Could Williamson, the consensus favorite to go No. 1 in June’s draft, deliver the most memorable NCAA tournament run for a top pick in the one-and-done era? While Anthony Davis set a high bar by winning national player of the year, leading Kentucky to the title and claiming the tournament’s most outstanding player honors in 2012, don’t be surprised if Williamson ends up matching each of those feats with the help of Duke’s loaded roster.
Pity the rest of this year’s prospects, who have suffered by comparison to Williamson all season. Keep in mind, though, that there isn’t a Luka Doncic- or Kristaps Porzingis-type international talent ready to crash the top five of this year’s draft. By default, the NCAA’s best of the rest will become the anointed saviors for whichever bottom-dwelling NBA teams strike out in May 14’s lottery drawing.
With that in mind, here are five more potential lottery picks worth monitoring as the round of 64 commences Thursday.
RJ Barrett, Duke: Much like past Duke standouts Jahlil Okafor and Jabari Parker, Barrett inspires both appreciation and skepticism. The latest in a long line of Canadian lottery talents, Barrett is a smooth lefty with natural scoring instincts and prototypical size for an NBA wing. There’s a fine line between making it look easy and floating, and the 6-foot-7 forward often strays to the wrong side. If Barrett strikes the right balance between scoring and distributing, the Blue Devils might prove to be unstoppable. If he resorts to bad habits like settling for threes or getting too single-minded on his drives, it’s easy to envision him being cast as the fall guy should the East Region’s top seed fall short.
When to watch: vs. No. 16 North Carolina Central or No. 16 North Dakota State, Friday, 7:10 p.m., CBS
Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga: Hachimura, the son of a Beninese father and a Japanese mother, arrived in Spokane, Wash., back in 2016 as the Zags’ newest international intrigue. Three years later, the 6-foot-8 junior forward has refined his game and played his way into the lottery conversation. Offensively, he mixes low-post finishing with a developing midrange game. Defensively, Hachimura’s activity and length should translate well to the pros. With Gonzaga eyeing another Final Four run as the West Region’s top seed, scouts should get a long look at him.
When to watch: vs. No. 16 Farleigh Dickinson, Thursday, 7:27 p.m., truTV
De’Andre Hunter, Virginia: This time of year, virtually every coach of an NBA playoff team finds himself wishing he had one more versatile defender capable of draining open jumpers. Hunter, a redshirt sophomore forward for the South Region’s top seed, fits that bill: The ACC defensive player of the year has shot 42.6 percent from beyond the arc in his two seasons with the Cavaliers. While his mechanical dribbling and rudimentary half-court offensive game limit his star potential, his strong 6-foot-7 frame will win him fans at the next level.
When to watch: vs. No. 16 Gardner-Webb, Friday, 3:10 p.m., truTV
Ja Morant, Murray State: When it comes to potential franchise point guards, the supply won’t be meeting demand this year. Chicago, Phoenix and New York are among the many lottery teams in need of new hands at the wheel, yet the 19-year-old Morant might be the only prospect in the tournament who is capable. The 6-foot-3 sophomore is an athletic marvel with huge leaping ability, great passing instincts and video game stats: 24.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 10 assists per game. As the West’s No. 12 seed, Murray State will need to upset No. 5 Marquette to survive opening night and give NBA fans more than a glimpse at a possible top-three pick.
When to watch: vs. No. 5 Marquette, Thursday, 4:30 p.m., TBS
Coby White, North Carolina: Tournament organizers and television executives will be crossing their fingers for Duke to face UNC, the Midwest Region’s top seed, in a title game showdown. The Tar Heels rely heavily on seniors Luke Maye and Cameron Johnson, but White has dazzled all season and will be crucial in delivering the dream rivalry matchup. A 6-foot-5 freshman combo guard with a point guard’s ballhandling ability and a two-guard’s size, White excels in the open court as both a setup man and finisher. The leading prep scorer in North Carolina history can get hot at a moment’s notice, and he looks like a strong fit for the modern NBA because of his shooting range and ability to create off the dribble.
When to watch: vs. No. 16 Iona, Friday, 9:20 p.m., TNT