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March Madness: 5 Players Trail Blazers Fans Should Watch

Is the next potential Blazers draft pick primed for a big tournament performance?

NCAA Basketball: Southern Methodist at Wichita State Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

The Trail Blazers recent ascension in the NBA Western Conference Playoffs standings has resulted in a corresponding cascade down the draft boards. If the current trend continues, the Blazers will be searching for the right road in the 2018 NBA Draft instead of walking down Easy Street. That doesn’t mean they’ll lack prospects to watch in this year’s NCAA Tournament. March Madness often gives fans of the professional game their first in-depth look at the next crop of potential NCAA draft choices. It’s a critical venue for mid-range drafters.

Unlike last year, President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey only has one draft pick at his disposal. Let’s now take a look at five players that Blazers fans should be keeping tabs on during the opening week of tournament action as they hope that Olshey can once again strike gold.

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Keita Bates-Diop | Ohio State Buckeyes | SF/PF | Junior

Age: 22 | HT: 6’7” | WT: 235 lbs

2017-18 Stats: 19.4 PPG | 8.8 RPG | .484 FG%

First Opponent: South Dakota State Jackrabbits | Thursday | 1:00 PST | TNT

Bates-Diop bounced back from an injury-shortened 2016-17 campaign to capture Big Ten Player of the Year honors. His versatility on both ends of the court will have the attention of NBA scouts this weekend. On defense, Bates-Diop can successfully guard both forward positions by blending his athleticism with his lanky frame. Offensively, his increase in scoring presents a bright future for his potential to become a legitimate two-way player.

Ohio State’s opening matchup against South Dakota State will be an excellent test of Bates-Diop’s defensive ability. The Jackrabbits’ Mike Daum is one of the most prolific scorers in the tournament, which should prove to be an interesting hurdle for the Buckeyes’ 22-year-old forward.

If Olshey likes what he sees, Bates-Diop could become the heir apparent to Al-Farouq Aminu’s role with the Blazers.

NCAA Basketball: Villanova at Creighton Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Khyri Thomas | Creighton Bluejays | G | Junior

Age: 21 | HT: 6’3” | WT: 210 lbs

2017-18 Stats: 15.3 PPG | .541 FG% | .419 3P%

First Opponent: Kansas State Wildcats | Friday | 3:50 PST | TNT

Thomas is a prototype 3-and-D player that is primed to capture plenty of attention from every NBA team this summer. His 6’10” wingspan makes up for his relatively short stature on the defensive end, which helped him earn the Big East Defensive Player of the Year award this season. Outside of being a tenacious defender, Thomas is a serviceable spot-up shooter that is capable of stretching the defense. He might have to do more than just play defense and hit open shots, however, as the Bluejays have an uphill climb to the Sweet 16.

If Thomas is able to live up to his billing as a player who can make an impact on both ends, he would fit nicely with Portland’s current perimeter rotation.

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

Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk | Kansas Jayhawks | SG | Senior

Age: 20 | HT: 6’8” | 205 lbs

2017-18 Stats: 15.1 PPG | .442 FG% | .453 3P%

First Opponent: Penn Quakers | Thursday | 11:00 PST | TBS

Mykhailiuk is one of the best pure shooters entering the NBA Draft this year. He is more than just a shooter, though, as he is capable of getting to the rim when necessary. Mykhailiuk has the ideal size for an NBA shooting guard, but he must prove that he can put his size to good use on the defensive end. The Ukranian shooting guard is still only 20 years old after serving under coach Bill Self’s tutelage for the past four seasons. His best basketball is likely still in front of him, and he can drastically improve his draft stock if Kansas is able to make a deep tournament run that features plenty of perimeter offense.

His ability to stretch the floor makes him an obvious fit for the Blazers, but he still has some work to do before he can be considered more than just an offensive threat.

NCAA Basketball: Wichita State at Central Florida Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Landry Shamet | Wichita State Shockers | PG | Sophomore

Age: 21 | HT: 6’4” | 180 lbs

2017-18 Stats: 15.0 PPG | 5.1 APG | .459 3P%

First Opponent: Marshall Thundering Herd | Friday | 10:30 PST | TNT

Shamet is a superbly talented point guard that is capable of impacting the game in multiple ways on the offensive end. He moves well without the ball, gets his teammates involved, and is deadly from beyond the arc. Shamet’s slender frame and athleticism are the biggest questions waiting for him at the next level, but his scoring touch might be enough to silence his doubters. The Shockers are poised for a deep tournament run, and it will likely be Shamet leading the charge.

If Shabazz Napier becomes too pricey for the Blazers this summer, Shamet would be a nice consolation prize.

NCAA Basketball: Nevada at San Jose State Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Kendall Stephens | Nevada Wolf Pack | G/F | Senior

Age: 23 | HT: 6’7” | WT: 205 lbs

2017-18 Stats: 13.2 PPG | .447 FG% | .444 3P%

First Opponent: Texas Longhorns | Friday | 1:30 PST | TBS

Stephens rejuvenated his career by transferring from Purdue to Nevada for his final season. Former NBA coach Eric Musselman has brought out the best in Stephens, which resulted in the 23-year-old wing’s 10 percent uptick in three-point shooting. He still has a lot to prove, but a solid tournament performance will put him on the radar for teams looking for a catch-and-shoot specialist.

Caleb Swanigan and Stephens were teammates for one season, so you would assume that Olshey is familiar with him. It will be up to Stephens to show off his improvements from beyond the arc.

Don’t forget to enter the Blazer’s Edge Radio Bracket Challenge before the tournament starts. You can get all the details by following this link.