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.
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?