t mean we’ll be lacking talented players moving forward, as there are at least five prospects who could be lottery picks this summer. Below is a ranking of the top ten prospects who will be in action this weekend.

1. PF Evan Mobley (USC): Mobley has received most of the attention during the Trojans’ run to the Sweet 16 and rightfully so, as the freshman has done nothing to jeopardize his status as a top-5 pick in this summer’s draft. He’s comfortable playing anywhere on the court, which will serve him well against an Oregon squad that really doesn’t rely on a true big man. In wins over Drake and Kansas, Mobley averaged 13.5 points, 12.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 0.5 steals and 3.0 blocks per game, while shooting 52.4% from the field.

He’s an unselfish player who’s capable of taking over games, but also has no problem stepping back in favor of a teammate that may be in the midst of a hot streak. The aforementioned Cunningham is the favorite to go first overall, and Mobley may be the player best equipped to make a run for that spot between now and the draft.

2. PG Jalen Suggs (Gonzaga): Suggs struggled a bit during the first weekend, as he shot 33.3% from the field and committed eight turnovers (four in each game) in the Bulldogs’ wins over Norfolk State and Oklahoma. The fact that the Bulldogs were able to pull away from the Sooners and win by a comfortable margin in spite of Suggs’ struggles says a lot about the talent at Mark Few’s disposal.

The turnovers are the biggest concern at this point in the season, as Suggs has racked up three or more in six of Gonzaga’s last seven games. The exception was the comeback win over BYU in the WCC championship game, as Suggs turned the ball over just once while racking up 23 points, five rebounds, five assists, one steal, one block and three 3-pointers. Look for him to take better care of the basketball moving forward, and if that happens the Bulldogs will have a very good chance of winning their first national title.

3. PG Scottie Barnes (Florida State): Barnes was listed as a small forward in the region breakdown, but that’s a bit inaccurate when taking his actual role into consideration. Leonard Hamilton has used the freshman at the point on offense, with Barnes’ ability to break down opposing defenses off the dribble being on full display for most of this season. He’s fine with facilitating things offensively, as evidenced by his attempting a grand total of four shots (all makes) in wins over UNC Greensboro and Colorado.

But the concern for Barnes is similar to that of Suggs: turnovers. The freshman was responsible for eight (against six assists) last weekend, and neither Barnes nor the Seminoles will be able to get away with such splits moving forward. Suggs has turned the ball over at least three times in each of Florida State’s last six games, a stretch that includes a six-turnover night in their ACC tournament final loss to Georgia Tech. Barnes can wreak havoc defensively, and he’s a capable distributor as well. But the turnover count needs to come down as he works to prove that he can run the point at the next level.

4. SG Moses Moody (Arkansas): After scoring 28 points in the Razorbacks’ SEC tournament semifinal loss to LSU, Moody was comparatively quiet as a scorer in NCAA tournament wins over Colgate and Texas Tech. But he was efficient in those games, averaging 13.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.5 steals and 1.5 3-pointers per while shooting 52.6% from the field with just two total turnovers. The 3-point (30.0) and free throw (57.1) percentages were a bit low when taking Moody’s numbers for the season into consideration, but that shouldn’t be a major concern given the overall body of work.

In addition to making smart decisions on offense, Moody has also proven to be a capable defender on the wing. And if there’s any concern about the lack of defensive stats last weekend, he is averaging 1.1 steals and 0.6 blocks per game for the season. At 6-foot-6, 205, Moody has good size for an off-guard, and the expectation is that he will be a lottery pick if he enters this year’s draft.

5. SF Corey Kispert (Gonzaga): Kispert is in 50-40-90 territory for the season, and he showed why that’s the case during the Bulldogs’ wins over Norfolk State and Oklahoma. Averaging 19.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.5 steals and 5.0 3-pointers per game, the senior small forward shot 56.5% from the field, 58.8% from three and 100% from the foul line. The last time Kispert failed to score in double figures: December 28 vs. Northern Arizona.

He’s consistent and efficient offensively, while also being solid on the other end of the floor. Some have compared Kispert to Nets guard Joe Harris, which makes sense given the tools that he possesses. Kispert stands to be a lottery pick, improve his draft prospects after he decided to not enter the 2020 draft.

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6. SF Franz Wagner (Michigan): With Isaiah Livers sidelined due to a stress reaction in his foot, multiple Wolverines have stepped forward to help account for the personnel loss. Wagner may not have changed much as a scorer last weekend, as his 12 points per game matched his season average, but he was more impactful as a rebounder and facilitator. In wins over Texas Southern and LSU, the sophomore forward averaged 8.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game, while shooting 50.0% from the field and 75.0% from the foul line.

Wagner’s 3-point shooting slipped (25.0%) in the first two rounds, but he’s making more than 37% of those attempts for the season. Add in how well Wagner does defensively, never looking out of place regardless of the scheme that the Wolverines are using on any particular possession, and there's a lot to like about him as a prospect. His matchup with Florida State's wings (and vice versa) may be one of the bigger subplots of the Sweet 16 from the NBA Draft point of view.

