The scouting perspective: The best round of 64 NCAA matchups
While the NCAA tournament is not the culmination of scouting players, it does serve an important purpose. For one, it is often the last chance NBA teams have to watch college players in live competition. It also creates some unique matchups on neutral courts in high-stakes, pressure-packed situations that take players out of their normal routines and comfort zones. With four early games each day, scouts can bounce around different venues and get a live look at a huge number of prospects, which is especially useful for small-school players who rarely match up against NBA-sized competition.
With the 2016 NCAA tournament about to begin, we take a look at the top prospect matchups and what NBA teams will be analyzing in the early games.
No. 6 Arizona vs. No. 11 Wichita State
Thursday, 9:15 p.m. ET, TNT
Arizona likely wasn't expecting to face such strong competition this early in the tournament, but it will be tested mightily. Wichita State was considered a likely NIT participant by most after falling earlier than expected in its conference tournament following a disappointing regular season, but advanced to face Arizona by demolishing a very talented Vanderbilt team.
Wichita State is led by seniors Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, who are among the most recognizable names in college basketball after leading Wichita State to the Final Four two years ago and upsetting Kansas in the NCAA tournament last year.
For Arizona, this is a big game for freshman Allonzo Trier. He will likely enter the 2016 NBA draft, sources told The Vertical, and is hoping to show enough to convince scouts he's worthy of being a one-and-done. The 20-¬year-old shooting guard lives at the free throw line, is making 37 percent of his 3-¬pointers and has improved quite a bit defensively since arriving in Tucson. His average physical tools and poor passing ability have made it difficult for him to improve his stock, but a strong tournament run, starting with a big showing against Baker, could help him change scouts' minds.
No. 4 Kentucky vs. No. 13 Stony Brook
Des Moines, Iowa
Thursday, 9:30 p.m. ET, CBS
Stony Brook senior big man Jameel Warney had arguably the most impressive performance of any player in conference tournament play, scoring 43 points (18-of-22 shooting) with 10 rebounds and four blocks as Stony Brook defeated Vermont in the America East finals.
After a strong showing against Damian Jones and Vanderbilt in non-conference play in November, Warney now has a chance to show what he can do against a much stronger SEC frontline that features freshman Skal Labissiere, who has been maddeningly inconsistent all season.
Warney does not have great height, length or athleticism, but is extremely skilled inside and has an outstanding feel for the game. If he can show his production can translate against Labissiere, Alex Poythress, Marcus Lee and Isaac Humphries, his stock will soar heading into the pre-draft process.
No. 8 USC vs. No. 9 Providence
Thursday, 9:45 p.m. ET, TBS
Redshirt junior Kris Dunn has been up and down this season, but has a chance to deliver Providence its first tournament victory since 1997, something that was widely expected once he surprisingly passed up the chance to be a lottery pick last year to return to school. Sophomore Ben Bentil has had a breakout season and is one of the most prolific scoring big men in college, capable of producing in the paint and on the perimeter.
USC has a very young team, but it has some nice prospects who can try to slow Dunn and Bentil. Julian Jacobs, a 6-foot-4 junior, is one of the few collegiate point guards who is as physically gifted as Dunn. He also has the frame to get into Dunn’s body and the quickness to stay in front of him on the perimeter. Scouts will get a better feel for Dunn’s ability to run a team and create his own shot in this game than they normally do when Dunn faces Big East competition.
USC freshman Chimezie Metu is an athletic big man who can protect the rim and should be able to give Bentil problems inside. Fellow freshman Bennie Boatwright is a skilled stretch four who is also getting some NBA looks. He will force Bentil to play defense, something he’s not always fond of. Bentil is reportedly likely to enter this year’s draft, so he will certainly want to go out on as high of a note as possible.
No. 4 California vs. No. 13 Hawaii
Friday, 2 p.m. ET, TBS
Physically gifted freshman Jaylen Brown has struggled quite a bit recently, shooting 8 of 42 from the field (19 percent) the past four games. He’ll have to find his scoring touch for Cal if it is going to have any chance of making a run.
Ivan Rabb will have a huge size advantage inside against 6-foot-7 Hawaii power forward Mike Thomas, so the task of defending Rabb may fall to stretch five Stefan Jankovic, a highly skilled Missouri transfer. Jankovic averages 24 points per 40 minutes (61 percent on 2-pointers; 38 percent on 3-pointers), but has a reputation for being soft defensively.
No. 6 Seton Hall vs. No. 11 Gonzaga
Thursday, 9:55 p.m. ET, truTV
Many players hit the wall late in the season, but Isaiah Whitehead has run straight through it, averaging 27 points, seven rebounds and five assists per 40 minutes (47 percent 3-point shootin) in his last 10 games. He led Seton Hall to its first Big East tournament championship in 23 years and has piqued the interest of NBA teams who had mostly written off the 21-year old after his first season and a half of college basketball.
Seton Hall will have its hands full with Gonzaga’s talented frontcourt, led by projected first-round pick Domantas Sabonis and 6-foot-9 senior Kyle Wiltjer. Sabonis is a tremendous competitor who averages 15 rebounds per 40 minutes. Wiltjer is one of the most skilled scoring big men (25 points per 40) in college basketball.
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