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Prospect Watch: The calm before the storm

We’re inching toward the make or break time for many NBA prospects, and we’ve got you set up to catch the action.

NCAA Basketball: Oregon at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

With the Dallas Mavericks still enjoying their break, and MFFLs still licking their wounds from the Verizon Dunk Contest Saturday night, now seems the perfect opportunity for Prospect Watch to swoop right in to be your basketball distraction. The college season is winding down league play, now two weeks out from most conference tournaments — a calm before the storm.

But before we get there, we have a slate of games with top prospects clashing, ever-evolving draft spots on the line. It’s the time of year when a handful of prospects make names for themselves and inevitably shoot up prospect rankings.

Since college scheduling is so back loaded every week, most of these games won’t be til the weekend, but we have one premier matchup this evening, and we’ll take a glance at what’s to come.


Kentucky @ Arkansas (8 CT, ESPN)

We said last week that Prospect Watch hadn’t done enough to highlight Daniel Gafford, so now we’re doubling down and serving up another dose. Highlighted in last week’s watch, Gafford showed up in Arkansas’ blowout win against a ranked Texas A&M (Robert Williams also had a monster game, posting 20 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks) over the weekend.

Vanderbilt v Kentucky Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Now Arkansas hosts a slumping Kentucky Wildcats team that has gone 1-4 in this recent stretch, beating Alabama over the weekend. As with most Coach Cal squads, they are stacked with young talent. The downside of that gift is it can be hard to predict who will contribute or get hot on any given night. Forward Kevin Knox remains the most intriguing prospect of the group. But you can track any of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PJ Washington, Hamidou Diallo, Nick Richards or Jarred Vanderbilt. Any of these names could be called in the first or second round this summer. And this should be a fun late season road challenge for this group.


SMU vs Wichita State (1 CT, ESPN2)

PW sleeper favorite Shake Milton has missed SMU’s last five games, having not played since late January due to a hand injury. His absence, plus the season-ending injury of NBA hopeful Jarrey Foster, among others, leaves SMU with only seven scholarship players and a five-game losing streak.

Milton is still listed as day-to-day, so it’s possible he will play, and it’s worth tracking. If you recall in the Mustangs’ first bout with Wichita State this season, the game in which Foster sustained his injury, Milton exploded for 33 points, going 5-of-6 from deep. Hopefully he sees the floor again soon.

Villanova @ Creighton (1:30 CT, FOX)

If the Mavericks are in the market for a wing (and they should be), and they want one not named Luka Dončić, then Mikal Bridges is their man. The 6’6 junior has been a model of consistency for a very talented, very fun Villanova squad. Over the weekend, Bridges impressed with 25 points (4-of-7 from three) in a big statement win for the Wildcats over Xavier. Bridges plays within himself, and contributes across the floor — a great perimeter glue guy who can get hot from deep.

Villanova v Creighton Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images

Creighton has had a solid season and is currently tied for third in the Big East standings. In their first matchup with Villanova they didn’t really stand a chance; Nova tied a program record with 19 threes in the tilt. But this game is worth tuning in to once again to see Creighton shooting guard Khyri Thomas play across from Bridges. Thomas is the classic 3-and-D off guard, but has the ability to put points on the board (he’s only scored in single digits twice this season), while playing suffocating defense on the other end. It’s possible that Thomas could be available when the Mavericks are on the clock in the early second round.

Arizona @ Oregon (9:15 CT, ESPN)

As DeAndre Ayton continues to dominate the college game (25 points, 16 rebounds, four assists, three blocks at ranked Arizona State last Thursday), there’s no doubt he has firmly planted himself as the 1B option to Luka Dončić on many draft boards. Outside of his physical frame, his offensive tools are so far advanced for a big man his age, and he possesses intangible traits that any rebuilding NBA team is looking for. Questions will remain for Ayton all the way through draft night. But his magnetism is undeniable.

On the other side of the floor, Oregon forward Troy Brown has had a rather quiet, if not solid, freshman season. He has length and athleticism, and is still working on his ability to stretch the floor (he’s shooting 35 percent from three in the month of February). He’s a late first-round project and someone to track over the next few months. This game will be an opportunity to see him across from veteran sharpshooter Allonzo Trier, a player many aptly dub a “professional scorer,” and teammate Rawle Alkins. These two are second rounders that the Mavericks should have eyes for.

Who else are you keeping tabs on? Let us know down below!