There was a lot of groaning from basketball fans this week when several of the supposed top prospects in the upcoming NBA Draft flamed out in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Duke, Kansas, and Oklahoma State are out, taking with them four of the top six projected picks in June’s draft. Goodbye, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker. Hello, Dayton.
If your primary focus is the Celtics and you’re only a casual college fan, your interest in the tournament doesn’t have to stop with the departure of those players. The Celtics own two first-round picks in the 2014 draft. The first is likely to be in the top 6. but the second, which they’ll receive from Brooklyn (assuming the Hawks don’t catch them), should be in the high-teens. There are 10 players still playing in the tourney who could help the Celtics as soon as next season. Here are some guys to keep an eye on …
Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky
With Wiggins, Parker, Joel Embid, and Marcus Smart out, Randle is the highest-profile prospect left in the tournament. DraftExpress has the Celtics taking Randle with the 4th overall pick in June. The guess here is that for Celtics fans who’ve seen this kid play, that’s perfectly OK. Randle is a load inside, able to carve out space for himself and finish around the basket. He averaged 15.1 points and 10.6 rebounds during the season. Kentucky faces Louisville Friday at 9:45 p.m.
Aaron Gordon, PF, Arizona
Gordon has averaged 17 points in two tournament games, making an impressive 15 of 21 shots from the field. Gordon isn’t quite as skilled offensively as someone like Randle, but he’ll be a top-10 pick nonetheless. Gordon’s No.1-seeded Wildcats face San Diego State Thursday night at 10:17 p.m.
Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky
Projected in the middle of the first round, Cauley-Stein is a 7-foot true center who averaged 2.9 blocks per game this season. He won’t be Boston’s first pick, but the Celtics could use someone with Cauley-Stein’s defensive chops to slot alongside Jared Sullinger if he’s there with their second pick. Kentucky faces Louisville Friday at 9:45 p.m
Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State
We’re getting into the players who may be available with Boston’s second pick. The Michigan St. guard came back for his sophomore season, which looks like the right decision. Harris averaged 16.9 points this season, though his drop in shooting percentage, particularly from 3-point range, is troubling. Still, Tom Izzo’s kids know how to play in this league. Michigan State faces Virginia Friday night at 9:57 p.m.
Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan
Stauskas is a shooting specialist projected for the middle of the first round. He bumped up his scoring average up six points from his freshman to sophomore season, averaging 17.4 points this year. Stauskas makes 3-pointers at an impressive .451 clip. A true scorer in the backcourt isn’t the Celtics’ only need, but it’s up there. Michigan faces Tennessee Friday at 7:15 p.m.
Kyle Anderson, G/F, UCLA
The 6-foot-9-inch slasher has good “measurables’’, according to DraftExpress. Those measurables include wingspan and overall length, something that makes Jay Bilas all tingly inside. Anderson improved his shooting drastically from his freshman to sophomore seasons, going from 21 percent to 49 percent. There are questions about his athleticism, but he has a knack for the game. UCLA faces Florida Thursday at 9:45 p.m.
Jordan Adams, G, UCLA
Adams averaged 20 points per contest in his first two tournament games, up from his 17.4-point average during the season. The 6-foot-5-inch guard has good size for the position and has quick hands, which he used to average 2.7 steals per game. UCLA faces Florida Thursday at 9:45 p.m.
James Young, G/F Kentucky
Member of the supposed best freshman class in the history of the sport, Young averaged 14.3 points per game this season. The left-hander has a solid NBA body but, like all freshman, needs polish. Kentucky faces Louisville Friday at 9:45 p.m.
Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State
A rare four-year player, Payne’s experience and toughness are big reasons the Spartans are favored in this tournament despite their No. 4 seed. Payne is an efficient inside player who has added an outside shot to his game (he makes them at a 44 percent clip). Being 23-years-old may hurt his stock with some teams, but Danny Ainge has shown a penchant for drafting experienced players. Kentucky faces Louisville Friday at 9:45 p.m.
Nick Johnson, SG, Arizona
Johnson put up 18 points and 17 points in his two tournament games thus far. Ranked ahead of lottery picks Michael Carter-Williams, Otto Porter, and Ben McLemore coming out of high school, Johnson hasn’t quite lived up to expectations at Arizona. A 16.3-point average this season might be a sign that he’s putting it all together. The Wildcats face San Diego State Thursday night at 10:17 p.m.