The Week Ahead: What to Watch in College Basketball 2/15-2/21

The Week Ahead: What to Watch in College Basketball 2/15-2/21
Feb 15, 2010, 08:23 pm
The Week Ahead: What to Watch in College Basketball 2/15-2/21

Kyle Nelson

Marquee Match ups:

Connecticut at #3 Villanova (Monday, February 15th: 7 p.m. on ESPN)

Villanova is one of the nation’s top teams and faces a desperate Connecticut at home in what could be a spectacular game.

The match up to watch is on the perimeter between Villanova’s senior point guard Scottie Reynolds and UConn sophomore Kemba Walker. Reynolds has emerged as one of the most dominant scoring guards in the nation. The problem, however, is that he lacks the size and athleticism NBA teams typically look for at the point guard position, and his playmaking instincts and defensive skills are not nearly refined enough.

Despite improved statistical output, Walker has had a somewhat disappointing season and has lacked the consistency and offensive efficiency many hoped he would provide as a sophomore. Both Reynolds and Walker have a lot to prove to scouts and this game is a good place to start.

The Huskies may not have much hope of securing a coveted NCAA bid unless they go on a serious run, but there are quite a few players who will still be competing hard for their NBA futures. Combo-forward Stanley Robinson is a projected lottery pick and can only improve his stock with continued consistency.

Similarly, seniors Jerome Dyson and Gavin Edwards are on the NBA Draft radar and need solid performances to continue to gain momentum going into the pre-draft process. Villanova also has some interesting young players who will likely emerge down the road, such as Dominic Cheek, Maalik Wayns and Mouphtaou Yarou.

#25 Wake Forest at Virginia Tech (Tuesday, February 16th: 7 p.m. on ESPN2)

Wake Forest’s convincing win over Georgia Tech moved them above Virginia Tech into second place in the ACC standings.

There are interesting match ups all over the floor, but the most interesting seems to be in the post where Wake Forest’s future lottery pick Al-Farouq Aminu will face off against the tough and versatile Virginia Tech power forward Jeff Allen. Aminu must utilize his skill and athleticism against a tougher opponent and scouts are expecting Allen to assert himself and produce on the offensive end.

This match up is also interesting because Wake Forest’s 6’11 back-up center, Tony Woods, is beginning to show a pulse and remind scouts why they considered him to be a top-tier prospect out of high school.

On the perimeter, neither Wake Forest’s point guard Ishmael Smith nor Virginia Tech’s scoring guard Malcolm Delaney is particularly efficient on the offensive end, but both have some intriguing characteristics about them. Scouts will be watching both players to see if they can make good decisions while facilitating for their teammates. Delaney is considered to be a legitimate prospect at the next level for the past two seasons and could use a good performance in the national spotlight to continue to build his case.

Finally, be sure to watch Wake Forest’s athletic 6’7 freshman wing Ari Stewart, who is slowly emerging as perimeter threat and an NBA prospect, even though he is still inconsistent.

#2 Kentucky at Mississippi State (Tuesday, February 16th: 8 pm. on ESPN)

While Mississippi State doesn’t have anybody capable of guarding John Wall and Eric Bledsoe, Kentucky’s freshman backcourt that requires no introduction, this game offers an interesting match up in the post. Mississippi State’s senior center Jarvis Varnado is averaging 13.3 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 5.0 blocks per game and is a force on the defensive end of the floor. His match up with DeMarcus Cousins will be fascinating to watch, as its one of the few opportunities scouts will have to see the Kentucky center against an NBA caliber defender. Cousins has seemingly gotten control of his temper and is next to unstoppable once he establishes position on the low block. Kentucky’s veteran power forward Patrick Patterson has shown the skill and consistency to work his way into the lottery and must continue to anchor this young team while showing his offensive versatility.

#5 Syracuse at #10 Georgetown (Thursday, February 18th: 7 p.m. on ESPN)

Both Syracuse and Georgetown were upset last week and both teams are looking to rebound. Even outside of the extra motivation, this could be an outstanding match up of dueling styles and tempos.

