Not only have all of the blue-chip prospect schools been knocked out with a weekend to go in the tournament, two of the four programs remaining had never even been to a Final Four. A natural side effect of the infusion of new blood is that the amount of top-tier talent on display is lessened. There won’t be any one-and-done arguments based off this weekend’s games, I can promise you that much.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any future pros in this year’s Final Four. Here is a group of guys who have the skills to make an impact in one way or the other at the NBA level, even if they aren’t as highly heralded as some of their peers.
Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech
Culver is a well-rounded prospect who can do everything pretty well, but doesn’t excel in one area yet. The Big 12 Player of the Year is a quality athlete who looks bigger than his listed 6-foot-6, and can pass, rebound, and defend at equally high levels. His shooting is streaky, though, and he shot only 31 percent from deep on four attempts/game. Culver will struggle initially in the pros if he’s asked to take on a lot of offensive responsibility right away, but could become a regular All-Star in the next few years.
Aaron Henry, Michigan State
Henry definitely has some growing to do at Michigan State in the (very) likely event that he decides to stay, but he has a lot of NBA upside. He has good size at the small forward position (6-foot-6, 210 pounds) and a slasher’s mentality that, coupled with his athleticism, makes him a dangerous finisher around the rim. He hasn’t yet mastered the art of getting to the line and averages exactly one three-point attempt per game, but he’s big and strong enough that, paired with natural growth in shooting and court awareness, should give him enough tools to be a consistent pro when he declares.
Ty Jerome, Virginia
Jerome comes with a typical skillset of graduates from Tony Bennett’s School of Smart Basketball: he’s an excellent decision-maker, quality shooter, and hard-nosed defender with below-average athleticism. Jerome shot almost exactly 40 percent from three on five attempts/game and had a 3.18 assist-to-turnover ratio. As long as he can hold his own defensively, there will always be a place in the league for guards like him who can shoot and take care of the ball. Jerome might stick around for another year, and it may take a season or two to catch up to speed in the NBA (à la Fred VanFleet), but Jerome could be running someone’s second unit sooner rather than later.
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State
Tillman is a skilled big man who might have some matchup issues due to his size (6’8″, 245lbs) at the next level, but possesses both the offensive and defensive instincts to make an impact if he lands in the right system. Tillman averages nearly 2 blocks/game for Tom Izzo’s squad, and has regularly shown soft hands in the post and great rebounding instincts. If he can become a shutdown perimeter defender and maintain his stalwart defense down low, he could become a very valuable defender at the next level who can switch everything. Tillman needs to expand his skillset, but you can’t teach instincts, and he has that in great quantity.
De’Andre Hunter, Virginia
Hunter will enter this year’s NBA draft as a made-ready 3 & D prospect. At 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot wingspan, he has both the size, desire, and athleticism to lock down whoever he’s matched up with. On the offensive end, he’s a smart cutter who shot 42 percent from three (albeit on less than three attempts per game). He’ll need to expand his drive-and-kick game to become an efficient second or third option, but he brings value in the form of a skill set that has never been more desired in the NBA. Hunter is a safe pick who could step in and contribute immediately for any team in the league.