The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament had more than its fair share of madness. There were a ton of exciting games that went down to the wire with multiple top seeds bowing out early and busting everyone’s brackets (thanks a lot, Villanova and Duke).
Nonetheless, the tournament provides a big stage for players with NBA dreams to show what they are capable of. Some, unfortunately, weren’t able to take advantage and may drop down some draft boards because of it.
Others shined during the first slate of games and either made big leaps or solidified their spots as top draft prospects. Here are five players who helped their draft stock during the NCAA Tournament’s first weekend:
Lonzo Ball, PG, UCLA
Many believe Lonzo Ball is the best player in college basketball and he certainly looked the part. Ball was so good it didn’t even look like he was sometimes trying, but when UCLA really needed him to step up in the second half against Cincinnati, he did exactly that.
He finished with 18 points, seven rebounds, and nine assists with only one turnover in ensuring the Bruins made it to the Sweet 16 where he will go head-to-head with another top-10 prospect in Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox in a rematch of a game UCLA won earlier this year.
Coming into the tournament, most considered Markelle Fultz as the top prospect in the draft, but if Ball continues to play at this level, it’s going to be hard to pass over him with the top pick.
Josh Jackson, SF, Kansas
Speaking of top prospects solidifying their spots atop draft boards, Josh Jackson continues to try and prove he belongs in the Fultz-Ball discussion for the top pick in the draft.
In addition to his scoring prowess, Jackson showed off his defensive versatility, guarding multiple different positions and racking up the blocks and steals. Offensively he was able to knock down a couple of threes as well, which is huge considering the questions surrounding his jump shot.
Jackson is arguably the best two-way player in the nation and Kansas has some intriguing potential match-ups which could see Jackson square off with a couple of other players on this list. He still is likely behind Fultz and Ball to most, but he continues to make it difficult to leave him out of that group.
Moritz Wagner, PF, Michigan
No player did more to help his stock in the first weekend than Moritz Wagner, and he has personally been my favorite player to watch so far (and not just because he resembles a particular Lakers Nation writer).
His performance against Louisville may have been the best by anyone this weekend. Wagner can score from anywhere on the floor, and he showed that against the Cardinals as he mixed up taking people off the dribble and finishing through contact with stepping out and knocking down shots from deep.
Wagner may have played himself into the first round, and he could rise even higher. A matchup against Oregon’s big-time athletes and defenders, as well as a potential Elite 8 showdown with Kansas, will be games to keep an eye on as Wagner continues to rise.
Zach Collins, C, Gonzaga
Sorry Northwestern fans. Yes, Zach Collins’ hand went through the rim on the controversial block that turned the tide late in Gonzaga’s Round of 32 game against the Wildcats, but to only focus on that would do a disservice to his overall performance.
Despite only playing 21 minutes in each of the Zags first two games, Collins made a major impact. He showed off his inside scoring ability and hit the boards very well. Most importantly he was a force on defense, totaling seven blocks in two games.
Collins is a great athlete who excels on the glass and defensively. If he can continue this level of production, he could very well ensure his spot in the lottery.
Caleb Swanigan, PF, Purdue
Caleb Swanigan has been one of the best all-around players in college basketball all season and that continued in the first weekend of the tournament. Swanigan averaged 18 points, 13 rebounds, 5.5 assists, and two steals while shooting 44 percent from three-point range.
There have been some concerns about Swanigan’s weight, conditioning, and lack of athleticism, but he continues to produce in a major way against top-level talent.
Swanigan leads Purdue against Kansas in one of the most intriguing Sweet 16 match-ups this weekend that will see him square off against top prospect Josh Jackson. Another double-double and great performance against the Jayhawks could see Swanigan move up from the late first-round into the teens and possibly even the late lottery.
Other Players Who Helped Themselves: Lauri Markkanen (Arizona), Bam Adebayo (Kentucky), Tyler Dorsey (Oregon), Ethan Happ (Wisconsin)