Welcome to our latest installment of WigginsWatch: The Quest for the Northern Light. Last time we checked in, we took a look at the potential contenders for Canada's greatest export since Robin Sparkles (shameless Levin pandering: check). Things have changed drastically in the last three months to say the least. The previously unranked Jazz waved goodbye to high priced talent and then opened their arms as Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson rode into town on a tank built out of late first round picks. The Bobcats abdicated their tanking throne by spending big bucks on Person Who Draws Double Teams Al Jefferson. The Suns traded or cut their entire starting lineup. It's a whole new world, really.
But that's a discussion for another day. Today, it's about the college ranks. Let's be honest. For the most part, we have no idea what we're talking about when it comes to the top prospects of the most loaded draft class in possibly a decade. Of the top 8 prospects in this draft, 6 of them are college freshmen who, chances are, nobody reading this has seen play in anything other than YouTube videos or maybe the McDonald's All-American game. As Sixers fans, we have the unique opportunity to start watching potential top picks from day 1 rather than resigning ourselves to it in January when we start 5-25.
Now, not everyone likes watching college basketball. The pros are obviously the highest level of basketball, and the athleticism gap between a pro game and a college game gets steeper by the year. It's why you're reading Liberty Ballers instead of its La Salle equivalent, Brotherly Exploration (Not a real place, but trademark possibly pending).
That's why I'm here. I've picked out a 10 game slate that will allow you to see the top players in this year's draft class against the best possible competition, each other. All of these games are nationally televised affairs featuring two or more lottery prospects. If you follow this list and nothing else, you'll have seen every projected lottery pick in college at least once, and the top 5 prospects multiple times. Maybe not enough to form a definitive opinion on his long-term career, but enough to carry on a conversation amongst pals without having to quote Chad Ford word-for-word. Go ahead and print this out, I'll wait.
Now, as Sixers fans, we need to prepare for the Draft Lottery by subjecting ourselves to as many agonizing countdowns as possible, so I'll keep that theme rolling along for this installment of WigginsWatch.
10. Kentucky vs North Carolina
Dean Smith Center, Chapel Hill, NC
Saturday, December 14, 5:15 PM, ESPN
Get used to seeing Kentucky, because by the time we're done with them, you're gonna know which motor oil John Calipari uses on his hair. Kentucky is loaded with prospects, with 6 potential first round picks on their roster. The most notable is PF Julius Randle, the current leading candidate for the "Wiggins or _______" debate that Bill Simmons will constantly remind us he was on the right side of five years from now. The other major player to watch for Kentucky is PG Andrew Harrison. Harrison projects to be a mid-lottery pick, and has a lot of similarities with Michael Carter-Williams, except he apparently possesses something called a "jump shot." A very interesting prospect that could be on the board when our Jrue Holiday memorial pick is on the clock.
UNC , on the other hand, doesn't have the elite prospects this year, but still has two interesting prospects in sophomore PF James McAdoo, a fringe lottery pick, and junior guard-forward PJ Hairston, probably a mid-to-late first.
Other Players to Watch for Kentucky: Sophomore center Willie Cauley , freshman center Dakari Johnson, freshman SG Aaron Harrison and sophomore SF Alex Poythress (SF-SO)
9. Baylor at Kansas
Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence, KS
Monday, January 20, 9PM, ESPN
Obviously the big ticket prospect is Andrew Wiggins. I mean, look, he got his own watch named after him. I've spent the last three months kicking around nicknames like the Northern Light or the North Star or the Ontario Speedwagon. Lost in the hype is that Kansas has two other lottery prospects on the team in SG Wayne Selden and C Joel Emblid, a seven-footer from Cameroon (SO MUCH FRESH NICKNAME POTENTIAL) with big time wingspan and an interesting matchup against Baylor with their sophomore center Isaiah Austin, himself a pretty solid lottery prospect. Plus, it's a conference game, which always raises the stakes a little bit.
8. Kentucky vs Baylor
AT&T Stadium, Dallas, TX (Jerryworld)
Friday December 6, 10PM, ESPN
This one probably is the most skippable game on the list (which is good, given its Friday night at 10 placement), but it's still an interesting matchup. It'll be the first big test for Isaiah Austin against all the frontcourt depth of Kentucky. One of those games where perceived draft stock will rise and fall based on one performance.
