Step into any debate over the NBA’s controversial one-and-done rule and you will undoubtedly hear the argument that one-and-done players are bad for college basketball, particularly from a fan’s perspective. The conviction holds, in part, that these players come-and-go so quickly that fans do not develop any meaningful connection or familiarity with them.
On the flip side, the rule has provided us with a chance to watch most of the top NBA prospects participate in what many consider to be basketball’s ultimate spectacle: March Madness. In the eleven tournaments since the rule’s implementation, we’ve seen a number of one-and-done’s have make deep tournament runs:
In 2007, the first tournament after the rule’s implementation, Greg Oden and Mike Conley led Ohio State to the championship game, falling to repeat champs Florida. The next year it Derrick Rose and Memphis came seconds away from a title, before a Mario Chalmers’ three sent the game to OT where Kansas prevailed. In 2012, Anthony Davis was named the tournament’s most outstanding player during Kentucky’s championship run. And in 2015, it was freshmen Justice Winslow, Tyus Jones, and Jahlil Okafor cutting down the nets before heading off to the NBA Draft.
2018 brings another talented crop of one-and-done players, with some mock drafts projecting as many as nine of the first ten picks to be true freshmen. You will not want to miss out on the final opportunity to witness these players before they trade in their collegiate uniforms for draft day suits. Here are my top 5 must-see one-and-done players for this year’s tournament:
1. DeAndre Ayton | Arizona | C | 7-1, 250 | 20.3 PPG, 11.5 RPG
Ayton had NBA scouts salivating long before stepping on campus in Tuscon. Projected to be the first name called in June’s NBA Draft, the Bahamian native has a frame, strength, and athleticism that draws comparisons to the likes of Wilt Chamberlain (see video), Patrick Ewing, and Hakeem Olajuwon (see video). Along with his outstanding physical tools and rebounding ability, Ayton is an adept scorer with a pure shooting stroke and range that will only continue to develop. After a tumultuous week during which an ESPN report stated that FBI wire taps had recorded Sean Miller discussing a $100k payment to Ayton (denied by both) the Wildcats won the PAC-12 tournament behind back-to-back 32-point outings by Ayton.
First game: 4. Ariz vs. 13. Buff | 3/15, 9:40 PM EDT
2. Marvin Bagley III | Duke | PF | 6-11, 235 | 21.1 PPG, 11.5 RPG
While not quite as powerful and physically imposing, Bagley is an equally elite athlete. He uses his long, wiry frame and insane body control to put himself in advantageous positions for rebounds and put backs. He is a versatile scorer, creative in the post with great touch and awareness around the rim, is able to use a quick first step to find angles to the hoop, and has legitimate three-point range (37%). His free throw shooting will improve and, like Ayton, has room to improve defensively. The two have put up fairly identical numbers this year:
First game: 2. Duke vs. 15. Iona | CBS | 3/15, 2:45 PM
3. Michael Porter Jr. | Missouri | SF | 6-10, 215 | 25 mins played all year
Considered by many to be the top incoming freshman, Porter made it just two minutes into his collegiate debut before exiting with a back injury that would require, what was assumed to be season-ending surgery. However, Porter made his return in last week’s SEC tournament. Understandably rusty, Porter managed to record 12 pts and 8 rebs in a loss.
Watch any high school highlights of Porter and you will see why he is still projected to be a high lottery pick. He can play either the 3 or 4 and has guard-like handles and vision. He is dangerous in transition, with a high basketball IQ and innate ability to create opportunities. He has a smooth jump shot that can be very difficult to guard, thanks to his length and abilities to create space and rise over defenders.
You can expect NBA scouts and GMs to be out in full force for Missouri’s first round game against FSU. Porter’s draft stock could fluctuate significantly here. A strong performance could potentially solidify him as a top five or even three pick, but a failure to improve on his return against Georgia could push him back towards the mid-late lottery.
First Game: 8. Missouri vs. 9. Florida St. | TBS | Fri 9:50 PM
4. Mohamed Bamba | Texas | C | 7-0, 220 | 12.9 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 3.7 BPG
Bamba has all of the tools to be an elite rim protector at the next level. His 7’9″ wingspan is bigger than any current NBA player and combined with his leaping ability, Bamba adds a security blanket in the paint that can bail out defenses. He finished the regular season second in the NCAA with 3.7 BPG. He also has excellent feet and lateral movement for his size, enabling him to effectively help and recover on pick-n-roll situations.
Offensively, he is raw, but he has the physical tools and athleticism to develop into a double-digit scorer at the next level. His reach, hand eye and ability to control his body in-air make him an excellent rebounder and allows him to go up and finish any alley-oop ball thrown in the remote vicinity of the backboard. He has decent touch from mid-range, something that should develop at the next level.
Bamba missed three games late in the season with a toe injury, but appears to be 100% entering the tournament.
First Game: 10. Texas vs. 7. Nevada | Friday, 4:30 PM
5. Collin Sexton | Alabama | PG | 6-2, 242 | 19.0 PPG, 38 RPG, 3.2 BPG
Sexton is must-see-TV. If you haven’t had a chance to watch Alabama this year, I highly recommend tuning in as they take on Virginia Tech on Thursday. Sexton is one of the most electrifying players in college basketball possessing that has shown a knack for elevating his game in the big moment.
Sexton is lightning quick and especially dangerous in transition. He has very good handles, which he uses in conjunction with his agility and burst to get by defenders and create lanes to the basket. He has a remarkable ability to change speeds and directions in the blink of an eye, which enables him to create open shots for himself or others. He is slightly undersized, but makes up for it with raw athleticism and leaping ability. He has a solid jump shot and is good, not great, from behind the arc. He is more of a score-first guard and hs decision making will need to improve at the next level, but seems to be trending in the right direction.
Sexton had a superb SEC tournament (26.3 ppg) which helped get Alabama into the tournament field.
First Game: 9. Alabama vs. 8. Virginia Tech | 3/15, 9:20 PM
Others ‘One-and-Done’s to Watch:
- Jaren Jackson Jr., Michigan St., C, 6-11, 240: another extremely athletic and skilled big man, two-way player (11.3 ppg, 3.2 bpg) could be a top 5 pick
- Trae Young, Oklahoma, PG, 6-2, 180 – NCAA leaders in points (27.4 PPG) and assists (8.8 APG)
- Wendell Carter, C, Duke, 6-10, 260: Other half of two-headed monster front court, athletic rim protector and rebounding machine (2.2 BPG, 9.3 RPG).
- Kevin Knox, F, Kentucky, 6-9, 215: versatile player that can score inside and out and guard multiple positions