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A Grizzlies fan watch guide for the NCAA Conference Tournaments

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Who are some players to watch for in this week’s conference tournaments?

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NCAA Basketball Tournament - South Regional - Memphis Photo by Joe Murphy/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

March is here, and you know what that means: March Madness.

It’s arguably the most exciting time of the year for college basketball, as it produces massive upsets and rising stars. It’s really a worthwhile experience that highlights one of the many reasons why we love sports.

From a professional standpoint, it’s also the time of year that defines a prospect’s draft stock a little more — or outright establishes or demolishes it. Players can shoot up or down the draft boards and ultimately make themselves millions of dollars with a couple weeks of good basketball.

And it starts with the conference tournament.

I’m doing this guide starting with the conference tournament, because the Grizzlies no longer owe any debts. They have a first-round pick this year, and they’re in a spot to add another key piece to its young core. For starters, this pick will likely be its highest selection for quite some time. In addition, it’s a strong draft class littered with solid wing options.

I picked some prospects that are intriguing to me, but were also in the Grizzlies’ projected draft range from boards from esteemed draft experts The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie, ESPN’s Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz, and Richard Stayman of the Locked On NBA Draft podcast.

NCAA Basketball: Tennessee at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

SEC

Dates: March 10-14

I’m going to start with the conference with the most local ties, as Memphis lies in SEC Country (sorry, Tiger fans). It also represents some of my favorite Grizzlies targets in this draft.

Tennessee has two lottery-talent guards that would be great fits in Memphis. Jaden Springer, probably the least likely of the two, is a great shot-maker that fits a “combo guard” prototype. Albeit a low volume (1.8 attempts per game), Springer is shooting a sizzling 47.4% from 3. Keon Johnson is tantalizing, garnering considerations for this year’s “body of work over production prospects” — similar to Jaren Jackson Jr. in 2018 and Patrick Williams this past year. He’s an elite athlete that can explode to the rim and be a menace defensively. He’s shown nice polish in the mid-range game during SEC play, but there’s still a verdict on his jumper (31% in conference play, 28.6% overall). It’ll be his swing skill though, as it could catapult him into “elite two-way wing” status.

Moses Moody of Arkansas is probably my favorite Grizzlies target in the draft and is 6th on my very, very rough draft big board. There’s no plausible explanation of why he could fail. At the very worst, he’s a 3-and-D wing that’ll hit shots within the offense and add value towards winning. However, he’s shown that he can hit shots through the flow of the offense and through creating his own shot. A 37.1% 3-point shooter, Moody can be an ideal fit next to Ja Morant in the Grizzlies’ backcourt for years to come.

Alabama’s Herb Jones is a fascinating second-round prospect. He’s improved as a playmaker (2.3 assists to 3.1 this year), and he’s transformed himself into a three-point threat, shooting 45.5% from 3 this year — up from 7.1%(!!). Couple that with his defensive versatility, and he’s an interesting late-draft prospect.

NCAA Basketball: Florida State at Miami-Florida Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

ACC

Dates: March 9-13

With Duke’s Jalen Johnson out for the season, the first-round prize out of the ACC will be Florida State’s Scottie Barnes. He fits a similar archetype to Justise Winslow and Kyle Anderson. He’s a big wing that can serve as an elite playmaker and a strong rebounder. He can also defend positions 1-5 as well, an enticing characteristic for any modern NBA wing. There are questions about his jumper, but if it hits, his upside is as high as anyone’s in the draft.

A nice second-round target would be Justin Champagnie out of Pittsburgh. He’s only 19, but he fits a Zach Kleiman archetype — insanely productive, versatile defender, strong positional rebounder, and high basketball IQ (6th in turnover rate). If he’s in the draft this year, he’s worth a look in the second round.

NCAA Basketball: Baylor at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Big 12

Dates: March 10-13

The prized prospects for the Big 12 are Cade Cunningham, Kai Jones, and Greg Brown. Unless a steep drop-off or lottery luck happen, Cunningham probably won’t be a Grizzly. Jones and Brown are fun frontcourt prospects, but the Grizzlies are loaded at their positions.

Two interesting prospects here though are Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell from Baylor. Butler was getting nice buzz in last year’s draft, but made the decision to return to school. As a result, he improved as an on-ball creator and defender, elevating his stock even more. Playmaking guards with 17-3-5 splits while shooting 44% from 3 are enticing. Mitchell falls into the same category as a sharpshooting point guard, connecting on 45% of his triples.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Big Ten

Dates: March 10-14

Michigan’s Franz Wagner is the main prospect to watch here. He’s been pegged to the Grizzlies in a few mock drafts — while USA Today’s Bryan Kalbrosky used GBB’s Shawn Coleman’s methodology for the Grizzlies’ pick. Wagner is a big wing with a high basketball IQ that can attack on both ends. He’s a versatile offensive player that can get to the rim and shoot the 3, while playing mistake-free basketball. He also can defend multiple positions and make plays defensively.

Ayo Dosunmu will be interesting, but his status is unknown, as he missed the last game due to injury.

Like they did with Xavier Tillman and Killian Tillie, a fun hey this player played with the franchise cornerstones prospect the Grizzlies could target is Aaron Henry — a gritty wing out of Michigan State with high defensive upside.

PAC-12

Dates: March 10-13

Ziare Williams, aside from Evan Mobley, is the propsect to watch here out of the PAC-12. His numbers have been disappointing. He’s a 6’9” wing with a smooth shooting stroke and the ability to score at 3 levels. It’ll be interesting to see if he can find his shot during tournament time.

Chris Duarte from Oregon is rising on a lot of draft boards. Look at this and tell me that he doesn’t sound like a Kleiman guy:

NCAA Basketball: Loyola Marymount at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Non Power 5

  • American (Dates: March 11-14)

Every Memphis fan will be watching this tournament to see if the Tigers can win it all. However, they should also watch for potential future Grizzly James Bouknight. He emerged as one of the best scorers in the country, averaging 20.1 points. While he’s not the best 3-point shooter in the draft (30.2% on 4.8 attempts a game), he’s a dynamic ball-handler that can get to the rim and score at 3 levels.

  • West Coast Conference — but really Gonzaga (Dates: March 4-9, but really March 8 and 9)

Gonzaga is one of the best college teams we’ve probably seen this past decade. They’re the lone unbeaten team, and they can ways in multiple ways. They can go up-tempo with Jalen Suggs at the helm, in the post with Drew Timme, or outside with Corey Kispert. And Kispert’s the one to watch here. He benefitted big time from staying in school, going from Memphis’ range at 40 to a bonafide lottery guy. He went from a prospect compared to Dillon Brooks, to one compared to Joe Harris. He’s putting together one of the best shooting seasons in collegiate history, and he could be yet another older prospect that falls to the Memphis Grizzlies in the draft.

It’s almost the most exciting time of year for college basketball — and in sports. Enjoy the March Madness, while dreaming of who could be a future Memphis Grizzly.

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