Biggest Risers & Fallers from the NCAA Tournament First Weekend
While it's wise to not overreact to a game or two, some prospects are seeing their draft stock change after their performances this March
What a fun weekend of March Madness! From the major upsets with Fairleigh Dickinson and Princeton to the buzzer-beater madness with Furman and Florida Atlantic, this was a sensational opening weekend to the 2023 NCAA Tournament.
What this weekend lacked, though, was strong play from the best prospects in college basketball. We saw quite a few lottery picks struggle this week on the big stage, something I attribute more to the experience in today’s college basketball climate — thanks in large part to the COVID year and transfer portal.
Regardless, there were some draft prospects who helped themselves during the first two rounds of the tournament. We’ll give a brief dive into some players who may have helped (or hurt) their draft stock the most this weekend.
Risers: Trayce Jackson-Davis - P, Indiana
Even though seniors rarely get picked in the first round nowadays, Indiana big man Trayce Jackson-Davis has done plenty this year to force his way into that conversation. A 6’9” big man is seen usually as a tweener, but with real length, vicious athleticism, and great timing on defense, TJD can be the guy that survives as a true 5-man in the NBA. There’s some scheme versatility with him, playing in the lane or above it.
This year for Jackson-Davis was all about two areas: showing how impactful he is despite his lack of a jumper, and adding portions to his skill portfolio that better round out his game. TJD has killed teams in transition as a ball handler and passer, and his playmaking atop the key and in the post both equip him to counter any defense he faces. At the next level, he can be a dribble handoff hub. He finished the year averaging 21-11-4-3 blocks… he’s insanely impactful.
A lefty, Jackson-Davis has sweet touch inside, is always patient with the ball in his hands, and has a pace of play that lulls defenses to sleep before he explodes athletically.
In two tournament games, TJD shot 17-24 from the field, had 10 blocks, and went 13-16 from the free throw line. He had 24-11-5-5 against Kent State, then 23-8 and 5 swats against Miami. He might be too productive to keep out of the first round altogether.
Fallers: Keyonte George - CG, Baylor
George is in the midst of an epic cold streak, which has extended far beyond the NCAA Tournament. On February 25th, George exited after suffering an ankle injury against Texas. He returned a week later on March 4th, but hasn’t been the same. He’s averaged 6.0 points, 2.0 assists, 2.0 turnovers, and shot 9-39 (23%) from the field. Not from three… from the field.
Aside from the shot not going down, George has proven to struggle athletically and with his engagement on defense. He seems to just throw his body at defenders in the lane as soon as he drives in there, a habit that might transcend his ankle injury.
While George is falling out of lottery range on our board, he did play spurts of inspired defense on Sunday against Creighton, the best showing he’s had on that end all year. That might not be enough to save him from a really rough closing two months, capped off by a nightmare here in the NCAA Tournament.
Risers: Dereck Lively - P, Duke
Duke big man Dereck Lively was outstanding on defense, particularly during their opening-round thumping of Oral Roberts. He only scored four points the entire tournament, but Lively was great in other categories, averaging 11.5 boards, 4.0 blocks, and 1.0 assists.
His defense wasn’t just dominant, it was versatile, too. He proved he can be a rim protector in Drop coverage, can blitz or switch onto the perimeter and hold his own, and is exceptional at deterring shots near the hoop. He’s climbing closer to the lottery and has been sensational over the final eight weeks of the season.
Fallers: Nick Smith - CG, Arkansas
Smith, thought by many to be a lottery pick, struggled mightily. He was held scoreless in 16 minutes against Kansas, went 2-10 from the field against Illinois, and didn’t make a 3-pointer (0-4) on the weekend. Smith’s struggles are likely related to a knee injury he’s been battling for most of the season. It’s hard to say right now what will happen to his NBA Draft stock, but seeing the Razorbacks play better without him certainly isn’t moving him up any boards.
Risers: Tyrese Proctor - PG, Duke
Over the course of the ACC Tournament and two games in the NCAA’s, Tyrese Proctor proved himself a reliable offensive player for the Blue Devils. Proctor averaged 10.8 points, 5.4 assists, and 1.0 turnovers per game while shooting 43% from 3 on 4.2 attempts per game.
Proctor emerged as Duke’s top late-clock creator through the tournament and was really strong against Tennessee on Saturday: 16 points and 6 assists.
Proctor’s gradual rise over the last month has led to him being an intriguing first-round name in 2023. There’s a strong chance Proctor returns to Duke for another year, too, and eyes a further upward trajectory into the lottery in 2024.
Fallers: Kyle Filipowski - F, Duke
On the flip side, the Tennessee game revealed a lot of potential flaws for a guy like Kyle Filipowski. A classic tweener between the 4 and the 5, Filipowski struggled with the physicality of Tennessee’s frontcourt and the length or athleticism they threw at him on the perimeter. Kyle’s best role in the NBA is likely as a floor-spacer who, on occasion, can put the ball on the deck and will make the right decision when he does. His four turnovers showed that who he’s guarded by is likely going to determine how much success as a driver he can have.
Filipowski also went 2-13 from 3 after the first round of the ACC Tournament against Pittsburgh. He shot 28.2% from deep on the year, certainly a troublesome mark for a guy whose best offensive role might be as a floor-spacer.
Additionally, the major questions about Filipowski come with who he guards at the next level. His lack of vertical burst or rim protection skills makes him tough to stomach in ball screens, but there isn’t enough quickness against elite athletes to keep them in front if he’s guarding the perimeter.
We’ve known many of these long-term concerns since the start of the draft cycle. The hope was that his overall production would make him worth a first-round selection regardless. It’s not just one game that is rearing those concerns for Filipowski once again and dropping his draft stock, but a reminder that big, physical, athletic teams (which he didn’t face a ton of in the ACC) can be a challenge.
Risers: Jalen Slawson - ATH, Furman
We’ve officially reached the mid-major portion of the article, featuring two players we’ve had in our top-40 since mid-January.
The big win over Virginia on Thursday was a major shot in the arm for Slawson. His stretch in the second half, where he carried Furman back once Mike Bothwell fouled out, kept the Paladins within striking distance of the Cavaliers. Their upset was one of the more joyous games of the entire tournament, even if it was overshadowed by teams like Princeton or Fairleigh Dickinson.
Slawson is a do-it-all forward who is always good on the defensive end. His quick decision-making — and how he can get a bucket at the rim when he needs — are very attractive to pro teams, even if he proved to be a little slower of a separator against San Diego State. He’ll blend in very well with team concepts, pop next to other players who can score or shoot, and should get a ton of touches near the elbows as a pro.
Fallers: Tucker DeVries - W, Drake
Speaking of struggling to separate, Drake wing Tucker DeVries really struggled against the quickness and athleticism of the Miami Hurricanes. He shot the ball horribly, air balling a few and having some really rough misses for such a pure shooter. DeVries hasn’t played that level of athlete in a while, and a positive showing was probably necessary to get him into this draft.