The NCAA tournament is an annual celebration of upsets and Cinderella stories, a three-week smorgasbord of college basketball that’s become a water-cooler conversation starter every March.

But for NBA fans, the tournament offers something else: an opportunity to catch some of the league’s stars of tomorrow under the brightest of lights.

This year’s NCAA tournament could be of special interest to Boston Celtics fans. The Celts own the right to swap first-round draft picks this season with the Brooklyn Nets, who are close to a lock for finishing with the worst record in the NBA. Thus Boston is likely to select no lower than No. 4 in June’s NBA draft.

Here are the top dozen NBA prospects in the tournament, courtesy of DraftExpress’s Top 100 prospects list:

1. Lonzo Ball, PG, UCLA

At 6-foot-6 with brilliant passing and playmaking, it’s easy to see why the Lakers are enamored. Then again, so is just about everyone in the NBA, which is why Ball is considered to be the best pure point guard prospect in the draft – and behind only Markelle Fultz of Washington on almost any draft board.

2. Josh Jackson, SF, Kansas

There are doubts about Jackson’s shooting stroke and he’s had off-court issues, but he’s also the kind of rangy, athletic wing player every NBA team dreams of finding. He won’t wait long to go off the board.

3. Jayson Tatum, SF, Duke

Tatum can do it all, and showed as much during Duke’s run to the ACC tournament title in New York last week, showing off the ability to go coast-to-coast and score with ease. He may have the best chance of forcing his way even higher up the draft board with a huge tournament.

4. De’Aaron Fox, PG, Kentucky

Scouts love Fox’s ability in the floor game. But his questionable shooting could make him a risky pick early in the draft.

5. Lauri Markkanen, PF, Arizona

A rare basketball prospect from Finland, Markkanen has shown a capacity to score inside and out. With every NBA team hoping to find skilled bigs who can shoot and play power forward, he will go early.

6. Malik Monk, SG, Kentucky

Monk can flat-out score, as he showed by putting up 47 points in the win over North Carolina in what was arguably the game of the season. It’s unclear what else Monk will do in the pros, but that will be enough to make him a lottery pick.

7. Jonathan Isaac, SF, Florida State

Isaac, with a 6-foot-11 frame and a 7-1 wingspan, will have to grow into his game, but NBA executives will be drawn by his potential.

8. Miles Bridges, PF, Michigan State

Tom Izzo’s guys are expected to play hard, and Bridges has the athletic talent to go with it. It’s unclear if he’ll be a small or power forward, but given the way the NBA values flexibility, that may not matter.

9. Justin Jackson, SF, North Carolina

A 6-8 wing who averaged 18 points a game and shot 37 percent from 3-point range on seven attempts per game, Jackson is going to get looks simply because of his shooting ability. A big tournament performance could really help his stock.

10. Justin Patton, C, Creighton

Patton has stormed onto the scene as a freshman big who can do a little bit of everything, from scoring inside to showing off a 3-point shot. But can he defend well enough to stay on the floor?

11. Ike Anigbogu, C, UCLA

A raw, developing big man, Anigbogu is expected to stay in school, but a big tournament performance could push a talent like his out early.

12. Luke Kennard, SG, Duke

Kennard scores 20 points per game and hits 45 percent of his 3-pointers. So yes, he’ll get drafted in the first round if he comes out.


UC-DAVIS 67, NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL 63: Chima Moneke had 18 points and 12 rebounds as UC-Davis (23-12) won in its first NCAA tournament appearance, beating North Carolina Central (25-9) in a First Four game at Dayton, Ohio.

The 16th-seeded Aggies rallied in the second half and held off North Carolina Central down the stretch to earn a trip to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to play No. 1 seed Kansas on Friday.

Brynton Lemar scored 15 points and Lawrence White added 14 for UC-Davis, which earned a trip to the tournament by winning the Big West Conference tournament.

The Aggies won despite 18 turnovers that led to 20 points for streaky North Carolina Central. But the Eagles couldn’t overcome poor shooting that deteriorated even more in the second half.

The Eagles pulled within 64-63 with 1:49 left. North Carolina Central got the ball back with 37 seconds left, but a 3-point try was off.

USC 75, PROVIDENCE 71: Bennie Boatwright scored a career-high 24 points as the Trojans rallied from a 17-point deficit in the second half to beat the Friars in a First Four game at Dayton, Ohio.

The comeback victory was revenge for the Trojans, who lost to Providence by one point in the opening round of the NCAA tournament last year. They move on to play 6th-seeded SMU at Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Friday.

After Providence led by 15 points at halftime and went up by 17 to start the second half, Southern Cal (25-9) mounted a furious rally. The Trojans closed it to five points at the 10-minute mark, and went up 61-60 on a jumper by Chimezie Metu off a turnover with 6:46 left.

Metu hit both ends of a 1-and-1 to put Southern Cal up 71-64 with 1:23 remaining and kept Providence from getting back into it down the stretch.

Jordan McLaughlin scored 18 points for Southern Cal, and Metu added 15 on 9-for-12 free-throw shooting.

Emmitt Holt led Providence with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Jalen Lindsey and Rodney Bullock added 17 each.