The Murray State Racers became the first team to punch their ticket to the national tournament on Saturday thanks to the do-it-all efforts of Ja Morant—a player who, unlike in January, you might have heard of by now. The eighth-leading scorer in the nation dropped 36 points, grabbed seven boards and got two blocks in his team’s 77-65 win over Belmont to win the Ohio Valley Conference Championship. A March Madness berth means that for at least one game in a couple weeks, a nationwide audience will be seeing this mid-major sensation and his incredibly vicious dunks for the first time.
The grunt that you heard the broadcaster instinctively make after Morant’s slam is exactly the feeling everyone gets seeing this high-flyer for the first time. After averaging just half of his point total this season during his freshman year, Morant has exploded onto the college hoops scene as a prospect who seems like he can create buckets at will—he has the 16th-best offensive rating in college basketball, per KenPom—through his own shooting (54.7% eFG) and his passing (nation-leading 10.0 apg).
That dunk wasn’t even Morant’s best highlight of the game, in my opinion. The best thing he did was when he got ball in the dying embers of the game and tried to give himself an alley-oop off the backboard to seal the game with authority. Unfortunately, he miscalculated the jump and missed the dunk. But the intention of scoring an unnecessary bucket was in the air and infected his teammate who rebounded the ball. Instead of holding onto to it and running out the clock, Morant’s teammate decided to do some late stat-padding and scored a layup. It’s important to note that Murray State was up 10 at this point in the game.
If for some reason you are unable to catch Morant and Murray State in the tournament, you’ll likely have a chance to at least catch the sophomore guard a few months later on an NBA roster. ESPN draft analyst Mike Schmitz said that he believes Morant “has leapfrogged RJ Barrett as the second-best prospect in the draft behind Zion Williamson.”
While some might see that as a bit of a stretch, Morant is at least a top-3 draft candidate. Even on a night where the anomaly on his stat line came in the assists column, he found a way to impress scouts who didn’t even feel the need to see his performance in the conference championship. His speed, court vision and scoring talents put him in the similar realms as players like De’Aaron Fox or John Wall, just without the blue blood hype. If those comps even come mildly close to true, he’ll be the best prospect to come out of his school by a wide margin, as the school’s recent draft history shows.
But, again, if you want to skip all of that uncertainty, you could just watch him in the national tournament.