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March 23, 2017

Grocery Shopping: Prospects that Sixers fans should watch in the Sweet 16

While the shorthanded Sixers finish out their season, Philadelphia can also continue to monitor March Madness in hopes of seeing future Sixers. If you’re solely interested in watching the NCAA Tournament in terms of scouting for the NBA Draft, here are the games you need to check out.

Must-watch games

In my opinion, there are two of these:

•    Kansas vs. Purdue, 9:39 p.m. Thursday, CBS
•    Kentucky vs. UCLA, 9:39 p.m. Friday, CBS

Of those two, the most important matchup is UCLA-Kentucky because it features three guards projected to go in the Top-6 by DraftExpress: Lonzo Ball, Malik Monk, and De’Aaron Fox. It’s also a rematch of a game that that UCLA impressively won in Rupp Arena back in December:

As far as the teams are concerned, I am wary of thinking that we’ll see the same thing from December. Young teams like Kentucky (which hasn’t lost since February 5th) tend to play better later in the season. Also, remember Villanova last year? The same Oklahoma team that the Wildcats lost to by 23 points in December were no match for them in the Final Four, as Villanova won by a record 44 points.

All eyes will be on Ball, and not just because of his loudmouth dad. Despite the fact that the Bruins won in December, Lonzo struggled against the quick Kentucky guards: 14 points (5-12 FG), 7 assists (to 7 turnovers), 6 rebounds, 1 steal, and 1 block. That is about as bad of a line as he put up in his ridiculous freshman season.

In that game, I felt like De’Aaron Fox outplayed Ball even though he only shot 8-20 from the field. Fox has elite speed, but a shaky outside jumper (15-64 3P) is a major red flag coming into the NBA. His backcourt partner Malik Monk, has caught fire in some of Kentucky’s biggest games this season. While he isn’t the most well-rounded prospect, his shooting is an elite skill.

Kansas-Purdue has Josh Jackson, who we wrote about earlier this week. The way that Jackson shoots the ball from the outside will continue to be of interest, as will how he handles a big, physical Purdue frontline in Caleb Swanigan, Isaac Haas, and Vince Edwards.

Best of the rest

•    Arizona vs. Xavier, 10:09 p.m. Thursday, TBS: After a couple of solid shooting performances on the first weekend, skilled big man Lauri Markkanen will try to get Arizona to its first Final Four since 2001.

•    Oregon vs. Michigan, 7:09 p.m. Thursday, CBS: Michigan might be the best story in sports, and this game features a couple of projected second-round picks in Dillon Brooks and D.J. Wilson. Both players are underclassmen though, so there’s a chance they will return to school after this season.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann