After the play-in games from the past two days, the tournament has finally kicked off! For these notes, the prospects will be the primary focus. There will obviously be some exceptions, but primarily we’ll be sticking with the players. Now, onto Thursday’s action.
#10 Oklahoma vs #7 Rhode Island (78-83 in OT)
- Trae Young had exactly the kind of game you would expect him to have. 28 points on 50-33-88 splits, including some threes that only he can hit. Seven assists that could have been a lot more if Oklahoma could finish some of their layup attempts. Six turnovers from trying to do too much. He’s not as good as he was from those early heights, but he’s also not as bad as the last stretch would make it seem. He’s a mid-lottery talent and will be an effective player in the league.
- A guy that really impressed me was Jamuni McNeace. 14 points on 5-8 shooting, ten rebounds, and two blocks is a solid stat line for a low usage big, but the way he did it is what stood out. His rotations on defense were strong and he acted as a major shot deterrent, more than even the two blocks would suggest. And he really battle down low for his rebounds; even on plays when he didn’t grab the board, he made sure to get on a body and box out.
- Really fitting that the first game of this year’s tournament would be super entertaining and go into overtime. Welcome back, tournament basketball. We missed you.
#3 Tennessee vs #14 Wright St. (73-47)
- Not a lot of prospect notes from this game, so I’ll keep it brief. Tennessee’s MO this season was its defensive prowess: they held Wright St. to 32% shooting from the field, 18% from the 3pt line, and only allowed eight assists for a total of 47 points. They’ll be a tough out for the rest of the tournament.
#4 Gonzaga vs #13 UNCG (68-64)
- Johnathan Williams had a terrific game, finishing with 19 points and 13 rebounds on a strong shooting day from the field. He struggled from the line, only shooting 3-9, but he was still the most valuable player for the Zags on the floor.
- While Williams had a strong day, Gonzaga’s other two prospects struggled. Rui Hachimura shot 1-6 from the floor, missed his lone three, and had one more rebound than foul (five boards and four fouls). Killian Tillie also shot 1-6 for two points, missed both threes, and had two total rebounds. Both players, especially Tillie, will need to pick it up as the tournament goes along.
- In a game where no one shot well from three (UNCG shot 13.6% and Gonzaga shot 21.7%) Zach Norvell Jr. who was 1-7 from three at that point, makes a huge three so Gonzaga can advance. Figures. College basketball is wild.
#1 Kansas vs #16 Penn (76-60)
- Man, did Devonte’ Graham look great yesterday or what? On a day where Kansas started out slow, Graham had 19 of his 29 points in the first half, including three big free throws at the end of the half to stretch the lead to 7. His final line: 29-6-6 with three steals and two turnovers. I don’t even think that stats do him justice.
- Also a good game from Lagerald Vick. He only took seven shots, but he sunk five of them and had two steals to go with it. Penn has no wings that can contain anyone of his athletic caliber and he took advantage.
- Penn shot 35.7% from the free throw line (5-14). At one point, they were down by eight in the second and were 1-7 from the line. Making your free throws is super important in an upset bid, and Penn just couldn’t take advantage.
#2 Duke vs #15 Iona (89-67)
- Marvin Bagley posting a super easy 22 points and seven rebounds on 10-14 shooting. Completely effortless. If this were any other year, Bagley would be the undisputed #1 pick. Easily. Unfortunately, this isn’t any other year. If he can work on his jumper, he’ll be an incredibly special player on the next level.
- Where was this jump shot from Trevon Duval all year? 7-11 from the floor and 4-5 from three? These are the kind of games where you remember why he was ranked so highly coming out of high school. He’ll always be a great passer, but without a jumper, it’ll be hard for him to excel in the NBA. I’m willing to bet 80% from three is an outlier in an otherwise 27% season on 58% from the line.
- I guy who might end up being drafted a little too late is Wendell Carter Jr. Just a consistently solid player who moves fluidly and really understands the defensive end of the floor. A 9.5% stock (steals + blocks) rate, a 92.9 defensive rating, and 3.2 blocks per 40 show his value in the NBA. He was quiet on the stat sheet yesterday (a solid nine points and eight boards in 24 minutes), but he impressed me.
