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Who To Watch in the NCAA Tournment: Celtics’ Prospects Edition

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Which games should Celtics fans keep an eye on to get a sneak peek of next year’s potential rookies?

NCAA Basketball: Arizona State at Oregon State Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

It’s tournament time again! A time for busted brackets and figuring out how to watch games on your work’s network without tripping the firewall. For a lot of Celtics fans out there who don’t particularly care about college basketball, they might need a guide of which prospects to keep an eye on. That’s exactly what I’m here for and I’ve mapped out some of the top games for Celtics fans to check out over the next two days.

Maryland vs. Belmont: Thursday @ 3pm on TruTV

NCAA Basketball: Maryland at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

While the Celtics already have an intriguing big man project in the Timelord, Robert Williams III, there’s a chance the Celtics could be hurting for size next year. All of the Celtics bigs besides Guerschon Yabusele and Williams will be either free agents or have options to become so. Enter Bruno Fernando, Maryland’s sophomore big-man hyper athlete. Fernando is pretty raw, and would be a serious project for a team that drafted him, but if he slides, as Williams did in his own draft, there’s a chance he could be an intriguing, “best player available” option. I don’t think Maryland will be going very far in the tournament, so you will want to get a glimpse of Fernando while you have the chance.

Gonzaga vs. Faraleigh Dickinson: Thursday @ 7:15pm on TruTv

In my opinion, this likely won’t be a very good game to watch. Gonzaga has taken their lumps in the past when it comes to being upset by lower seeded teams, but I don’t think there’s much risk of them “pulling a Virginia.” That said, it will be a great chance for Celtics fans to see Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke, Gonzaga’s two top players. Hachimura is a trendy pick among NBA analysts right now, as he fits the mold of a modern NBA big. He’s a rim-running big who can also pop and show off his shooter’s touch. He’s not much of a three point shooter at this point, but could really develop given his shooting form.

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at St. Mary’s D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

Clarke, on the other hand, could easily become a foreman at the Ojeleye Factory. With a thick, jacked frame, Clarke is one of the top interior defenders in this draft, an outstanding shot blocker, and hyper efficient scorer inside the paint. There are some questions about Clarke’s game translating to the next level, but I’m not particularly worried about him. He seems custom built to slide into the defensive schemes that Brad Stevens loves.

LUGENTZ DORT Arizona State vs Buffalo: Friday @ 3:50pm on TNT

Lugentz Dort has a powerful NBA name and a, somehow, even more sturdy NBA body. The Arizona State PG has slid in mocks as the season has gone along, and currently projects at the end of the first round or early second round. However, that’s just perfect for the purposes of the Celtics, who have shown a propensity for big, mobile players. Dort has been called “The Power Cube” for his stout frame and he’s a surprisingly explosive scorer.

NCAA Basketball: Arizona State at Oregon State Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Dort projects as a role player at the next level, but for the Celtics, with their own first or purchasing a second rounder, Dort might prove to be a worthy investment. A strong Buffalo team will be keying on Dort, who is coming off a strong performance in the “First Four” play-in game of the Tournament against St. Johns. Lugentz notched 21 points on 11 field goal attempts, and similar numbers in the tournament as a whole could bump his stock back up into the mid-first round.

Washington vs. Utah State: Friday @ 6:45pm on TNT

I’m a little biased on this selection, as this game will contain one of my favorite NBA prospects this year. Matisse Thybulle is a rangy forward who plays the college game an awful lot like current NBA Marcus Smart. Well, at least when it comes to steals. Where Smart uses his strength and physicality to halt opponents before ripping the ball away, Thybulle is long and slithery, blanketing entire areas of the defensive part of the floor and snaring any errant passes that make their way through there. Thybulle recently broke Gary “The Glove” Payton’s PAC-12 league record in steals, and it’s worth mentioning that steals are typically one of the strongest correlations to NBA success.

NCAA Basketball: Oregon at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Fans of Smart will want to catch every Washington game that they can and get light headed imagining a Celtics defense with the two of them prowling the perimeter.

North Carolina vs. Iona: Friday @ 9:15pm on TNT

If any Celtics fans are planning to watch any of the Friday late games, I recommend you make this the one. North Carolina has an assortment of players who could end up going in the Celtics’ range. Nasir Little is an athletic forward with limited feel and spotty shooting who has slid a bit, but checks a lot of Danny Ainge’s “talent” boxes. Think of a smaller Jaylen Brown. Coby White is a big, talented scoring guard who might project in an off-ball role at the NBA level. Cameron Johnson is a hyper efficient wing, who is old for this draft, but has value in the early second round as a plug-and-play wing.

Unlike previous Roy Williams teams, there’s a lot of Tar Heels who could push to crack the first round in this year’s draft. I recommend Celtics fans keep an eye on them.