2023 NBA Draft: Grades for every major conference heading into the NCAA tournament
March is the time when most NBA fans start paying attention to college basketball and getting eyes on the next wave of NBA talent coming up. The 2023 NBA Draft will be like no other draft with potentially only one or two college players being selected in the top five. Victor Wembanyama (France), Scoot Henderson (G League Ignite), Amen and Ausar Thompson (Overtime Elite) all elected the professional route over college basketball and are projected at the top in the upcoming draft.
Conference tournaments are underway and there is still plenty of talent to keep tabs on throughout the major conferences heading into the NCAA tournament. Yahoo Sports is grading the Power Six conferences, based on projected NBA talent, and breaks down the top players to watch.
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In terms of potential NBA star power, the SEC is loaded with talent. Arkansas has some work to do in the SEC tournament in order to punch a ticket to the NCAA tournament and the Razorbacks' young backcourt has two potential top-10 picks with freshmen Nick Smith Jr. and Anthony Black.
Top players to watch
Brandon Miller, Alabama
Draft range: 2-6
Miller was just named the SEC Freshman of the Year and SEC Player of the Year earlier this week. The 6-foot-9 wing averaged 19.6 points and eight rebounds per game while hitting 40.4% of his attempts from 3-point range. He is the first SEC player to win both Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year since Anthony Davis did it with Kentucky in 2012.
Miller's off-the-court issues and involvement in the shooting death of Jamea Harris brought criticism and unwanted attention to No. 4 Alabama as Miller continued to play to close out the season. In February, he recorded a career-high 41 points (including six 3-pointers) and averaged 20.5 points over nine games. Henderson is the best guard in this draft class, but there are rumblings around the NBA that certain franchises could draft Miller over Henderson at No. 2 because of his size, the way he creates space between himself and defenders and defensive versatility.
Nick Smith Jr., Arkansas
Draft range: 3-10
The 6-5 freshman guard returned to the court in early February after being sidelined for two months with a minor knee injury. Smith Jr. was a top-rated guard coming into the season, and many NBA scouts and executives didn't think he would return after his injury. Arkansas is struggling late in the season and needs to string together some wins in the SEC tournament in order for NBA fans and scouts to see Smith Jr. in the NCAA tournament. Smith Jr. is averaging 21.8 points in his last five games and has showcased a variety of ways to score, particularly off the dribble and as the primary ballhandler.
Anthony Black, Arkansas
Draft range: 4-12
In Smith Jr.'s absence, Black's touches increased and he shines as a facilitator, dishing out 4.2 assists per game. He has great size at the guard position at 6-7 and is one of the best off-ball defensive guards in the way he alters shots with his long wingspan. Black is very patient on offense and is always looking to make the extra pass when the defense is chasing. His outside shot remains an area of development, but he's made strides since the beginning of the season, going 3-for-5 from behind the arc in a win over LSU earlier this season.
Cason Wallace, Kentucky
Draft range: 8-15
Wallace is the best on-ball defensive guard in this draft class, guarding both backcourt positions with ease and dropping down off the high pick-and-roll switch on a big for a steal or block from behind. Kentucky has been up and down this season and offensively, the team goes as Wallace goes. When the Wildcats won four in a row to close out the season, Wallace averaged eight assists and 2.5 steals in that stretch, compared to his one assist and only 6 points in the most recent loss to Vanderbilt.
Honorable mention: G.G. Jackson (South Carolina), Noah Clowney (Alabama), Kobe Brown (Missouri)
Big 12: A
The Big 12 is the most competitive conference in college basketball this season with it being any team's night and upsets happening all season long. There are two potential lottery picks to watch heading into the NCAA tournament and one projected second-round pick with first-round talent.
Top players to watch
Keyonte George, Baylor
Draft range: 7-14
George was named the Big 12 Freshman of the Year and All-Big 12 Second Team after averaging 16 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. The 6-4 guard is a high-volume shooter, shooting 35% on six attempts per game from 3-point range and has hit a couple of big-time shots this season as one of the youngest players on a veteran Baylor squad. George sustained a minor ankle injury in a win over Texas a couple weeks ago and is slowly increasing his minutes on the court heading into the NCAA tournament.
Gradey Dick, Kansas
Draft range: 6-12
Kansas lost two key players to the NBA (Christian Braun and Ochai Agbaji) after their championship run last season but gained a great two-way guard in the standout freshman. Dick has limitless range as a shooter and at 6-8, he can see over the defense to make the right reads in the half-court set. Dick is averaging over 40% from 3-point range on eight attempts per game and his consistent shooting, coupled with his high IQ on defense, makes him an enticing prospect inside the top 10.
Keyontae Johnson, Kansas State
Draft range: 28-38
Johnson didn't play competitive basketball for 1 1/2 years after he collapsed on the court in a game during his junior season at Florida. The 6-6 forward transferred to Kansas State this season and his been a key factor in the success of the No. 12-ranked Wildcats. Because of his heart condition, NBA teams will be hesitant to take Johnson in the first round, but if he continues to play without any health issues, he could be a steal for a team in the second round. Johnson is averaging 17.8 points and seven rebounds per game, shooting over 50% from the field and 40% from 3-point range. He's one of the most exciting players in transition and shoots the 3-ball very well for a player his size.
Honorable mention: Jalen Wilson (Kansas), Adam Flagler (Baylor), Grant Sherfield (Oklahoma)
Big Ten: B+
Only two teams from the Big Ten finished in the top 25 rankings to close out the season — No. 5 Purdue and No. 19 Indiana. Michigan sophomore Kobe Bufkin is one of the biggest draft risers after a strong finish to the regular season and Juwan Howard's team has some work to do in the conference tournament if NBA scouts want to see more of Bufkin against tougher competition in the coming weeks.
