The madness is here, and with it comes Cinderella stories, buzzer-beater finishes and the many coaches and players that captivate our attention in college basketball for the next three weeks. 

[MORE: 2024 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament bracket here]

Of those stars on the hardwood, there are several that will be very busy after the Dig Dance because the NBA Draft is calling. With a draft class that has an open door for prospects to rise up boards, this edition of March Madness should carry some intrigue as a number of prospects can really help elevate their stock.

The best case of this came in 2018 when Donte DiVincenzo became the story of the national championship game, playing for a Villanova team stacked with future NBA players including Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges.  Two months later, DiVincenzo was a first-round prospect and got selected 17th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks. Last year, UConn’s Jordan Hawkins helped his stock in the tournament, becoming a top-15 pick after struggling at times during his sophomore campaign. 

So, who are the names to watch this time around? Here goes nothing, with game times and TV assignments for when you NBA junkies can check them out while enjoying the tournament! 

Reed Sheppard and Rob Dillingham, Kentucky 

Sheppard, a 6-foot-3 guard who has an incredible feel for the game, is the son of two Kentucky alums and basketball players, with his dad, Jeff, winning two national titles and being named the MVP of the 1998 Final Four. The freshman guard has an elite offensive skill set, shown in his recent 27-point, six-rebound and five-assist performance against Tennessee on March 9. Before that, he had a 32-5-7 showing versus Mississippi State on Feb. 27. His 53% mark from downtown is scary, and his ability to make plays for others in transition is what gives him such great upside. Does he have the best athleticism or measurables? No, but the basketball IQ and decision-making skills are through the roof for a college freshman. Sheppard is a top-10 pick, if not even better. 

As for the 19-year-old Dillingham, I think he could be a top-10 pick as well, if not in the 15-18 range. The 6-3 guard is a jet in transition and has some really special ball handling abilities. He’s averaged 15.4 points, 3.9 assists and 2.8 rebounds per game this year while shooting 48% from the floor and 45% from deep. Defense is the question for him.

What’s compelling about this duo is that they’re part of a Kentucky team that could lose in the first weekend or make the Final Four, and neither would surprise me. Can Sheppard and Dillingham get John Calipari on his first Final Four run since 2015? It’s very possible, and overdue in Lexington. 

Game info: 7:10 p.m. ET Thursday vs. Oakland

Stephon Castle, UConn 

Over the last 14 games, the Big East Freshman of the Year is averaging 12 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game, and that’s not counting an eight-assist game against Xavier and a seven-assist performance against DePaul in early January. Castle has the physical frame that makes him a top-10 pick, and it’s seen in Connecticut’s 31-3 season. Dan Hurely has been unafraid to put his stud freshman on the other team’s best perimeter scorer, and Castle has been a lockdown defender. I think you’ll see his stock continue to rise as the Huskies defend their crown. 

Game info: 2:45 p.m. ET vs. Stetson

UConn’s Stephon Castle throws down an alley-oop on the lob from Tristen Newton

UConn's Stephon Castle throws down an alley-oop on the lob from Tristen Newton

Dalton Knecht, Tennessee 

His rise is nothing short of remarkable, going from Northern Colorado to Rick Barnes in Knoxville and being the second-best player in all of college basketball, in my opinion. In SEC play, he was absolutely ridiculous: 25.5 points per game on 48% from the field and 42% from 3. He is wired to score like few players in the country can. There’s something to be said about someone who focuses on what they’re great at and just does it at an elite level. That’s why Knecht should a top-20 pick who could keep rising with a tournament run. 

Game info: 9:20 p.m. ET Thursday vs. Saint Peter’s 

Jared McCain, Duke 

Over the last 16 games, the Duke freshman has really come on and defines the idea of a riser in this class. He’s averaged 15.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game, showing that he’s as good as any freshman scorer in the country right now. With his 40% mark from 3, the shotmaking skill set, and the offensive upside, the Blue Devils phenom is too great for him not to get on the top-20 radar. I worry a little bit about his lack of size and some defensive flaws, but in this current NBA era, he’s got to hold value. 

Game info: 7:10 p.m. ET Friday vs. Vermont

Ja’Kobe Walter, Baylor 

Walter has the athleticism and feel for the game to be an intriguing guard prospect, but his shotmaking has not been as consistent as one thought it might be coming out of high school. He’s averaged 14.2 points and 4.4 rebounds per game on 37% from the floor and 34% from 3-point range, with his mark from downtown dipping to 29% in conference play. It would behoove him to show he can be a better shotmaker in the tournament to improve his first-round stock. 

Game info: 12:40 p.m. ET Friday vs. Colgate

Zach Edey, Purdue 

Yes, we’re placing the back-to-back national player of the year on this list because the talk is that he’s risen into a potential first-round pick in the last four months. I’m sorry, but to average 24.4 points and 11.7 rebounds per game and not have any sort of potential for a role in the NBA would be ridiculous. Is he a guy who’s playing 30 minutes per game in the league? No. But he’s a much better defender than he’s getting credit for and forces your hand defensively with the space he takes up. The only area in question is whether he can play in transition, but Edey’s level of production has scouts thinking he’ll be taken in the top-25 selections.

Game info: 7:25 p.m. ET Friday vs. Grambling

Zach Edey GOES OFF for 26 points in Purdue’s DOMINANT victory over Indiana

Zach Edey GOES OFF for 26 points in Purdue's DOMINANT victory over Indiana

Tyler Kolek, Marquette

The Golden Eagles point guard and two-time All-American will return to the lineup after missing the last six games with an injury, and his status and production is as big of a question as any in the South Region. Before he got hurt on Feb. 28, Marquette had gone 11-1 in its last 12 games. He is second in the nation with 7.6 assists per game to go with 15 points and 4.7 rebounds, and while foot speed is a bit of a question, his playmaking ability and instincts make him a potential late-first or early-second rounder in this class. 

One note: Look for Marquette’s Oso Ighodaro to potentially rise on draft boards too, with his level of versatility and athleticism, and the role of a passer that he can play in Shaka Smart’s system. 

Game info: 2 p.m. ET Friday vs. Western Kentucky

Baylor Scheierman, Creighton

He’s averaging 18.4 points, 9.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game in Greg McDermott’s system, and while he’s 23 years of age, the offensive skill set gives him the potential to be a nice pick late in the first or into the second round due to the sheer amount of good things he does on offense. 

Game info: 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday vs. Akron

Baylor Scheierman puts up a massive dunk to shorten Xavier’s lead over Creighton

Baylor Scheierman puts up a massive dunk to shorten Xavier's lead over Creighton

DaRon Holmes II, Dayton 

Making 30 3s this year and showing some improvement in his shot, the 21-year-old Holmes has the size and productivity that says he should get looked at. The All-American is averaging 20.1 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. The fact he’s at the top of the scouting report and putting up those numbers is ridiculous. He could rise up boards if the 7th-seeded Flyers make a run. 

Game info: 4:30 p.m. ET Thursday vs. Nevada

John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on X at @John_Fanta.


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