#6 Miami vs #11 Loyola-Chicago (64-62)
- Um. Yeah. What happened to Lonnie Walker? A projected top 20 guy shot 5-12 from the field for 12 points, including 2-6 from three, and had the same amount of turnovers as all other stats combined. And that last minute? Two straight poor defensive plays, a huge turnover, and a missed free throw. They lost by two points. I think he’s better than he was yesterday, but not a great moment for him.
- It was clear Miami missed Bruce Brown. He leads the team in rebounds and assists and is 0.1 off from the lead in points and steals. He’s got a little Russell Westbrook in him, which Miami needed in crunch time.
- What a game that was. Exactly what we expect from a March game: someone missing a big free throw and someone else nailing a huge jumper.
#5 Ohio St. vs #12 South Dakota St. (81-73)
- The biggest prospect in this game was Keita Bates-Diop, and he did not disappoint. Led the game in scoring with 22 points on 7-19 shooting (and 6-6 from the free throw line) to go along with 12 rebounds. Would’ve liked him to shoot better from deep (4-13), but he played well and was instrumental in Ohio St.’s win.
- Three Ohio St. players had 20 points or more yesterday: Bates-Diop, Kam Williams, and CJ Jackson. I don’t care who you’re playing. You will be hard to beat if you have three 20 point scorers.
- Mike Daum has been lighting it up for South Dakota St. this year. 23.8 ppg on 46-42-96 splits to go along with 10.4 rebounds. The junior posted 27 points on 45-50-66 with 6 rebounds and kept SDST in the game until the end.
#8 Seton Hall vs #9 NC State (94-83)
- A game to forget for Omer Yurtseven. Two points, two rebounds, two turnovers and five fouls. Just ineffective all day.
- Allerik Freeman was far from ineffective. The senior guard had 36 points on 12-19 shooting, made six of his eight threes, getting to the line seven times, and grabbing seven boards. He was their leading scorer on the season and it was easy to see why.
- For the Pirates, their three leading scorers on the season combined for 65 points. Desi Rodriguez had 20 on 8-14 shooting, Myles Powell had 19 on 4-12 shooting (10-12 from the line), and Khadeen Carrington led the way with 26 on 6-14 shooting (11-13 from the line.
#1 Villanova vs #16 Radford (87-61)
- A slightly quiet, but efficient game from Jalen Brunson. The National Player of the Year candidate had 16 points and four assists (with four turnovers) but did it on 7-9 shooting, including 2-3 from downtown.
- About the usual game for Mikal Bridges. 13 points in six rebounds on 5-10 shooting and 3-6 from three and the usual high-quality defense. No free throws, but it ultimately didn’t matter.
- Six Villanova players scored in double figures, including all five starters. About what you expected from one of the two best teams in the country against a #16 seed.
#5 Kentucky vs #12 Davidson (78-73)
- An impressive game from Kevin Knox. He shot 0-3 from deep, but was more aggressive than usual and attacked the basket hard. He had 25 points on 8-16 shooting, including 9-11 from the line. He was particularly lethal coming off of screens and hitting in the midrange. He’ll be a late lottery pick in a couple of months. Mark it down.
- While Knox is Kentucky’s best player, I don’t think anyone told Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. He was all over the place tonight, putting up 19 points on 5-13 shooting, grabbing eight boards, and dishing out seven assists. The most impressive numbers? 9-10 from the free throw line and a whopping five steals. He’s playing his way farther and farther up draft boards, and any team with a need for a point guard in the late lottery will have a very easy choice to make.
- Kentucky went 0-6 from three for the entire game. For a team with a lot of stud prospects, that number is inexcusable. They will have to shoot better from deep if they expect to hang around in the later rounds of the tournament.
#6 Houston vs #11 San Diego St. (67-65)
- Malik Pope had an ok scoring day, putting up 11 points (about his season average) on 50% shooting. However, he was a force on defense, grabbing eight of his eleven boards on the defensive end and blocking three shots.
