The 2019 NCAA Tournament got underway Tuesday night, with the first of two First Four doubleheaders kicking things off in Dayton, Ohio. While the focus of many tends to be on how their brackets look, there are many others who watch the games with an eye towards draft season. Over the years players have parlayed a hot run in the NCAA tournament into a better position on draft boards, while others have seen their stock slip after struggling.
Over the next two days we’ll take a look at ten players from each region, with this column focusing on the South. In comparison to the other three regions the South is lacking in lottery-level talent, but the region doesn’t lack for college players who have excelled at this level for multiple seasons.
De’Andre Hunter, SF, Virginia: Of all the players in this region Hunter may be the lone surefire lottery-level talent. The redshirt sophomore missed the NCAA tournament last season after suffering a thumb injury during Virginia’s run to the ACC tournament title, and his absence was a major factor as the Cavaliers were blown out by UMBC in the first round. This season the 6-foot-7, 225-pound Hunter has performed even better, averaging 15.1 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game on shooting splits of 53.0% from the field, 45.7% from three and 78.4% from the foul line. The Philadelphia native has the athleticism and skill set needed to be useful at either forward position (he’s also a solid defender at multiple positions), giving Virginia much-needed versatility as a “small-ball” four who can make plays off the dribble while also being solid off of the ball.
Virginia’s had success with redshirts in the past, most notably Malcolm Brogdon who spent five years on campus before going on to win NBA Rookie of the Year honors in 2017. Hunter could be next in line in that regard, and with his being projected by many to be selected in the lottery should he forego his remaining eligibility these may be his last games in a Virginia uniform.
Ty Jerome, PG, Virginia: After playing solely on the ball in his first two seasons at Virginia, Jerome has been used off the ball more this season as freshman point guard Kihei Clark has been inserted into the starting lineup. And at 6-foot-5, 195 pounds Jerome certainly has the size needed to make this switch when asked, as he is both a capable scorer and distributor on the perimeter. The junior is averaging career highs of 13.0 points, 5.4 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game, with shooting percentages of 43.4% from the field, 39.7% from three (on 5.0 attempts/game) and 74.0% from the foul line. Defensively Jerome is solid on the ball, and he can affect passing lanes due to his wingspan. The positional versatility and perimeter shooting ability make Jerome a player who, projected by some to be an early- to mid-second round choice, winds up landing in the first round this June.
Admiral Schofield, SF, Tennessee: Schofield went through the pre-draft process after last season before deciding to return to Knoxville for his senior season, and he’s once again a key player for one of college basketball’s best teams. The 6-foot-6, 241-pound senior has improved his scoring and assist numbers from a season ago, as he enters the tournament averaging 16.2 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. And he’s made some strides as a shooter as well, making 47.6% of his field goal attempts while also shooting 41.1% from three on 4.6 attempts per game. Schofield’s physicality and athleticism stand out on both ends of the floor, and he’s good from a fundamental standpoint as well. He can be used at either forward position at the collegiate level, but that may not be the case in the NBA due to his height. Schofield is projected to be a second round pick this summer, and he has the tools needed to be a solid rotation player at the next level.
Grant Williams, PF, Tennessee: Williams has won SEC Player of the Year each of the last two seasons, making the transformation from a recruit who was rated outside of the top 100 at the time of his signing with Tennessee into a power forward who can be a first-round pick if he turns pro this summer. The 6-foot-7, 236-pound junior has been even better in 2018-19 than he was a season ago, averaging 19.0 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.1 blocks per game. Williams, who shot 47.3% from the field on 11.1 shot attempts per game as a sophomore, is making 56.5% of his shots on the same number of attempts per game this season.
He’s also shooting 82.6% from the foul line, and while he’s attempted just 44 three-pointers he’s made them at a 34.1% clip after shooting 3-of-25 from distance last season. Williams may not have the height that most teams look for in a power forward at the NBA level, but he has the athleticism and wingspan while also playing with a high motor. Should Williams forego his final season of eligibility, he should be a first-round pick in June.
Carsen Edwards, PG, Purdue: After going through the pre-draft process last spring, Edwards returned to Purdue as the player many viewed as the early favorite to win national player of the year. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound junior may not reach that level thanks to the presence of Zion Williamson, but he’s a surefire All-American who has raised his scoring output for a team that needs him to be the focal point of its offense. Edwards enters the tournament averaging 23.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.4 steals per game on a team that has just one other double-digit scorer (Ryan Cline). Teams know that Purdue needs him to score in order to win, and despite facing a myriad of defensive strategies on most nights Edwards still finds a way to get the job done. That’s why Purdue exceeded the expectations of many and won a share of the Big Ten title.
