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March 15, 2017

2017 NBA Draft: How Sixers fans should watch the NCAA Tournament

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There are plenty of NBA fans who don’t care about college basketball until the NCAA Tournament, and even then, they’re incapable of watching two minutes without complaining about the quality. Heck, some of them are actually in the NBA.

In a more recent development, there are plenty of Sixers fans who have watched a ton of college hoops to scout for the next NBA Draft. Remember that fun and frustrating Joel Embiid-Andrew Wiggins Kansas team? How about Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor, and Brandon Ingram in consecutive years at Duke? Who could forget Ben Simmons’ one-man show at LSU?

For those who fall into either category, I have one of approximately one million 2017 NBA Draft/NCAA Tournament guides here. Let’s go to one of my favorite sites on the Internet, Tankathon, to see where the Sixers currently stand after a close call in Golden State on Tuesday night.

•    Mostly, Sixers fans should watch Top-10 prospects: Unless you’re still holding out hope for that fake first rounder acquired from Dallas in the Nerlens Noel trade (note: don’t), we’re not looking for the next Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. Tanking ain’t easy, but at least it allows you to turn your attention to the cream of the 2017 draft crop.

The Sixers could have one or two lottery picks in the 2017 NBA Draft, their own and one from the Lakers if Los Angeles happens to fall out of the Top-3. The Lakers aren’t completely set in stone for the second-worst record and a 56 percent chance at keeping their pick, but they’re trending in that direction. With the way that the Lakers are tanking, the Sixers will only get that draft pick at No. 4 or No. 5.

As for the Sixers, there are three teams within three games of them and the fifth-worst record. One of them happens to be the Sacramento Kings, who the Sixers can of course swap picks with thanks to Sam Hinkie, Vlade Divac, and most of all, Vivek Ranadive. Great work, all of you. I think it’s safe to say the absolute worst-case scenario for the Sixers’ own pick is probably around 8. So yeah, to be safe, stick with the Top-10 in terms of players to watch.

•    A couple of top prospects didn’t make the 2017 NCAA Tournament: That would be Washington’s Markelle Fultz and North Carolina State’s Dennis Smith, who are both dynamic lead guards who happened to choose bad supporting casts. In the case of Fultz, we could have two consecutive top overall picks in the NBA Draft who didn’t qualify for the NCAA Tournament after Ben Simmons last year. The Sixers sure wouldn’t mind pairing both of them up. The other potential Top-10 prospect that won’t be dancing is Frank Ntilikina, who plays professionally in France.

•    The good news is that everyone else is on a good team: Like, everyone. In what is considered a very strong NBA Draft class, all of the other Top-9 prospects via DraftExpress play on good teams. The lowest-ranked teams that are represented in that group of seven are both No. 3 seeds, Florida State (Jonathan Isaac) and UCLA (Lonzo Ball).

This means that in general, most of these prospects’ first-round games shouldn’t be all that competitive. Even so, here is the schedule for everyone in order of appearance:

Team (Player)
Florida State (Isaac)
Thursday, 9:20, TNT
Arizona (Lauri Markkanen)
North Dakota
Thursday, 9:50, TBS
Kansas (Josh Jackson)
NC Central/UC Davis
Friday, 6:50, TNT
Duke (Jayson Tatum)
Friday, 7:20, TBS
Kentucky (Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox) 
Northern Kentucky
Friday, 9:40, CBS
UCLA (Ball)
Kent State
Friday, 9:57, truTV

We’ll get into more detail as these guys play their games, but one player who has impressed me lately is Tatum. I still think I like Jackson’s overall game better, but he was unguardable for four straight days in leading Duke to an ACC title.

•    What about the Sixers’ four second-round picks? Unlike the first-round picks, there are a ton of guys who could fall to the Sixers in the second round. Who are a few players to keep an eye on in this range? Let’s go with Villanova’s Josh Hart, Oklahoma State’s Jawun Evans, Oregon’s Dillon Brooks, and a couple of guys on the teams already above: Duke’s Luke Kennard and Kansas’ Devonte’ Graham.

•    Are there any great matchups on the board? UCLA and Kentucky could meet in the Sweet 16 in a rematch of an awesome December clash. The Bruins won that one, but Fox did a nice job in making life difficult for Ball. Duke-Villanova would do a nice TV rating, and watching Hart and Mikal Bridges against Tatum, Kennard, and Grayson Allen wouldn’t be terrible. Isaac and Markkanen don’t play the same position, but that would be a lot of athleticism on the floor in the Sweet 16.

For Sixers fans, "This is March" doesn't mean all that much. But since June, and the 2017 NBA Draft, is right around the corner, we will try to update the progress of some of these prospects as the NCAA Tournament rolls along.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann