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Prospect Watch: Who to watch in Thursday’s Sweet 16 games

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The tournament comes screaming back tonight, and we have the details on who you should be watching.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-North Carolina vs Texas A&M Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

We’re hitting our stride here at Prospect Watch as we enter the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. Last week was a wild ride that saw half the projected lottery prospects eliminated.

There are still a handful of premiere talents featured in games over the next two days, but with all the upsets, we have an opportunity to take a good look at some of the second and third tier players — guys who just might be available when the Mavericks are selecting in the second round.

Today we’ll dig in to this evening’s games and be back tomorrow to break down the back half of the Sweet 16. Here...we...go!


THURSDAY

Nevada vs Loyola-Chicago - 6:07 CT (CBS)

From a draft perspective, yes, this is the weakest matchup of all eight over the next two days. This is also the most representative game of the first weekend in this year’s unpredictable tournament.

Nevada topped Mohamed Bamba and the Texas Longhorns, then pulled off one of the craziest second-half comebacks the tournament has seen against Jacob Evans and the Cincinnati Bearcats. They are led by the Martin brothers, Cody and Caleb, who transferred to Nevada after playing at Dennis Smith Jr.’s North Carolina State. Of the two 6’7 forwards, Caleb Martin is the scorer — though Cody Martin has a more versatile game and was the one to go off against Cincy Sunday. Both are capable players, though they still have plenty to prove to scouts.

Outside of UMBC’s truly astonishing victory, Loyola-Chicago remains my favorite non-draft story of the tournament, and not just because they’re in my backyard. Sister Jean and the Ramblers (dibs on that band name) took down future lottery pick Lonnie Walker and the Miami Hurricane on a deep buzzer beater, then followed it up with a last second dagger against Admiral Schofield and the Tennessee Volunteers. Donte Ingram (a 6’6 senior) is the player to watch. He hit the buzzer beater Thursday and has the most versatile tools that can translate to the next level. For Ingram and the Martin twins, this stage can be a perfect showcase to secure workout invites over the next several months.

Texas A&M vs Michigan - 6:37 CT (TBS)

The Aggies finally made good on all the expectations placed on them in the fall, while the Michigan Wolverines squeaked by on an insane heave at the buzzer. This game has a sneaky intriguing matchup of two big men with vastly different games.

Robert Williams, the Aggies’ ultra-athletic big man who could be drafted anywhere from tenth to just outside the lottery, had one of his best games of the season on Sunday. He’s battled inconsistency all year, but showed up in a big way on a national stage, flashing all the potential scouts have seen in him. For A&M, Williams is really playing out of position next to crafty junior center Tyler Davis — but Williams still displays plenty of rim running and protection ability. If he can string together a few more stellar performances, expect his name to show up more just inside the top ten.

Opposite him, we might see a fun battle against offensive stretch five Mo Wagner. The German big man has had a very solid junior season, putting up 14 points and seven rebounds, while shooting a smooth 40 percent from deep on a healthy number of attempts. Wagner has been pretty quiet in the tourney, and this matchup isn’t great for him on both ends. But expect him to still find his spots; he’s smart enough to pop off high screens and either shoot over a guard that switches on him, or take a slower big off the dribble to the rack. This Williams-Wagner battle could be a lot of fun.

Kentucky vs Kansas St - 8:37 CT (CBS)

Kentucky couldn’t have asked for a clearer path to the final four, after what seemed to be a tough draw. This young Wildcats crew does not have the same firepower that Calipari teams of the recent past, but they have pieces that are starting to come together here of late.

It has mainly come in the form of Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the forward-guard combo that have helped along an often flat Kentucky offense. Knox has been the clear lottery candidate this season from start to finish, a combo forward who showed every bit of his offensive potential in their first game last week against Davidson. But it’s the lengthy SGA that has shot up draft boards, while having an awfully strong month of March. There are valid questions about his ability to be the sole playmaker in a half court offense, as well as his ability to stretch the floor to the three (shooting 42 percent on the season, but on only 55 attempts). Still he shines two-way potential at the next level and has become an increasingly magnetic prospect.

Gonzaga vs Florida St - 9:07 CT (TBS)

It’s the second weekend of the tournament, and it’s Mark Few and the Zags — no surprises here. Gonzaga scraped by UNC-Greensboro in round one, then pulled away from Keita Bates-Diop and the Buckeyes in a back and forth battle. The Bulldogs, never short on weapons, have found multiple contributors over the first two games of the tournament.

Killian Tillie, the sophomore sharpshooting post player from from France, was featured last week on PW, but his tournament has been relatively quiet. Instead, if you watched Saturday your eyes were glued on sophomore big man Rui Hachimura, and freshman combo guard Zach Norvell Jr., who both looked like legitimate NBA prospects. Hachimura (25 points, five rebounds, four blocks in 25 minutes) was all over the floor, blocking shots, taking opponents down on the block, and even hitting a very comfortable three late in the game. He’s been up and down and isn’t always the player that showed up this weekend, but scouting eyes will be all over him tonight.

As for Norvell, who has had the most consistent tournament of any Zags player, he is the kind of confident gunner than most teams are looking for on the perimeter. The freshman guard, 6’5 and 205 pounds, exploded against the buckeyes with a career high 28 points (6-of-11 from three) with 12 rebounds, four assists, and two steals. He still deals with freshman inconsistency, so eyes on him to see what he can do to follow up a stellar second round.

We’re back tomorrow to give the details on Friday night’s games, so keep your eyes peeled!