Although Kentucky and North Carolina are among the bluest of college basketball’s blue bloods, NBA Draft analysts see distinct differences going into Saturday’s game.
Mike Schmitz, an analyst for DraftExpress.com, said Kentucky was again true to its formula of “always reloading with fly-around athletic types.” Freshmen Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox and Bam Adebayo are widely projected as first-round picks in the 2017 NBA Draft.
By contrast, North Carolina depends on older players who are “looking more like second-round type of guys” or “fringe NBA prospects,” Schmitz said. DraftExpress and NBADraft.net project junior Justin Jackson and senior Isaiah Hicks as second-round selections.
Of course, North Carolina’s lead players enjoy the experience gained by a run to the 2016 national championship game. Kennedy Meeks, Nate Britt and Hicks have each played more than 100 college games. Jackson will be playing in his 90th college game.
Chad Ford, an NBA Draft analyst for ESPN, said Monk and Fox were probably lottery picks in 2017.
“I hear comments that they’re the best young backcourt in the country,” he said. “I think that’s really a legitimate argument. And I think they’re going to be fantastic NBA players.”
DraftExpress projects Monk as the fifth player selected in 2017. NBADraft.net has him at No. 10.
At 6-foot-3, Monk is small for an NBA shooting guard. Some scouts believe Monk’s stock would rise if he showed point guard ability, Ford said.
Fox is projected as the 10th (DraftExpress) and sixth (NBADraft.net) player selected.
“One of the fastest point guards I’ve ever seen,” Ford said of Fox. “I thought John Wall would be kind of the be-all, end-all of guys who move so fast with the ball. It’s hard to compare them, but you’d love to go back and really try to see which of those guys is faster.”
Fox’s 3-for-21 three-point shooting this season is a “major concern,” Ford said. It hurts Fox, in part, because other point guard prospects like Lonzo Ball of UCLA and Markelle Fultz of Washington “also offer athleticism, speed and lot of the things he brings, but are also shooting the basketball,” Ford said.
Going into this weekend, Ball had made 24 of 53 three-point shots (45.3 percent). Fultz had made 19 of 39 three-point shots (48.7 percent).
At this still-early stage, the draft analysts project Adebayo as being picked in the latter half of the first round. In the 17-to-25 range of picks, said Ford, who attributed that in part to the perception that 2017 will be a bountiful draft.
NBA scouts want to see better shooting and more consistency from Adebayo, Ford said.
Schmitz likened Adebayo to a former Kansas standout. “More as an energy athlete, maybe bigger version of Thomas Robinson . . . ,” the analyst said. “I see him more in that light than a sure-fire top-10 type of guy.”
As for North Carolina, Ford and Schmitz see standout college players who form a team capable of beating anybody.
“The only first-round prospect is their freshman center that doesn’t even start,” Ford said of 6-11 Tony Bradley. “Great hands. Long arms. Active defensively. Has some skill on the offensive end.”
Point guard Joel Berry II has had a “terrific season,” Ford said. “But he lacks elite size and lacks elite athleticism. Great college point guard. Heady. Sees the floor. Controls the game. But if you lack elite athleticism and elite size, it’s a much harder road for you in the NBA.”
Jackson, the Tar Heels’ leading scorer (15.5 points per game), has been inconsistent, Ford said. “As a junior, teams are losing some patience with him. I think they hoped for a quicker developmental curve.”
Hicks “looks the part” of an NBA prospect, Ford said. “He does one or two things a night that wow you. But inconsistency is there as well.”
No. 6 Kentucky vs. No. 7 North Carolina
What: CBS Sports Classic
Where: T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas
When: 5:45 p.m. EST (second game of doubleheader featuring No. 2 UCLA vs. Ohio State at 3 p.m.)
Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1
Records: Kentucky 9-1, North Carolina 10-1
Series: North Carolina leads 23-14
Last meeting: Kentucky won 84-70 on Dec. 13, 2014, in Lexington.