7. Michigan at Duke
Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham, NC
Tuesday, December 3rd, 9:15 PM, ESPN
Big time programs and big time prospects. Duke has one of my favorite prospects in PF Jabari Parker, whose stock continues to incrementally drop every time I see new rankings. I mean, DraftExpress has Emblid ahead of Parker, who was the #1 ranked recruit in the country. Then again, I also had his name typed in as Joel Euclid until my final proofread, so maybe I'm not the best one to be choosing which person I've never seen play I like better. Parker is a graduate of the famed Simeon program in Chicago that produced Derrick Rose. He's got a 7-foot wingspan, can score, and has been playing basketball since he could walk. I'm on board.
Michigan has two late-lottery prospects of their own in a pair of sophomores, SF Glenn Robinson (I mean, it can't go any worse the 2nd time around, right?) and C Mitch McGary. Robinson has good NBA size and is a strong finisher around the basket. McGary is a good offensive rebounder and would be ranked infinitely higher on Doug Collins's board because you've gotta love his energy.
6. Arizona at Michigan
Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, MI
Saturday December 14, 1PM, CBS
We've already covered Michigan, so the focus here is PF Aaron Gordon, who you know from such films as "Mommy, What's Wrong With That Man's Face?". The obvious comparison is Blake Griffin for Gordon, and having never seen him play before, he seems like the player who will generate a ton of buzz in this draft just because of THEM DUNKZ. Gordon vs McGary could be an interesting matchup in this game, but the really interesting Gordon matchup is yet to come.
5. Louisville vs Kentucky
Rupp Arena, Lexington, KY
Saturday, December 28, 4PM, CBS
A nationally televised super rivalry game with three lottery prospects in it? Count me in. We've already talked about Randle and Harrison, but in this game, Randle runs into possibly his toughest matchup of the season in Louisville's Montrezl Harrell, a very explosive big man who has a good outside game as well. Harrell is another pretty solid lottery prospect should he declare for the draft, so this one will be a real test for Randle against NBA-level competition.
4. Oklahoma State at Kansas
Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence, KS
Saturday, January 18, 4PM, CBS
Oklahoma State's crap non-conference schedule means this is the first game of theirs really worth watching that involves PG Marcus Smart. Smart might have been the top pick in the 2013 draft had he declared, but remains a potential top 5 choice in this year's draft. Smart is a guy who I didn't pay all that much attention to last year and I'm really interested to see how he plays in the national spotlight in a conference game against a Kansas team that by this point should have developed into a pretty cohesive unit. Smart. Wiggins. It's the NCAA on CBS!
3. Duke vs Arizona?
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
Friday, November 29, 6PM, ESPN
So, there's a catch to this game. It might not happen. Duke and Arizona are playing in the NIT Tip-Off Tournament. This is the projected final of that tournament, and to make this game happen, both Duke and Arizona would have to win three games each that run from "heavy favorite" winnable to "it's like they're playing a different sport" winnable. This is a game that absolutely should happen, and I really hope it does, because a matchup of Aaron Gordon vs Jabari Parker would be an excellent showdown and a showcase of both of their talents against elite opposition.
2. Kansas at Oklahoma State
Gallagher-Iba Arena, Stillwater, OK
Saturday, March 1st, 9PM, ESPN
REMATCH. The second conference meeting between Kansas and Oklahoma State promises to be the higher stakes matchup of the two. We'll see what each Wiggins and Smart, along with the other top Kansas prospects, have learned from the first game, and how they adjust for the second. This will likely be a game with Big 12 implications, and will probably be the site of College Gameday, so the fans will be crazy. This will be both a fun college game, and a fun pro showcase.
1. Kansas vs Duke
United Center, Chicago, IL
Tuesday, November 12th, 9:30 PM, ESPN
The first game you watch this season is the top game on the list. (Unless you watch the Kentucky/Michigan State game that precedes it, also on ESPN, which just missed the cut for this list.) Our first look at both Wiggins and Parker will be a big time, neutral site, nationally televised matchup of the #1 and #2 recruits in the country. If I had disposable income and vacation time, I'd fly to Chicago and watch this game. If nothing else, watch this game at least.
That's the list. If you follow this list (and assuming that Arizona/Duke game happens) you'll have seen Wiggins, Parker, Emblid, Harrison and Randle play three times, and Gordon, Smart, Austin, McGary, and Robinson play twice. You'll have done more scouting than almost every talk radio host in Philadelphia. At the very least, you'll have put our lost season to good use.