USA Today Sports’ Nicole Auerbach thinks you’ll be seeing these Sweet 16 stars taking their game to the next level in the NBA.

With the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament in the books, we take a look at some of the top NBA prospects who have helped lead their teams to the Sweet 16.

Lonzo Ball • UCLA • Freshman • Guard

Next game: Friday, 9:39 p.m. ET vs. No. 2 Kentucky

Rundown: Ball entered the tournament with a chance to show scouts that he’s worthy of the No. 1 overall pick come June — a luxury not given to Washington’s Markelle Fultz, whose Huskies went just 9-22. Through the first two rounds, Ball has basked in the national spotlight, showing the nation the hype is justified and not just because his dad says it is.

He scored 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting to go along with four rebounds and three assists in UCLA’s first-round rout of Kent State. In the second round against Cincinnati, Ball recorded 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting, nine assists, seven rebounds and a pair of steals. He caught fire in the second half, where he scored 11 of his points — including back-to-back, NBA-range three-pointers — and dished out all nine of his assists.

Josh Jackson • Kansas • Freshman • Guard

Next game: Thursday, 9:39 p.m. ET vs. No. 4 Purdue

Rundown: Projected to go in the top five on draft day, Jackson has all the physical tools to be a star at the next level — a notion he confirmed in the first two rounds. He scored 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds in the Jayhawks’ first-round win over UC Davis and scored 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting in Kansas’ 20-point second-round win over Michigan State, highlighted by a five-minute sequence in the second half where Kansas coach Bill Self said he “showed everything. Beating you off the bounce, making threes off the catch, making threes off the bounce, finishing through contact.”

De’Aaron Fox • Kentucky • Freshman • Guard

Next game: Friday, 9:39 p.m. ET vs. No. 3 UCLA

Rundown: At this point, it’s not a question about whether or not Fox — a lightning-quick point guard with great size, leaping ability and defensive tools  — will be drafted in the lottery. The question is: How high will he go? He was quiet for most of Kentucky’s second-round win over Wichita State, but he stepped up late in the second half, making big plays on both ends of the floor to help push the Wildcats to victory. After Ball and Fultz, Fox — weak jump shot and all — makes a case as the third best point guard in the draft.

Malik Monk • Kentucky • Freshman • Guard

Next game: Friday, 9:39 p.m. ET vs. No. 3 UCLA

Rundown: Monk — an explosive athlete who can put the ball in the hole as well as any 19-year-old in the country — made just three of his 10 shot attempts against Wichita State, scoring 14 points, after going just 3-for-11 for 12 points in the first round against Northern Kentucky. But don’t expect a stretch of streaky shooting to turn scouts away. Just like Fox, Monk made plays on both ends of the floor when it mattered most against the Shockers. He hit a contested three-pointer with 2:08 to go to give Kentucky a 61-56 lead and swatted away a potential game-winner with 14 seconds left, followed by two clutch free throws on the next possession.

Bam Adebayo • Kentucky • Freshman • Forward

Next game: Friday, 9:39 p.m. ET vs. No. 3 UCLA

Rundown: Monk and Fox weren’t the only two Wildcats who came up big at the end of Kentucky’s win over Wichita State. Adebayo — who finished the game with 13 points and 10 rebounds — followed up Monk’s block with a block of his own, sending away a potential game-tying three-pointer at the buzzer.

In Kentucky’s first-round win? He tallied 15 points and a career-high 18 rebounds. His offensive skill set isn’t all that polished, but he’s a great athlete who can guard multiple positions, which could make him the X-Factor as the Wildcats look to advance to the Final Four for the fifth time under coach John Calipari.

Lauri Markkanen • Arizona • Freshman • Forward

Next game: Thursday, 10:09 p.m. ET vs. No. 11 Xavier

Rundown: Markkanen, a 7-footer who shoots 43.3% from beyond the arc, has the potential to be a star at the next level, especially if he can show he’s as comfortable playing down low as he is playing on the perimeter. The Finnish forward has 36 points on 11-of-18 shooting through the first two rounds, is 13-14 from the free throw line and has grabbed 17 rebounds.

He only hit one three-pointer in Arizona’s second-round win over Saint Mary’s, but it was the biggest shot of the game, as it came with 3:28 left and gave the Wildcats enough of a cushion to pull away. Can he put together another strong showing against a guard-heavy Xavier team on Thursday?

Justin Jackson • North Carolina • Junior • Forward

Next game: Friday, 7:09 p.m. ET vs. No. 4 Butler

Rundown: Jackson, who withdrew from the draft last summer, has been one of the most improved players in the country, and it’s shown in both of North Carolina’s tournament wins. After making just 63 three-pointers at a 29.7% clip over his first two years, Jackson has knocked down 98 this year at 38.7%. He’s also hit eight of his 14 three-point attempts so far in the tournament — numbers that should help overshadow his shortcomings as an athlete.

In the first round against Texas Southern, he had 21 points, seven rebounds and three assists, eclipsing the 20-point mark for the first time in his three tournament appearances. In the Tar Heels’ second-round win over Arkansas, he had 15 points, eight rebounds, five assists and five steals.

