One of my favorite events every year is the Big 12/SEC Challenge at the end of every January. The SEC won the challenge 5-4, with Texas and Kentucky sitting out due to Covid-19 protocols. I watched all 9 games of the event, and had several takeaways about the prospects that participated. Below are some quick notes and takeaways from each of the matchups that I saw impacting this year’s draft:
Iowa State @ Mississippi State:
- Iverson Molinar showed off his shooting upside, despite somewhat awkward form. He took a lot of mid range shots and showed his touch from all 3 levels
- DJ Stewart has taken a step forward as a shooter as a sophomore. His 3P% currently sits at 36%, up from 33% as a freshman, as well as up 6% at the line from 70 to 76%. Stewart, standing at 6’6, is a great athlete with a good frame and has shown potential as a defensive playmaker to be a 3&D prospect with high-level athleticism.
Alabama @ Oklahoma:
- Herb Jones continues to show his improved all-around game, including being a primary playmaker, improved shooting, and still an all-NCAA level defender. Look for Jones as a two-way player or late second round draft pick.
- John Petty showed off his off-ball defense, which is going to be one of his calling cards in the NBA. He can also hold his own on-ball, which is promising for his 3&D upside. As a 4 year player, look for Petty to go in the second round and be a potential immediate contributor.
- Josh Primo continues to show flashes of his NBA upside. Despite just 2 makes, Primo had an impressive size-up 3 over a defender, which was his marquee play. He’s shown flashes of self-creation on multiple levels, and if he can put it together as a sophomore, he is likely to climb boards for the 2022 NBA Draft.
- De’Vion Harmon, despite not being an immediate NBA prospect, has significantly improved his right hand as a sophomore. He has good shooting touch, shown by his 78% number from the line, but has a low release with unconventional form. Harmon is a good playmaker as well and has a good feel for the game.
Arkansas @ Oklahoma State:
- Cade Cunningham continues to play like the number one pick, going for 21 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals on 7/13 shooting. He was scoring on all 3 levels with ease, making elite reads with the ball in his hands, and he even showed his potential to impact the game defensively as a disruptor. Cunningham is about as close to a lock for the #1 pick as a player can be at this point in the season.
- Moses Moody had an all-around solid game as well, going 8-13 from the field for 17 points. His most imapctful area in this marquee matchup was his jump shooting. Despite making just one three, Moody hit some mid range jump shots, and showed why he is one of the best shooters in the class, and that he can move well off-ball into shots.
- Isaac Likekele continues to be one of the most menacing defenders in the Big 12. Likekele forced 3 steals and made it hard for Arkansas to pass near him for the whole game, forcing deflections, denying passes, and stripping players on-ball. While he does not have a significant draft label yet, he is the classic player that agents should not want their clients to go against in pre-draft workouts. Look for Likekele to get a late 2nd round look or be a top undrafted free agent. If everything goes right, he could be a Patrick Beverley type.
Kansas @ Tennessee
- Yves Pons had one of his best offensive games of the year, going 7-9 from the field, including 2-2 from 3. Pons is a front-runner for the best defensive player in the draft, being able to play up to small-ball 5, or play down to guarding ball-handlers. His freak athleticism allows him to contest any shot and recover from being beaten on a first step. Pons often lacks touch on floaters and non-dunks/layups, which makes him a difficult prospect to gauge offensively.
- Despite going 1-9 from 3, Ochai Agbaji’s jump shooting continues to impress me. He has one of the quickest releases on his jump shot due to a high starting point and a high release, which makes contesting his jumper difficult. Agbaji is a phenomenal athlete, and has 3&D upside. Look for him to be a second round target as a swing for the fences.
- Keon Johnson continues to show off his in-between game (shown below), the area between the typical mid-range and at the rim. Last year, I praised Tyrese Maxey and Immanuel Quickley for having the elite “in-between” game and I used that as reasoning for their shots translating. Keon has good shooting form, and despite shooting 26% from 3 on the year and 67% from the line, I think there is good reason to buy Johnson’s shot translating and working in the NBA.
- Jaden Springer continues to impress as one of the youngest prospects in the draft. Springer has a fluid jumper, good feel for the game, and room to grow physically, making him one of the highest upside players in the draft.
TCU @ Missouri
- In this overtime thriller, Xavier Pinson put himself on the draft radar, even if only as a player to be simply made aware of. Pinson had one of the most dominant takeovers of any player this season, going for 36 points and 4 assists on 10-19 shooting and 8-13 from 3. He was nearly the sole reason for Missouri overcoming a late double-digit deficit and completing the comeback by winning in overtime. Pinson’s jump shot has a low release and his percentages need to become more consistent, but his free throw percentages indicate good touch and that the current 36% from 3 may be sustainable.
