NBA Prospects to Watch in Baylor-Kentucky Showdown
Saturday's prime-time matchup features two underachieving teams and a boatload of NBA talent.
Both Kentucky and Baylor share 4-2 records, and are coming off disappointing losses to inferior nonconference teams. Each program will need their top NBA prospects to rise to the occasion and show their potential.
There will be a ton of important eyeballs watching every single possession. These are the key guys and matchups to focus on:
Marquee Prospect Matchup: Nerlens Noel vs. Isaiah Austin
The top two prospects in this game could see a lot of each other, which will be interesting to consider due to the complete contrast in their styles of play.
Nerlens Noel has loosened up as the season has progressed, but his inside impact has yet to decide a game.
Pay attention to how Noel controls the defensive glass. Noel gave up six offensive rebounds to 6'9'' forward Jack Cooley in a loss to Notre Dame, while only bringing in four defensive rebounds in 32 minutes.
He'll remain a defensive asset as long as he stays out of foul trouble, but it's on the other side of the ball where scouts will focus their attention. Offensively he's shown some bounce, and though still raw, uses athleticism and hop-steps to create inside shots for himself. He's getting a couple of easy baskets a game, but whether or not he can convert the difficult ones will determine his overall ceiling.
Noel will likely be defended by Baylor's Isaiah Austin, whose 7'3'' wingspan makes him the best candidate to neutralize Noel's size and length.
This is a unique defensive mismatch.
While Noel's comfort zone extends from foul line to baseline, Austin likes to face the basket from out to 23 feet away. Look for him to take advantage of his perimeter skills, which few big men are used to defending.
As long as Austin can get the shot off, it's likely to be a good look considering how difficult it is to contest. He's scored 14 points per game thus far, shooting 53 percent from the floor and 36 percent from downtown .
Look to see how Austin defends the post against Noel with his body and his arms. Austin has a couple of inches on him, but lacks the bulk and upper body strength ideal for the position. Austin hasn't blocked a shot in four of his five games, which almost seems impossible for someone with his physical measurements.
This game presents a rare opportunity for scouts to get a chance to see two of the most coveted prospects in America go head to head. The film from this game will be seen by hundreds of NBA decision makers, and is an important audition for all involved.
Other Impact Prospects
Archie Goodwin, Kentucky - Combo-Guard
Goodwin is a top-ten talent, but still has work to do with regards to shot selection and decision making.
He's taking on added responsibilities as the team's new starting point guard, which isn't his natural position, and it has affected his judgment.
But Goodwin's scoring ability is undeniable. With room to attack, he's got an explosive step, accelerating towards the basket and up towards the rim. Getting good elevation on his stop-and-pop mid-range stroke, Goodwin is a complete scorer from the wing and an exhausting defensive assignment.
Kentucky will need Goodwin to have a balanced game as a scorer and playmaker, which in time will maximize his draft value as an NBA combo guard.
Pierre Jackson, Baylor - Point Guard
Jackson will end up having the ball in his hands longer than any player in this game.
His speed and quickness off the bounce will keep Kentucky on their toes for 40 minutes. Jackson's scoring average is up to 20 a game, primarily because he's knocking down three-pointers off the dribble. He'll always have these at his disposal since no human is laterally quick enough to guard him up tight.
He'll have to do a better job of creating offense for others, not just himself. In Baylor's loss to Charleston, Jackson took 10 more shots than anyone else on the roster despite being the team's point guard.
If Jackson can control the pace—and himself—he'll be the reason Baylor pulls off the upset.
This is an excellent opportunity for Jackson to show scouts that his talent can negate his size disadvantage against NBA-caliber defenders.
Alex Poythress, Kentucky - Combo-Forward
Poythress had his worst game of the year in Kentucky's loss to Notre Dame, where he struggled to create scoring opportunities. He finished with three points and took only one shot all game, and was essentially invisible despite playing 23 minutes.
He's an explosive athlete with top-notch size and mobility for an NBA small forward. Poythress' ability to make an impact without using his dribble is a valuable quality when tied to team success.
Look for Poythress to be a little more aggressive tonight after barely making a sound against the Irish. He's got top-five overall upside if he can consistently find a way to contribute and minimize the no-shows.
Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky - Center
He may not get the minutes of some of the other highly touted prospects, but he makes his presence known whenever he steps on the floor.
Cauley-Stein might see a bigger role against Baylor, who has nobody to match up with his size, strength and 7'0'' NBA-type frame.
He defines the term "project," and has substantial potential once he figures out how to play. Cauley-Stein finds ways to score using strictly his size and agility, which he won't be able to get away with at the pro level.
Expect to see the big fella get a couple of baskets at the rim, as he will be the most physically daunting presence on the floor.
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