Top players to watch
Jett Howard, Michigan
Draft range: 10-20
Howard is coming back from an ankle injury that sidelined him for two games at the end of the regular season. The 6-8 freshman guard burst onto the scene making a strong statement as an outside shooter, going 6-of-8 from deep in a preseason exhibition game against Ferris State, and connecting on five 3-pointers in his first collegiate game. Howard is averaging 37% from deep for the season and combined with his size and outside shooting, he exhibits a little bit of scoring off the bounce and solid vision and passing in the open court.
Jalen Hood-Schifino, Indiana
Draft range: 14-25
The freshman guard is one of the most improved players in college basketball and has continued to rise up draft boards all season. The 6-6 guard was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year and All-Big Ten Second Team. He consistently makes the right reads when getting downhill and is a three-level scorer who averaged 15.8 points in February.
Kris Murray, Iowa
Draft range: 12-20
The twin brother of Sacramento Kings forward Keegan Murray, Kris' role has significantly increased this season. The 6-8 junior led the Hawkeyes in points (20.5), rebounds (8.2) and blocks (1.1). They need to win some games in the Big Ten tournament in order to hear their name on Selection Sunday. Murray has great size and body control around the rim and shoots it confidently from deep (attempting 13 3-pointers in Iowa's last game).
Honorable mention: Bufkin (Michigan), Trayce Jackson-Davis (Indiana), Brice Sensabaugh (Ohio State)
Big East: B
There is a lot of talent, particularly at the guard position, in the Big East this season. Villanova struggled in its first season without Hall of Fame coach Jay Wright and it opened the door for other teams to start dominating the conference, with four teams ranked in the top 25 to close out the regular season.
Top players to watch
Cam Whitmore, Villanova
Draft range: 5-12
Whitmore entered his freshman season as one of the best guards in his class and was the MVP of the 2022 FIBA Americas U18 Championship tournament this past summer where he led Team USA to a gold medal. He's a proficient scorer who has struggled in first-year head coach Kyle Neptune's system, averaging 12.6 points and under one assist per game. Whitmore's playing style is more fluid when there's freedom, particularly in the pick-and-roll option, and he can take what the defense gives him.
Jordan Hawkins, Connecticut
Draft range: 20-30
The NBA is a shooter's league and Hawkins will let it fly from anywhere on the court, averaging 16.4 points and connecting on 38% of his 3-point attempts this season. Hawkins is one of the most improved players from his freshman to sophomore season and has a ton of upside as an NBA shooting guard. He'll need to add some weight to his 195-pound frame, but at 6-5, Hawkins is extremely athletic, a productive shooter and a player NBA scouts and executives are eyeing in the first round.
Colby Jones, Xavier
Draft range: 20-35
Jones is a productive playmaker and a very efficient shot maker and facilitator. He thrives and is more comfortable as an outside shooter, but if the defense is extended, he's quick enough to make a move to get in the paint. Jones is shooting over 40% from 3-point range this season and has shown NBA scouts throughout the season that he's comfortable in both the catch-and-shoot option or taking players off the dribble. Jones is averaging 15.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game heading into postseason play.
Honorable mention: Andre Jackson (Connecticut), Baylor Scheierman (Creighton), Bryce Hopkins (Providence)
Jon Scheyer and Duke had the top freshman recruiting class coming into the season, but through injuries and adjusting to the college level, star freshmen have been inconsistent and not very productive on the court.
Top players to watch
Terquavion Smith, NC State
Draft range: 18-30
Smith tested the NBA waters last season and elected to return to NC State for another year after receiving feedback from NBA teams throughout the draft process. The sophomore guard started the season hot but has cooled a bit to close, logging only 27 minutes in the last three games. His shot selection remains an area of improvement but his burst, change of pace and the way he creates for others make him an intriguing prospect as a second-unit guard for any NBA team.
Kyle Filipowski, Duke
Draft range: 25-35
There is a lot of value in a 7-footer who can shoot from behind the arc. Although Filipowski has been inconsistent throughout the season in his shot selection (shooting under 30% from 3-point range), the potential is there to be productive big at the NBA level. Filipowski is a fierce competitor and isn't afraid to take the shot or make the play at the end of the shot clock. He's a little bit of a defensive liability with his lateral speed and unable to keep guards in front off the switch and when the defense is extended.
Honorable mention: Dariq Whitehead (Duke), Dereck Lively II (Duke), Reece Beekman (Virginia)
In terms of draft prospects and individual talent, this is probably the weakest the Pac-12 has been in recent memory. There might not be a first-round pick coming from the Pac-12, despite having two top-10 teams in the conference (No. 2 UCLA and No. 8 Arizona) going into the postseason.
Top players to watch
Jaime Jaquez, UCLA
Draft range: 28-40
Jaquez is the glue guy for this UCLA team trying to make a championship run and does a lot of little things really well. He won the Pac-12 Player of the Year and and was named to the All-Pac-12 First Team. The 6-7 senior came into the season fully healthy, after dealing with a nagging ankle injury that sidelined him at times during his junior season. Jaquez is fourth in the Pac-12 in both points (17.5) and steals (1.6) and has recorded 20 or more points in six out of the last seven games to close out the season.
Azuolas Tubelis, Arizona
Draft range: 28-40
Tubelis led the Pac-12 in points and rebounds, averaging 19.9 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, and was also named to the All-Pac-12 First Team. The 6-11 junior from Lithuania has great hands and touch around the rim and moves well for his size and frame. His extended shot from 3-point range remains an area of development, but he shoots it confidently off the block and is a dream in any mismatch situation off the guard switch.
Honorable mention: Adem Bona (UCLA), Amari Bailey (UCLA), Kel'el Ware (Oregon)