- PJ Fuller is someone I pegged as a breakout candidate last season, but he has unfortunately only shown flashes yet again as a sophomore. I still expect an eventual breakout that puts him on the NBA radar due to his good shooting touch, athleticism, and defensive instincts, but it hasn’t all come together just yet. In this game against Missouri, Fuller’s best asset was his defense. He read several plays and was a key part of the Horned Frogs getting a double digit lead. Below are some strong defensive plays by Fuller
- Mike Miles continues to improve his draft stock, going for a career high 28 points on 12/20 shooting, along with 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, 1 block, and 0 turnovers. Miles has incredible instincts and feel for the game, alongside dynamic athleticism, which contributes to his ability to defend shots at the rim rather easily for someone his size. Look for Miles to rise on draft boards if he declares in 2021.
- RJ Nembhard continues to play himself onto the draft radar as a big combo guard with excellent athleticism and slashing ability. Nembhard had 20 points on 8/15 shooting (1-4 from 3), 7 assists, 5 rebounds, 1 steal, and 1 block. His jump shot fluidity needs to improve, but his touch is good enough to negate some of the movement in the shot. Look for Nembhard to be a second round prospect in either 2021 as a redshirt junior or in 2022 as a redshirt senior.
Auburn @ Baylor
- In the most hyped matchup of the Big 12/SEC Challenge, the elite PG matchup of Jared Butler vs Sharife Cooper didn’t quite live up to the hype. Sharife Cooper stood out more, going 6-17 for 15 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists.Cooper’s ability to perfectly plant a pass in tight coverage, as well as his elite quickness and burst, make him one of the top playmakers in this draft class. If his jump shot was smoother and his frame was more favorable, Cooper would likely be a consensus top 10 prospect.
- Jared Butler still played well, despite going 6-18 and 1-8 from 3. Butler still had a positive impact, both as a facilitator and a defender. butler remains one of the better defensive-minded guards despite an underwhelming frame. His quick feet and high-level instincts allow him to almost always stay with his man and predict plays accurately off-ball. Butler should be an immediate, day-1 all-around backup point guard in the NBA.
- Davion Mitchell and Allen Flanigan showcased their status as solid 2nd round prospects hidden behind premier prospects. Flanigan shows a flash of finishing at the rim plus the ability to knock down a jumper every game, even in his most inefficient games. Davion Mitchell showcased his improved handle with quick crossovers that created a huge amount of space for easy jumpers multiple times. Mitchell, like forementioned Isaac Likekele, is also one of the top defenders in the Big 12.
Texas Tech @ LSU
- This game was hard to watch because of Mac McClung and Cameron Thomas both having the world’s greenest of green lights, but this was ultimately a very fun ending to a good game. Cameron Thomas’ shot selection will be what makes or breaks his NBA career, but his ability to create space and hit difficult shots from any spot on the court remains an elite trait. Thomas went for 25 points and 2 steals on 6-20 shooting, but has pure 3 level scoring ability. His best NBA role is likely to be a microwave off the bench.
- Fellow LSU Tiger Darius Days showed his upside as a glue guy in the NBA. As the NBA continues to emphasize versatility and the ability to play multiple roles, Darius Days’ game easily fits the modern NBA. He is a modern small forward, being able to guard anyone 2-4, while also being able to potentially play some small-ball 5. Look for him to be one of the top undraffted free agents or a solid late 2nd round pick.
- Terrence Shannon Jr had a nice game, recording a 23-10 double double off the bench. While I’m still not sure what his immediate value is in the NBA in year 1, his long-term upside is intriguing. Shannon had a few finishes that showed off his slashing ability and overall upside.
Florida @ West Virginia
- Miles McBride has been on a hot streak lately shooting the ball, and while he cooled off overall against Florida, he started the game off 3 of 3 on mid range jumpers. In the 5 games prior to Florida, McBride was shooting 61% from 3, but cooled off at 0/6 against FLorida. Again, the early shooting was still enough to be considered a flash:
- Derek Culver has started this season out incredibly hot, and he didn’t slow down against Florida. Culver recorded a casual 28 points, 12 rebounds, 3 steals, and 1 block on 7-11 shooting performance. For the year, Culver is averaging 14 points and 10 rebounds per game. His jumper is a question mark, but NBA teams will have a hard time denying his talent and production, even if it is just a summer league look that Culver gets.
- Tre Mann shot the ball well, going 3-6 from 3, but was 0-3 from inside the arc. His release is smooth, and he has incredible space creation ability with good size. Look for Mann to climb boards as the season continues, because his shooting & creation combo will become more coveted by teams as the season goes along and his production likely picks up.
- Scottie Lewis hasn’t lost a step from his freshman season as a defender. His combination of motor, long arms, and excellent athleticsm make him one of the top defenders in the draft. Offensively, Lewis is rather limited. He doesn’t create his own shot and his 3 pointer is very inconsistent, albeit improved from his freshman year. In order to sneak into the first round, Lewis will need to prove that he is more than jst a high-level defender.