The weekend is upon us, and for most of the country, its the first big weekend of conference play. This is where the men separate themselves from the boys. The games get bigger, as do the stakes in terms of NCAA Tournament seedings and for the individual players themselves. The NBA scouts are watching. Teams such as our own Cleveland Cavaliers will be viewing these games with a close eye. So let us take a look at the top five matchups of the weekend alnong with the players to watch for in these games. Just a warning, its not a great slate this weekend….p.s. I love this old photo of the 1991 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels
#20 Marquette (12-3) at #1 Syracuse (16-0), 4 PM, ESPN3
The #1 team in the country has looked loaded thus far. This may be the deepest team that Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim has ever had in his 30-plus years as coach. The way they run up and down the floor is a beauty to watch. Its an unselfish group without a true “star” player. They are a solid group one through 10.
In terms of draft picks, an interesting guy to keep your eye on is their Sophomore Center Fab Melo. Had the 7-foot Melo come straight to the NBA, someone would have taken him in the lottery on size alone. Instead he went to Syracuse and spent his Freshman year in Boeheim’s doghouse. This season, he has looked terrific. He lost weight and has been a real presence, especially on the defensive end. Though he is still a project, he’s a late first/early second round candidate. But you cant teach size and he is rapidly improving.
#5 Baylor (14-0) at Texas Tech (7-6), 1:45 PM, ESPN3
Baylor is one of the four remaining unbeatens, and any kind of road test will be tough. Even at Texas Tech, which is the worst team in the Big 12. The guy we are all watching here is Perry Jones III. Scott had him just outside the top five in his latest big board, and I’d agree. While he has all of the tools to be a possible #1 overall pick, the way he fades in and out of games is very concerning to me. Watching a guy with a motor like Tristan Thompson of the Cavs this week has made me sour on Jones even more (and i was one of those who thought Thompson’s offensive game wouldn’t be ready for at least two years). He just doesn’t look as engaged as he should game in and game out. Imagine what he will be like WITH money when he has made it to the league.
This is a guy averaging just 13 points and seven rebounds a game. Those numbers should be a double double every single night. I just don’t like his body language.
#7 Ohio State (14-2) at Iowa (10-6), 3 PM, BTN
The Buckeyes go on the road for the first time since losing on New Years Eve to Indiana. The atmosphere in Iowa City won’t be anything close to the one they saw in Bloomington. But the Hawkeyes have won five of six, including Fran McCaffery’s signature win, a 72-65 decision over Wisconsin in Madison.
You won’t hear me talking about any Iowa NBA talent. Scott didn’t list Jared Sullinger in his top five, but he is right there. One thing Sully has shown more of lately, is the ability to stretch the defense with his jumper. Last year we saw him as a dominant post player, but through the first month and a half of the season, we’ve seen a more polished Jared Sullinger who can beat you in multiple ways.
A guy who to me should be rising on NBA radar screens in Desean Thomas. The 6’7 sweet-shooting left-hander still needs to bulk up a bit more, but he is a perfect NBA three man. Defensively he needs to get a tad better, but he is a scoring machine who cannot be ignored.
#8 Connecticut (12-2) at Rutgers (8-7), 8 PM, ESPN3
Now here is one for you. The last we saw UConn, they were getting smoked by Seton Hall. The last we saw Rutgers, they were upsetting a top 15 team in Florida at The RAC, one of the toughest places to play in the Big East. This is one of those under the radar, sneaky-good games that won’t get a lot of hype.
Lamb is the guy the Cavs would LOVE to have next to Kyrie Irving in the backcourt for the next five years. He had his coming out party at the FInal Four last year and hasn’t slowed down since. He’s averaging just under 19 points per game and is stroking the ball from deep at a 41% clip. He’s also a freaky athlete, and produced the dunk of the year earlier this season:
Where can I sign up for that?
Drummond on the other hand has been up and down, but has the physical abilities and NBA body that scouts all drool over. But he is still feeling his way out offensively. In his last five games, he has scored 16 twice, 24 once, and just four twice. Drummond has played 28 minutes or more in each of those games. Put him in the middle next to Tristan Thompson for the next five years and you are in business.
#16 Mississippi State (13-2) at Arkansas (11-3), 9 PM, ESPN3
Yes, those MSU Bulldogs and their talented but enigmatic roster head to Arkansas for a tough road test. Everyone talks about Renardo Sidney and his constant battles with himself. But one thing you can’t deny if you have seen him in person – the guy is a monster. He’s another case of a kid who like Melo, had come out as a high schooler, would have been a no doubt lottery pick. But his immaturity both on and off the court have derailed him. On the court, he is getting into better shape, but coach Rick Stansbury often keeps him on the bench in late stretches of close games because he is worried his emotions and his lack of stamina will get the best of him. But he is still a tantalizing talent who someone will take a chance on.
The guy most scouts now come to see when they visit Starkville is 6’11, 220 Arnett Moultre, who has turned himself into a first round pick with his play this season. He’s averaging a double-double and has that wiry, athletic frame that NBA teams covet. The UTEP transfer is a major reason Mississippi State is amongst the top teams in the country.