The month of March always belongs to college basketball on the sports calendar, but it has stolen some of the early winter spotlight away from its professional counterpart and even football because of how much raw talent is spread across the country.
Don’t think NBA front offices haven’t noticed.
The 2013 freshman class is one of the best in recent memory, and returning superstars litter the college basketball landscape. One player that has stood out among everyone else though is Duke’s Jabari Parker.
The Chicago-product wasted little time making a first impression by scoring better than 20 points in each of the Blue Devils’ initial seven games. He torched Kansas at the Champions Classic for 27 points and nine rebounds and left a lasting mark on NBA scouts even in a losing effort.
On the season, Parker is posting nightly averages of 22.1 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.6 blocks behind 54.8 percent shooting from the field, a 46.7 percent clip from downtown and 72.5 percent shooting from the free-throw line. He is an absolute stat-sheet stuffer in every sense of the word and leads his team in points, rebounds and blocks.
As CBS Sports’ Matt Moore points out, it is much more than just Parker’s stats that have him in contention to be the No. 1 pick in the next NBA draft:
He's the one player who seems to put together all the elements; that versatility is more highly regarded in NBA circles than at any point in history. There are a lot of Carmelo Anthony comparisons for him, but he's such a gifted playmaker, it honestly feels like an insult. And that alone is a crazy statement in a vacuum.
For what it’s worth, Moore had Parker going No. 1 overall in a recent mock draft, largely because of that versatility and overall skill set. However, there are some players that could stand in Parker’s way on his quest to become the top pick.
For as much hype and love that Parker has received, Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins has seen more. Grantland’s Bill Simmons even coined the phrase “Riggin’ for Wiggins” to describe the efforts of some of the NBA’s worst teams as they hypothetically attempt to improve their draft status by losing:
Tonight has the Biggest Riggin' for Wiggins battle of the NBA season so far: Utah at Boston. Even 3,000 miles away you can feel the tension.— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) November 6, 2013
Wiggins possesses the same type of versatility that Parker does, although he hasn’t posted the same eye-popping numbers yet. He is Parker’s biggest obstacle to becoming the top pick.
Parker and Wiggins put on a show at the Champions Classic, but it was Kentucky’s Julius Randle that drew the most headlines for his performance.
Who would you rather have in the NBA?
The big man posted 27 points and 13 rebounds in just his third career college game against Michigan State’s physically bruising front line. Tom Izzo’s bunch is loaded with potential NBA players, and none of them seemed to bother Randle.
If the team that holds the top pick needs a big man to grab rebounds, swat shots and establish a formidable presence down low, don’t be surprised if Randle is the first name called.
Parker, Wiggins and Randle may be the three most NBA-ready players at the college level right now, but names such as Marcus Smart, Aaron Gordon and Joel Embiid come to mind when discussing other candidates.
Gordon is a Blake Griffin clone who soars above the rim and contributes on the boards, while Smart is the best player in the country who isn’t a freshman. Smart is an offensive weapon in the backcourt with a pure shooting stroke, but he is just as valuable for his perimeter defense.
With so much talent across the board, if your favorite NBA team is anywhere in the top 10 on draft day, the future will be promising.
Follow and interact with Bleacher Report writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.