Here's how to get drafted in the first round. The numbers, as trainer David Thorpe argues on his blog, make a clear case: make it to the sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.
24 American players were drafted in round 1. 21 of them played for teams who made it to the NCAA's. That is right-21 of 24, meaning 87.5% of the American first rounders played in the dance and 70% of all the first rounders. But let's look even further into the numbers:
Of the top 17 players taken overall, 12 played in the Sweet 16 or better, 7 in the Elite 8 or better. Which means that when we were watching the Sweet 16's in March, we saw 16 total 1st round picks, 12 of which got drafted in the top 17. Add Joakim Noah and Al Horford to this mix(surefire lottery picks), Josh McRoberts as well, and you'd have 15 of the top 20 players drafted having played in the Sweet 16.
There are two messages there: the first is that NBA decision makers want to draft proven winners.
The second message I take from it is: the big decision makers aren't watching college basketball all that much. And how could they be? They have to watch tons of NBA every day. College basketball has thousands of games every year, and GMs and vice presidents of basketball operations just can't have the time.
But everyone watches the tournament. It's an easy time to fall in love with a prospect, and if you're not on TV in March, you miss that opportunity.