Philadelphia — If you’re a hater of the one-and-done, you have to love this NCAA tournament. Because here’s the number of players whose teams are still playing projected by Draft Express as NBA first-rounders:
One is a senior (Buddy Hield of Oklahoma). One is a junior (Demetrius Jackson of Notre Dame, and he’s staying in my hotel. I know this because the hotel ran out of French fries last night and ID’ed the ravenous Irish as the culprits.) One is a sophomore (Domantas Sabonis of Gonzaga). None of the three is a freshman, meaning: Not one is a one-and-done.
Yes, some freshmen whose teams are gone will be taken in Round 1: Duke’s Brandon Ingram could be the first overall pick; Kentucky’s Jamal Murray and Skal Labissiere could be lottery picks (although all Labissiere has done to warrant such stature is grow tall); Jaylen Brown of Wheeler and now California might be a top five selection. But this isn’t a March for the Hot Young Things. Two top 10 one-and-dones — LSU’s Ben Simmons and Marquette’s Henry Ellenson — didn’t even make the Big Dance.
A year ago, the Final Four featured six one-and-dones: Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones of Duke; Karl-Anthony Towns, Trey Lyles and Devin Booker of Kentucky. North Carolina coach Roy Williams lamented, sort of, his lack of top-end talent at Thursday’s press briefing: “Nobody’s beating down the door for our guys to go to the NBA draft. If you want to go to the prom, somebody else has got to want to go with you.”
Then: “Our guys are very good basketball players who I think have a chance to play basketball for a living. But last year there was nobody on my team that the NBA or the evaluation people said were going to be a lottery pick. Good news and bad news: Some coaches they don’t like it when all their guys come back. I like it that mine came back this year because I like coaching them.”
Take the South Regional. Carolina’s two best players (Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige) are seniors. Indiana’s best player (Yogi Ferrell) is a senior. Notre Dame’s best big man (Zack Auguste) is a senior. Wisconsin’s two best players (Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig) are juniors. You know what they call a Kentucky player who signs as a McDonald’s All-American and reaches his junior season? A disappointment.
If you watched Kansas pick apart Maryland, you saw a top-shelf team working without top-end talent. Manpower-wise, Maryland was the stronger side. Four Terps are projected by Draft Express to be picked come June, freshman center Diamond Stone in Round 1. Three Jayhawks are slotted to be taken, none in the entirety of Round 1. Kansas won by 16 points.
Conventional wisdom once held that a team needed three NBA locks to win an NCAA title. Not one of the 12 remaining teams has three NBA locks. But one is going to win this thing.