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NCAA tournament: 10 best NBA draft prospects to watch during March Madness

The bracket is set and there is no shortage of future NBA talent in the NCAA tournament this year. NBA scouts and executives will continue to travel around the country in the next three weeks to see how each prospect plays on such a big stage. Kentucky, UConn and Baylor all have multiple players who could be lottery picks this year and who will need to step things up in postseason play to solidify themselves as some of the best college players in this draft class.

Kentucky is led by star freshmen Rob Dillingham and Reed Sheppard who have been phenomenal off the bench this year. UConn, which earned the No. 1 overall seed, has a healthy Donovan Clingan back and big guard Stephon Castle playing well. Baylor needs its two standout freshmen, Ja'Kobe Walter and Yves Missi, to really turn things on to make a run in the West Region. Meanwhile, Illinois guard Terrence Shannon Jr. is playing his best basketball of the season, leading the Illini to a Big Ten tournament title on Sunday.

Yahoo Sports takes a look at the 10 best NBA prospects to watch in the NCAA tournament. (Also check out the top prospects you won't see in the Big Dance.)

Kentucky guard Rob Dillingham points at his jersey after making a basket during the first half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against South Carolina on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Artie Walker Jr.)
NBA scouts will be watching Kentucky guard Rob Dillingham closely during the NCAA tournament. (AP Photo/Artie Walker Jr.) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Rob Dillingham, Kentucky

Draft range: 3-8

Kentucky has a favorable draw as the No. 3 seed in the South region, where Dillingham could really shine on the big stage and solidify himself as a top-five pick in the upcoming draft. He has that competitive edge that NBA scouts look for in a guard and doesn't shy away from big moments in games. Despite Kentucky's early exit in the SEC tournament, Dillingham had one of his best games of the season against Texas A&M, finishing with 27 points (5-for-10 from 3) and seven assists in 29 minutes.

Reed Sheppard, Kentucky

Draft range: 3-8

Along with Dillingham, Sheppard has been instrumental in Kentucky's success this season and one of the biggest surprises for scouts. He plays like a four-year veteran player, not a freshman, making the right plays consistently in crunch time. He earned his minutes early on by playing strong defense, averaging 2.5 steals per game, but his passing and 3-point shooting have stood out the most late in the season. Sheppard is shooting 52.5% from 3-point range on four attempts per game while averaging 29 minutes off the bench. If Dillingham is Option 1 when the shot clock is running down, Sheppard has become Option 1A with how consistent he's been in big games this season.

Kyle Filipowski, Duke

Draft range: 10-20

The Blue Devils have run the majority of the offense this season through Filipowski, and he needs to come up big in the tournament for this Duke squad to go far. There's a mixture of opinions on the sophomore center as an NBA prospect. Some scouts love his size and his shooting capabilities at 7-feet, while others question his motor and if he can be as effective off the ball in the NBA. A strong showing in the NCAA tournament would help his draft case and solidify him as a lottery pick. Duke didn't get the best draw as a No. 4 seed in the South Region, where it'll have to potentially go through Marquette, Kentucky and Houston to reach the Final Four.

Dalton Knecht, Tennessee

Draft range: 12-25

Knecht has been incredible all season long and was the best player in the SEC this year, taking home the top individual award for the conference. He can score at all three levels and has significantly improved defensively, an area he was targeted in during his previous two years at Northern Colorado. His lateral footwork has improved, keeping players in front on the perimeter, and he has gotten much stronger, able to battle in the post in mismatch situations. Knecht, who projects as a mid-to-late first-round pick, is Tennessee's No. 1 option offensively and has scored 30-plus points six times this season.

Cody Williams, Colorado

Draft range: 3-10

Williams is the younger brother of Oklahoma City Thunder forward Jalen Williams, and scouts love the defensive upside of the younger Williams. He isn't a stat-padding player, but he has also shown glimpses of his offensive potential throughout the season with the Buffs. Williams, a 6-8 wing, can guard positions 1-4 and has the length and athleticism to really disrupt players in half-court sets. He suffered a facial fracture in late January and hasn't been the same since, but the potential is there as a likely lottery pick. His NBA comparison is Jaden McDaniels with more shot creation.

Ja'Kobe Walter, Baylor

Draft range: 5-15

Baylor needs a big showing from Walter to make any sort of run in the tournament. The 6-5 shooting guard was arguably the best 3-point shooter in this freshman class coming in but has gone cold in the back half of the season, shooting just 34% from deep this year. He has excellent shooting mechanics and is effective in both catch-and-shoot situations and off the dribble, averaging 14.2 points per game this season.

Yves Missi, Baylor

Draft range: 10-25

Baylor's other star freshman, Missi, is one of the best rim-running bigs in college basketball. He has a ton of untapped potential and has continued to add to his game throughout his first year. Baylor has not utilized him in pick-and-pop situations with how many perimeter shooters it has this season, but he's shown his comfort in his 3-point shot in practice and during pregame warmups. Missi has great footwork around the rim, can catch the ball in traffic and finish on both sides of the basket.

Stephon Castle, UConn

Draft range: 7-15

Castle was named the Big East Freshman of the Year and has really been a great complementary piece to Tristen Newton and Cam Spencer in the backcourt this season. He is comfortable sliding into any position along the perimeter and uses his size (6-6, 215 pounds) to his advantage in mismatch situations and finishing through contact in the paint. Because UConn has so many offensive threats, Castle hasn't been the go-to guy, but he moves well off the ball, cutting and getting to his spots, and has been a solid defender throughout the season.

Donovan Clingan, UConn

Draft range: 10-20

Clingan started off the season plagued with injuries and is finally healthy. He has looked like a completely different player late in the season and is moving very well for his 7-2 frame. When his teammates were cold from 3-point range in the first half of the Big East championship (going 0-for-7 to start the game), it was Clingan who took over, sealing the block and going to work in the paint. He had a double-double at halftime and finished with 22 points, 16 rebounds, two blocks and two assists in the win.

Terrence Shannon Jr., Illinois

Draft range: 15-30

Shannon has the ability to take over games offensively and can beat opponents in a variety of ways, whether that's pulling up for long 3s in transition or getting to the rim through traffic. The 6-6 senior guard is a lefty and favors the left side but has worked hard this season to improve his finishes on the right side. In his last two games, he has averaged 37 points while shooting 52% from the field and 53% from 3-point range. A projected first-round pick, Shannon could climb draft boards if he continues to produce at a high level on the biggest stage in college basketball.