Diehard NBA Draft observers keep an eye on college basketball year-round and, in particular, during the season. For some, however, the NCAA Tournament presents a unique opportunity for evaluation, bringing a glimpse at the next generation of professional basketball talent on the biggest stage. The 2022 NCAA Tournament is no different, with highly interesting draft prospects in all four regions and the talent divided across several programs.
As part of DIME’s preview of the festivities, we’ll highlight the top five prospects in each region and, in the South Region, the headliner is projected lottery pick Bennedict Mathurin out of Arizona. Let’s take a look.
Bennedict Mathurin – G/F, Arizona
Arizona is loaded and a deserving No. 1 seed. Mathurin is the centerpiece of the attack, even with the overall balance of the Wildcats. He is also the best prospect the region by a solid margin, and it will be a surprise if he slips outside the lottery. At the moment, his defense is more theoretical than anything, but Mathurin has come a long way as a playmaker and he profiles as a plus shooter at the NBA level.
EJ Liddell – F, Ohio State
Liddell has been fantastic all season for Ohio State. He’s a bit of a throwback prospect as a natural power forward that is strong and physical, but his three-point shooting (38 percent) has come along and Liddell is “the guy” for the Buckeyes. Can he overcome some limitations and make the lottery as a junior? We’ll see, but he’s a first-round talent for sure.
Malaki Branham – G/F, Ohio State
It’s been a late rise for Branham, who certainly takes a back seat to Liddell from a college perspective. Ultimately, Branham may have higher NBA upside with his athleticism and shot creation equity at 6’6. He is making 43 percent of three-pointers and has on-ball skills that should translate. There’s a chance he doesn’t declare, but a good tournament would make it to where he almost has to.
Kennedy Chandler – G, Tennessee
When Chandler has it going, he’s electric. The 6’1 freshman guard is one of the fastest players in the class, and he feels the game well. Chandler has a very good handle and can get to his spots, even with a very slim frame at this stage. He is making 36 percent of threes, which could be a swing skill, but Chandler is bizarrely shooting only 61.7 percent at the line. That’s something to monitor, but he’s the offensive engine of a top-three seed and should have opportunities to shine.
Christian Koloko – C, Arizona
Koloko isn’t a lock for the first round by any means, and he is a long way from the prospect status of someone like Mathurin. However, Koloko’s rim protection has been outstanding this season and he’s shooting 63 percent from the field as a 7-footer. Traditional bigs can be devalued in some ways, but Koloko might anchor a Final Four defense and be able to showcase his talents.