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March Madness: which Celtics draft prospects you need to see

A Boston-based guide of prospects to watch in the 2021 NCAA Tournament

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-South Regional-Purdue vs Virginia Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

March Madness is officially upon us!

On Sunday night, the brackets for the 68-team tournament were revealed. The Boston Celtics have some guys on their roster who are no stranger to tournament success. Kemba Walker won a national championship and Cardiac Kemba was born. Carsen Edwards put up two 42-point games in the 2019 NCAA Tournament, leading Purdue to the Elite Eight. Robert Williams, Grant Williams and Tremont Waters made Sweet Sixteen appearances in the last five years, and Tacko Fall got close to upsetting the Zion Williamson-led Duke team in 2019.

For many NBA fans, March is the first opportunity to see serious draft prospects and evaluate them on the grandest stage. Which players are ones that you need to know and could be Celtics targets this year? Who are the big names to familiarize yourself with at the top of the draft?

Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered.

NCAA Basketball: Big 12 Conference Tournament-Oklahoma State vs Texas Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The Top Tier Guys

Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State - Cunningham is the consensus top pick in this draft and a generational combination of size, playmaking and isolation scoring. He’s over 40% from deep and is the best passing prospect since Ben Simmons. If you haven’t seen him yet, make sure you do — he’s special.

Evan Mobley, USC - Mobley doesn’t jump off the stat sheet, but there is nothing he cannot do. A stretch-5 who is an elite playmaker, he can carry an offense even as a big man. He’s by far the most polished, impactful rim protector we’ve seen since Anthony Davis, and is switchable onto guards. He could lead the 6-seed Trojans into the Sweet Sixteen.

Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga - Suggs is a freshman combo guard on the nation’s most efficient, high-octane offense. The ‘Zags are the nation’s top team and unbeaten, so there’s a lot on the line for them. Suggs is a streaky shooter, but ultra-competitive, a great defender and an unbelievable pick-and-roll passer. He’s a top-five lock.

NCAA Basketball: Tennessee at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

The Tantalizing Athletes

Scottie Barnes, Florida State - The Seminoles are an unbelievable defensive team and have a comfortable path to the Sweet Sixteen. That means seeing more of Barnes, a powerhouse 6’9” athlete who defends multiple positions and plays the point on offense. He struggles to shoot or create his own, but the raw tools could be on display deep into the tournament. Right now, Barnes is seen mostly as a lottery pick and could be a tad out of their range.

Greg Brown, Texas - Brown is good for one or two massive highlights a night. He’s a freak athlete at 6’9” who can posterize anyone, handle from the perimeter and hit step-back 3s. He also is on a historic pace for lows in terms of assists and creation for others. While there’s a ton of upside to Brown, he might not be the best fit next to shot-creators like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

Kai Jones, Texas - While the Celtics have a current logjam at the 5, Kai Jones would be a welcomed addition to the team. He’s a stretch-5 who can switch, play the 4 and is solid defensively. Jones comes off the bench for the Longhorns, who are a 3-seed with an inexplicably difficult path to the Elite Eight. He shows flashes of fluid athleticism for a big. Combine that with 39% shooting from deep and there’s reason to believe Jones will flirt with the top-eighteen.

Jaden Springer, Tennessee - A bowling ball of a 6’5” combo guard, Springer can guard 1 thru 3 at the next level and terrorize guys who he puts his shoulder into. That strength is legitimate, and he’s shot 44% from 3 this year (on fairly low volume), giving intrigue that he can be a two-level NBA scorer. He’s also a pretty impactful, active defender. I’m not sure how he fits with the Celtics, but he’s a lottery hopeful who could vault into the top-ten with a big tournament. Poor shooting under the big lights could drop him to the Celtics range.

Day’Ron Sharpe, North Carolina - I’m not sure the Celtics need to draft another big, so this list will be short on taller dudes. Sharpe is getting looks as a late-first energy post. He’s a physical freak, a tenacious rebounder who crashes the glass like none other and shows some intriguing creation/ perimeter skill. Lots of upside to this youngster who could end up being “best available” when the Celts are on the clock.

NCAA Basketball: St. Mary’s at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The Snipers

Moses Moody, Arkansas - Comparing Moody to a Klay Thompson-lite isn’t an outrageous claim. He can get nuclear hot when he’s on, and does most of his damage outside the arc and while on the move. A great performance in the SEC Tournament, combined with robust volume playing in an up-tempo offense, likely will make Moody a top-ten pick and out of the Celtics range. If you’re looking for enjoyable, high-octane hoops to watch in the tournament, tune in to see the Razorbacks play.

Corey Kispert, Gonzaga - Kispert is a guy I really think the Celtics should take a look at. He’s a prolific 3-point shooter (44.4% from deep this year) who also happens to make over 70% of his shots at the rim. Kispert is a true senior; while his play as a 3-point specialist could get him lottery looks, many teams balk at the thought of taking a 22-year-old that high. If he ends up available for the Celtics in the late-teens, he’d be an instant plug-and-play guy who fills a Joe Harris-type role.

Nah’Shon Hyland, VCU - If there’s one thing the Celtics need, it’s a shooter who can defend the point while Tatum and Brown create. Bones Hyland is a trendy name in draft circles right now thanks to his limitless shooting range, which is only surpassed by his confidence. Hyland has long legs and high hips for a 6’3” guard, as well as a really high turnover rate. He’d benefit from a few good games, as the 10-seed Rams take on Oregon in the first round and potentially Iowa in the second. He could sneak into the late-first round and be a trade-back candidate for the Celtics.

