NBA Draft prospect matchups to watch in NCAA Tourament this weekend

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What are NBA GMs and scouts looking for come the NCAA Tournament? What are they going to learn they didn’t in the other 30-60 (or more) college games they have watched of these prospects?

How guys do against better competition. And how they do under the pressure of a one-and-done situation.

With that in mind, there are some very interesting matchups this Thursday and Friday in the NCAA Tournament that will peak scouts’ interest. Below are six to follow.

We reached out for some expert opinions from Ed Isaacson of Rotoworld and NBADraftBlog, as well as Rob Dauster of our NBC sister site CollegeBasketballTalk.

Wichita State vs. Notre Dame (Thursday, 7:15 pm ET)

What to watch for: Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant vs. Tekele Cotton/Wichita State perimeter defense. Grant is a borderline lottery pick and one of the top two seniors in this NBA draft. He knows how to score, he sets guys up, but we get a chance to see how he will deal with real pressure.

From Rob Dauster: Cotton is one of the best perimeter defenders in college hoops, and I expect him to get matched up against Grant, who was arguably the most dynamic guard in the country this year.

From Ed Isaacson: While Grant can hit form long-range, he’s at his best when he get into the defense and either get to the rim or kick it out to the perimeter shooters. Wichita State’s defense, led by Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, does a very good job containing on the perimeter. Restricting Grant’s movement can slow down Notre Dame’s offense as a whole, but if Grant can get into the defense consistently, the Irish perimeter shooters should have a very good day. Also, worth watching is any one-on-one match between VanVleet and ND’s Demetrius Jackson. Two very smart point guards that just know how to make the right plays.

Kentucky vs. West Virginia (Thursday, 9:45 pm ET)

What to watch for: Andrew Harrison/Kentucky’s back court vs. West Virginia’s press. Kentucky is loaded with talent and shooting guard Devin Booker is a borderline lottery pick if he comes out this year. But on guard is not enough against the Mountaineers and Wildcat sophomore Andrew Harrison is on the bubble of getting drafted period (he likely returns) — how he deals with West Virginia’s aggressive defense will be interesting.

From Rob Dauster: Harrison has had a nice NCAA tournament thus far, to the point that some think he may have a shot of getting picked late in the first round. West Virginia plays an all-out, trapping press that will challenge Kentucky’s ball-handlers. Will Andrew be up to the test?

From Ed Isaacson: West Virginia probably has one real hope in this game, and that’s with their full court pressure. Freshman Tyler Ulis should end up with a lot more minutes for Kentucky, as he’s their best, and smartest, ballhandler, by far. Still, it usually takes two good ballhandlers to beat West Virginia’s pressure and that’s where Kentucky can have problems. Andrew Harrison has always been sloppy against pressure, and I expect West Virginia to target him. Kentucky will need to get the ball up the floor quickly to avoid the pressure, so expect guys like Devin Booker and Aaron Harrison to be a lot more involved in ballhandling. West Virginia doesn’t have the interior size to compete with Kentucky, but they are tough, and expect Karl Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, etc., to have some frustrating moments.

Xavier v. Arizona (Thursday, 10:17 pm ET)

What to watch for: Arizona’s has a lottery pick Stanley Johnson, how does he fare against another strong defense?

From Ed Isaacson: Johnson is coming off a bad performance against Ohio State, shooting just 1-of-12 from the field, and Xavier has the defenders to make him have to work just as hard to get good shot attempts. Arizona’s biggest advantage should come on the boards, both attacking the offensive glass and keeping Xavier from the same,and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (a potential first round pick) will be Arizona’s most important player in this regard. Xavier will need to be very conscious of him when shots go up. Luckily, they don’t have to worry much about him as an offensive weapon away from that.

North Carolina v. Wisconsin (Thursday 7:47 pm ET)

What to watch for: The Badgers’ big man Frank Kaminsky is a lottery pick, but he can help his standing with a big game against a high profile program.

From Ed Isaacson: With Kennedy Meeks likely out for UNC, Frank Kaminsky could have a really big game against back-ups Joel James and Isaiah Hicks. The Tar Heels may try to put Brice Johnson and his length against Kaminsky, but that could open opportunities for Sam Dekker to get to the basket if Kaminsky brings his man out to the perimeter. Johnson’s athleticism could be a problem for whoever Wisconsin has guard him, plus Marcus Paige and Justin Jackson are both capable of scoring points quickly, and UNC can be relentless attacking the offensive boards. This should be the best game on Thursday night.

Gonzaga vs. UCLA (Friday, 7:15 pm ET)

What to watch for: UCLA’s Kevon Looney vs. Gonzaga’s Kyle Wiltjer — does the Zags’ power forward have the defensive chops to keep up with a first rounder.

From Rob Dauster: We know how good Wiltjer is scoring the ball, but his issue is on the defensive end of the floor. Looney is long, lanky and athletic with the ability to do damage around the rim and from the three-point line. It will be a good test for Wiltjer, who is trying to prove that he, like Looney, is worthy of a first round pick.

Duke vs. Utah (Friday 9:45 pm ET)

What to watch for: Jakob Poeltl vs. Jahlil Okafor, a battle of two bigs who will be drafted in the lottery.

From Rob Dauster: This one works both ways. Poeltl has a high-upside, but he’s been bullied at times in the paint this season. What happens against the nation’s best low-post scorer? And for Okafor, the biggest issue he has is on the defensive end of the floor, and one thing Poeltl does really well is work with Delon Wright in ball-screen actions. Has Okafor gotten better defending the pick-and-roll from the disasters he had in January?