Edwards’ percentages from the field (38.6%) and from three (33.5%) aren’t great, but that has more to do with his shot volume (19.1 FGAs per game; 10.0 three-point attempts per game) and the defensive attention he receives more than an inability to make shots. As a sophomore he shot 45.8% from the field and 40.6% from three, averaging 18.5 points per game on a team that possessed more consistent scoring options than this year’s Purdue squad. Edwards is projected to be a mid-second round pick should he enter this year’s draft.
Ethan Happ, PF, Wisconsin: When his time in Madison comes to an end Happ will be one of the program’s best players in recent history, and he’s followed the path that other successful Badgers travelled before him. After playing sparingly as a freshman, the 6-foot-10, 237-pound senior has developed into a key influence for the Badgers on both ends of the floor. Happ currently leads Wisconsin in scoring (17.1 ppg), rebounding (10.1 rpg), assists (4.6 apg) and steals (1.1 spg) while also ranking second on the team in blocks (1.3 bpg). Happ is shooting 53.1% from the field on the season, doing nearly all of his work from a scoring standpoint from 15 feet and in.
He isn’t a particularly effective perimeter shooter (he’s attempted five three-pointers over the last three years combined, with all coming as a sophomore), and Happ’s foul shooting issues (46.5%) has led to his being subbed off late in tight games. While a highly successful collegian, at the NBA level his best shot would be to land a summer league spot.
Eric Paschall, SF, Villanova: Paschall is listed at 6-foot-8, 255 pounds, but he spends a lot more time on the perimeter than most players at his size tend to do at the college level. That’s the benefit of playing in a system that values ball-handling and allowing its best players to make plays on the perimeter, as Paschall has the freedom to make plays off the dribble for himself and others. After averaging 10.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game on Villanova’s national title team last season, he’s raised his averages to 16.5 points and 6.2 rebounds per while shooting 45.0% from the field, 35.7% from three (on 5.4 attempts per game) and 75.4% from the foul line.
Paschall doesn’t lack for athleticism, and he can play through contact in the painted area. His positional versatility on both ends of the floor is an asset, and at this point the redshirt senior who began his career at Fordham is expected to hear his name called in the first round.
Jaron Cumberland, SG, Cincinnati: The American Athletic Conference Player of the Year, the 6-foot-5, 205-pound junior currently leads the Bearcats in both scoring (18.8 ppg) and assists (3.6 apg) while also averaging 4.5 rebounds and 1.1 steals per. After being one of the key options on a team that earned a 2-seed in last year’s NCAA tournament, Cumberland has been the primary option for a team that has won 28 games and beat Houston in the ACC tournament final. Attempting an average of 14.6 shots per game, the junior guard is shooting 40.4% from the field, 39.1% from three (on 5.8 attempts per game) and 77.5% from the foul line. Cumberland is a name to keep in mind with regards to the 2020 draft, as he’s currently projected to go undrafted if he were to forego his final season of eligibility.
Terence Davis, SG, Ole Miss: In Kermit Davis’ first season as head coach the Rebels are in the NCAA tournament, and Davis is one reason why that’s the case. 6-foot-4, 201-pound senior guard is averaging 15.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.7 steals per game on the season, with the assist number nearly double what he averaged as a junior (1.8 apg). Davis is shooting 44.5% from the field, 36.7% from three on 5.2 attempts per game and 77.8% from the foul line, with the three-point percentage being more than three points higher than his number from a season ago (33.3%). He can be effective either on or off the ball, with the perimeter shooting ability getting Davis onto the NBA radar as a possible late-second round choice.
Tyler Cook, PF, Iowa: Cook went through the pre-draft process last spring before deciding to return to Iowa City for his junior season, earning third team All-Big Ten honors and helping lead the Hawkeyes to the NCAA tournament. The 6-foot-9, 250-pound forward enters the tournament averaging 14.9 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game, making 52.8% of his field goal attempts. Cook, an athletic finisher around the basket, doesn’t do much outside of 15 feet and he’s struggled at the foul line (59.8%) as well. The motor and athleticism are his calling cards at this point, but that may not be enough to get Cook’s name called as a junior due to the number of forwards who can provide that while also being better shooters.
Others to watch: Kyle Guy, SG, Virginia; Jordan Bone, PG, Tennessee; Nojel Eastern, SG, Purdue; Matt Haarms, C, Purdue; Barry Brown, PG/SG, Kansas State; D'Mitrik Trice, PG, Wisconsin; Phil Booth, PG, Villanova; Cane Broome, PG/SG, Cincinnati; Breein Tyree, SG, Ole Miss; Louis King, SF, Oregon; Kenny Wooten, PF, Oregon; Payton Pritchard, PG, Oregon.