College hoops is in full swing, but let’s be honest: With so much on your plate, it isn’t always easy to follow. That’s especially true for the folks who follow the NBA diligently and don’t have enough time to focus on anything other than their own team.
We know you’re an NBA fan, we know you love your team and we know that with college games running from morning to night all weekend, it’s hard to pick out exactly which ones matter and where you can see the stars of tomorrow. So we’ll do it for you.
If you're an NBA fan looking to get a little more into college hoops this weekend, here’s your guide to doing so.
Beside the fact that this is a matchup between two Top 15 teams and the West Coast’s premiere hoops powers, this game features a slew of future NBA players. UCLA has upward of 6-7 players who are being evaluated as future pros, while Arizona has at least 2-3 who could end up in the NBA at some point.
The main attraction is Lonzo Ball, UCLA’s dynamic freshman point guard who is currently second in the nation in assists with 8.2 per game. He feeds the ball to a group of talented players who could one day get a look in the NBA, including shooting guard Isaac Hamilton (who scored 33 points in Thursday’s win over Arizona State) and Aaron Holiday, the brother of Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday.
Arizona’s backcourt duo of Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins also have NBA futures, although it likely won’t be after this season.
Must-see individual matchup: Arizona’s Lauri Markannen vs. UCLA’s T.J. Leaf
Notice that I inexplicably didn't mention the second- and third-best NBA prospects in the previous section? It’s because they’ll go head-to-head in the paint on Saturday afternoon. The story of Markannen and Leaf intersecting in Westwood is fascinating for a couple reasons.
Beyond the obvious one – that they’re both future pros – there is the fact that Leaf committed to Arizona early in the recruiting process, only to decommit and end up in Westwood. Had he stayed with the Wildcats, there’s a good chance that Markannen would not have ended up in Tucson. But both have found the perfect landing spots.
Now each is projected as a future first-round NBA Draft pick, with Markannen exploding at last summer’s Under-20 European championships and Leaf evolving from “Lonzo Ball’s sidekick” into one of the best big men in college basketball. Each is averaging nearly 17 points per game, with Leaf tallying slightly more rebounds (nine a game, compared to seven). It should make for a fun matchup Saturday afternoon.
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Must-see player matchup vs. team: Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac vs. No. 12 Louisville (Saturday, 2 p.m. ET)
Isaac is basically Brandon Ingram with worse PR. Isaac has all the same tools – size, athleticism, shooting stroke for a big man, you name it – that made us fall in love with Ingram last year, and the only reason we’re not talking about him more is because he plays at Florida State. If he were at Duke or Kansas, we’d be discussing him as a Top 3 pick in the upcoming draft.
While Isaac is coming off the best game of his career – 23 points, 10 rebounds, 7 blocks vs. Notre Dame on Wednesday – he’ll face the best defensive team he has seen in his brief college career Saturday. Louisville is ranked No. 8 nationally in field goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to shoot just 37.9 percent as a team. And it will be fascinating to see how Isaac handles the Cardinals’ swarming attack.
Good players in a bad game: Texas at No. 2 Kansas (Saturday, 2 p.m. ET)
On paper, this looked to be one of the marquee matchups of the entire Big 12 slate in 2017. Unfortunately, with Texas limping out to a 7-11 mark, it has lost its luster. Although the matchup between the two teams could get a bit out of hand, it features a pair of future high-level pros.
Those two are Kansas small forward Josh Jackson and Texas’ Jarrett Allen. The pair won’t go head-to-head like Leaf vs. Markannen, but each brings a unique skill-set. Jackson is a stat-stuffing wing player who is projected as a Top 5 pick -- a guy who does a little bit of everything and averages 15 points, seven boards, three assists and a steal and a block a game.
Meanwhile, Allen is averaging 12 points and eight boards at center. He’s a long-term project at the NBA level, but he’ll be a first-round pick as a 7-footer whether he declares this year or next.
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Good players on a good team that is playing bad: Duke vs. Miami (Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET)
That doesn’t change the fact that Blue Devils have a number of future NBA players on their roster. The star is small forward Jayson Tatum, a player blessed with natural scoring ability that’s rarely seen on the college level and a guy many believe could play himself into the No. 1 draft spot. Allen, Luke Kennard and reserves Frank Jackson and Marques Bolden will also get their shots at the NBA.
However, the player most worth keeping your eye on is freshman forward Harry Giles. He has been projected for years to be the top pick in this year’s draft, but his stock has plummeted with three knee surgeries in the past four seasons. Giles is slowly getting back to full strength and occasionally shows flashes of how good he can be. With Giles' stock slipping, some team could get lucky and land him in the middle of the first round.
The best of the rest
There are plenty of other players worth watching this weekend, even if their matchups aren’t super compelling.
Washington’s Markelle Fultz – projected by virtually every outlet as the guy who will end up as the No. 1 pick in the draft – plays at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday. Gonzaga, which has 2-3 NBA prospects (highlighted by freshman Zach Collins) plays at the same time.
If you’re in front of a TV at Noon ET, flip on FS1 to watch Villanova’s Josh Hart – the favorite to win National Player of the Year, and a projected late first-round pick – against Providence. NC State, which features projected Top 5 pick Dennis Smith Jr., plays at 2 p.m ET on Saturday.
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