The "first round" of the NCAA Tournament begins on Tuesday night, but the real March Madness kicks off on Thursday afternoon. No matter what, the first four days of the tournament are some of the most exciting days on the sports calendar. The field will be cut down from 64 teams all the way to the Sweet 16 by the end of the weekend.
There will be upsets, there will be buzzer beaters and it will all be wildly entertaining. This year Celtics fans have one more reason to watch, not that we needed one. That reason is that one (or even two) of the stars of the tournament could very well end up being part of Danny Ainge's longterm plans in Boston.
You guys know the drill by now . . . Boston figures to finish somewhere in between the fourth-highest and seventh-highest lottery odds while also holding Brooklyn's (in all likelihood at this point) top draft pick.
So with that in mind, here are some things to watch for in the tournament - Celtics related or not:
Player with the most to prove: Andrew Wiggins
You can say this is an odd choice, but I'll do my best to convince you this is the right answer. Wiggins has been blazing hot lately, averaging 31 points over his last three games. So what does he need to prove?
Wiggins has slid this season from a projected top overall pick to probably the second or third pick. Sounds like no big deal when you phrase it that way, but what is not being factored in is how far ahead of everyone else Wiggins was ranked. He was the sure thing top overall pick and it wasn't even close.
Despite his recent success, Wiggins has struggled to find consistency against top competition. The tournament will be his last chance. Wiggins' potential can't be ignored, but if he can showcase that potential by playing well during a run in March, the number one pick is likely his once again.
Player with the least to prove: Doug McDermott
McDermott's body of work during his four-year career at Creighton is plenty to show me what type of player I am getting. Although I have Creighton in my Elite 8, even if they were to make an early exit, McDermott's draft stock does not change in my mind.
He is the real deal and can score at will. McDermott is going to make a very solid NBA player.
Low seed that can go on a surprise run: Oklahoma State
I have Oklahoma State in my Final Four as a 9-seed simply because they have the talent to get there. Marcus Smart has the goods to take the Cowboys on a deep run, but don't overlook the help of Markel Brown and Le'Bryan Nash.
They are in a weak bracket when you consider that 1-seed Arizona only has one top-25 win this season, I like most of the other top 4-seeds in the tournament more than any of the top 4-seeds in the West. I like Marcus Smart and company as much as anyone in their bracket, so when in doubt, just go with the talent. This certainly would help Smart's draft stock, I could see him being the fourth overall pick if my dark horse team comes through.
High seed that could get eliminated early: Wichita State
So I actually do not have any of the 1-4 seeds losing in their first round, which will probably turn out to be wrong because multiple lose every year . . . hold on I think I need to go change my bracket. If you like the 5-12 upset though, I just realized I took all four 12-seeds, isn't this tournament great?
Despite not having any top seeds go down in their first game, I could see lots of them falling apart early. Some examples from my bracket: Stephen F. Austin is beating VCU and UCLA to make my Sweet 16, Dayton is taking down struggling Syracuse after upsetting Ohio State, obviously I have Arizona getting eliminated after a game, but the best one to talk about is Kentucky over Wichita State.
Much like Oklahoma State going so deep, this idea is based on talent. Kentucky was a pre-season number one that fell off, but they have been gaining back steam recently. Wichita State obviously has not lost this season, but they also have not played a team like John Calipari's Wildcats. Between Julius Randle, James Young and the rest of the freshman, Kentucky can pull this off.
Potential stars on the rise:
If Jabari Parker has a big NCAA Tournament it won't surprise many people, we all know who he is by now, and we all would love to see him wearing green next season. A guy like Wiggins can certainly help himself with a strong March, but the bottom line is that the elite prospects are going to be the top picks in the draft no matter what - hopefully one of them will be coming to Boston.
This list is just a few guys that could help themselves into the lottery with a strong showing, or potentially land in the area that the Celtics will be using their lesser first-round-pick.
T.J. Warren: Warren plays for 12-seed N.C. State in the Midwest bracket, but will have to get by fellow 12-seed Xavier in the "first round" to have the rights to play Saint Louis. Warren won the ACC player of the year over Jabari Parker, averaging 24.8 points as a sophomore. Warren should be climbing draft boards regardless, but it would sure help his cause if N.C. State went on a run.
Semaj Christon: The Xavier product has proved to be one of the best guards in the country so far this season, yet almost no one has heard of him. Obviously Xavier will be facing off against N.C. State, so either Christon or Warren will be advancing (and have a good shot to beat Saint Louis in the next round). Tuesday night will be an exciting head-to-head to watch though.
Wayne Selden: Selden is the third best freshman on the Kansas roster, but without Joel Embiid, all the scoring pressure can't fall on Wiggins alone. Selden could play a key role if Kansas does indeed go deep in the tournament. The Roxbury product does not get a ton of attention due to the other freshman, but is capable of developing into a really nice wing player in the NBA.
Montrezl Harrell: The sophomore from Louisville is supremely talented around the rim and has legit size to play power forward in the NBA. I have Rick Pitino taking the Cardinals to back-to-back championships, if he is able to, Harrell will be a big part, and certainly will help his NBA draft stock.
This is all speculation, though. Fortunately Celtics Life will be covering March Madness daily to let you know which prospects are actually making a name for themselves and how NBA draft boards could shake down. Happy tournament everyone, enjoy the madness.
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See the entire 'eye on the draft' series Julian Edlow 3/18/2014 03:50:00 PM Tweet