Here are all of the 2019 NBA Draft prospects to watch in the West region of the NCAA Tournament.
The NCAA Tournament’s West Region gives you a lot of bang for your 2019 NBA Draft buck. It features the two teams with the most prospects outside of Duke in Gonzaga and Michigan; it has a play-in game that will feature a good matchup between Shamorie Ponds of St. John’s and Luguentz Dort of Arizona State; and it features the two biggest names in the draft that don’t go to Duke in Ja Morant and Jarrett Culver.
Below we lay out your team-by-team viewing guide for this region if you’re an NBA Draft fan, with a brief synopsis of what to watch for with each player.
No. 1 Gonzaga: Brandon Clarke (13), Rui Hachimura (42), Killian Tillie (46), Zach Norvel
Gonzaga has three bigs that should go in the 2019 NBA Draft, and that gives them the toughest frontcourt in the nation to deal with. Clarke is a lottery-level prospect that is a terrifying rim protector and efficient finisher; Hachimura is one of the best interior scorers in the draft class; and Tillie, if healthy, compliments both with shooting from pick-and-pops. And that’s before we even get to Filip Petrusev, a freshman big who is a 2020 prospect thriving in Tillie’s absence. This group is good enough to likely carry Gonzaga to an Elite Eight by themselves, especially Clarke, who can firmly set himself as a first-round option with a dominant run.
No. 5 Marquette: Markus Howard
Howard is a fringe NBA prospect because of his height, as his listed 5-foot-11 is extremely generous. He’d be a first-round prospect if he were 6-foot-4 though, because there is no better pure scorer in the draft class than him. He doesn’t have the high-end touch or athleticism to survive as an NBA finisher, but he still might make a tour of duty based on his pull-up shooting. Ja Morant has to guard him in round one, and that might undo a lot of good will if Morant bows out in round one because Howard gave him buckets.
No. 12 Murray State: Ja Morant (8)
Of course, Morant could do the same thing to Howard. The Murray State guard is a probable top-five pick, and represents the biggest wild card in this region. Murray State could lose to Marquette handily; they also could upset Florida State and Gonzaga, both of whom have iffy guard play, and make a run. It all depends on Morant, and how efficient he can be against a stream of power conference teams. He’s the best guard in this half of the bracket, but as an iffy finisher, is really going to have to shoot the lights out or show improvement in finishing craft to get the Racers as far as they could go.
No. 4 Florida State: Mfiodu Kabengele (58)
You probably haven’t heard of Kabengele outside of his massive 24-point, 10-rebound, 3-block performance against Duke earlier in the year, but the sophomore is a real draft prospect. He brings a strong frame, great smarts on defense, and good instincts on the glass to be a solid energy big. He is constantly involved in every Florida State game even if he isn’t posting stats because he’s a smart two-way player. Florida State has bigger stars in Trent Forrest and Terance Mann, but Kabengele will be the key to any sort of run by the one team that can contend with Gonzaga’s size before the Elite Eight.
No. 6 Buffalo: C.J. Massinburg
Massinburg is probably headed to Two-Way Contract land, but he’s an efficient scorer who has demonstrated the ability to shoot efficiently on volume from 3. He’s undersized but is probably a good enough scorer to eventually be a bench scorer if he can improve his defense. More importantly, though, he’s probably going to be a huge pain for whichever of the next two players has to face him in round one.
No. 11 Arizona State – Luguentz Dort (48)
Dort has struggled a bit after a red-hot start as a scorer, but he has a strong frame and is a decent finisher. The issue is his shooting, as he has inconsistent release mechanics, and his feel for the game, as he looked sped up for the majority of conference play. Dort is probably still draftable as a Dion Waiters type though, and he’s an absolute load going towards the rim, which will give Ponds some issues in the play-in game.
No. 11 St. John’s: Shamorie Ponds (24)
The big question for Ponds, much like Howard and to a lesser extent Morant, is finishing. Arizona State doesn’t have a great defense, but they do have Zylan Cheatham in the middle, an athletic 6-foot-7 four that can protect the rim at the college level. Any St. John’s run is going to be built on Ponds turning into Kemba Walker, and that starts with a big performance against the Sun Devils.
No. 3 Texas Tech: Jarrett Culver (3)
Culver might actually have a lot to prove in the NCAA Tournament. As weird as that sounds for the guy who has been third on our board since January, Culver just doesn’t hold that same clout in NBA minds, it seems. With a big tournament, particularly strong performances against Ignas Brazdeikis or the Martin twins, it will further the idea that a team can be a success with Culver as a number on option — and give teams a glimpse of his real star upside. Culver’s good enough to get Texas Tech to the Final Four.
No. 7 Nevada: Caleb Martin, Cody Martin, Jordan Caroline
The Martin twins are perfect if you love quirky NBA prospects. Cody is basically a 6-foot-7 point guard, while Caleb is a wing scorer with arguably the ugliest jump shot among people who currently play basketball for a living. Throw in Caroline, an undersized bruising rebounding big, and you have three extremely weird players who could be fringe NBA prospects. Their main job in this tournament is going to be stressing Michigan in the second round.
No. 2 Michigan: Ignas Brazdeikis (26), Jon Teske (39), Jordan Poole (44), Charles Matthews
Brazdeikis and Poole are the name brands for the 2019 NBA Draft, but Teske is right there with him, a skilled rim runner who is one of college basketball’s best technical shot blockers. Michgan is one of the best defenses in the country, and they got that way behind Teske’s dominance. He’s absolutely an NBA prospect. Poole and Brazdeikis, meanwhile, will drive the Michigan offense, and get to prove their worth against athletic opponents in Nevada, and against another elite defense in Texas Tech in the Sweet 16. Poole probably has the most to gain from a strong Michigan tournament run, especially if he can hit a few memorable shots like last year.