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Around College Basketball: Second Edition

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A closer look at this year’s draft class

NCAA Basketball: Duke at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

College basketball is in full swing, and with coronavirus restrictions hindering the season, conference games are more important than ever. Some prospects are starting to separate themselves from the pack, while others are falling behind. It is up to the Sixers to figure out with which of these players they can get the most value out of their pick.

Pick Projection: 24th overall

Prospects to Watch

Joel Ayayi, Gonzaga (PG/SG)

Gonzaga v Portland Photo by Soobum Im/Getty Images

Gonzaga is easily the top team in the nation this season, thanks to an impressive combination of veteran leadership and top-tier prospects. One of those players who provides both is junior combo guard Joel Ayayi. Until this season, Ayayi was never seen as anything more than a second-round pick that an NBA team could take a chance on, far from a guaranteed thing. This year, however, he has put himself in contention to be a first-round pick, thanks to the improvements he made to his game in areas previously considered weaknesses. Since his freshman year, Ayayi’s 3-point numbers have consistently improved, increasing from 27 percent as a freshman, to 34 percent as a sophomore, and now, to a respectable 37 percent as a junior.

Ayayi has always been able to make plays on ball, but playing alongside top prospect Jalen Suggs has allowed him to show that he can also play off ball and succeed. What makes Joel Ayayi such an interesting prospect is the fact that a lot of what makes him so great doesn’t show up in the box score. He is just a super smart player who is constantly making the right reads and putting his team in a position to win on both sides.

Matthew Hurt, Duke (PF)

Virginia Tech v Duke Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Matthew Hurt has been one of the more pleasant surprises of the season thus far. After a decent freshman year for Duke, Hurt decided to come back for his sophomore season and has settled in as one of the more reliable options on this young Blue Devils team. He still looks like he needs to put on some more muscle, but Hurt is constantly fighting inside for rebounds that he didn’t even look to grab as a freshman. His rebounding numbers have increased from 3.8 per game as a freshman to 8.3 per game as a sophomore.

Usually the third or fourth option on offense as a freshman, Hurt is now the first or second look on most possessions this year. His coaching staff seems to trust him much more this year and he has rewarded them for that increased faith, exploding for 20 points per game, doubling his average from last year. If Hurt can continue to show the consistency he has demonstrated early in his sophomore year, he has a chance to creep into the first round conversation. The Sixers are going to be in need of another floor-spacing power forward; Hurt could be a solid option to fill that role should he be available.

Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana (PF)

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 14 Purdue at Indiana Photo by Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Another player who is having an outstanding year, albeit on an underwhelming team, is Trayce Jackson-Davis. The power forward for the Indiana Hoosiers is dominating in the Big Ten so far to the tune of 20 points and nine rebounds per game. He is a true threat down on the block; the only issue is that the interior is where his game lives and dies. Jackson-Davis hasn’t shot a 3-pointer through two collegiate seasons and rarely takes mid-range jumpers. He is able to dominate down low because of his physical presence in college, but at the next level, he might need to diversify his game to find the same level of success. The Sixers could use another physical threat in the paint, but at the moment, they can afford to wait and see if Trayce Jackson-Davis is still around in the second round.

(All stats as of 1/17/21.)