Okongwu, Carey among top prospects heading into March Madness

Duke freshman Vernon Carey Jr celebrates during their game against Florida State
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Ricky Dimon

NCAAB

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Since graduating from Davidson (The College That Stephen Curry Built), I have been writing about sports--just about any and all you can think of!--and coaching tennis in Atlanta, Ga. Beyond the four major sports, I am an avid tennis fan and cover the ATP Tour on a daily basis. If I'm not busy writing, you can generally find me on a tennis court or traveling the world wherever a sporting event takes me.

At long last, March is here. The madness is near. And there are a couple of things you can count on in the best month of the year: 1) brackets will be busted; 2) at least one player will excel on the grand stage that is the NCAA Tournament and take his NBA Draft stock to the next level prior to this summer’s selection festivities.

Unfortunately for Anthony Edwards, he will not be part of the Big Dance unless Georgia somehow wins the SEC Tournament. Barring an ACC Tournament title for North Carolina, the same goes for Cole Anthony. James Wiseman’s college career has long since ended, so he is unable to help Memphis make a run.

Nonetheless, there are plenty of top players still on the floor who will headline the field of 68. Let’s take a look at some of the candidates to own the month of March.

Isaac Okoro, forward, Auburn

Okoro is doing a little bit of everything for an Auburn squad that is ranked 17th in the nation and currently a No. 5 seed in Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology. The freshman forward is averaging 12.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists, one steal, and 0.9 blocks per game. At 6’6’’ and 225 pounds, Okoro is an impressive athlete who can get things done on both ends of the floor.

Onyeka Okongwu, forward, USC

USC still has some work to do if it wants to guarantee its spot in the NCAA Tournament. Lunardi currently has the Trojans—who are unraked but receiving votes—as a No. 11 seed, one of the last four teams avoiding a play-in game. Okongwu leads the team in points (16.2 ppg), rebounds (8.7 rpg), and blocks (2.7 bpg) to go along with 1.2 spg. The freshman forward stands at 6’9’’ and 245 pounds—a prototypical NBA prospect.

Obi Toppin, forward, Dayton

Toppin may not play in one of the Power 5 conference, but he is arguably the best player in college basketball. Dayton looks poised to make a deep NCAA Tournament run, thanks in large part to Toppin (19.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 2.1 apg, 1.3 bpg, 1.0 apg, 63.2 percent shooting). The Flyers are 27-2, 16-0 in the Atlantic 10, ranked third in the land, and have a No. 2 seed from Lunardi right now.

Tyrese Maxey, guard, Kentucky

Heading into Tuesday’s date with Tennessee, (check out our free college basketball expert picks), Kentucky is 24-5 and ranked sixth in the nation. As usual, the Wildcats are loaded with freshman talent—although they do actually have a couple of veterans this season. One of the star rookies is Maxey, who is contributing 14.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.1 apg, and 0.9 apg. The 6’3’’, 198-pounder is a scoring guard who can also distribute the rock and play defense.

Vernon Carey Jr., center, Duke

Duke stumbled a bit in February, but it avenged a 22-point loss to N.C. State by hammering the Wolfpack 88-69 on Monday. Carey went for 17 points, which is right at his season average of 17.6 ppg. The 6’10’’, 270-pound center is also averaging 8.7 rpg and 1.6 bpg. Although he may not possess athleticism quite like Okongwu, Carey is without question one of the best big men in this draft class. He is yet another one-and-done prospect.

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