Welcome to the final regular-season edition of Prospect Watch. We’ve gone through 15 different editions, digging deep into the play of future NBA talent. One power five conference has already finished up their season and are in the midst of their conference tournament. For the rest, this weekend is about finishing up the regular season with momentum, eyes toward a tournament run.
And before we even got there, Tuesday night reminded us that March is undefeated.
We’re standing on the precipice of the most fun college basketball has to offer, and we’ll be tracking all of it for you. But before we get there, here is what’s happening this weekend for some of the elite prospects of this class, including the possibility of one very important player we haven’t seen on the college hardwood.
Michigan State - B1G Tournament Schedule
Michigan State vs Wisconsin (Friday March 2, 11 am CT - BTN)
*Other possible games if they advance: March 3, 1 pm CT & March 4, 3:30 pm CT. Both on CBS Sports.
It was known well before the season how deep Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans would be. There was just some disagreement about who would be the standout of this squad. Miles Bridges, last year’s Big Ten Freshman of the Year and recently named All-Big Ten first team, was widely seen as the best candidate. He’s had a solid season, meeting most of the expectations set for him in his sophomore year, though it’s still unclear if he did much to improve his draft stock.
Jaren Jackson Jr. on the other hand has done nothing but meet and surpass expectations. At the beginning of the week, JJJ was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year, as well as Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. No small task for a freshman on a team full of post talent. In fact, the only other player to receive those honors together in conference history is Greg Oden.
It’s no secret that PW is very high on Jackson Jr., but there is plenty of talent on this team to keep eyes on. Outside of Jackson and the aforementioned Bridges, sophomore big man Nick Ward is another name to keep tabs on over the next several weeks. He could be a candidate for one of those second-round picks the Mavericks have in their pocket.
SATURDAY, MARCH 3
Texas vs West Virginia (11 CT, ESPN)
Mo Bamba’s freshman season has been a test in patience. The 7-foot big man with a 7’9 wingspan entered the season in Austin with a ton of hype and expectation. Early on he got the label of ‘talented project’, and for much of the season that moniker has stuck. But taking a glance at his game log, you see that while he’s been very consistent, he hasn’t been overwhelming.
Bamba sat out last game with a toe injury, so keep tabs on injury reports heading into Saturday. As for development, it will take some time for him to reach his ceiling, particularly on offense. But the tools are there. And with a PER of 27.7 on the season, plus per-40 averages of 17 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks per game, any team would be lucky to take on that kind of project.
Missouri vs Arkansas (5 CT, ESPN2)
This might be the moment we’ve all been waiting for since November 10. According to a report in The Kansas City Star, Missouri head coach Cuonzo Martin said Thursday morning that freshman forward Michael Porter Jr. will be practicing to finish out the week, and could play this Saturday against Arkansas, “if he feels good.”
Entering the season as one of the most exciting prospects in years, the 6’10 combo forward’s injury this season has been well documented. Over the last several weeks, it was clear he was eyeing a return before the end of the season - and it looks like he may make good on that goal. If Porter can prove his health over the next few months, it’s conceivable that he could be a top-three pick in June.
Outside of MPJ making a return, there are two more players to watch here. Arkansas center Daniel Gafford has gotten plenty of play on PW the last several weeks. I still can’t get over this sequence. Saturday he’ll be opposite Michael Porter Jr.’s younger brother, Jontay Porter. The younger Porter reclassified over the summer for the opportunity to play with his older brother. Though that wish has been unfortunately barely fulfilled, Jontay has had a decent season; enough to keep him in draft conversations as a possible early second-round pick. The big man’s game numbers don’t jump off the page, but he is averaging 16 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks per-40 minutes, so the potential is there.
Duke vs North Carolina (7:15 CT, ESPN)
There is probably not a better college basketball rivalry than Duke-North Carolina. That alone would make this a worthy Saturday evening watch. But add in some of the elite talent that will be in this game, with rivalry pride on the line, it should be must see.
Duke is still headlined by the freshmen post tandem of Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. (who combined for 25 points, 21 rebounds and four blocks the last time they played UNC), as well as senior sharpshooter Grayson Allen. Flanked by freshmen Gary Trent Jr. and Trevon Duval, Coach K has relied on that crew pretty heavily this season. In what will be Allen’s final home game, wrapping up a dramatic four-year career in Durham, Cameron Indoor will be rocking. There’s plenty of future NBA talent to keep track of in this Saturday night battle.
Who are you keeping tabs on this weekend? Let us know down below!