Two top NBA prospects, Aaron Gordon and Julius Randle, are playing this weekend. They headline our prospect watch for Saturday and Sunday's Elite 8 games.
With all due respect to Dayton and Florida, this is what you should watch:
2. Wisconsin vs. 1 Arizona // 8:49 p.m. ET, TBS
Arizona's Aaron Gordon (no. 8 in DraftExpress' top 100) has been the Wildcats' best player through their first three tournament games. The freshman forward is averaging 16.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists on 73 percent (22-of-30) shooting from the floor. He's even knocked down three of four from beyond the arc. That's the type of production that you want to see from a freshman prospect when the stakes are the highest. He pick and chooses his spots to attack like he's a senior and he always seems to make the right pass. But where he's most deadly is in transition.
He can fly on the wing and catch oops.
Or he can bring the ball up himself.
Gordon is so good in transition, either handling or filling the wing. https://t.co/QM4lHgom3Q— Tyler Lashbrook (@lashy) March 28, 2014
The Wildcats have played smaller lineups since Brandon Ashley's injury, but they are still bigger than the Badgers. Wisconsin has one 7-footer, Frank Kaminsky, but the rest of the starting lineup runs 6'7, 6'3, 6'2 and 6'1. Kaminsky will line up against 7' Kaleb Tarczewski (no. 60). The 6'7 fella in that lineup is Sam Dekker (no. 35), another highly rated prospect.
Dekker will likely match up against Gordon from the start. Dekker is a good-not-great athlete, but he plays with a ton of energy on both ends of the floor. Wisconsin can also slide Dekker to small forward and bring freshman forward Nigel Hayes off the bench to check Gordon. Hayes, at 6'7.5, isn't as tall as Gordon, but he's long (7'2 wingspan) and he's active around the glass. Arizona's freshman phenom has dominated in the tournament so far, but Wisconsin presents the biggest challenge.
7. Connecticut vs. 4. Michigan State // 2:20 p.m. ET, CBS
Michigan State's Gary Harris (no. 16) only scored six points on five shots against Virginia. He did rack up three assists, but his primary duty was to defend either Joe Harris (no. 84) or Malcolm Brogdon. Both guards scored 17 points, but each took 14 shots to get there and it was noticeably more difficult for either to score against Gary Harris. The sophomore sticks to his opponent around screens and does a good job in sliding his feet horizontally.
here's a good example of Gary Harris' perimeter defense. closes out, slides and cuts off the drive. https://t.co/CQp8xthVNb— Tyler Lashbrook (@lashy) March 29, 2014
Brogdon and Joe Harris are big, physical guards. But Connecticut's backcourt duo of Shabazz Napier (no. 66) and Ryan Boatright present a different set of challenges. Napier and Boatright are smaller than Harris, but they are each lightning quick. Brogdon and Joe Harris forced Gary Harris to run through off-ball screens, but Napier and Boatright will make him defend the ball. Connecticut's backcourt can create shots with the ball in their hands. Harris has the length to defend Napier and Boatright, but it's a different style than what he faced against Virginia.
8. Kentucky vs 2. Michigan // 5:05 p.m. ET, CBS
Kentucky's freshman class underperformed for most of the regular season, but they have exploded in the tournament. Julius Randle (no. 4) is beginning to read double teams, something he struggled with early in the season. This is a pass he wouldn't have made a month ago:
The .gif doesn't show, but Randle spun right into Louisville's Wayne Blackshear. Rather than forcing a low percentage shot, the freshman forward zips the ball right into Aaron Harrison's shooting pocket. Randle's smallish wingspan (6'11) will limit his ability to finish against NBA size, so it's encouraging that he's learning how to read these situations.
But it's not just Randle who has impressed through Kentucky's three tournament games. Dakari Johnson is filling out as a capable low post scorer. Aaron Harrison (no. 59) has found his shooting touch. Andrew Harrison (no. 62) is averaging nearly six assists over his last six games. Against Louisville, freshmen accounted for 68 of Kentucky's 74 points. Those freshmen will anchor the Wildcats against a loaded Michigan squad.
The Wolverines are led by two wing prospects: Nik Stauskas (no. 18) and Glenn Robinson (no. 44). Stauskas was limited by Tennessee's perimeter length. He scored 14 points on 12 shots, but didn't create out of the pick and roll as he had in Michigan's previous tournament games. Robinson scored an efficient 13 points on eight shots, but it's his perimeter defense that should be noted against the Wildcats. He'll check either Aaron Harrison or James Young (no. 26), two guys blessed with NBA size and athleticism.