A clear top tier has emerged ahead of Thursday's NBA Draft, comprised of Auburn wing Jabari Smith, Gonzaga center Chet Holmgren and Duke forward Paolo Banchero.

The Orlando Magic hold the keys to the draft with the first overall pick, and ever since they won the lottery the buzz has been about their affinity for the six-foot-10, smooth-shooting Smith.

Smith, who only turned 19 in May, is one of the youngest prospects in the draft and seems to tick a number of high-value boxes that are usually required to become a star in the NBA.

His premier skill is his shooting, boasting arguably the prettiest jump shot in the whole class, and he converted a scorching 42 per cent of his three-pointers while getting up a healthy 5.5 attempts per game.

Playing at Auburn with a cast of guards, who at times appeared to have no idea they were playing with an NBA player, meant Smith was primarily used in an off-ball role, getting shots up quickly off the catch or at the end of plays, as opposed to getting an opportunity to create with the ball in his hands.

This role and his ability to stylishly rise up and hit long jumpers at his size with hands in his face have caused many to compare him to former Magic power forward and two-time All-Star Rashard Lewis.

Lewis appears to be Smith's 'floor' – which would be a pretty handy worst possible outcome if it is the case – but his athleticism, seven-foot-one wingspan with defensive upside, and well-reported elite work ethic as a son of a former NBA player puts him on a similar trajectory to Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum, who also had questions raised about his playmaking and ball-handling coming out of Duke.

The Magic will be selecting between Smith and Holmgren, with the Gonzaga big-man clearly the most unique prospect in the class.

Holmgren has been on NBA radars since his high school days when he was carrying the United States to junior gold medals – winning Tournament MVP at the 2021 FIBA Under-19 Basketball World Cup.

As the number-one recruit in the country coming into the 2021-22 college basketball season, Holmgren chose to shun traditional 'one-and-done' schools to go play for respected coach Mark Few at Gonzaga, where he would buy into a pro-style team system instead of playing for a program that would allow him to average 20 points per game.

Out of more than 3000 Division One college players, Holmgren was fourth in blocks per game (3.7) and eighth in block percentage, blocking 12.6 per cent of opponent shots while he was on the court.

He was also number one in two-point field goal percentage, converting almost 74 per cent of his chances as he routinely finished off lobs and alley-oops both in the half-court and in transition, and his seven-foot-six wingspan made it impossible to block his shot when he was allowed to catch with two feet in the paint.

Add to the equation that he shot a terrific 39 per cent from long range on 3.3 attempts per game, and that he has displayed for more ball-handling and open-court playmaking in the international game than he was allowed to in college, and he is a near-flawless prospect.

As such a unique prospect, there are very few comparisons that can be made. Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis seems the only obvious choice, but Holmgren plays a less ball-dominant style, like a bigger Andrei Kirilenko.

His one major flaw scouts point to is his body – he is seven feet tall and weighs less than 200lbs – and does not appear to have a frame that will allow him to blow up physically the way Giannis Antetokounmpo and other skinny rookies have.

But how many players in the NBA right now are actually too skinny? It is hard to think of a single player who is truly unplayable because of not being physically stout enough.

Oklahoma City Thunder wing Aleksej Pokusevski is a similar build, but he does not play center, and does not show close to the defensive chops Holmgren does. 

Admittedly, against hulking behemoths like Joel Embiid – who are exceedingly rare – he may need to play next to a true, bruising center, to take the pressure off; but those match-ups are few and far between.

The third player in the top tier is Banchero, and although the Magic are reportedly not considering him with the top pick, some respected draft analysts rate him as this year's best prospect.

It is easy to see why, especially given the modern NBA.

Banchero projects as the most likely of the top trio to become a lead initiator early in his career, flashing terrific feel for the game with ball in hand, and an ability to attack the rim and create off the dribble.

In his one season, he had 24 games with at least three assists, while Smith had 11 games with at least three assists, and Holmgren had six.

The ability to create shots for yourself and others is thought of as the most valuable skill-set in basketball, with LeBron James clearly the standard-bearer, but with less explosive athleticism Banchero more closely mimics Jimmy Butler on the offensive end, without the Heat star's unrelenting defensive motor.

To be clear, Banchero is significantly bigger than both James and Butler, reportedly measuring in at over six-foot-10 without shoes, with a grown man's body at 250lbs. Given his size, his lack of true first-step explosion – or 'wiggle' off the bounce – should not greatly hinder his ability as a match-up nightmare from day one.

Banchero is too big for traditional wing defenders who will have a speed advantage on him, and he will be too quick for guys his own size.

He has shown he can run pick-and-roll and operate in a pass-first role, and jumbo playmakers like Luka Doncic and Cade Cunningham are showing that elite quickness is not mandatory at that size if you are savvy enough and understand how to use power instead of speed.

The Houston Rockets are the overwhelming favourites to select Banchero with the third selection, pairing him with one of the best athletes in the entire league in last year's number-two pick, Jalen Green.

Chet Holmgren has declared for the 2022 NBA Draft but insists he is more concerned by finding a "good fit" than being the first man off the board.