- Rob Gray had easily the best game of the tournament yesterday. 39 points on 48% shooting, 4-6 from three, eight rebounds, and an incredible 15 free throw attempts. Oh, and he carried Houston over the last minute of crunch time, including a huge three-pointer and the game-winning layup and under with 1.1 seconds left in the game.
- The game was close, but Houston is still a scary team going forward throughout the tournament, particularly in a weaker bracket quadrant.
#3 Texas Tech vs #14 Stephen F. Austin (70-60)
- If you wanted to find the most athletic prospect in the draft, look no further than the 8:55 mark of the first half. Zhaire Smith‘s duck is even more impressive considering it’s basically off the vert. He’s been sneaking into the late lottery on most mocks, and that play was a clear indicator as to why.
- Keenan Evans, Texas Tech’s leading scorer this year, led the game with 23 points on 6-10 shooting and a perfect 10-10 from the free throw line to go along with six rebounds and five assists. It was clear who Tech’s best player was last night.
- This game was closer than the final makes it seem. SFA was leading at the half and was up by nine in the second half before Tech went on their run and outscored the Lumberjacks by 13 in the second.
#8 Virginia Tech vs #9 Alabama (83-86)
- Collin Sexton was disappointing from three, only shooting 1-5. Other than that, he was utterly spectacular. A game leading 25 points on 50% shooting, 10-14 from the free throw line, and six assists. ‘Bama will only go as far as Sexton take them, and they’ll be fun to watch while they’re in. He should be the first non-Doncic guard off the board in June.
- I would have liked to see Donta Hall more active on the glass. He was his usual efficient self on the offensive end (a perfect 5-5 from the floor), but he had three rebounds, no blocks, and three personal fouls. Alabama needs his size and defense when they play bigger teams.
- Nickeil Alexander-Walker is most likely Virginia Tech’s only NBA prospect, and you need your NBA guy to provide a little more than 15-2-3 on 42% from the floor if you want to advance in March.
#4 Arizona vs #13 Buffalo (68-89)
- Ok, I have to move off the prospects first for this game. Upsets happen in March. They always do. We’ve seen high seeds when they have super high-quality players (see Duke in 2014), but at least those games were tight. But that loss was embarrassing. Arizona has the best player in college basketball and one or two first-round guard prospects and Buffalo dropped 49 points on them in the second half and won by 21. Embarrassing loss.
- DeAndre Ayton had an ok offensive game for him. 14 points on 46% shooting, but shot 2-5 from the free throw line. And while he had 13 rebounds, his defensive rating for the game was 130 (average is 100). Arizona needed more and they didn’t get it, but Ayton will still probably be the #1 pick.
- I’ve been one of Allonzo Trier‘s biggest defenders and I still think he’s a first-round talent. But he really struggled yesterday. Ten points on 4-15 shooting, including 0-5 from three, two turnovers, and absolutely porous defense (142 defensive rating). This might have been the worst game of his career in an absolutely terrible moment.
#3 Michigan vs #14 Montana (61-47)
- Moritz Wagner was Michigan’s leading scorer and rebounder this season, but that was not the case against Montana. He only had five points on 2-6 shooting, six boards, and four fouls. Not great game from their lone NBA prospect.
- However, Charles Matthews picked up all of Wagner’s slack, putting up 20 points and 11 rebounds on 7-13 shooting. The five turnovers are too many to sustain in wins against better teams, but he played well today.
#6 Florida vs #11 St. Bonaventure (77-62)
- Since the 2005-06 season, Florida has been in eight NCAA tournaments (not counting this one). They have made it to the elite eight in seven of those eight years, including three final four trips and two national championships. The other time was a first-round loss. Florida won yesterday, so that must mean they’re now going to the elite eight.
- Jalen Hudson has climbed into the mid second round on many boards with his season leading Florida in scoring. He doesn’t do a lot else on the court, but he knows how to put the ball in the basket. 16 points on 6-14 shooting (although 2-8 from deep) in yesterday’s game.
- St. Bonaventure is built on the backs of their two incredible guards, Matt Mobley and Jaylen Adams (averaging 18 and 19 points respectively). Mobley shot 23% for ten points while Adams shot 33% for eleven. Since those two weren’t scoring, the Bonnies had no chance.
(feature image by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)