1. Jalen Brunson, Villanova
Brunson didn’t come to March Madness to mess around. His game is Grade A certified, his team is ranked No. 2 in the nation, and they carry the No. 1 seed in a very dangerous East Region. The junior guard looks to lock himself in as a lottery pick in the 2018 NBA Draft and the stage is set for him to do it.
Brunson has been the cornerstone of this talented, tough and battle-tested Villanova team and he’s been vital to the Wildcats offense since his arrival on campus as Illinois’ 2015 Mr. Basketball. This season, however, was his finest as he averaged 19.4 points, 4.7 assists to 1.9 turnovers, shot 53.1 percent from the field and hit 41.3 percent on 3-pointers.
Dropping a career-high 31 points in the Big East Championship suggests Brunson is entering one of those March Madness Tournament zones that turn late-round picks into lottery picks and lottery picks into Top 5 prospects.
National Player of the Year candidate, Villanova Junior Jalen Brunson looks to lead the Wildcats back to a National Championship. Here are some of the highlights from early in the 2017-18 Season.
2. Collin Sexton, Alabama
Everybody was talking about Oklahoma’s freshman Trae Young until Collin Sexton dropped 40 against Minnesota. The result was a highlight reel that automatically captured the attention of hoops fans across the country and had folks comparing his game to that of 2017 NBA MVP Russell Westbrook.
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Sexton’s SEC tourney performance was further proof of his one-and-done fate. He's a potential lottery pick in the upcoming draft. While Sexton averaged a serious 19 points per game this season, he elevated his game in the conference tournament, scoring 79 points in three games — including 31 in an upset of Auburn — and hit 58.8 percent of his 3-pointers.
3. Landry Shamet, Wichita State
Shamet doesn’t come with the same fanfare as the ballers mentioned before, but he is the leading scorer (15 ppg) of a Wichita State team with six players averaging 8.5 or more points.
At 6-foot-4, he is a multi-faceted big guard that leads the team in dimes at 5.1 per game, has a low assist to turnover ratio and is the Shockers’ best three-point shooter, hitting at about 46 percent. Draft analysts have him anywhere from low first-round to high second-round, but a stellar tournament play can definitely improve his stock.
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4. Carsen Edwards, Purdue
Edwards’ 40 point explosion against Illinois on Feb. 22, put him on the national map and in the Boilermaker history books. He became the first Boilermaker to drop 40 since Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson was tearing through the Big Ten back in 1994.
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Edwards leads Purdue with 18.5 points per game and has eight games with at least 25 points. The sophomore guard is a lethal shooter and one of a few gunners that put up shots for the second-best 3-point shooting team in the country.
After averaging 10.3 points in 23.3 minutes per game as a new jack, Edwards became Purdue’s go-to guy. He was named a second-team All-American by USA Today and he’s one of the 10 finalists for the distinguished Jerry West Shooting Guard of the Year Award to be announced on April 6.
5. Jevon Carter, West Virginia
Carter doesn’t have all of the flashy physical skills or the lit offensive game that you find in the previously mentioned guards, but he has put himself on the NBA radar this season as the floor commander for the frenetic-paced, wild-style West Virginia attack.
Uploaded by WV Sports 370 on 2017-06-05.
He led the Mountaineers with 17 points per game, made 38.8 percent of his 3-point attempts and averaged 6.6 assists while he flexed an improving offensive game.
But his ability as a lockdown defender and his growing reputation as a menace on the press is what has elevated him to prime time player levels. Carter is considered to be among the best on-ball defenders in the college game. He’s highly physical and also chips in 4.7 rebounds per game to go along with 2.9 steals.
If he can exhibit some solid ball-handling and be consistent with his shot, his NBA stock could rise as well.