What NBA Prospects Should Fans Keep an Eye on During the Round of 32?

Jeremy Woo
Sports Illustrated

The NCAA tournament continues with the Round of 32 games on Saturday and Sunday, offering an increasingly large stage for prospects to show their skills. After strong showings from a range of top talent on Thursday and Friday, this weekend’s slate of games comes with more storylines and individual matchups worth watching.

Whether you’re an NBA fan hoping to catch a glimpse of your team’s potential draft picks or a college diehard just trying to make sense of the landscape, we’ve prepared a guide to each of this weekend’s matchups. This is part two of an ongoing series—we’ll circle back again before the Sweet 16. For the next 48 hours, keep this handy.

All Start Times Eastern.

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Saturday

(3) LSU vs. (6) Maryland - 12:10 p.m., CBS

Prospects to watch: Naz Reid, Tremont Waters, Ja’vonte Smart (LSU); Bruno Fernando, Jalen Smith (Maryland)

This is a nice showcase for Reid and Fernando, who will spend time battling inside all game. Reid has been playing better of late, and any semblance of consistency, particularly against Maryland’s NBA-caliber size up front, should move the needle on a small scale. Fernando and Smith will also be up for a more physical contest against LSU’s slew of athletic bigs, and double doubles won’t be as easy to come by as they were against Belmont. A lot of this game will take place on the interior, but Waters’s steady hand might be the key to winning it, and gives the Tigers a pronounced edge.

(2) Kentucky vs. (7) Wofford - 2:40 p.m., CBS

Prospects to watch: Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson, Ashton Hagans (Kentucky); Fletcher Magee (Wofford)

It sounds like projected first-rounder P.J. Washington is unlikely to play, and while Kentucky’s other bigs will have an athletic advantage in this one, the window might at least be open for Wofford to make noise. It will be curious to see if the Wildcats place top defender Hagans to try and slow Magee, who has been on a tear and is capable of high-difficulty makes. UK will need Herro and Johnson to supply the offense and step up in Washington’s absence, and there will be additional shots to go around.

(2) Michigan vs. (10) Florida - 5:15 p.m., CBS

Prospects to watch: Jordan Poole, Charles Matthews, Ignas Brazdeikis (Michigan); Andrew Nembhard, Keyontae Johnson (Florida)

Don’t expect this to be aesthetically pleasing, as both teams hang their hats defensively. If Michigan is making threes, it's tough to beat, and it has a variety of scorers, but Poole is the primary guy to watch to see if he can get back on track. His perimeter scoring is crucial if Michigan is going to make a run. This is also another good look at Nembhard, who has been playing well down the stretch and will eventually be a factor in the draft, although next year seems more likely.

(4) Florida State vs. (12) Murray State - 6:10 p.m., TNT

Prospects to watch: Mfiondu Kabengele (Florida State); Ja Morant (Murray State)

Another day, another Ja Morant showcase game. This one will be a much more difficult test, as the Seminoles can throw waves of athletic bigs out to try and limit Morant’s effectiveness in the paint. He’ll have less margin for error than usual with turnovers, and will have to be methodical in finding teammates for the Racers to have a chance. They dropped games against Alabama and Auburn in December, and Florida State will pose a similar sort of challenge. At this point, don’t put anything past Morant, our No. 2 prospect in this draft class. This should be must-watch TV.

(1) Gonzaga vs. (9) Baylor - 7:10 p.m., TBS

Prospects to watch: Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke, Zach Norvell, Killian Tillie (Gonzaga); Jared Butler (Baylor)

After hardly being tested in the first round, this is a much better chance to catch Gonzaga’s guys in action, and Baylor at least has the athletes to keep up and keep it close. After nailing 16 threes against Syracuse, the Bears can challenge at an upset with a similar effort. Freshman guard Butler has been playing well for Baylor of late, and will be a long-term guy to track.

(2) Michigan State vs. (10) Minnesota - 7:45 p.m., CBS

Prospects to watch: Cassius Winston (Michigan State); Amir Coffey (Minnesota)

It’s unusually early for an intra-conference matchup, but here we are. The Spartans struggled against Bradley, but were dragged to a win by Winston, who is making a strong case to be drafted at the moment with his methodical playmaking and deceptive scoring ability. Minnesota may use the much larger Coffey (who’s been terrific the past couple weeks) to track him, which will give you a reasonable facsimile of how Winston might handle NBA length on the perimeter. This is a game that might be closer than you expect.

(3) Purdue vs. (6) Villanova - 8:40 p.m., TNT

Prospects to watch: Carsen Edwards (Purdue); Eric Paschall (Villanova)

Efficiency has not been Edwards’s game this season, but he can put up points quickly. In a game that might be tight and low-scoring, his effort will again make the difference, and he could probably use a big game to leave some fresh memories in people’s minds as the draft approaches. He’s looked much more like a second-rounder than anything else lately, although the team context and lack of shot-creators on Purdue’s roster has to be taken into account.