Must watch: Lonzo Ball halfcourt alley-oop to Zion Williamson

Lonzo Ball Zion Williamson
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Damn. This is just a thing of beauty.

Lonzo Ball and Zion Williams have a connection on the court and the Grizzlies got a look at it up close and personal Monday.

NBA TV has another angle

In a must-win game for 0-2 New Orleans, Zion played more in the first half than we have seen recently, but he was still under 10 minutes total. He had 11 points on 5-of-11 shooting, leading an energized Pelicans team that led by seven at the half.

Thunder’s Dennis Schroder leaves bubble for birth of child

Dennis Shroder child
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Dennis Schroder was not in uniform when Oklahoma City lost to Denver Monday. He wasn’t even in Orlando.

Schroder left the bubble to be with his wife for the birth of his child, something the team knew was coming but came up suddenly Monday morning, coach Billy Donovan said pregame (reporting from ESPN’s Dave McMenamin inside the bubble).

 

“I’m not gonna leave my wife by herself while she’s having a second baby,” Schroder said when he talked about this with reporters previously. “(Dennis) Jr. is still 17 months old, so I’m for sure gonna go there and support her and try as much as I can to be there for my family.”

Congratulations to the Schroder family, we hope everyone is happy and healthy.

The Thunder will miss Schroder while he’s gone. He is a Sixth Man of the Year candidate averaging 19 points per game while shooting 38.1% from three. The Thunder are at their most dangerous when Schroder is paired with Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a rotation that we will not see for a while.

The first round of the playoffs starts Aug. 17. Schroder can return to the team, the question is how long he will be in quarantine when he does. If Schroeder has a negative coronavirus test for seven consecutive days before his return, he will be in quarantine for four days. If he does not get tested, or if he exposes himself to the virus unnecessarily while outside the bubble — for example, picking up wings from a strip club for dinner — he will have a 10-day quarantine.

The Thunder could use him for what will be a tight first-round playoff series in a very balanced West. Schroder may or may not be there, he has higher priorities right now.

Oklahoma state Rep. threatens to increase Thunder’s taxes for kneeling during national anthem

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The Oklahoma City Thunder – like all NBA teams (minus a few individuals) – kneeled during the national anthem.

That powerful protest calls attention to racism, particularly through police brutality. It is highly patriotic to work toward ending those shameful practices. Though some have distorted the underlying message, the protests have largely worked. In the years since Colin Kaepernick first kneeled, Americans have developed a heightened sensitivity to racism and police brutality.

Of course, there are still many opponents of anthem kneeling. The demonstration causes a visceral reaction (which is also why it has been so effective). At this point, it’s hard to stand out among the critics of anthem kneeling who keep making the same, tired arguments.

Oklahoma state representative Sean Roberts found a way.

Roberts, via Oklahoma’s News 4:

“By kneeling during the playing of the national anthem, the NBA and its players are showing disrespect to the American flag and all it stands for. This anti-patriotic act makes clear the NBA’s support of the Black Lives Matter group and its goal of defunding our nation’s police, its ties to Marxism and its efforts to destroy nuclear families.

If the Oklahoma City Thunder leadership and players follow the current trend of the NBA by kneeling during the national anthem prior to Saturday’s game, perhaps we need to reexamine the significant tax benefits the State of Oklahoma granted the Oklahoma City Thunder organization when they came to Oklahoma. Through the Quality Jobs Act, the Thunder is still under contract to receive these tax breaks from our state until 2024.

Perhaps these funds would be better served in support of our police departments rather than giving tax breaks to an organization that supports defunding police and the dissolution of the American nuclear family.”

This is outrageous.

It’s outrageous that the Thunder get such a targeted tax break. The franchise is a private company that should succeed or fail based on its own merits. While it’s easy for NBA fans (like readers of this site) to get caught up in the league, professional basketball isn’t actually important for the greater good.

It’s outrageous that a company’s tax status could depend on how its employees exercise their freedom of expression. The First Amendment still exists.

Ultimately, Roberts almost certainly doesn’t have the power to do what he’s threatening. This is grandstanding for political gain. It gets Roberts into national headlines and little else. Mission accomplished, I guess.

So, Roberts builds a reputation as another big-government politician – someone who wants to use the heavy hand of government to dissuade free expression.

NBA referee Brent Barnaky explains standing for the national anthem

NBA referee Brent Barnaky
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Magic forward Jonathan Isaac, Heat big Meyers Leonard and Spurs coaches Gregg Popovich and Becky Hammon drew plenty of attention for standing during the national anthem while nearly all NBA players, coaches and referees kneeled.

Referee Brent Barnaky also stood.

Tim Bontemps of ESPN:

This isn’t much of an explanation. Nor does it need to be. Barnaky explained that he wasn’t countering the message of kneeling players (opposing racism, particularly through police brutality). That’s sufficient for Barnaky to maintain his neutral positioning – important for an official.

For decades, nearly everyone stood for the national anthem. For many people, that was just about following norms. Even NBA players espousing social-justice messaging previously stood for the national anthem.

But Colin Kaepernick’s brave defiance caused some people to thoughtfully consider their national-anthem posture. So, while many people continued to stand for the national anthem because that’s just was done, some made deliberate choices based on their own values. Sometimes, that led to kneeling. Sometimes, that led to standing.

The thoughtful standers blended into the crowd… until kneeling became widespread in the NBA. Now, they’re the noticeable outliers within the league.

It can take courage to go against the grain. I commend Barnaky for that – and for voicing his support for social justice and peaceful protest.

Barnaky made a personal choice that can stand alone. It doesn’t undermine what anyone else is doing.