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Prospect Watch: who to watch in Friday’s Sweet 16 games

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Eight more teams go to battle tonight, and we have the scoop on the draft prospects to keep an eye on.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Alabama vs Villanova Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

We’re wrapping up our coverage of the Sweet 16 today, serving up the final four contests of the round. There are certainly more draft intrigue and storylines here than Thursday’s matchups, and though the majority of the lottery picks are no longer playing, there are plenty of players to track.

On to the games!


FRIDAY

Kansas vs Clemson - 6:07 CT (CBS)

The Jayhawks avoided a Virginia-sized scare before pulling away late in the first round, then took out Seton Hall in the second. With all the wild upsets over the first weekend, Kansas will gladly take quietly advancing to the second weekend. On the other end, Clemson utterly demolished the regular season SEC champion Auburn Tigers last week to move on.

In draft terms, the pro prospects are scrappy Kansas point guard Devonte’ Graham and wing Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk; the rest on both sides of the ball are mostly fringe candidates for workouts. Graham, a senior three-year starter, has spent most of his time at Kansas as Robin to Frank Mason’s Batman. But his game has really blossomed this season, similar to most Bill Self point guards that stick around for four years. He’ll be a nice pick up for a team in the early first round.

As for Mykhailiuk, the 6’ 8 combo wing, he remains an under-the-radar favorite at PW as a second rounder. Putting together a solid season with more opportunity, Svi has a sharp outside shot (career 41 percent from three), underrated athleticism, and good basketball IQ around the perimeter. These two seniors look to lead the Jayhawks through a second weekend run.

Villanova vs West Virginia - 6:27 CT (TBS)

The East regional semifinals feature the two most interesting sweet 16 matchups. The night starts off with the hot shooting Villanova Wildcats up against Press Virginia.

For the Mountaineers, look for Jevon Carter, the best guard defender in college ball, and Sagaba Konate, an athletic NBA-capable rim protector, who has a habit of volleyball blocking shots at the rim with both hands. It’s really something to see. This team plays Bob Huggins’ typical in your face, aggressive defense. Villanova will look to leverage that to their advantage in transition.

We were lucky enough to see premiere talent last weekend in the Nova vs Alabama game — Collin Sexton matched up opposite Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges. Brunson wasn’t at his best, but Bridges’ second half performance (22 points, including five threes after half) was something to watch. He is in peak form right now, affecting the game on both ends. He’s a surefire top ten pick in PW’s book, and will contribute day one in the NBA.

Duke vs Syracuse - 8:37 CT (CBS)

This ACC battle is the actual Game of Zones, and if Syracuse has its way it’s going to get slow and ugly. The Orange shocked the tournament last weekend by mucking up the game so much against Michigan State using Jim Boeheim’s infamous zone defense, the Spartans settled constantly and got nothing going.

The two bright spots for Syracuse are sophomore Tyus Battle and freshman Oshae Brissett. They both had solid games against a very talented Spartans squad, and they will be heavily relied upon once again to carry the load offensively. Battle could use more of this late season momentum to grab more attention for this summer’s draft, as a very capable wing.

The Blue Devils’ young talent is well chronicled this year in Prospect Watch, and they get a familiar (and inferior) opponent in the Sweet 16. Because of the lengthy zone that Syracuse plays, the shooting of Grayson Allen and the decision making of both Wendell Carter Jr. and Marvin Bagley III will have to be on full display. The combination of Bagley’s ultra explosiveness on the block, and Carter’s touch and IQ in the middle is nearly impossible to contain. But for Duke to be successful Friday, all of them will need to be firing on all cylinders.

We may not get many answers about individual ability defensively with all the zone that will be employed, but there’s still plenty to watch here.

Texas Tech vs Purdue - 8:57 CT (TBS)

Though this game will feature mainly players fighting for spots in the second round of the draft, outside of Villanova-West Virginia this is the game to watch. It puts one of the top offenses in the country from Purdue against a top defense in Texas Tech.

For Purdue, look at 6’7 senior forward Vince Edwards. He is a solid combo wing with a high IQ, the ability to rebound (7.2 per game), as well as stretch the offense to the three point line (career 40 percent). Edwards has had a solid season for the highly skilled Boilermakers, and will need to help lead a team that may not have big man Isaac Haas.

Tech’s Zhaire Smith had one of the more exciting performances of the first weekend against Florida in the second round, posting 18 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. His athleticism and timing is insane around the rim. And he can play from baseline to baseline comfortably. His outside game is still to be determined — he’s shooting a very solid 44 percent for the season, but he’s only attempted 36 all year. Still, his feel for the game at this stage is impressive, with a knack for doing all the little things well. Having long been a sleeper favorite for draft fanatics, his play on the national stage might have vaulted him in to a first round selection.

Additionally, look at primary scorer Keenan Evans for the Red Raiders. He’s battled a toe injury recently, but he takes on much of the scoring load for Tech, and operates at a high level through traffic. The senior still has plenty to prove to scouts.

Check in tomorrow morning when we break down all of the Elite Eight games!