Gonzaga freshman Holmgren confirmed to ESPN on Thursday he would be entering the draft.

"After a season where we accomplished a lot of great things as both a team and an individual, I feel like I'm in a position to be able to chase my lifelong dream to play in the NBA," he said.

And the seven-foot center is among the favourites to be taken as the first overall pick.

Holmgren averaged 14.1 points, 9.9 rebounds and 3.7 blocks for the Bulldogs this season, shooting a superb 60.7 per cent from the floor and 39.0 per cent from three.

But the number one selection is not the 19-year-old's primary concern.

"I understand basketball is a business and going number one doesn't mean nearly as much as finding a good fit and the right situation," Holmgren added in the same ESPN interview.

"At the end of the day, I'm hoping for whatever is best for me and my future, and if that's at number one, then that's great."

Coach Mike Krzyzewski's fairytale ending is alive and well after Duke came from behind to knock Texas Tech out of March Madness 78-73 and move on to the Elite Eight.

Krzyzewski – affectionately known as 'Coach K' – is in the last season of his 42-year run as Duke's head coach, and is searching for his sixth national championship.

It was far from easy for the Blue Devils against a Red Raider side in their third Sweet 16 from the past four tournaments, trailing 33-29 at half-time.

In the final 15 minutes, neither team was able to build a lead of more than five points as it seesawed back-and-forth before two clutch Jeremy Roach jump shots gave Duke a 73-68 buffer with 1:33 remaining.

Duke's top NBA Draft prospect Paolo Banchero showed exactly why he is going to make plenty of money at the next level, scoring a team-high 21 points on seven-of-12 shooting to go with four assists and three steals as the best player on the court.

Chet Holmgren did his lottery chances no harm with a dominant performance in Gonzaga's 93-72 win over Georgia State, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

The 64-team, single elimination tournament – affectionately known as March Madness – is often where players make a name for themselves in front of crowds full of NBA scouts, and for top prospects to prove that they can do it under bright lights. The potential number-one pick in this year's NBA Draft, Holmgren scored 19 points of 8-for-13 shooting.

Holmgren is one of four players who could realistically expect to get picked at number one this year, along with Auburn's Jabari Smith, Purdue's Jaden Ivey and Duke's Paolo Banchero.

As the best player on the tournament's overall number-one seed, Holmgren - who stands at seven-feet tall with a seven-foot-six wingspan - also added 17 rebounds, five assists, seven blocks and two steals as he impacted nearly every possession at both ends of the floor.

Baylor Bears coach Scott Drew dedicated his side's maiden NCAA Men's Championship title to their loyal fans and administration two decades after the scandal which led to his appointment.

The Bears defeated the previously unbeaten Gonzaga Bulldogs 86-70, with guard Jared Butler named MVP following 22 points, three rebounds and seven assists.

Baylor's first national title comes 18 years after the scandal which rocked the NCAA and led to Drew's appointment as coach to rebuild the team in 2003.

"I prayed about it," Drew said post-game. "God has blessed us with unbelievable players.

"Our fans who have been with us throughout the lean years [deserve this]. Our administration and the city of Waco deserves this. The state of Texas deserves it."

Baylor got a fast start, scoring the first nine points of the game and were never headed, leading by as many as 20 points in the last.

"All year long this is what they do," Drew said. "We have a starting rotation. Each night might be someone different but they've sacrificed all along.

"If you're going to be in a bubble for three to four weeks, you want do it with people you love. They're unbelievable basketball players, better people."

Gonzaga coach Mark Few admitted the Bears were simply too good.

"They just beat us in every facet of the game tonight," Few said. "Hats off to Baylor."

Jalen Suggs called game in stunning fashion, draining a buzzer-beating three-pointer as Gonzaga clinched a jaw-dropping 93-90 overtime victory against UCLA en route to the NCAA title decider.

UCLA – the 11th seeds – had just tied the game with 3.3 seconds remaining thanks to Johnny Juzang's putback on Saturday amid the team's Cinderella run during March Madness.

With Gonzaga's unbeaten campaign on the line, Suggs remarkably nailed a three from 30 feet as time expired in Indianapolis, where chaotic celebrates ensued.

Suggs' epic heroics set up a blockbuster showdown with Baylor (27-2) in a battle of the top seeds in Monday's title game.

Gonzaga (31-0) – who have never won an NCAA championship, having lost to North Carolina in 2017 – will attempt to become the first undefeated national championship team since the Indiana Hoosiers in 1976.

"I've always wanted to run up on the table [after a game winner] like Kobe [Bryant] or D-Wade [Dwyane Wade]," said Suggs, who finished the final-four encounter with 16 points on six-of-12 shooting.

"Every day in shootaround before the game we shoot half-courters,'' Suggs said. "I haven't been making my half-courters, but I got it with confidence, put it up. It's crazy. I can't come to words right now.''

The two combined losses by Gonzaga and Baylor will tie the fewest ever by the two teams entering the title game of the NCAA Tournament, per Stats Perform. The others with two game in 1957 and 1966.

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