- Chad Ford, ESPN Senior Writer
It's March Madness, baby! It's the big stage for some of college basketball's best players to show off their games. NBA scouts and general managers will be out in force the next few weeks scouting everyone in the Big Dance.
Rightly or wrongly, a great March can really help a player's stock. NBA GMs, the real decision-makers come draft time, are in attendance and tend to be swayed by what they see on the big stage.
Last year, Syracuse's Dion Waiters boosted his stock with a few big tourney performances. In 2011, UConn's Kemba Walker and Arizona's Derrick Williams improved their stocks with great runs. In 2010, Butler's Gordon Hayward, Ekpe Udoh and Jordan Crawford helped their causes with terrific tournament performances. In 2009, Tyreke Evans and Jonny Flynn rode strong tournament performances to high lottery picks. In 2008, Derrick Rose moved past Michael Beasley on most NBA teams' boards with an excellent performance and players such as Russell Westbrook and Brandon Rush helped themselves with strong tournament play, as well.
In years past, Florida's Al Horford and Joakim Noah, LSU's Tyrus Thomas, Illinois' Deron Williams, Syracuse's Carmelo Anthony, Marquette's Dwyane Wade, Maryland's Chris Wilcox, Arizona's Richard Jefferson, Florida's Mike Miller, Miami (Ohio)'s Wally Szczerbiak and Connecticut's Richard Hamilton helped their draft position significantly in March.
Who will take advantage of the national stage in this year's NCAA tournament to supercharge his draft stock?
This season's East bracket is probably second only to the South bracket in talent. By my count, we have four lottery picks and another three potential first-rounders.
ESPN.com has talked to multiple NBA scouts and GMs over the course of the season to give you a look at the top NBA prospects they'll be watching in each NCAA region.
Potential second-rounder: Christian Watford, F, Sr.
At the start of the season, this team was clearly Zeller's. It still might be, but Oladipo's play this season has been a revelation and has moved his stock from a utilitarian second-round pick all the way into the top 10. Few players have Oladipo's combination of explosive athletic ability and motor. Zeller has been good, as well. He might not have lived up to the hype, but he's still one of the two or three most skilled big men in the game, hustles up and down the floor, and has proved to be very tough. He struggles playing against length, which is a concern for scouts, but the rest of Zeller's game is just fine.
Watford sure looks the part of a first-rounder, but his lack of consistency has relegated him to the second right now. If Indiana and NC State both advance, there could be a whopping 10 draft prospects going at each other in the round of 32.
Wait 'til next year: Shane Larkin, PG, So.
Kadji, Scott and Johnson are all solid, but they're really old. It's really been the stellar play of Larkin that has propelled Miami to a No. 2 seed and pushed Larkin into first-round consideration for the NBA draft. Other than Trey Burke, Larkin has been the steadiest, most poised point guard in the country, with a perfect balance of scoring and passing. If he were just a few inches taller, he'd be a lottery pick. Larkin has said he's returning for his junior season, but if he has a huge tournament, will he declare for the draft?
Blue is quietly having a terrific junior season. He has great size, is a very good athlete and can defend multiple positions. If only he could get that 3-point jumper to start falling. Gardner comes off the bench, but he's been one of the most efficient players in the country when he's on the floor.