Syracuse won the last time these two met and just as it will be this time, the story was Georgetown sophomore center Greg Monroe and Syracuse’s junior combo-forward Wesley Johnson. Monroe has come out of his shell recently, showcasing his versatility and skill in addition to greater focus. Scouts will expect to see him continue to be assertive on offense and to make good decisions on both ends of the floor. Johnson has far exceeded expectations this season, but his miserable 5/20 shooting display against Louisville exposed quite a few of his weaknesses as a shot creator. He will need to score effectively and efficiently if Syracuse is going to win in Washington, D.C.

UCLA at Washington State (Thursday, February 18th: 8:30 p.m. on FSN)

UCLA is having a disastrous and highly forgettable season, but Malcolm Lee has shown flashes of developing into the type of player capable of reviving the team. While his inconsistency, particularly in his shooting, has been frustrating, there is no denying his talent and versatility on both ends of the floor. Against Washington State, he will face off against Klay Thompson, a wiry 6’6 sophomore and shooting specialist who has both blossomed and struggled in an increased role. Scouts will be watching to see if Thompson can score against more athletic defenders, particularly given his 5/17 FG performance against UCLA in January.

Another player to watch is Washington State’s freshman point guard Reggie Moore, who has shown potential as both a scorer and distributor. He scored 24 points against UCLA in their last meeting, but has struggled as of late, particularly with his turnovers.

#12 Ohio State at #11 Michigan State (Sunday, February 21st: 12 p.m. on CBS)

Ohio State’s Evan Turner came back from his freak back injury better than ever, and powered the Buckeyes to their sixth straight win over the weekend. The versatile point forward has done everything, outside of knocking down perimeter jump shots, to maximize his draft position going into the post-season. Michigan State’s defense, however, will make things difficult, particularly if combo-forward Raymar Morgan or wing Durrell Summers can snap out of their funks and regain their past forms. Morgan has not been considered to be a prospect since his sophomore year, but with just five games left, he is running out of time to make his case. Summers has fallen into Tom Izzo’s doghouse and despite his athleticism and potential, has yet to find his way out.

Michigan State’s real star, however, is point guard Kalin Lucas, who is back in action after missing time with a sprained ankle and coming off one of the best games of his career. Ohio State will be hard pressed to stop Lucas, and scouts will be looking for him to continue his excellent play.

Be on the look out for Ohio State’s roleplayers, particularly William Buford. Buford is likely going to test the waters this summer and has finally shown glimpses of versatility, in addition to his proven ability to score. He has a chance to be a first round pick if he can increase his consistency and produce against good defenses.

Under The Radar:

Fresno State at Nevada (Wednesday, February 18th: 8 p.m. on ESPN Full Court)

Fresno State swingman Paul George is a first-round talent on a bad team. He is a smooth and lanky 6’8 wing with shooting touch and versatility to spare. Other than a few games lost to injury, he has performed well, but not without his share of bad shooting nights. He must continue to prove to scouts that he can produce when his perimeter shot isn’t fall and he will get his chance against a Nevada team that features NBA prospects like Armon Johnson and Luke Babbitt. If Fresno State’s frontcourt of Sylvester Seay and Greg Smith, both interesting players in their own right, rise to the occasion, this could be a better game than advertised.

Nevada is a formidable team, however. Armon Johnson has had his share of ups and downs this season, particularly in terms of his perimeter shooting, but he is nonetheless developing into a solid point guard prospect and has raised his draft stock steadily since emerging from obscurity this season. Luke Babbitt is a sweet shooting big man, who has increased his efficiency both inside and outside, while averaging 21.6 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. His development and continued evolution into a well-rounded player has been intriguing and has not been overlooked in NBA Draft circles. Nevada will get the chance to play Missouri State on the road on Saturday for Bracket Busters, too, giving draft enthusiasts a chance to see both Johnson and Babbitt play against two distinctly different teams.

