March Madness 2018: Top NBA prospects to watch in East Region

The 2018 NCAA Tournament’s East Region features a trio of potential lottery picks as well as a number of under-the-radar prospects. Here's a look at the top players to watch.

The 2018 NCAA Tournament’s East Region features a trio of potential lottery picks as well as a number of under-the-radar prospects.

Here’s a look at the top players to watch, an unheralded name and which matchups to keep an eye out for.

BIG BOARD: Ranking top prospects ahead of March Madness

East Region's top NBA prospects

Mikal Bridges | Villanova

Current rank: No. 7

Villanova’s Mikal Bridges is the perfect fit for the modern NBA. As a versatile defender with an accurate 3-point stroke, he should, at a minimum, be a productive role player for many years to come.

The question with Bridges is where his upside lies. He hasn’t shown much as a creator in three years with the Wildcats, but there have been enough flashes to suggest maybe there’s more to come. Even if it never does, a 3-and-D wing of his caliber will be highly valuable.

Daniel Gafford | Arkansas

Current rank: No. 11

Arkansas’ Daniel Gafford is this season’s 4-star big man who played his way into a one-and-done season. The 6-11 center fits the mold for what NBA teams are looking for if their big man can’t shoot. He’s a terrific rim runner both in transition and out of ball screens and can provide a hefty dose of rim protection on the defensive end.

Collin Sexton | Alabama

Current rank: No. 13

Alabama’s Collin Sexton entered the season as the top point guard in the 2018 class, but after a few months of poor shooting from behind the arc, his fit in the modern NBA was called into question. Sexton’s had a killer March already, but he’ll be looking to show teams he can be a consistent threat from deep.

NCAA BRACKET PICKS:
Bender (Virginia) | Birdsong (Arizona) | DeCourcy (Villanova) | Fagan (Villanova)

Underrated NBA prospect to watch

Vince Edwards | Purdue

Current rank: N/A

A 6-7 small ball power forward, Purdue’s Vince Edwards isn’t currently ranked on our big board, but he’d be just outside of the top 60.

The senior presents matchup challenges on the offensive end as a career 39.0 percent 3-point shooter who has also averaged 4.1 assists per 40 minutes over four seasons. He’s also a competent team defender for one of the nation’s top 30 defenses. Edwards could easily play his way into the draft with a nice performance or two in March.

Must-see first-round matchup

Ja Morant vs. Jevon Carter and West Virginia

There are a couple of intriguing first-round matchups in the East, but an opportunity for Carter, the No. 41 ranked prospect on our board, to act as a gatekeeper for another young point guard prospect is too much to pass up.

Murray State’s Ja Morant is probably still a year or two away from actually entering the NBA Draft, but he’s averaging 12.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game this season. The only other freshman to hit the 12-6-6 benchmarks in the last 25 years is current Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball. As such, watching Morant navigate the Mountaineers’ press and Carter’s half-court defense will be must see TV.

NCAA BRACKET BREAKDOWNS: East | South | Midwest | West

East Region matchup we want to see

Mikal Bridges vs. Zhaire Smith

Although he isn’t yet a consistent 3-point shooter on a high volume, Texas Tech’s Zhaire Smith has assumed the position Bridges played last season as college basketball’s under-the-radar wing who could make an NBA splash. Smith is a strong, athletic and versatile defender who’s flashed occasional moments of offensive skill this season. A potential Elite Eight matchup with Bridges would be poetic.