7. PG Davion Mitchell (Baylor): Mitchell has shot the ball well from the field and from three all season long, and that trend continued in the first two rounds of the tournament. In wins over Hartford and Wisconsin, the senior guard made 61.1% of his field goal attempts and 44.4% of his 3-point attempts, averaging 14.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 2.5 steals, 1.0 blocks and 2.0 3-pointers per game. The free throw percentage hasn’t been great, but when you average just over two attempts per game, there isn’t much margin for error there. There’s a lot to like about Mitchell as a prospect, and he stands a very good chance of hearing his name called in the first round this summer.

8. SG Chris Duarte (Oregon): With Oregon’s first round matchup with VCU being declared a no-contest due to COVID-19 issues within the Rams’ program, they went into their second round meeting with Iowa “cold.” But it didn’t matter, and Duarte was one of the reasons why. Shooting 9-of-12 from the field, he recorded a line of 23 points, three rebounds, seven assists, one steal and one 3-pointer in 32 minutes of action. One of the fun aspects of what Oregon does offensively is just how comfortable the majority of their players, including Duarte, are on the ball. He can facilitate or he can go for his own, and do so in an efficient manner. Also Duarte his a high-level defender who’s capable of guarding multiple positions.

9. PG Jared Butler (Baylor): Butler didn’t have his best two-game stretch with regard to shooting the ball last weekend, making 37.0% of his field goal attempts in wins over Hartford and Wisconsin. But he was able to impact those games in other ways, as evidenced by his averages of 4.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 3.0 steals per. Butler has shot the ball well all season, so last weekend should be seen as a hiccup rather than the norm. And even if the struggles continue, the veteran guard is more than capable of doing other things in order to help the Bears advance.

10. PF Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (Villanova): With Collin Gillespie done for the season, Robinson-Earl has seen an increase in opportunities to run the show for the Wildcats. Averaging 2.2 assists per game for the season, he racked up six helpers apiece in Villanova’s wins over Winthrop and North Texas. Putting the ball in the hands of a forward to do more playmaking can be a roll of the dice, but that hasn’t been the case with Robinson-Earl, as he was responsible for just two turnovers last weekend.

His averages in those two wins: 20.0 points, 8.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 2.0 blocks and 1.0 3-pointers per, while shooting 51.7% from the field and 72.7% from the foul line. Villanova will need more of the same from Robinson-Earl if they’re to knock off Baylor, and he’s more than capable of meeting the challenge. Do that, and his NBA prospects will likely improve as well.

West Region

No. 1 Gonzaga: SF Joel Ayayi: Averaged 13.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.5 3-pointers per game in the Bulldogs’ first two wins.
No. 5 Creighton: PG Marcus Zegarowski: Played very well in Creighton’s wins over UCSB and Ohio, and he’ll need to (at minimum) hold his own against Suggs if the Bluejays are to beat Gonzaga.
No. 6 USC: PF Isaiah Mobley: Mobley knocked down four 3-pointers in USC’s blowout of Kansas, but he needs to be more consistent.
No. 7 Oregon: PG Will Richardson: The 6-foot-5 Richardson, who has good size for a point guard, dropped 19 points, six rebounds and seven assists on Iowa last weekend.

South Region

No. 1 Baylor: SG MaCio Teague: Teague’s 3-of-11 effort against Wisconsin was an anomaly, as he has proven to be an efficient shot-maker for much of this season.
No. 5 Villanova: PG Justin Moore: A name to file away for future drafts, the sophomore guard looked to be in good physical condition last week after spraining his ankle during the Wildcats’ regular season finale at Providence.
No. 3 Arkansas: PG Davonte Davis: Another name to file away for the future, the 6-foot-3 freshman made some key plays during the Razorbacks’ wins over Colgate and Texas Tech.
No. 15 Oral Roberts: PF Kevin Obanor: The junior forward was a star in wins over Ohio State and Florida, averaging 29.0 points, 11.0 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 4.5 3-pointers per game.

Midwest Region

No. 8 Loyola Chicago: C Cameron Krutwig: Krutwig kept the aforementioned Cockburn off-balance throughout the Ramblers’ win over Illinois, and he’s the best big man remaining in this region.
No. 12 Oregon State: PG Ethan Thompson: Thompson scored 26 points in the Beavers’ win over Oklahoma State, which included a 15-of-16 night from the foul line.
No. 11 Syracuse: SG Buddy Boeheim: “Buddy Buckets” began his run just before the ACC tournament and he hasn’t slowed down yet, scoring 25 points or more in five of his last six games.
No. 2 Houston: PG Dejon Jarreau: Jarreau is dealing with a hip pointer, but he managed to play 32 minutes and score 17 points in the Cougars’ comeback win over Rutgers. An incredibly tough player.

East Region

No. 1 Michigan: C Hunter Dickinson: After grabbing just two rebounds in the Wolverines’ win over Texas Southern the 7-foot-1 freshman was far more impactful against LSU, corralling 11 boards to go along with 12 points, three assists and one blocked shot.
No. 4 Florida State: PF RaiQuan Gray: Gray can be used just about anywhere on the floor offensively, and in wins over UNCG and Colorado he averaged 13.0 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game.
No. 11 UCLA: SG Johnny Juzang: Since scoring just six points in UCLA’s regular season finale at Oregon, he’s averaging 19.8 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.5 blocks and 2.5 3-pointers per game (four games).
No. 2 Alabama: SF Herbert Jones: Jones is one of the most versatile defenders in college basketball, and he’s also capable of having the occasional big game on offense (20 points vs. Iona).