Davion Mitchell, Baylor - Mitchell is the best perimeter on-ball defender in this draft class. He’s ferocious in the same ways as Marcus Smart. Combine that with shooting 46.2% from deep and Mitchell screams “3-and-D backcourt” at you. The shooting has come a little out of nowhere and he’s very old for a first-round guy, so I’m not sold on him as a fit for the Celtics, but he’s certainly a name rumored to be in their range.

Tre Mann, Florida - Increasing confidence and 3-point consistency have vaulted Mann firmly into first-round conversations. He’d be another guard in Boston with good size, but isn’t exactly a switchable defender who guards wings. The jury is largely still out on Mann, making his NCAA Tournament one of great importance. He has a lot of upside to blossom into the type of player that Terry Rozier has become.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Ohio State vs Illinois Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Flat-Out Scorers

James Bouknight, Connecticut - Bouknight is more of a scorer than a pure shooter, but holy moly is he talented. He averaged 19 a game this year and could be in for a blood bath against Alabama in the second round. He’s specifically the type of explosive scorer who can go off in the NCAA Tournament and carry his team to victory. Some draft pundits think he’s a lottery pick, or just on the outskirts of the top-10. If the C’s think they need a scoring punch, Bouknight might be a trade-up target.

Miles McBride, West Virginia - Deuce McBride is inexplicably absent from many ESPN draft projections, as they think he’s a guy who might benefit from another year in college. To me, McBride is one of the most seasoned pull-up scorers in the draft, a true 6’2” lead guard who plays his guts out on both ends. He’s a long-armed, shut-down defender who likes to create his own and is improving as a passer. There’s a little Marcus Smart overlap here, so I’m not sure if he’s redundant in Beantown or adds another dimension of grit and toughness to their backcourt.

Cameron Thomas, LSU - Thomas averaged 22.8 points as a freshman in the SEC, finishing the regular season fourth in the nation in scoring. He takes a lot of shots to get it there, but has some of the most consistent results on his jumper. With range to 30 feet, long limbs for step-backs and a creative mid-range package, he could be instant points off the bench for any NBA team willing to live through the absence of physicality and defensive effort. He’s a first-round guy to remember.

Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois - A potential triple-double threat in the college game, Dosunmu has emerged as one of the best clutch scorers in college basketball. He’s carried the talented Illini roster to a #1 seed this year and has them poised to be a popular title pick. He defends and has long arms, has proven himself a three-level scorer and wants the ball in his hands during the big moments. He doesn’t get much love much earlier than the 20s in draft circles, so he could be a clutch two-way player right in Boston’s wheelhouse.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Maryland vs Michigan Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Coach Spins’ favorite fits

Jared Butler, Baylor - A 6’3” combo guard who shoots 40% from 3, averages over six assists a game, plays stellar defense and has legitimate Damian Lillard range on his step-back jumper. Butler flies a tad under the radar as a lottery prospect because he isn’t physically imposing. But he’s been the catalyst for Baylor’s rise to a #1 seed, has gotten better in his junior season and is incredibly valuable as an off-ball option on offense. He’s a coach’s dream and would be an ideal long-term fit with this roster. There’s a strong chance he’s on the board in the ballpark of the Celts selection, too. Baylor is poised for a deep run, which could be his coming-out party.

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Villanova - If you think the Celtics need another defensive-minded wing who can make plays off the bounce and is a sturdy shooter, then JRE is a guy to familiarize yourself with. He’s more of a forward than a wing and can likely defend smaller NBA 5s, but is incredibly fundamentally sound, knows how to play the game and will lighten the load defensively on Boston’s two best stars. He’s more of a late-first name than in the teens; if you can see past the lack of sexiness and focus on production, JRE is a winning basketball role player. ‘Nova is shorthanded and banged up heading into the tournament, so you may want to watch him while you can.

Franz Wagner, Michigan - A role player extraordinaire, Wagner (yes, the younger brother of Mo Wagner) is a sensational team defender who finishes at a high clip near the basket and is effective from deep (38.4%). He’s a 6’9” stretch-4 who can guard the 3. He plays under Juwan Howard, former Miami Heat assistant who runs a pro-style and will have Wagner prepared for the pros. The Wolverines could be without one of their best shooters in Isaiah Livers, so an earlier exit than anticipated could be in store for the #1 seed. Either way, Wagner’s game isn’t one that pops off the screen, but he’s a big reason why Michigan keeps winning.

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Clemson Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

Second Round Fits

Ron Harper Jr., Rutgers - A strong-bodied sharpshooter, Harper can guard 2 thru 4 at the next level. He’s a streaky shooter who can get really hot... and really cold. Rutgers is a 10-seed with Sweet Sixteen potential if he gets it going in the NCAA’s.

Trendon Watford, LSU - A do-it-all frontcourt prospect, Watford is a hybrid 4 and 5 who is an incredibly talented passer. He can dominate for stretches on both ends, but scouts might wonder where his scoring comes from and who he guards at the next level. He’s coming off a great SEC tournament and could be a late riser if he carries that momentum forward.

Chris Duarte, Oregon - Duarte is a shot-maker who can really score it. His shooting is pure, he’s a good finisher and knows how to play. He’s also solid as a help defender... because he’s 23. If the age doesn’t scare Danny Ainge away and he wants to add another Oregon Duck to the fold, Duarte could be a second-round sleeper.

Josh Primo, Alabama - Primo just turned 18 in December, so he’s incredibly young for this class. If he does declare for the draft, he’ll do so as a 6’7” combo guard with confidence as a one-on-one scorer. He’s an investment for any drafting team but is a legitimate first-round talent.

Trey Murphy III, Virginia - A great shooting wing (42.9%) in a slow-down, deliberate offense, Murphy flies a little under the radar because his volume isn’t there. Many Virginia guys have found success in the NBA recently, and the 6’9” Murphy should be no different. He’s a solid second-round 3-and-D prospect for the Celts who could play deep into March.

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