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Key Prospect Matchups to Watch in Sweet 16

We have now pared down the NCAA Tournament field to the Sweet 16, and the longer a prospect plays, the more likely he’s to move up the board in June’s NBA Draft. So, what’s in store for this weekend’s batch of games?

After the first weekend of play and with guys like D’Angelo Russell, Bobby Portis and Kelly Oubre making perhaps their last impression on the college basketball level as their respective teams lost in the Round of 32, the spotlight will only intensify for those prospects who still have games yet to play this weekend.

All of Kentucky’s players will be on display this weekend, as will Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, Stanley Johnson, Kevon Looney, Montrezl Harrell and Terry Rozier among others.

So with the stage about to get brighter, let’s reassess how some NBA Draft prospects might fare this weekend. Here’s a brief rundown on each of the top 20 remaining prospects (ranked in no particular order) left in the tournament and how they might fare this weekend.

Karl-Anthony Towns- Kentucky
Just like what he faced in the Cincinnati game, Towns will have to be prepared for some big-time physicality with the matchup against the Mountaineers looming. Once again, how he handles that should be very telling. Considering he has scored 29 points and grabbed 18 rebounds in Kentucky’s first two NCAA Tournament games combined, Towns has answered the bell thus far.

Willie Cauley-Stein- Kentucky
See Towns. Cauley-Stein’s athleticism should offset West Virginia’s chaotic press.

Devin Booker- Kentucky
About that press, Booker, as a guard, will have to show he can handle the ball somewhat and that could definitely be something to be on the lookout for. It would also be nice if he could actually knock down a three, which he hasn’t done thus far in this tournament.

Jahlil Okafor- Duke
A key thing to watch in the Duke/Utah matchup is Okafor’s enticing big-man battle with the Utes’ Jakob Poeltl, who is a solid draft prospect himself. Both big men are polished, and how they play against one another should be a highlight of that game.

Justise Winslow- Duke
In that same contest, it’s Winslow who could ultimately turn out to be the X-factor. With the Okafor/Poeltl matchup garnering a lot of interest and with the guard play key, Winslow could be the the guy who shines in this contest with his staggering athleticism.

Stanley Johnson- Arizona
As one of the more gifted athletes in the college game, Johnson will be tested by Xavier’s muscle. For Johnson to shine, his Wildcats will have to make this a track meet. If they’re successful in doing so, he could be in for a great game.

Kevon Looney- UCLA
Looney going up against the big frontcourt of Gonzaga (spearheaded by Domantas Sabonis and Przemek Karnowski) should truly test his mettle. Usually a double-double machine, if Looney can achieve that against this tough frontcourt, it could go a long way toward boosting his stock.

Montrezl Harrell- Louisville
This should be an interesting game for Harrell considering he and the Cardinals already played North Carolina State, losing to them 74-65 more than a month ago. In that game Harrell struggled, scoring just seven points (on 1-5 shooting), although he did corral 13 rebounds. The Wolfpack do have great length and size down low, and we’ll get to see if Harrell can regroup this time.

Terry Rozier- Louisville
In that same game for Louisville, Rozier also struggled, scoring just seven points as well on 3-11 shooting. So, both players will be out for a measure of revenge. Considering he’s averaging 18 points, 4.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists in two tournament games, Rozier’s stock has to be rising.

Jerian Grant- Notre Dame
Grant’s matchup with Wichita State should be very telling, as to see how he does against a very aggressive defense. Notre Dame will like to push the tempo, while Wichita State will like to grind it out. With such a contrast in styles, it should be interesting to see if Grant can cut loose in this game.

Trey Lyles- Kentucky
See Towns and Cauley-Stein.

Frank Kaminsky- Wisconsin
Without perhaps Kennedy Meeks to battle with, Kaminsky’s job just became a little easier. That’s not to say it will be a cakewalk for Kaminsky. Brice Johnson and Justin Jackson of North Carolina will be worthy foes. It’ll be fun to see if Johnson and or Jackson can hang with Kaminsky, especially when Frank the Tank floats on the perimeter as he so often does.

Delon Wright- Utah
I already discussed the matchup between Okafor and Poeltl, but the guard play in the game between Duke and Utah should be how this game is won. Wright’s height advantage (6’5”, 190 pounds) could help him against the smaller guards of Duke.

Buddy Hield- Oklahoma
While Hield has been serviceable in the tournament thus far scoring 30 points in two games, he has been less than efficient, as he has connected on just 10 of his 29 shots. And against a great defense in Michigan State, this high-scoring guard will need to have a good game putting the ball in the hoop to boost his stock.

Tyus Jones- Duke
There’s still a good chance that Jones will come back for his sophomore year based on the fact that he doesn’t look physically (after all, he’s just 6’1″, 190 pounds) and mentally prepared for the rigors of the NBA. That said, if he can get the better of Delon Wright in Friday’s game, he’ll no doubt raise some eyebrows.

Sam Dekker- Wisconsin
Dekker’s all-around game and versatility should give North Carolina fits on Thursday. He’ll be hard to guard on this night, as the Tar Heels don’t really have a guy who can guard on the perimeter while respecting Dekker’s ability to slash to the basket. So keep an eye on how Dekker plays, as this has the makings of a game that can help his stock.

Norman Powell- UCLA
While his teammate Looney may struggle against the big men of Gonzaga, Powell could perhaps thrive against their smallish backcourt. The sculpted 6’3″ guard can up his stock if he can carry the load offensively for the Bruins in this affair.

Brice Johnson- North Carolina
As I said earlier, Johnson may have it rough trying to keep up with Kaminsky and or Dekker. However, if Johnson flourishes in this game, he’ll certainly perk up the ears of scouts and general managers alike.

Jakob Poeltl- Utah
See Okafor above. How Poeltl matches up against Okafor, especially on defense, will go a long way in helping him cement his standing as one of the better big men available (if he’s so inclined to declare) in the NBA Draft.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson- Arizona
As one of the better defenders in the country, expect Hollis-Jefferson to hound Xavier’s gifted freshman scorer Trevon Bluiett. Hollis-Jefferson’s defense is certainly ahead of his offense, and that should be on full display tonight.

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