March Madness: Edey, Miller, and other players to watch at this year's NCAA Tournament
March Madness has arrived and the NCAA Tournament field is set, with some exciting NBA prospects and a seven-foot-four behemoth expected to make waves.
With the conference tournaments officially in the books, reigning champions the Kansas Jayhawks have been joined by the Purdue Boilermakers, the Houston Cougars and the Alabama Crimson Tide as the four one-seeds in the 68-team field.
Purdue are led by National Player of the Year favourite Zach Edey, who has emerged as one of this generation's most dominant bigs during his third season in Indiana, while the other top seeds have relied on stellar play from first-year freshmen.
Dozens of NBA scouts will be in attendance at the 'big dance', and while new faces always emerge under the bright lights, here are the headliners from this year's tournament favourites.
Gradey Dick, Kansas
NBA comparison: Kyle Kuzma
Jalen Wilson is the defending champions' best player but it is his wing partner Gradey Dick, over three years younger, who is the X-factor and Kansas' top NBA prospect.
Dick, 19, was a highly regarded high school recruit who instantly earned a starting role on one of college basketball's perennial powerhouses.
Having played in all 34 of Kansas' games this season, helping them go 27-7, the six-foot-eight, sweet-shooting wing looked right at home from the jump. He scored 23 points on his debut – one of his seven 20-point games for the season – while displaying a professional offensive game.
With ideal size for an NBA wing, Dick's money-maker will be his jump shot, boasting a 39.9 per cent clip from three-point range on an aggressive 5.8 attempts per game.
His free throw percentage of 85.1 shows that his touch is real, and he has delivered in off-the-dribble situations as well movement threes off hard cuts, illustrating his upside as more than a stagnant corner spacer.
While he lacks some foot speed and explosive bounce, he has the size and competitiveness to compete against big wings at the next level, and his 1.4 steals per game show quick hands that will add to his value on that end.
Dick's three-point heavy game, combined with his versatility and playmaking flashes at his size point to an NBA role similar to Kyle Kuzma with the Washington Wizards, where he can excel as a complimentary piece while also shouldering some of the creation workload.
Kansas, ranked third in the country, have four wins over teams ranked in the top-10 at the time of their meetings, and will hope the addition of Dick to last year's National Championship team will be enough to go back-to-back.
Zach Edey, Purdue
NBA comparison: Jonas Valanciunas with less shooting
The most dominant player in college basketball this season, the seven-foot-four Canadian took a monumental leap on both ends of the floor coming into his junior year.
Known as a per-minute monster through his first two seasons at Purdue, Edey went from an interesting bench piece playing 14.7 minutes per game as a freshman, to a role-playing starter with 19.0 minutes per game as a sophomore, before exploding as their star player this campaign, averaging 31.7 minutes.
Incredibly, he has been able to sustain almost all of his per-minute dominance in an expanded role. After averaging 30.3 points, 16.2 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per 40 minutes last season, he has proven he can continue to produce as a focal point with 27.9 points, 16.2 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per 40.
It has translated to averages of 22.1 points, 12.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game, all while leading all of college basketball – including all 352 division one teams – in a number of advanced stats.
Edey leads the country in total rebounding percentage, grabbing down 24.5 per cent of all misses while he is on the floor, buoyed by his number one ranking in the offensive rebound category as well (21.8 per cent).
Purdue became one of the best teams in the country last season when Edey was injected into the starting line-up, and have stayed near the top of the rankings this whole year, peaking at number one before settling at number five with a 29-5 record after winning their conference tournament.
Edey will almost certainly be who decides how far Purdue go in the big dance, and as a reward for his incredible year, he was named the Big Ten Player of the Year. The past 13 players to win the award have all been selected in the NBA Draft, and he is a favourite to take home National Player of the Year honours.
Brandon Miller, Alabama
NBA comparison: Lauri Markkanen with more defense
There is no archetype more in-demand in the NBA than tall, long-armed wings with the ability to both shoot and defend – and Alabama's Brandon Miller is the best of this year's class.
Standing at six-foot-nine with a plus wingspan, Miller has flashed a professional scoring game, averaging 19.5 points while shooting 45.9 per cent from the field, an impressive 40.7 per cent from long range on an eye-opening 7.4 three-point attempts per game, and a rock-solid 85.3 per cent from the free throw line.
Add into the equation that he is a willing defender who can realistically guard three positions at a high level, while also grabbing over eight rebounds per game, and you have a modern wing who ticks just about every box.
Profiling as the most 'sure thing' prospect in college basketball this season, Miller's main knocks come from a lack of physicality, which has resulted in a disappointing success rate on attempts near the basket as he struggles to deal with contact.
As a big, finesse wing, Miller projects to fill a similar role to Lauri Markkanen since his emergence with the Utah Jazz, as one of the league's only players at that size to average at least three makes from both the three-point line and free throw line per game.
Miller is not the first skinny 20-year-old to enter the draft, he will not be the last, and he has shown unequivocally that he can be the best player on a good team.
He is the only player on the fourth-ranked, 29-5 Alabama team averaging more than 13 points and the only one averaging at least eight rebounds, while leading them in three-point makes (99), free throw makes (128) and being second in total steals (29).
Jarace Walker, Houston
NBA comparison: Jimmy Butler
An arguably unique prospect projected to be a lottery pick in this year's NBA Draft, Houston's Jarace Walker is a game-wrecker on the defensive end.
At six-foot-eight with a seven-foot-two wingspan, Walker will begin his career as a four who can play some small-ball center, but has shown enough playmaking, shooting and feel for the game to project well in a more on-ball role moving forward.
His primary value will come on the defensive end, with his quick feet defying his football-player's frame at 240lb, and that combination of size, length and quickness will have him on the short list of players who can defend the NBA's top big wings.
A versatile player on the offensive end, Walker has yet to truly figure out how he can take over games on a consistent basis, with nine performances of at least 15 points, and seven games with five points or fewer.
He evokes visions of a young Jimmy Butler, who came into the league as a position-less forward, but was able to refine his ball-handling to a level that allowed him to take advantage of his clear passing and playmaking ability.
Walker flashes some similar tantalising skills off the dribble, showing off some nifty passes in traffic, but the title-hungry Cougars have no time to waste trying out new looks with their freshman wing, with 22-year-old point guard Marcus Sasser running the show.
The top-ranked team in the country at 31-3, Houston will enter the tournament as arguably the favourite, with 19-year-old Walker the only teenager in the starting line-up.