Julius Randle

The Extra Pass: Six NCAA Sweet 16 match-ups NBA fans should pay attention to

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Your bracket has gone the way of the Dodo, so now you can just watch the NCAA Tournament to root for teams trying on the glass slipper… and to see players your team may try to draft this June.

There are a few match ups in the Sweet 16 that should interest NBA fans — interesting showdowns of players who names Adam Silver (or Mark Tatum) will call in June.

Here are six to watch.

Julius Randle (Kentucky) vs. Montrezl Harrell (Louisville). This is the matchup everyone will be talking about — it could be one of the best of the weekend (in a rivalry game, just to add to the fun). Randle played well for Kentucky opening weekend and was the one guy in the predicted top four picks to perform up to expectations (unreasonable though they are). Harrell (projected mid to late first round) is a high energy defensive guy who has a lot of physical tools — length, quickness, strength — enough to really challenge Randle. They are separated in the draft because Randle is the far more polished offensive player with a higher ceiling, but right now Harrell has the fast first step on offense to make this a great matchup. Harrell could force the turnover-prone Randle into mistakes that could swing the game, or at least make Randle really work for his points.

Kentucky’s backcourt vs. Louisville’s backcourt. This is what will determine the outcome of the best game in the round of 16 and it’s a matchup PBT’s NBA Draft expert — Scott Isaacson of NBADraftblog.com and Rotoworld — will be watching closely. Here is what Isaacson said:

“When these two teams played in December, the Harrisons and James Young turned the ball over 9 times against the Louisville guards, namely Russ Smith and Chris Jones, and it was a pretty good performance. None of the Kentucky guards are great ballhandlers and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Pitino set Smith loose to harass Andrew Harrison as far out as Smith is comfortable. With real point guard, any disruption to the Kentucky offense can cause a lot of problems. On the flip side, the Harrisons and Young’s size could cause problems for Louisville if they are able to consistently get into their half-court offense, and their size can also hamper Smith’s ability to get good perimeter looks on offense.”

Nik Stauskas (Michigan) vs. Jordan McRae (Tennessee). If you like buckets, this is the matchup to watch — both of these guys may well lead their teams in scoring. Our man Isaacson brakes down the matchup, and thinks it could favor Stauskas and Michigan.

“Here’s a matchup where each player will have trouble guarding the other. Stauskas is a threat to knock down long jumpers or act as the ball handler in pick-and-roll situations. He is a strong passer, so McRae will need to have a strong plan to defend the high screens. McRae loves to attack the basket, but if he sees Stauskas giving him room, he’ll start shooting jumpers. Stauskas best chance to win this matchup is to have McRae shooting jumpers.”

Aaron Gordon vs. San Diego State defense. Gordon turned a lot of heads of people who didn’t watch much (or any) Arizona this year — he is a freak athlete. Watch him and where you often see that athleticism on display is defensively (guys at the college level just don’t know how to handle that). However Gordon has no steady jumper and no reliable offense that isn’t dunks — San Diego State was seventh in the nation in defense (adjusted points per possession, via Ken Pomeroy). Can Gordon score on them, enough to lead his team to victory? This will be entertaining.

Florida backcourt vs. UCLA Backcourt. Kyle Anderson looked good opening weekend (as did everyone on UCLA) as he used that 6’9” frame to get off shots over the top of his defenders. UCLA and Anderson were just physically superior to everyone they faced. That will not be the case Thursday night. Which makes this a contest Isaacson said he is looking forward to in particular in the round of 16.

“The size of the UCLA guards vs. the speed of the Florida guards. Kyle Anderson has a reputation for being very steady under pressure, but Scotty Wilbekin and Michael Frazier, are both capable of extending the defense out where Anderson will have a tough time making plays. Jordan Adams will be pressured on the perimeter all game, so Anderson will need to find a way to break down the Florida defense. When Florida has the ball, expect UCLA to play plenty of zone if they can get away with it. The guards will have trouble containing Wilbekin, which in turn opens up the floor for everyone else. If UCLA goes zone, Frazier and Wilbekin are the only thing close to consistent perimeter shooters for Florida and if they aren’t hitting, Florida’s offense can be in some trouble.”

Shabazz Napier (UConn) vs. DeAndre Kane (Iowa State). From the NBA Draft perspective, this is a battle of two guys trying to get picked later in the second round — these are the kinds of games that can help that cause, can help a GM think “this guy is worth the gamble.” Isaacson talks about this one as well.

“Two of the most exciting point guards in college basketball this year, bot Napier and Kane are comfortable looking to get into the lane or shooting threes. Kane is stronger and he likes to get physical with smaller guards on both ends of the floor. Guarding Napier is a team chore and Kane will need all the help he can get. Napier’s speed and body control allow him to create space pretty much whenever he needs it. The winner of this battle will likely be the one who gets his teammates better touches.”

Pelicans signing center Jerome Jordan

Marc Gasol, Jerome Jordan
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Through the first two weeks of training camp, the Pelicans have seen their frontcourt depth decimated by injuries to Alexis Ajinca and Omer Asik, both of whom are out for a few weeks. A deal with Greg Smith fell through after he failed a physical. Now, Yahoo’s Marc Spears reports that they’re signing former Knicks and Nets center Jerome Jordan as a short-term solution:

Jordan has only played 65 games in his career and hasn’t been spectacular, but the Pelicans need a body while their two centers are out. Anthony Davis will spend some time at center, but considering the contracts Asik and Ajinca got this summer, Alvin Gentry clearly plans on playing him at power forward as well, and they need a center to at least fill time before Asik and Ajinca get back.

Kevin Love unsure about opening-night return

Kevin Love
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He’s back in practice with the Cavaliers, but there’s still no clarity on whether Kevin Love will be available for the season opener. Love had shoulder surgery in April after suffering a torn labrum in Game 4 of the Cavs’ first-round series against the Celtics, and doctors initially gave him a timetable of four to six months for a return. The six-month end of that is right around opening night (October 27), but Love still doesn’t know whether he’ll be able to play against the Bulls—although he is hopeful.

Via the Sporting News‘ Sean Deveney:

“I feel pretty good,” Love told Sporting News. “As far as the opener goes, I am not completely sure. I’ll probably get with the doctors and see what they have to say. I know that my six-month post-op is coming up here pretty fast. As far as getting the strength back, getting the range of motion, I feel pretty good, so I am looking forward to getting into some more contact, getting into a rhythm and getting out there as quickly as I can.”

Love has been cleared for 3-on-3 practices, but not yet for 5-on-5. If it were up to him, he’d be back on the court, but he understands he needs to follow the rehab protocol for his injury.

“(Six months is) just a ballpark figure that has generally been thrown out there by anybody who has talked about the rehab process for this kind of an injury,” Love said. “I like to think that I am ahead of the game, but there’s different tests and the due diligence that the doctor will go through and the training staff will go through. So all I can do is go out there every day and attack my rehab and hopefully I will be able to go out there and help these guys as soon as possible.”

At the very least, the Cavs will be without Kyrie Irving (still recovering from knee surgery) and Iman Shumpert (out up to three months with a wrist injury), and probably Tristan Thompson too, unless his contract situation changes unexpectedly. So having Love available would be some much-needed good news. But it’s more important that Love (and everyone else) is healthy for the playoffs. If he’s not ready to play, there’s no need to rush back for an October game.