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March 23, 2016

Grocery shopping: The Sixers fan’s guide to the Sweet 16

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Are you a Sixers fan that doesn’t care much about college hoops but also would rather watch anything than a 9-62 basketball team minus its last two top picks? “Batman v. Superman” is receiving terrible reviews, so March Madness just might have to be your antidote.

If you can stomach the occasional overcoaching and kids making mistakes (they’re not professionals, after all), here is an introduction to viewing the Sweet 16 through an NBA Draft lens. Importance of each game is rated from one to five stars:

Villanova vs. Miami (FL), 7:10 p.m. Thursday

This should be a high-level college game, but there aren’t a ton of obvious pro prospects here. 6’5” wings Josh Hart and Sheldon McLellan are projected as second-round picks by some outlets. If Villanova's Hart (36 percent 3P) can tighten up that jumper a little bit more, he definitely has a chance to stick around the NBA for a while.

Oklahoma vs. Texas A&M, 7:37 p.m. Thursday

Buddy! Buddy! Buddy!

Oklahoma wasn’t very impressive on the first weekend, and they’re only still playing because of Buddy Hield. The senior sharpshooter poured in 36 points in the second-round win over VCU, once again showcasing some elite shot-making. At the next level, the question is what else Hield can do to contribute to wins. It’s tough to imagine him as the top scoring option on a good team.

As far as the Sixers are concerned, the problem with Buddy is that he will very likely get drafted in between their two potential high picks (Sixers, Lakers) and two low picks (Heat, Thunder). The Aggies don’t have a ton of highly-rated players, but they bring NBA length for Hield to go up against in 6’7” wings Danuel House and Jalen Jones


Kansas vs. Maryland, 9:40 p.m. Thursday

This is a case where the fifth-seeded Terps might actually have more pro talent than the favorites to cut down the nets. The two best prospects are freshman centers, Diamond Stone and Cheick Diallo. The difference between the two is that Stone is in Maryland’s rotation while Diallo plays very limited minutes for Kansas.

(Which reminds me, Joel Embiid’s freshman year at Kansas was remarkable. It’s easy to forget that.)

Melo Trimble and Jake Layman are players that have been around a while (not as long as Perry Ellis, but still), as has Wayne Selden. Power forwards Robert Carter and Carlton Bragg are other names to keep an eye on. There will be a lot of talent on the floor in Louisville.


Oregon vs. Duke, 9:55 p.m. Thursday

If you’re a Sixers fan, chances are you have already seen silky smooth 6’9” wing Brandon Ingram play. A 41.5 percent shooter from deep that can get to the rim effortlessly with long strides, Ingram is the only player remaining in the tourney who has the potential to be the Sixers’ first pick in the draft. I’m confused why he isn’t a better free-throw shooter, but the talent is apparent:

Grayson Allen, who looks like Ted Cruz, is being projected in the range of the Thunder pick. He’s putting together an excellent offensive season (much better than Ingram, FWIW), but the question is if he can get his shot off consistently against NBA athleticism.


Virginia vs. Iowa State, 7:10 p.m. Friday

In addition to being an All-American, 6’5” Virginia wing Malcolm Brogdon is probably this game’s best pro prospect. Iowa State seniors Monte Morris and Georges Niang (a fun guy to watch and former AAU teammate of Nerlens Noel) are also in the second round/undrafted range.


Notre Dame vs. Wisconsin, 7:27 p.m. Friday

It’s a legitimate question if Demetrius Jackson could fall into Heat/Thunder range, but he will likely be second straight Notre Dame point guard to become a first-round pick. The man can get up:

ND also has some interesting big guys (Zach Auguste, V.J. Beachem, Bonzie Colson), while rugged forward Nigel Hayes is the Badgers’ only pro prospect.


Syracuse vs. Gonzaga, 9:40 p.m. Friday

This one is all about 6’11” Domantas Sabonis, who is projected as a first-round pick. An extremely efficient scorer who is excellent on the defensive glass, the younger Sabonis clearly got the better of Utah’s Jakob Poeltl in their second-round matchup:

Sabonis isn’t a great athlete, but he’s big and knows how to play. I wonder where those traits came from.


North Carolina vs. Indiana, 9:57 p.m. Friday

The NCAA is saving the best for last. I’m only giving it four stars because there are no Brandon Ingram-level players, but we will see a ton of talent on the Wells Fargo Center floor.

Let’s focus on the headliners. Brice Johnson has put on 40 pounds since he was a freshman at UNC and is a projected by some to be a first-round pick due to his incredible rebounding ability. For Indiana, freshman big Thomas Bryant has some impressive moves around the rim. He had a huge game against Kentucky:

Indiana also boasts a major sleeper in athletic freshman OG Anunoby, whose stock has skyrocketed over the past few weeks.


Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann