NCAA Tournament: Top teams to follow, and monitor the best pro prospects

Duke’s roster boasts three of the top projected prospects in this year’s NBA draft class, but they’re not the only school worth watching.

Not all hoops fans are the same. Some live only for the star-driven NBA. Others prefer the unbridled excitement at many a major college basketball arena. Plenty of others can’t get enough roundball, pro or amateur.

For those who don’t watch much college hoops but are die-hard fans of a certain New York NBA team that’s not having a strong season, this week’s start of the NCAA Tournament offers a little preview of the players the Knicks might select with their high draft pick in June. With the team already eliminated from postseason contention and currently in possession of an NBA-worst 14-56 record, the Knicks are on pace to own no worse than the No. 4 pick in the draft. The three worst teams this year each  has a 14 percent chance  of securing the top overall pick in the lottery.

Knicks fans wondering what the next piece of their rebuild plays like should keep their eye on these three teams as March Madness kicks into high gear.

Duke

First game: 7:10 p.m. Friday vs. No. 16 N.C. Central or North Dakota State (CBS/2)

Zion Williamson, at 6-7 and 285 pounds, is the crown jewel of the projected draft class. Widely praised as a generational talent, he averages 22.1 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 1.8 blocks for the top-seeded Blue Devils. He has returned to form since missing five games and most of a sixth with a knee sprain earlier this month.

Teammate R.J. Barrett (6-7, 202) could follow Williamson as the second player off the board, with fellow Duke standout Cam Reddish (6-8, 218) also a potential top-five pick. Barrett leads the Blue Devils with 22.9 points per game, to go along with 7.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists. Reddish, contributing 13.7 points,  is the third option behind two studs.

Murray State

First game: 4:30 p.m. Thursday vs. No. 5 Marquette (TBS)

Where would the 12th-seeded Racers be without Ja Morant, the nation’s top point guard? Morant (6-3, 175) averages 24.6 points and an NCAA-best 10 assists — 2.3 ahead of his closest competition in the category. He’s one of only two players with multiple triple-doubles this season. Although a sophomore, the explosively athletic Morant won’t turn 20 until August.

Virginia

First game: 3:10 p.m. Friday vs. No. 16 Gardner-Webb (truTV)

A candidate to be selected in the 4-6 range in the NBA Draft, De’Andre Hunter (6-7, 225) is the best shooter of these five players by a wide margin. He’s one of only two players in the tournament field averaging at least 15 points while shooting at least 50 percent from the field and 45 percent from long distance. 

Scott Fontana