CLEVELAND — Editor's note: the video in the player above is from March 10, 2021.
The 2021 NCAA Tournament is set to kick off in Indianapolis on Thursday night. And while many in Northeast Ohio will be following Cleveland State, Ohio State and Ohio University's March Madness journeys, there's another reason for those in the area to keep their eyes on "The Big Dance."
Laying claim to a 15-25 record and sitting in 12th place of the Eastern Conference standings, the Cleveland Cavaliers appear headed for the NBA Draft lottery for the fourth straight year. As a result, Cavs fans may want to check out the following NCAA Tournament-bound players, who will likely be hearing their names called early in the 2021 NBA Draft:
Cade Cunningham, G, Oklahoma State
Considered the top prospect in the draft, Cade Cunningham is a 6-foot-8, 220-pound point guard who excels as both a scorer and a playmaker. In 25 games this season, the 19-year-old freshman has averaged 20.2 points on 45.4 percent shooting (41.2 percent 3-point shooting), 6.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists.
While the Cavs have used two lottery picks in the past three years on guards, Cunningham's upside exceeds both Collin Sexton's and Darius Garland's, while his size would bring a much welcomed new dynamic to Cleveland's backcourt. In order to land the former 5-star prospect, however, the Cavs are going to need more luck in the lottery than they've had in recent years.
First NCAA Tournament game: Friday, March 19 vs. Liberty (6:25 p.m. ET)
Jalen Suggs, SG, Gonzaga
Of all the NBA Draft prospects in this year's NCAA Tournament, there may not be one who draws more attention than Jalen Suggs will. Averaging 14.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists, the former 5-star prospect is one of the top players on a 26-0 Gonzaga team looking to become the first undefeated national champion since Indiana in 1976.
A 6-foot-4, 205-pound combo guard, Suggs is an explosive athlete capable of playing with or without the ball in his hands. In addition to being a quality playmaker, he's also a strong defender, which would add a new dimension to Cleveland's current backcourt.
First NCAA Tournament game: Saturday, March 20 vs. TBD (9:20 p.m. ET)
Keon Johnson, SG, Tennessee
One of the top athletes in college basketball this season, it's tough to ignore Keon Johnson's impact on both sides of the court. Whether it's a dunk or a block, the 6-foot-5, 186-pound wing has a way of standing out.
While he's still a work in progress offensively -- he averaged 11.2 points on 45.5 percent shooting (26.1 percent from 3-point range this season) -- his upside is apparent. While he may need time to develop both his body and his skill set, the 19-year-old Johnson's athleticism and two-way ability would be much welcomed in Cleveland.
First NCAA Tournament game: Friday, March 19 vs. Oregon State (4:30 p.m. ET)
Scottie Barnes, F, Florida State
While he's officially listed as a small forward, it's tough to define Scottie Barnes by a single position. At 6-foot-9 and 227 pounds, the former 5-star prospect has the ability to both be a facilitator with the ball in his hands and defend every position on the other side of the court.
While his scoring upside may be limited, the 19-year-old has already proven capable of impacting his team's offense in other ways. And as the Cavs have shown at times this season with Larry Nance Jr., their current personnel is at its best with a playmaking forward on the court.
First NCAA Tournament game: Saturday, March 20 vs. UNC Greensboro (12:45 p.m. ET)
Moses Moody, SG, Arkansas
While he wasn't as highly touted as the other players on this list coming out of high school, few players in the country have impacted their team as much as Moses Moody has. Leading Arkansas with 17.4 points on 44.2 percent shooting (37.9 percent from 3-point range), Moody helped the Razorbacks amass a 22-6 record and second-place finish in the SEC.
At 6-foot-6 and 205 pounds, Moody has great length and is considered an excellent shooter. And while he's not necessarily an explosive athlete, he does enough things well, in addition to his shooting, to profile as a quality pro prospect capable of fitting in on most teams.
First NCAA Tournament game: Friday, March 19 vs. Colgate (12:45 p.m. ET)
Other players to watch:
- Corey Kispert, F, Gonzaga
- Franz Wagner, F, Michigan
- James Bouknight, G, Connecticut
- Cameron Thomas, G, LSU
- Ayo Dosunmu, G, Illinois