A mighty return from Zion Williamson highlighted Thursday’s Duke win over Syracuse. Here’s which Knicks draft prospects to watch on Friday as conference play continues.
Thursday proved to be every bit as entertaining as one could have hoped.
Jarrett Culver’s Texas Tech squad was shocked by West Virginia (I told you not to sleep on Bob Huggins!), but it was not because of Culver, who did everything possible to save the Red Raiders. Culver finished with 26 points and really made his presence felt in the second half where he got to the rim at will.
Romeo Langford’s stock continues to dip with a lackluster end to his season. He shot 4-for-12 in a loss to Ohio State. Langford has likely played his way off the Knicks’ board, with Culver and De’Andre Hunter gaining steam as the youngster has tapered off.
The main event of Duke vs. Syracuse was where the real show was. Zion Williamson made up for lost time with a perfect game shooting. He went 13-for-13 from the field in a near flawless performance. R.J. Barrett offered efficient support with 23 points on 50 percent shooting from the floor as Duke took the rubber match over the Orangemen.
SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOON pic.twitter.com/acbrhMgG9J— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) March 15, 2019
Friday’s slate is quality over quantity. There are six prospects left in action, four of them playing in the same game.
The Knicks do play Friday night versus the Spurs, but there are other viewing options available in case that contest goes south fast. Let’s see what those options are.
Kentucky vs. Alabama
Who to watch: Keldon Johnson
When: 7 p.m. ET
Where: SEC Network
Keldon Johnson is toward the bottom of the Knicks’ wish list. He has been Kentucky’s best perimeter scorer, and will need to be that and much more if his team plans to make a deep March run. John Calipari might not have the blue chippers he once had, but he has always had a gift for getting his freshman ready for March.
This time last year Shai Gilgeous-Alexander separated himself from the pack to take the leadership role. P.J. Washington is most likely to take that role this season—he has been Kentucky’s best overall player all season. There is still room for Johnson to step up as the primary scorer.
His first test will be an Alabama team that beat Big Blue in the regular season already, and is still fighting to get in the tournament. A win against Ole Miss put their tournament resume in better shape; another win against UK would all but guarantee a bid to the big dance. In that first meeting, Johnson had a great game statistically, scoring 13 points on 50 percent shooting to go along with seven rebounds, four assists, and three steals.
A stronger scoring effort from Johnson could kick start his March run—and put his name on more people’s radars.
Virginia vs. Florida State
Who to watch: De’Andre Hunter
When: 7 p.m. ET
Virginia appeared to be on upset alert at halftime on Thursday against NC State. The Cavaliers turned it up in the second half, outscoring the Wolfpack 49-27, to win 76-56.
Hunter was solid, scoring 16 points, thanks largely to a strong outing from the free throw line (8-for-10). The appeal with Hunter is that he is one of the guys. One possible gripe about Hunter is that he is one of the guys. He rarely has games where he takes over.
Florida State is all but guaranteed a spot in the tournament according to Joe Lunardi, lowering the stakes for this matchup. Hunter struggled against the Seminoles when they faced off during the season, shooting 2-for-8, in a Virginia win.
When you watch Hunter tonight, don’t focus so much on the numbers, but more of what he does on defense and how he fits within the Cavalier offense.
Duke vs. North Carolina
Who to watch: Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish, Nassir Little
When: 9 p.m. ET
Duke once again plays the primetime game, this time against their bitter rivals. The stakes are not high from a tournament standpoint, but you have to think Duke does not want to lose three in a row to UNC. You also have to think Zion wants to send a message to a team he has yet to face.
Zion dominated Syracuse last night. It was every bit majestic as an optimist could have hoped for. He looked like he was never injured this year, and kept his pulse on the game the whole time. R.J. Barrett proved he could share the spotlight, still getting his 23 points in, but he did struggle taking care of the basketball.
Then there was Cam Reddish. Cam was showed up to the game but struggled once again to score on that Cuse zone. Reddish will not have to deal with the zone tonight, instead going up against a Tar Heel defense he had success against, scoring 23 points in their last tilt. A bounce-back performance tonight could be the deciding factor in Duke snapping their losing streak against Carolina.
Rounding out our prospects to watch is Nassir Little. As has been the case all season, Little played just 16 minutes last night. One thing that shown through in his limited time was his ability to clean the glass.
Little pulled down six boards, including a couple in traffic. He also had a pair of steals and one block. It highlighted the defensive potential I mentioned yesterday. Chances are he will not play a lot tonight. When he is out there, he could be matched up on fellow lotto picks, Cam, R.J. or Zion. Success against any of those three is something to file away for later if the Knicks were to add another first-round pick.