GALLERY: NBA players who made a mark at March Madness


Show Thumbnails

Show Captions

Moritz Wagner • Michigan • Sophomore • Forward

Next game: Thursday, 7:09 p.m. ET vs. No. 3 Oregon

Rundown: Haven’t heard much about Wagner before Sunday’s showing against Louisville? It’s time to start listening. The 6-foot-11 German — Moe, as he’s known in Ann Arbor — put the Wolverines on his back, scoring 26 points on 11-of-14 shooting to push past the second-seeded Cardinals. But his performance was more than just numbers. It was the way he went about it, digging deep into his bag of tricks to beat defenders in a multitude of ways.

If Michigan can continue this run, and Wagner can continue to impress on the big stage and showcase his versatility, he could end up being one of the biggest risers on draft boards, possibly as high as the first round. With all eyes on him, can he put on another show against an Oregon team missing their best big in Chris Boucher?

Caleb Swanigan • Purdue • Sophomore • Forward

Next game: Thursday, 9:39 p.m. ET vs. No. 1 Kansas

Rundown: Swanigan — a double-double machine who leads the country with 28 through 34 games — is one of the most improved players in college hoops, and even though he may be a fringe first-rounder due to questions about how his game will translate to the next level, the 6-foot-9, 250-pound forward has only helped his draft stock in the tournament.

In the first round — an 80-70 win over Vermont — he put up 16 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and three blocks. In the second — an 80-76 win over fifth-seeded Iowa State — he had 20 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists, a block and a steal.

Sindarius Thornwell • South Carolina • Senior • Guard

Next game: Friday, 7:29 p.m. ET vs. No. 3 Baylor

Rundown: No player has had a tournament quite like Thornwell — a 6-foot-5 shooting guard who has improved immensely in his fourth collegiate season. In South Carolina’s first-round rout of No. 10 Marquette, Thornwell poured in 29 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and tallied two blocks and three steals. Then came a 24-point, six-rebound, five-assist outing in a stunning upset of No. 2 Duke, which led Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski to dub Thornwell “the best, unheralded, great player in the United States.”

The fact that he’s already 22 and waited until his senior year to break out may turn some scouts away, but if he can put together another strong showing against Baylor and keep the Gamecocks alive, those same scouts will have a hard time looking the other way.

Johnathan Motley • Baylor • Junior • Forward 

Next game: Friday, 7:29 p.m. ET vs. No. 7 South Carolina

Rundown: Motley is a monster, a walking double-double who has taken significant steps forward during his third year with the Bears. That steady improvement has carried over into the tournament, where he’s averaging 17 points, 10 rebounds, two blocks and shooting 61.5% from the field. But will it carry over into the NBA? He can beat defenders with a plethora of post moves, get out and run in transition and rebound with the best of them, but Motley lacks a perimeter game — a skill NBA teams covet from the power forward position.

Devin Robinson • Florida • Junior • Forward

Next game: Friday, 10:09 p.m. ET vs. No. 8 Wisconsin

Rundown: Robinson — a long, athletic, versatile wing — has loads of potential, as well as the physical tools to succeed at the next level. While much of that potential remains untapped, he was the best player on the floor for Florida in their first two tournament wins. In the first round against Eastern Tennessee State, Robinson matched a career-high 24 points (on 10-of-17 shooting) and added seven rebounds and two blocks. In Florida’s 65-39 rout of UVA, he had 14 points (on 5-of-8 shooting) and 11 rebounds.

Tyler Dorsey • Oregon • Sophomore • Guard

Next game: Thursday, 7:09 p.m. ET vs. No. 7 Michigan

Rundown: There may be questions surrounding his size and true position, but if it weren’t for Dorsey — a versatile guard who’s made 40.2% of his three-point shots this season — the Ducks would have fallen to the 11-seeded Rhode Island Rams in the second round. Dorsey, still riding the momentum of a strong Pac-12 tournament, finished the game with 27 points on 9-of-10 shooting (4-of-5 from beyond the arc), five rebounds, three assists, three steals, and hit a game-clinching, pull-up three-pointer with under a minute to go to give Oregon a 75-72 lead.

Zach Collins • Gonzaga • Freshman • Forward

Next game: Thursday, 7:39 p.m. ET vs. No. 4 West Virginia

Rundown: Despite playing just 21 minutes in both of Gonzaga’s wins, forced the share time with senior big man Przemek Karnowski, Collins — a highly-skilled, two-way talent with lottery potential — still managed to show why he’s heralded as one of the top big-man recruits in the country. In Gonzaga’s second-round win over Northwestern, the 7-footer finished with 14 points on 4-of-6 shooting, five rebounds and four blocks. In the first round against South Dakota State, he had 10 points on 3-of-5 shooting, six rebounds and three blocks.

T.J. Leaf • UCLA • Freshman • Forward

Next game: Friday, 9:39 p.m. ET vs. No. 2 Kentucky

Rundown: Though he’s overshadowed by star point guard Lonzo Ball, the Bruins wouldn’t be anywhere near the team that they are without Leaf, who leads UCLA in scoring and both field goal and three-point percentage. The 6-10 freshman has a complete offensive skill set: He’s efficient, can score from anywhere on the floor, and has shown the ability to find his teammates with passes from the post. In UCLA’s first two tournament games, he averaged 17 points, 6.5 rebounds and shot 59% from the field.

Follow AJ Neuharth-Keusch on Twitter @tweetAJNK


Show Thumbnails

Show Captions