(4) Kansas vs. (5) Auburn - 9:40 p.m., TBS

Prospects to watch: Dedric Lawson, Devon Dotson, Ochai Agbaji, Quentin Grimes (Kansas); Chuma Okeke (Auburn)

After a huge showing in the first round, Lawson will try and keep it up against a much deeper Auburn frontline that will force him to rebound in traffic. This is a much better litmus test for Kansas, who had been somewhat shaky down the stretch but got a confidence boost Thursday against Northeastern. Dotson, Agbaji and Grimes can all be difference-makers, and all three might also be back next season. Okeke continues to play well for Auburn, and is on the fringe of the first round at the moment.

Sunday

(2) Tennessee vs. (10) Iowa - 12:10 p.m., CBS

Prospects to watch: Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield, Jordan Bone (Tennessee); Tyler Cook (Iowa)

The Vols have more to prove this month, and Williams will likely see a lot of Cook in a meeting of undersized but capable bigs. If this game grinds to a halt, Iowa has a chance to play spoiler. Schofield continues to knock down big shots, which Tennessee needed as Williams struggled Friday against Colgate, and continues to prove he might be more reliable than some imagined from outside.

(1) North Carolina vs. (9) Washington - 2:40 p.m., CBS

Prospects to watch: Coby White, Nassir Little, Cam Johnson (North Carolina); Matisse Thybulle, Jaylen Nowell (Washington)

This game could feature four first-round picks, making it well worth your time. On Friday, it was Johnson and Little who stole the show for North Carolina, who disposed of Iona after a slow start, and now get a fascinating matchup against Washington’s 2-3 zone. This will be a natural showcase for Thybulle’s disruptive presence on defense. The Huskies aren’t as talented, but will try to keep their opponents out of transition. The shot-making chops of White and Johnson will swing this game, one way or another.

(1) Duke vs. (9) UCF - 5:15 p.m., CBS

Prospects to watch: Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish, Tre Jones (Duke); Tacko Fall (UCF)

As you know by now, Williamson and Duke are appointment television as he cuts his final flaming swath through college basketball before moving on to the NBA. UCF will pose a more interesting foil for Duke, although this is a game that Duke could tear open quickly by getting into transition. Also, everyone will watch to see if Zion can dunk on the 7’6” Fall, which isn’t entirely fair given how impactful the latter has been this season. Still, this is a game that’s unlikely to be played at his pace.

(3) Texas Tech vs. (6) Buffalo - 6:10 p.m., TNT

Prospects to watch: Jarrett Culver (Texas Tech); CJ Massinburg (Buffalo)

Culver was magnificent against Northern Kentucky on Friday, with 29 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and just one turnover. Texas Tech may need him to be that good again against a tough, battle-tested Buffalo team that will try to push the pace and make them play in transition. Culver (No. 3 on our big board) has been carrying the offensive load all year, and a successful run here can only help strengthen his case as a top-five selection.

(4) Virginia Tech vs. (12) Liberty - 7:10 p.m., TBS

Prospects to watch: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Justin Robinson (Virginia Tech)

Robinson made a triumphant return on Friday night after missing more than a month with a foot injury. He’s sneakily a strong candidate to make an NBA roster down the line with his toughness, playmaking and perimeter shooting. Having him on the floor also frees up Alexander-Walker off the ball, in a role that suits him much better. By avoiding an upset, the Hokies will likely get another shot at Duke, who they beat last month in a game that didn’t feature Robinson or Zion Williamson.

(1) Virginia vs. (9) Oklahoma - 7:45 p.m., TruTV

Prospects to watch: DeAndre Hunter, Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy (Virginia)

After shaking their 1-16 jitters, Virginia gets a tougher test in the Sooners, who are well coached in the absence of projectable pro talent. Hunter and Jerome have garnered more attention, but NBA teams have also evaluated Guy closely, and his toughness and shot-making skills offer some level of appeal. This game will probably be slow and winding, but all three of UVA’s prospects require repeat viewings to fully appreciate.

(3) Houston vs. (11) Ohio State - 8:40 p.m., TNT

Prospects to watch: Dejon Jarreau (Houston); Kaleb Wesson (Ohio State)

Jarreau racked up 10 points and seven assists in just 18 minutes off the bench against Georgia State on Friday, and gives the Cougars dynamic playmaking. While Corey Davis has been Houston’s top player, Jarreau is the more intriguing long-term guy. Ohio State picked off Iowa State and will lean on Wesson’s savvy as a passer and rebounding presence to try and free up their guards. Wesson needs to slim down, but he’s a high-IQ player with legit size who should be good enough to get an NBA shot down the line.

(12) Oregon vs. (13) UC Irvine - 9:40 p.m., TBS

Prospects to watch: Louis King, Kenny Wooten (Oregon)

Two red-hot teams meet in the final game of the second round, in what will be another showcase for Louis King, who has made a strong case as a first-round talent with his recent play. He’s big, skilled and can knock down shots, and has the type of profile that teams love to roll the dice on. I wrote this exact sentence two days ago, but Wooten is one of the most athletic players to ever pick up a basketball, and that alone can be fun to watch. This should be a game worth staying up for.

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