The 2018 NCAA Tournament’s South Region features a trio of potential lottery picks as well as a number of under-the-radar prospects alongside the tournament’s overall No. 1 seed.
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
South Region's top NBA prospects
Deandre Ayton | Arizona
Current rank: No. 5
Arizona’s Deandre Ayton emphatically made his case to be the No. 1 pick in June with back-to-back 30-point performances last week in the Pac-12 Tournament. The 7-1 big man is skilled offensively, physically dominant against smaller college opponents and quickly answering questions about his motor. There’s no other prospect in the class who enjoys the physical advantages of Ayton, but he needs to show he can anchor an NBA defense as a rim protector in order to fulfill his potential.
Mohamed Bamba | Texas
Current rank: No. 8
What Ayton brings in size and strength, Texas’ Mohamed Bamba brings in wingspan. The 6-11 big man has a ridiculous 7-9 wingspan and the physical tools to one day be the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year. However, Bamba’s been trending downward due to a lack of development of his offensive game. He struggles to score in the post against smaller opponents and tends to float a bit too much on the perimeter with a jumper that’s not ready for game action yet.
Kevin Knox | Kentucky
Current rank: No. 12
Kentucky’s Kevin Knox is a developmental combo forward prospect who’s tasked with too much creation on a roster sorely lacking it. The 6-9 wing should slot in more frequently as a small-ball power forward at the next level where his jumper, positional versatility and ability to attack in a straight line should shine.
Underrated NBA prospect to watch
Gary Clark | Cincinnati
Current rank: N/A
Cincinnati’s Gary Clark isn’t currently ranked on our big board, but there’s a good chance he will be by the time June rolls around. Clark is a terrific team defender who backs it up with statistical production. He’s averaging 2.0 steals and 1.8 blocks per 40 minutes this season. The 6-7 combo forward still needs to show he fits offensively in the modern NBA, though. He’s a career 38.1 percent 3-point shooter, but on just 139 attempts. Continuing to develop that aspect of his game is key.
Must-see first-round matchup
D’Marcus Simonds vs. Cincinnati
The Bearcats own the nation’s second-best defense in terms of adjusted efficiency, and they’ll be put to the test in an opening-round matchup against Georgia State’s D’Marcus Simonds. The 6-3 sophomore isn’t currently on our draft board, but he is a bouncy athlete who does an excellent job of getting to the rim. Simonds is averaging 24.3 points per 40 minutes this season, and his performance here will be heavily scrutinized.
South Region matchup we want to see
Deandre Ayton vs. Virginia
Although an Arizona-Kentucky matchup would feature a higher volume of total NBA prospects, the schematic matchup of Ayton against Virginia would be more intriguing. The Cavaliers’ pack-line defense loves to double the post in ways that put pressure on opposing bigs to make decisions. Ayton’s passing from down low is one of his underrated skills, and he could get a chance to show it off in the Sweet 16.