Siena at #13 Butler (Saturday, February 20th: 11 a.m. on ESPN2)

Though a loss at Niagara did not help their case for an at-large bid, Siena remains one of the top mid-major teams in the country and will travel to 15th ranked Butler for a chance to pad their NCAA Tournament resume.

Though this game should be entertaining in its own right, do not miss the chance to see a formidable inside-outside match up between Siena’s 6’6 athletic power wing Edwin Ubiles and Butler’s Gordan Hayward, a prospect who might still be underrated despite performing at a high level against elite competition.

Hayward’s athleticism and efficiency have been questioned this season as he has not been able to score as easily and his perimeter shot has not been falling at quite the same rate. Against Ubiles, Hayward will have to exert his size advantage to score inside and outside while proving he can compete on the defensive end.

Ubiles’s draft stock has yet to bounce back from an underwhelming junior campaign, and despite his size, athleticism, and potential, he is still nowhere near NBA-ready and likely a long shot to get drafted without a great outing at Portsmouth. A good showing here is essential if he wishes to stay relevant. Both prospects are in need of positive publicity to emerge from mid-major obscurity and a good performance here could help jump-start things.

UTEP at Tulsa (Saturday, February 20th: 4 p.m. on CBS College Sports)

Conference USA could sneak as many as four teams into the NCAA tournament and UTEP and Tulsa are arguably the conference’s best. This game, however, pits Conference USA’s best big men against each other in a match up that scouts will be watching.

Tulsa’s 7’0 senior big man Jerome Jordan has not improved quite as quickly as scouts would have hoped and still has not dominated in match ups against premier NCAA big men. With few tests remaining before the post-season, expect him to improve upon his 20-point, five-rebound, and three-block performance against UTEP in early February in an attempt to prove to scouts that he has the toughness and skill to contribute at the next level.

His competition will be former Louisville Cardinal and current UTEP Miner Derrick Caracter, a 6’9 center with quick feet and a high skill-level on the block. Scouts will be watching to see whether Caracter can score against Jordan and similarly, whether Jordan can contain Caracter.

Of course, Jordan will also have to face Arnett Moultrie, UTEP’s 6’11 big man who can score inside and outside and is due for a big night in front of scouts after a slew of unimpressive performances.

This game could be interesting for draft enthusiasts away from the post, as well, as some fringe prospects attempt to make a name for themselves including athletic 6’7 combo-forward Jeremy Williams, 6’6, pass-first point guard Julyan Stone for UTEP and Tulsa’s 6’3 do-it-all combo-guard Ben Uzoh.

Dayton at Duquesne (Sunday, February 21st: 1 p.m. on ESPN2)

After dropping to 6-4 in conference play, Dayton is slowly falling off of the NCAA Tournament radar. The Flyers could turn things around, however, with a win at home against LaSalle and in a nationally televised road game against Duquesne.

Even though Dayton will be favored to win this game, do not miss this match up between two of the Atlantic 10’s top NBA prospects: Duquesne’s 6’7 combo-forward Damian Saunders and Dayton’s 6’8 combo-forward Chris Wright. Both prospects have struggled with consistency in their junior seasons, though their tantalizing combination of size, athleticism, and versatility are impossible to ignore.

Saunders is averaging 15.0 points, 12.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.8 steals, and 3.3 blocks per game while shooting 50% from the field. Less positive, however, is his 49.2% FT and 20% 3FG, both down significantly from last season and definitely two areas of his game that need significant improvement. Saunders may elect to test the waters and could impress GMs with his unique skill set.

Wright has been on scouts’ radars since he was in high school and has slowly developed into a legitimate NBA prospect. Like Saunders, however, his inability to make shots from the perimeter and questionable decision making skills still hold his game back. Expect a big game from both prospects in front of a national audience, and keep an eye out for Dayton wing Chris Johnson, an athletic 6’6 sophomore who has quietly averaged 12.3 points and 7.7 rebounds while shooting 36% from beyond the arc.

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