The NCAA tournament is arguably the greatest annual sporting event. The first weekend is a whirlwind of excitement, buzzer-beaters and Cinderella storylines. It is also a platform for draft hopefuls to shine and improve their stock for the upcoming NBA draft.
Antonio McDyess and Chauncey Billups are just two examples that come to mind as players who made themselves a boatload of cash after shining in the Big Dance.
In 1995, McDyess and the Alabama Crimson Tide only played in two tournament games, but McDyess made them count. He averaged an insane 30.5 points and 18 rebounds against Penn and Oklahoma State, earning himself the No. 2 overall pick.
People were aware of McDyess, of course, but that March Madness performance took him to another level.
In 1997, Chauncey Billups led his Colorado Buffaloes past Indiana in the tournament. The Boston Celtics and then-head coach Rick Pitino were so impressed that they took Billups with the third overall pick.
Things didn't work out in Boston, and Billups was moved midseason, but he is still an example of how a player can see his draft stock skyrocket thanks to a strong performance in March.
Do any McDyess and Billups-like performances await us this March? Here are three players most likely to make a splash.
Victor Oladipo, Indiana
Oladipo has already started to climb the big boards of draft prognosticators. If he plays well and the Hoosiers make a deep run in the tournament, the draft's top three is not out of the realm of possibility.
He is a physically strong, ultra-athletic shooting guard with an electric first step. His willingness and ability to defend will excite a lot of general managers as well.
This may be a hard comparison to follow, but think about this combination for a moment: Oladipo reminds me of a bigger Leandro Barbosa with Tony Allen-like defense and leaping ability.
If things pan out, that's a mix that would potentially create a very talented two-way basketball player.
The Hoosiers are keyed by the inside play of Cody Zeller, but Oladipo has had his moments to lead this season. He's perhaps been at his best against the strongest opponents.
Watch Oladipo take over as the Hoosiers down the Michigan State Spartans:
For the season, Oladipo averages 14 points per game, but in the Hoosiers' six games against ranked opponents, he's scoring 20 per contest. That's an example of raising your game for top competition, and that's what the NCAA tournament represents.
As long as the Hoosiers don't exit quickly, I wouldn't be surprised to see Oladipo and Kansas Jayhawks guard Ben McLemore emerge as the top two prospects by tournament's end.
Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga
The Zags have ascended to the No. 2 spot in the polls. While they have a balanced squad, Olynyk is the man that makes them special.
He's a legit seven-footer, but he is not just a big body; he's the most skilled big in the nation.
Olynyk can pass, post and put it on the floor, and he's a good shooter from the perimeter (37.5 percent from three-point range) and the line (78.7 percent free-throw shooter).
He isn't blessed with elite quickness or tremendous lift, but he proves in this video that he's a better athlete than he gets credit for:
Aside from Nerlens Noel, Olynyk is the best center prospect in the nation.
The Zags big man averages 17.8 points and 6.9 rebounds per game this season. Big men with talent always leap up the draft board, and Olynyk won't be an exception. Look for his name to get hotter and hotter through the month of March.
Andre Roberson, Colorado
The Buffaloes could be considered a bubble team with a 19-9 record, but they have beaten three ranked teams this year. ESPN's Joe Lunardi currently has them as a No. 9 seed in his latest version of bracketology.
With that established, I'll include Roberson on my short list.
If there is a player in the college game who reminds me of a current NBA player, it has to be Roberson and how he compares to Dallas Mavericks forward Shawn Marion.
Both are about the same size at 6'7" or 6'8", and both are exceptionally gifted athletes who rebound at a rate much higher than you would expect.
As far as lift and explosion go, Roberson has plenty of that. Check out this dunk against California:
Roberson leads the nation in rebounding with 11.7 per game, an improvement on his 11.1 rebounds per game last season. This kid just has a nose for the ball, great timing, energy and comfort for his game.
He has worked to make himself a better offensive player as well.
He still only scores 10.8 points per game, and many of those points come on tip-ins, running the floor and cuts to the basket. However, he is a winning player who will kill a team with his energy.
NBA teams and a national audience will see how Roberson can impact a game for stretches with his hustle and basketball IQ.
He may never be a good scorer, but if he keys a Buffaloes win in their first game and possibly an upset to help lead the team to the Sweet 16, he will make himself a late first-round pick.
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