Zion Williamson suits back up for Duke and more matchups to watch tonight through the Knicks draft prospect lens.
March Madness is far and away the best time of the basketball year. Basketball is on from noon to midnight, every game is high stakes, and did I mention it’s close to 12 straight hours of basketball? Nothing gets the juices flowing like sudden death. The major conferences started tournament play last night. Conference tourneys are the perfect appetizer as the big meal awaits next week.
Last night featured the lower seeds scrapping with each other. Today the beasts are back. The tournament that should have your undivided attention is the ACC—five players on the Knicks’ radar will be in action.
Tonight, fans should have their scouting hats on. Four of the top five players on our TKW Draft Board are in action. Ja Morant already locked up his conference tourney, impressing the hell out of us in the process. Now it’s time to see what his peers can do.
Here’s who to watch tonight.
Jarrett Culver takes on West Virginia
Jarrett Culver has mainly lived in the shadows of the Duke boys and Ja Morant in terms of Knicks fans’ affection. That hasn’t stopped him from balling out this season for Texas Tech.
Culver finished the regular season as a Player of the Year candidate, averaging 18.3 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.2 steals per game.
To cap the season, he went off for a career-high 31 points against Iowa State to give Texas Tech a share of the Big 12 regular season title.
Career-high 31 PTS for #TexasTech SG prospect Jarrett Culver, who made 12/19 FG's + 4/8 3FG's in an efficient + impressive outing as the #RedRaiders knocked off #IowaState 80-73 to earn a share of the #Big12 Conference championship. The 6-6 + 20-year-old is 7th in our top-100 pic.twitter.com/eA8HjbeRx1— DraftExpressContent (@DXContent) March 11, 2019
The Red Raiders’ tourney fate is secure, but the conference tournament still serves as a good warm up. Culver will lead his group against West Virginia to open play. West Virginia hasn’t had a good season (13-19), but a Bob Huggins defense should never be taken lightly.
Culver has had no trouble with Huggins’ defense this season. In two games versus the Mountaineers this season, Culver’s shooting 64.7 percent from the floor. With more eyeballs on him, Culver can play his way into the hearts of Knicks fans.
When and Where to Watch: 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2
Nassir Little and UNC vs. Louisville
Your time might will be better served watching Culver on ESPN2 tonight. But during commercial breaks, check in on UNC—there might be a chance Nassir Little is on the floor. Playing time remains Little’s greatest adversary, averaging 17 minutes per game over his last 10, right in line with his season average of 18.4.
Things can change in tournament play. One hot streak from Little might convince Roy Williams to leave him out there a little longer. Louisville is a frisky opponent for UNC, and a team that Nas has had little success against. He scored a total of 10 points in two games against the Cardinals, shooting 4-for-13 from the field.
In this game you have to look for the little things—pun intended. With the small doses of Little we get, we can project what this blank canvas can be turned into, and see why his minutes have been so low. He is one of the more athletic players in the draft, should he declare, and can become an above-average defender.
When and Where to Watch: 7 p.m. ET on ESPN
Main Event: Duke vs. Syracuse
This is the main event of the evening. Pardon me, but I have to…
ZION IS BACK!!!!!
The past few weeks of Knick losses have been tougher to digest than a Popeyes biscuit with no beverage. Zion is that beverage. His return is a reminder that all this misery could end with a little luck.
In Zion’s absence, R.J. Barrett has more than held the fort. In Barrett’s first game without Zion, he led the charge in a revenge win against Syracuse, at the Carrier Dome, in the best performance of Barrett’s Duke career thus far.
Cam Reddish didn’t shoot well in that game, but he defended like a mad man. Reddish has tiptoed the fine line of Paul George and Rudy Gay. With Zion back in action, Reddish will have more room to operate. In six games without Williamson, Cam has shot poorly, at 28.9 percent from deep and 32.9 percent from the floor.
Ironically, Syracuse hasn’t faced Duke at full strength. When the Orange took down the Blue Devils in Durham, Reddish was out. In the rematch, Zion was out.
Tonight, center Marques Bolden is out—and will miss full tournament with a knee injury—which might be a blessing in disguise.
Coach K can finally unleash point-center Zion. Spreading the floor with Williamson and four wings is a strong form of attack against that Syracuse zone. Barrett had a lot of success driving into the teeth of that zone. Zion could have equal success, and kick out to shooters should that zone collapse.
This can give Knick fans a preview of what Zion would look like in a death lineup. Just imagine: Zion at center, flanked by Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
Which reminds me—put your tin foil hats on folks…
When and Where to Watch: 9 p.m. ET on ESPN