We’re entering the weekend with some heavy hitting battles between great college basketball teams. And lucky us, all four Elite Eight games will feature NBA Draft prospects in some compelling match-ups.
Mavs Moneyball has been giving you daily watch guides over the last two weeks of tournament play, highlighting players that should hear their names called in June, from lottery picks to second round hopefuls. These are guys the Mavericks front office should be considering, no matter where they end up in the draft order. Now that we’re all familiar with the names from the last two weekends, let’s dig past the surface stats for these players and take a look at specifics, and ways they could be challenged.
Texas Tech vs Gonzaga — 5:09 CT, TBS
How does Jarrett Culver respond to Gonzaga’s size?
If there is one glaring weakness in the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year’s game, it’s his inconsistency from the perimeter on offense. Coming into this game against Gonzaga, Culver has attempted 144 threes, the same number he shot his freshman season. But this year he’s hit nine fewer (doesn’t seem like a lot, but it’s a difference of over six percent). He connected well in his first two tournament games, but Michigan’s perimeter defense disrupted him away from the basket, forcing him into a 0-of-5 shooting night.
Culver still found ways to impose his game on the Wolverines (he’s averaging 22 points, seven rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block in the tournament) Thursday night. And while Gonzaga may not have quite the same perimeter defense Michigan had, Culver’s game truly thrives when he’s getting in the lane and near the rim.
Enter Brandon Clarke and Rui Hachimura and a team of Gonzaga big men. A team that’s fourth in the country in blocked shots, Gonzaga plays solid team defense and has a crew of athletic post players that will make life uncomfortable for Culver. The sophomore guard is often the heart of the Tech offense, and will have a tough task ahead if guys like David Moretti aren’t connecting from deep to open up the floor. But Culver is a high level athlete that has shown an ability to drive hard through traffic and get his looks. This should be a must-watch battle.
How does Brandon Clarke and Co. respond to Tech’s stifling defense?
Gonzaga answered a tough test matching up against an athletic, long, Florida State squad that has given problems to a lot of teams. But to be plain, they haven’t faced a defense like Texas Tech. They faced Tennessee early in the season (lost 76-73), then split games between Duke and North Carolina soon after. But with the best defensive efficiency in the country, Tech has been suffocating teams all season.
Where Gonzaga should have an advantage should be in the post. Brandon Clarke is a traditionally undersized big man, but he plays above the rim, and he’s imposing. The battle for Clarke and Hachimura will be how they answer Tech trying to make the game ugly. And if you watched Thursday, there should be no question about their capability to make it hideous, while capitalizing on a team’s mistakes. Tech doesn’t have the size to shut down the Gonzaga bigs, but they can leverage their team D to disrupt the Zags high-flying style. How Clarke and Hachimura respond could be the key to the game.
Purdue vs Virginia - 7:49 CT, TBS
Can Carsen Edwards make enough plays against a stout Virginia D?
The Saturday slate of games features some tough defenses, and Purdue faces the most historically ominous of them all. Virginia has lived off a style where it seems like they can go an entire half without scoring and still win, because their defense makes things so uncomfortable for opponents.
The undersized Edwards is a gamer and is comfortable driving through traffic, and hitting big shots on volume. And he had massive help in their Sweet Sixteen game from senior Ryan Cline (the only other player on the roster to average double digits), his 6’6 running-mate, who was unconscious from three. But the heart of the Boilermakers success rests on Edwards. And his ability to take it strong against De’Andre Hunter and the shot-blocking Mamadi Diakite in the paint could be the game for Purdue.
Can the Virginia perimeter trio get anything going from deep?
The Cavaliers’ season was partially saved by undersized freshman guard Kihei Clark who hit a big shot late, and connected on three crucial threes in a possession battle game. But Virginia needs their primary perimeter players to step up before it’s too late. Most of the missing from deep has fallen on junior guard Kyle Guy — but add fellow starters De’Andre Hunter and Ty Jerome, a lottery pick and early second round candidate, the trio has shot a ghastly 15-of-60 from three in the tournament. Considering the three average a combined 42-percent from three at decent volume, the slump is unacceptable.
Virginia can win other ways, but they will eventually need shooting from these three. And for Hunter and Jerome, they don’t need questions about their outside shot as they head into the draft process this spring.