NCAAM Teams
Myron Medcalf, ESPN Staff Writer 242d

Next stop: NBA? Top talents had an early exit at NCAA tournament

Men's College Basketball, Alabama Crimson Tide, Oklahoma Sooners, Arizona Wildcats, Texas Longhorns, Missouri Tigers

The best NCAA tournaments often feature the most skilled talents on the most dominant teams.

In 2015, the Final Four featured nine players who were selected in that summer's NBA draft. Karl-Anthony Towns and Kentucky and Frank Kaminsky and Wisconsin authored a wild national semifinal matchup before Duke won a come-from-behind thriller over the Badgers in the title game.

Those matchups alone included some of college basketball's marquee powerhouses and legacy programs. The future stars enhanced the buildup to that year's finale.

Three years later, many envisioned a similar fusion of team strength and NBA-level talent in this year's final rounds. But the first weekend already has dispatched the game's most intriguing prospects. Trae Young, a potential lottery pick, and Oklahoma, a team with a questionable résumé for an at-large berth, couldn't escape Rhode Island in the Sooners' first game.

Deandre Ayton recorded a double-double, but it wasn't enough to help Arizona -- a trendy Final Four pick -- from suffering a 21-point loss to Buffalo in the opening round. Collin Sexton carried Alabama to a win over Virginia Tech, but top seed Villanova destroyed the Crimson Tide on Saturday, eliminating one of the most exciting players in America.

Missouri's Michael Porter Jr. decided to come back for the postseason after missing all but two minutes of the regular season. His brief time in the NCAA tournament -- probably the projected top-10 pick's only tourney appearance -- ended with a 4-for-12 outing and double-digit loss to Florida State.

Mohamed Bamba, a shot-blocking savant, and Texas couldn't finish against Nevada. Ohio State's Keita Bates-Diop scored 28 points and made nearly 50 percent of his shots. Still, Gonzaga held off a hot Buckeyes team that erased a double-digit halftime lead.

In all, seven of the top 15 players listed in ESPN.com's latest NBA mock draft -- 12 in the first round overall -- had been eliminated by Saturday night. We're still left with a handful of intriguing, next-level players.

Marvin Bagley III is averaging 22.0 points and 8.0 rebounds for Duke in the NCAA tournament. Michigan State's Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr., the most talented duo in the country, could secure slots in this summer's lottery. Mikal Bridges, a 6-foot-6 wing and projected top-10 pick who has made 45 percent of his 3-pointers, is the most difficult matchup in the field. Kentucky freshmen Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox will earn multimillion-dollar deals from NBA franchises, too.

They're still here and they're unique players with a trove of gifts they'll employ in the coming weeks. But we wanted to see the best players in America collide. Young would have faced Bagley and Duke had he led his team to a win over Rhode Island. We missed an Ayton vs. Kentucky matchup in the second round when Buffalo spoiled that clash.

We never saw Porter in shape. Perhaps if he'd had a few more games to prepare for the postseason, he would have played up to his potential and helped Missouri beat Florida State and advance. And Sexton had become must-see television in recent weeks.

Their absences do not diminish the highs of the past three days. UMBC made history on Friday night, and Loyola-Chicago reached the Sweet 16 with a win over SEC co-champion Tennessee on Saturday. Michigan secured its place in the Sweet 16 with a buzzer-beater to shock Houston.

Villanova and Duke dominated their first- and second-round opponents. Kentucky continued its evolution into the most dangerous team outside the top two seed lines. Gonzaga tussled with Ohio State until the Bulldogs commenced a late run and exhaled. Seton Hall challenged Kansas.

It has been a solid tournament thus far. But we'll miss some of the stars.

We don't need Young, Sexton, Ayton, Porter, Bamba, Bates-Diop and other future NBA products in order to enjoy the next two weeks of the NCAA tournament.

We have missed out, however, on the appetizing individual and team matchups many expected the bracket to produce.

The 2018 NCAA tournament has been good. But it's no 2015 NCAA tournament at this point. And if the exodus of NBA talent continues, it won't be.

^ Back to Top ^