DJ Burns & Zach Edey Are March Madness’ Big Men Of The Moment, But UConn’s Donovan Clingan Is The NBA Prospect To Watch

Donovan Clingan
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NC State’s 6-foot-9, 275-pound beefcake DJ Burns is the talk of the NCAA Tournament, as he’s led the Wolfpack from a stunning automatic bid to the Big Dance to the Final Four and two wins away from a national championship.

Burns’ ascent to stardom overshadows almost everything that’s gone on in the tournament. He’s definitely the underdog story all of America is rooting for, and Burns is playing so well that he’s responding to Nikola Jokic postgame shout outs.

Another major subplot involves Zach Edey, the Purdue Boilermakers’ National Player of the Year. The 7-foot-4 sensation will soon go head-to-head with Burns in the Final Four.  No battle of big men will ever have such lopsided rooting interests from neutral observers. Some of the memes are hysterical, too.

Whereas Burns is universally beloved, Edey’s brand of basketball is a throwback to the gritty centers who used to pound away in the paint and flat-out dominate thanks to a combination of insurmountable, superior size and a little bit of skill. Edey has more than a little bit of skill, even if the refs help him out with foul calls on both ends of the court from time to time.

Nevertheless, you can’t argue with what Edey has achieved. What’s more, defending national champion UConn’s head coach Dan Hurley is fading the widespread consensus in believing Edey has a very real NBA future ahead of him.

Interestingly enough, it’ll probably be the super-tall dynamo in Hurley’s own locker room who emerges from the NCAA Tournament as the big man with the most promise at the professional level.

Although he’s not a household name on the level of Burns or Edey, Huskies sophomore Donovan Clingan has taken a huge leap from a rotational player last season to the driving force behind UConn’s repeat bid. At least for me, it’s been easy to snooze through what UConn has done of late, simply because they’re beating the living piss out of all their opponents.

Coaching at high levels of sports depends a lot on in-game adjustments. In the Elite Eight, Illinois was giving the Huskies all they could handle for about a half. However, they were struggling mightily to score points in the paint because of how exceptional Clingan is as a rim protector. That led to one of the funniest “f*ck around and find out” sequences of the year.

Illini coach Brad Underwood insisted that his team would keep challenging Clingan and driving to the bucket. Guess what happened next?

Yup. A 30-0 run. Ballgame.

As a result, ESPN is gassing up Donovan Clingan as the potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 NBA Draft, or at least a prospect who could go in the top three.

Even the most bullish of forecasts for Edey are nowhere near that high, while Burns is considered a fringe NBA prospect at best who may have to grind his way through the G League as an undrafted free agent.

Edey’s raw numbers dwarf those of Clingan. The thing is, UConn boasts no fewer than five possible draft picks, so there’s more sharing of the wealth. What Clingan is doing translates better to the pros, or so it would seem. It’s gobsmacking to read the following statistics from Clingan’s clinic versus Illinois.

Clingan has done all this in his first season as a college starter. Imagine the upside he still has to explore in the NBA. I think by the time the Final Four and national championship game ends, Clingan will be the last big man standing and the one who leaves the lasting impression on yet another wild edition of March Madness.

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