NBA Prospects to Watch in the Louisville-Kentucky Game of the Weekend

Jonathan WassermanNBA Lead WriterDecember 28, 2012

LEXINGTON, KY - DECEMBER 22:  Nerlens Noel #3 of the Ketnucky Wildcats shoots the ball during the game against the Marshall Thundering Herd at Rupp Arena on December 22, 2012 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Louisville and Kentucky give us the most celebrated non-conference matchup year after year. In 2012, Louisville comes in as the favorites despite the abundance of future NBA talent in Kentucky's lineup.

The Cardinals will be getting a huge boost when Gorgui Dieng, their man in the middle, returns to the lineup after missing the last seven games with a wrist injury. This storyline is particularly interesting because of the individual matchup it creates in the paint.


Matchup of the Game: Kentucky's Nerlens Noel vs. Louisville's Gorgui Dieng

Nerlens Noel hasn't faced a true NBA-caliber center, and was badly outplayed by Maryland's Alex Len on opening night.

Gorgui Dieng's effectiveness stems from his ability to eat space. He challenges shots at the high post and protects the rim down low. He's not known for creating his own offense, and with this being his first game back after a wrist injury, he's unlikely to be a factor offensively outside of tip-ins and finishes inside.

However most of the eyes in the arena will be focused on Noel to gauge how effective he is operating with a 6'11'', 245-pound, three-year veteran on his case.

Noel has shown agility offensively, using athletic hop-steps to put himself in better position to score. Though if those gaps in the defense don't open, he's proven to be a non-factor on the offensive side of the ball.

Both players have something to prove, with Noel trying to secure his status as an elite NBA prospect, and Dieng looking to show scouts he's worthy of a spot in an NBA rotation.


Point Guard Battle: Kentucky's Ryan Harrow vs. Louisville's Peyton Siva

Ryan Harrow is coming off his best game as a Wildcat, finishing with 23 points and four assists in a win over Marshall. Harrow will have his hands full with Peyton Siva, who's right up there with Pierre Jackson as one of the fastest guards in the country.

Siva is making one more three-pointer per game than he did last year, which is noteworthy when you consider he hit a total of 17 threes as a junior, and already has 17 as a senior.

The winner of the Siva-Harrow battle should have a leg up in this showdown, with both likely to have the ball in their hands for a good portion of the game.


Prospects to Watch

Archie Goodwin, Kentucky—6'5'', SG

Archie Goodwin will be the game's most NBA-ready prospect. He's explosive attacking the rim, getting himself a few easy baskets a game just on finishes at the rim, which is atypical for most guards. Goodwin is Kentucky's leading scorer at 16 points per game, and will be looking for his shot Saturday afternoon.

Look for Goodwin to be aggressive and in full attack mode with Louisville's undersized backcourt.


Russ Smith, Louisville—6'1'', G

Russ Smith is averaging 19.7 points per game, and will be the highest volume scorer in this game. Smith plays in fast-forward, with a non-stop motor and zero conscience. He's taking 14.8 shots in 27.6 minutes a game, making him tough to miss if you're watching the game.

Louisville will need Smith's A-game going against the bigger, 6'5'' Archie Goodwin.


Alex Poythress, Kentucky—6'8'', SF

Alex Poythress is averaging 14.5 points on a ridiculous 64.9 percent shooting. He sticks to what he does well, understanding his limitations and rarely playing out of control. Though limited as a shot-creator, his efficiency and consistent productivity is what makes him so effective.


Wayne Blackshear, Louisville—6'5'', SG

Blackshear has been playing some good ball as of late, finishing with 18 and eight and 17 and eight in back to back games respectively. With good size for an NBA scorer and the ability to convert from every spot on the floor, he's a prospect who remains under the radar.

With Blackshear in the zone, expect him to play a major role in the Louisville offense in their showdown with Kentucky.


Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky—7'0'' C

Cauley-Stein isn't likely to see more than 25 minutes, but his size and athleticism make him a factor whenever he's on the floor. Outside Gorgui Dieng, Louisville's frontcourt is undersized with Chane Behanan playing the 4 at only 6'6''. Cauley-Stein should find ways to clean up inside, and collect some easy points off tip-ins and offensive rebounds.