If you're anything like me, the NCAA Tournament is the perfect time of year to feign gambling knowledge and rip your hair out for no reason. Every year, we're treated to great games -- especially in the first two rounds that'll take place over the next four days. Does anything really stick with you, though? I remember last year that some coach fell out of his chair, Frank Kaminsky could dance some and that's about it.
Always remember, kids: the NBA is what really matters, and for those who follow the Toronto Raptors, there's very solid NBA reasons to be watching the NCAA Tournament. Via the Andrea Bargnani miracle, Toronto is likely to have a top ten pick in the upcoming NBA draft (the lower pick between New York and Denver), which is touted as one of the deeper classes of talent in recent history.
Let's check in on the status of that pick, shall we?
Looking at the tank measurements, there's a slight likelihood that the pick could get into the seven or eight spot, depending on how New Orleans and Sacramento treat the rest of their season. At this juncture, though, it's safe to assume that it'll be at 9 or 10.
At that pick, there's plenty of juicy talent to choose from, and most of the players will be taking part in the tournament for teams with high seeding. Here are four to keep an eye on as it all plays out.
In his draft update in December, our Michael Hoad had California's Ivan Rabb on his to-watch list and it's safe to keep him in that discussion. The position of need for the Raptors is obviously power forward, with Luis Scola's mileage running out and Patrick Patterson unable to hold down the fort alone. The 19-year-old Rabb is still slight, though he's talked about getting bigger, and is still a project when it comes to jump shooting. That said, he's got solid touch in the post, runs the floor, and defends well with a 7'1" wingspan.
Playing next to top five projected Jaylen Brown, Rabb is a secondary option for the Golden Bears. When watching Cal, though, teams will be waiting to see if Rabb shows signs of development in his offensive repertoire.
Chad Ford Draft Ranking: 13
First Game: Friday, March 18 vs. #13 Hawaii, 2 p.m. EST
Staying on the power forwards, Kentucky's Skal Labissiere presents a more intriguing, yet more risky option to Rabb and other prospects at his position. Also just 19 years old, Labissiere has struggled in his freshman year at Kentucky, a team that works through its guards in Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulis. The big man has not shown solid progression on the offensive end and appears to get in his own head at times, much to the (very public) chagrin of coach John Calipari.
That said, Labissiere's skill set is exactly what today's NBA teams are looking for. At 6'11" with a 7'0" wingspan, the big man has beautiful shot mechanics and can easily stretch to the NBA three given a bit of work. If ever there was a Raptors 905 project that could work out in a year or two, Labissiere is it. The biggest question mark is obviously whether his faults are just the system or if he truly isn't the player he was touted to be in high school.
Two parallel scenarios to keep in mind here: Devin Booker, who came off the bench as a spot shooter for Kentucky but is now showing the full package for the Phoenix Suns, and Harrison Barnes, a notable disappointment in his early college years who now fits the Warriors' system to a tee and is lined up for a max contract in two summers.
Chad Ford Draft Ranking: 16
First Game: Thursday, March 17 vs. #13 Stony Brook, 9:40 p.m. EST
With Bismack Biyombo set to get paid this summer, the Raptors may be in need of a depth centre when the draft rolls around. Michigan State's Deyonta Davis hasn't made a lot of headlines this year, but at 6'10" and 240 pounds, he's a prototypical freak athlete big who can grab rebounds and throw down dunks. While not offering a lot else, Davis is a project centre who will likely develop into a useful depth player for whoever picks him up.
Fifth in scoring on his own team, Davis may not be the sexiest player to watch in this year's tournament. The Spartans are likely to make a deep run at the Final Four, though, and you might be able to catch a few dunks from the big man on the way.
Chad Ford Draft Ranking: 12
First Game: Friday, March 18 vs. #15 Middle Tennessee, 2:45 p.m. EST
For the people who want the Raptors to pick the best player available, Oklahoma's Buddy Hield may be in your camp. The top-ranked senior in the nation, Hield is ready to make an impact on an NBA team in his rookie season. He averaged 25.0 points on 49.6% shooting this year, so it's safe to say he's a stud shooting guard on the offensive end. He's got range as well, has improved his handle, and has shown great work ethic in advancing his game. Downside for Buddy is his size at 6'4", which may be enough of a reason for him to drop to the Raptors at nine or ten.
Hield may also be a security blanket for the Raptors if DeMar DeRozan chooses to walk to another team. Playing behind Terrence Ross and Norman Powell in a bench role, there's ample opportunity for him to play his way into the rotation.
Also, if you really want to get attached to Buddy Hield, he wrote a great piece about his childhood in the Player's Tribune today.
Chad Ford Draft Ranking: 9
First Game: Friday, March 18 vs. #15 CSU Bakersfield, 4 p.m. EST
So, happy viewing my friends. Who will you be watching for in the tournament?