Every Monday morning, One and One will examine the upcoming slate of games and highlight individual matchups that intrigue us in the weekly Scouting Report.
Baylor’s Isaiah Austin vs. Kansas’ Joel Embiid, Monday. A battle of one of the premier big-man recruits of yesteryear (OK, like two years ago) versus the premier big-man recruit of last year. It’s a clash of untapped potential in several senses. We learned last weekend via an ESPN piece that Austin plays with a prosthetic eye, which shines a softer light on averages of 10.4 points and 2.8 blocks per game that didn’t quite measure up the dominance most anticipated. And then there’s Embiid (11 points, 2.9 blocks per game), who may not come close to his ceiling for years and yet may be the reason Kansas reaches the Final Four, rather than fellow freshman Andrew Wiggins. Austin has the size to neutralize Embiid, but does he have the moxie for a scuffling Baylor unit in need of a statement win?
Creighton’s Doug McDermott vs. Villanova’s Darrun Hilliard, Monday. Or the Wildcats’ James Bell. Or any of the similarly sized swingmen that Villanova can throw at McDermott, the nation’s second-leading scorer (24.9 points per game). The Wildcats have soared into the top 10 with balance, but they were the nation’s No. 8 team in adjusted defensive efficiency as of Sunday night, allowing 90.5 points per 100 possessions. Paced by McDermott and Ethan Wragge, Creighton had the nation’s No. 1 most efficient offense, with 123.7 points per 100 possessions. A fascinating strength-on-strength matchup with first place in the Big East on the line.
Oakland’s Duke Mondy vs. Green Bay’s Keifer Sykes, Wednesday. The 6-foot-5 Mondy and the 5-foot-11 may or may not be matched up against each other intermittently, but the former is one of the nation’s most provocative defenders and the latter one of its most efficient scorers. Mondy averages 3.4 steals per game and, as of Sunday night, 5.92 percent of opponent possessions ended in a pilfer by him – fourth in the nation. Sykes, meanwhile, averages 20.4 points and 5.4 assists while shooting 50.6 percent from the floor – the only player in the country averaging 20 and 5 while hitting at 50 percent of better.
Massachusetts’ Chaz Williams vs. Richmond’s Cedrick Lindsay, Wednesday. The Minutemen have played three Atlantic-10 games, losing none, but winning by a grand total of 10 points. The Spiders are a relatively pedestrian 70th in the kenpom.com rankings, but it’s a sprite-on-sprite matchup in the backcourt. The 5-foot-9 Williams spurs Massachusetts with 16.9 points and 7.4 assists per game and the 6-foot-1 Lindsay cranks out 19.1 points and 4.2 dimes per night for Richmond. The Spiders do have a top 50 defense and are on their home court, an intriguing dynamic to see just how resilient UMass’ good fortune is. Michigan’s Nik Stauskas vs. Michigan State’s Gary Harris, Saturday. The 6-foot-6 Stauskas has emerged as a slightly unlikely turbine for the surprising Wolverines – more on that later in this blog space – averaging 18 points and shooting 44 percent from three-point range entering the week. The underrated aspect of Michigan State’s formidability, however, is the defensive play of its backcourt. Harris and Keith Appling combined for seven steals at Northwestern last week and Harris added another two at Illinois on Saturday. One would presume the Spartans would sic their premier two-way perimeter performer on the Wolverines’ central scorer in the din of the Breslin Center.