3 NBA Draft prospects who can cement claim for No. 1 pick in March Madness

The top of the 2024 NBA Draft is a complete free-for-all, so March Madness could determine who goes No. 1 overall in June.

Reed Sheppard, Kentucky Wildcats
Reed Sheppard, Kentucky Wildcats / Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports
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The 2024 NBA Draft is considered weak by traditional standards. Maybe 'balanced' is a better way to phrase it. In the absence of clear-cut top talent, there is an all-out scramble to decide which prospect actually comes off the board No. 1 overall in June.

Several of the strongest No. 1 pick candidates hail from international waters (Nikola Topic, Alex Sarr, Zaccharie Risacher) or the G League (Matas Buzelis, Ron Holland). That won't preclude a few college stars from making their case in March Madness. This is easiest the most prominent stage any prospect will occupy over the next few months. Now is the time to sway the opinion of scouts with a well-timed heater.

While the nature of this class should yield plenty of surprises on draft night, only a few NCAA prospects can legitimately claim a path to the top spot. Those paths are murky at best, obscured by unavoidable weaknesses and the unknowability of the draft order. Until we know which team owns the No. 1 pick, odds are we won't have a firm grasp on which prospect(s) are best suited to it.

Here are the prospects who could elevate their stock to No. 1 status in the NCAA Tournament.

3. Colorado's Cody Williams offers an extremely high ceiling

The younger, (once) more highly touted brother of Oklahoma City Thunder star Jalen Williams, Colorado's Cody Williams has been thoroughly impressive in his freshman campaign. The Buffs are a No. 10 seed, forced to battle for their tournament lives in the First Four, but Colorado has a lot of talent. Williams could be the beneficiary of a Cinderella run.

Williams has more holes to fill than your standard No. 1 pick, but it's tough to deny his ceiling in such a weak class. Even if Williams carries considerable downside risk, teams will bank on the 6-foot-9 wing with playmaking chops, an efficient scoring profile, and multi-positional defensive equity.

Colorado has unleashed Williams in various capacities on offense, allowing him the freedom to run point and create off the dribble. Williams attacks the lane with long, fluid strides. He understands how to shift gears and leverage his burst, but a lack of strength and a weak handle limit his generative power at this stage. He doesn't have a pull-up jumper either, so Williams relies on (low-volume) spot-up 3s or getting to the rim, where his touch and physicality can shine.

Despite the blatant holes in his game, Williams has been extremely efficient for the Buffs, averaging 12.6 points and 1.7 assists (2.1 turnovers) on .565/.421/.721 splits. The turnovers are a problem, spurred by Williams lax ball-handling and susceptibility to strong point of attack defense. Still, his at-rim finishing, 3-point touch, and connective passing will go a long way, with plenty of room to improve as his frame fills out.