If you have no collegiate allegiance and prefer the pro game, there are still plenty of reasons to watch the NCAA Tournament this season.
The game those fans play could be named “Spot the Future NBA All-Star” with the lineup of top freshmen in their first (and likely only) NCAA Tournament appearance before bolting to the pros.
We’ve highlighted the best five here while we wait to see their tournament debuts â€” and possibly at the same time, tournament finales.
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ANTHONY DAVIS – center, Kentucky
Lexington is going to be more of a temporary Kentucky home for Davis, a 6-10 force who leads a number of first-round caliber Wildcat freshman in what is likely their only NCAA Tournament together. Davis is arguably the top prospect in all of college basketball and there’s not much you don’t know about him if you’ve watched hoops at all this year (and that includes the NBA, where analysts there are raving about him, as well).
His defensive play is superior to his offense right now â€” though he’s shooting 65 percent â€” and leads Kentucky in the 10th-best scoring defense in the country. Averaging 9.8 rebounds and 4.7 blocks per game (that’s more than half of the Wildcats’ national-best 9.0), there’s little airspace he can’t cover inside the arc. That, of course, applies to both offense and defense, and this block-and-oop against St. John’s encapsulates the allure of the 19-year-old Davis.
Who he reminds me of: Marcus Camby.
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MICHAEL KIDD-GILCHRIST – forward, Kentucky
What is waiting for him in the NBA? Possibly the third overall pick with teams eager to nab this 6-7, 232-pound forward. He’s not a bombastic presence, instead working seamlessly among Kentucky’s amassed talent and busting out when given a chance. That said, he will create for himself when he needs to. He led the Wildcats in scoring six times this season, putting up 11.8 points to go with 7.6 rebounds. A dominant inside presence in Davis allows the Wildcats’ long forwards, such as Kidd-Gilchrist, to thrive on the perimeter on defense with ballhandlers wary of challenging in the paint.
Meanwhile, NBA general managers see this replay in their sleep:
Who he reminds me of: Al Harrington.
ANDRE DRUMMOND – center, Connecticut
Landing the 6-11 freshman (ranked as the No. 1 high school player in his class by many services) was a coup for UConn, even on the heels of a national championship. He became an all-Big East rookie selection because of his rebounding savvy but didn’t develop on offense as quickly as some thought because of the freshman-and-sophomore-dominated starting lineup around him that learned in fits and spurts. Put simply, he’s a BIG body who led the Huskies in rebounding in 18 games and in 10 of 11 games in one stretch. The stats break down to 10.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game on a team-high 55 percent shooting from the floor. Like many big men before him, he suffers from an aversion to the free-throw line, though â€” he shoots 30 percent there.
Who he reminds me of: Roy Hibbert
AUSTIN RIVERS – guard, Duke
The famous progency of a famous coach following a famous No. 1 pick, Austin Rivers’ first year at Duke has mostly lived up to enormous expectations. The 29-point, buzzer-beating game at No. 1-seed North Carolina he dropped in February earned him instant-electee status in the Blue Devils’ pantheon. At 6-4 and 200 pounds, he’s a bigger guard than the kind running today’s NBA â€” Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving and Derrick Rose â€” though he could be a two-guard as a pro. His 15.4 points led Duke and was eighth in the ACC, and he was the only freshman among the top 20 in a conference that’s not exactly some church league. It’s no longer a knock to be a score-first ballhandler after the effect of the aforementioned point guards, and that will play into his rising stock. Sorry Boston fans, there’s no way he falls to his dad’s Celtics.
Who he reminds me of: Rajon Rondo
BRADLEY BEAL – guard, Florida
A solidly built, 6-4 freshman guard who wears no. 23, Beal’s calling card is the hops his jersey tries to emulate. He averaged 14.6 points per game this season, trailing only Arkansas’ B.J. Young as the best-scoring freshman in the conference. That stands out in a crowded SEC thanks to Kentucky’s freshmen and his own backcourt mates, Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton. He’s raved about for his spot-up shooting and ability to create his own shot, but he also led Florida with 6.5 rebounds. A concern is his safety with the ball, with a nearly 1-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, but he didn’t have any in the SEC tourney semifinal loss to Kentucky. What else did he do in that game? 20 points, eight rebounds, five assists, a block and a steal. Let’s see if he keeps it up.
Who he reminds me of: Eric Gordon
Who will be the best freshman in this year’s tournament?
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