But more importantly, it places freshman phenoms D’Angelo Russell and Stanley Johnson on the court at the same time.
It’s a safe bet that scouts from a trio of NBA franchises—the Los Angeles Lakers, Orlando Magic and Sacramento Kings could each utilize either prospect at the next level—will be keeping a close eye on the contest that tips off at 5:15 p.m. ET.
Ohio State, which toppled the VCU Rams 75-72, boasts a do-it-all talent in Russell. The 6’5″ swingman poured in 28 points, grabbed six rebounds and swatted two shots in the victory.
He also became the school’s all-time leading freshman scorer, passing former Buckeyes star and future NBA All-Star Michael Redd, according to Tim May of the Columbus Dispatch.
Russell showcased some excellent defense throughout the overtime win, but one replay of the freshman’s ball-handling skills will grace his highlight reel for the next few months.
This kid https://t.co/ar0tnd1xco
— Zach Harper (@talkhoops) March 19, 2015
Russell accomplished his superb performance in a variety of ways, beating VCU on back-cuts, curling around screens or attacking as the catalyst from the point.
Ohio State coach Thad Matta had plenty of praise for Russell after the game, as noted by the school’s official athletics site.
He’s so good at making the right read. You know, the great thing when you try to get creative for D’Angelo, he picks it up just like that. I think that makes his knowledge of the game of basketball, he knows exactly what we’re trying to get accomplished and can execute it.
Russell’s next challenge is Johnson, a 6’7″ forward who netted 22 points for an Arizona team that steamrolled the Texas Southern Tigers 93-72.
Johnson, who is also on track to be a “one-and-done” college player, knocked down four of his five attempts from beyond the arc and 8-of-11 overall. The freshman also punished the rim on a one-handed slam.
— FanSided GIF (@FanSidedGIF) March 19, 2015
The thunderous dunk prompted Reggie Miller to call Johnson the “Reincarnation of LeBron James,” which while flattering, is not true. Regardless, Johnson is still a heckuva prospect.
And the Lakers, Magic and Kings could each use a guy like that.
Los Angeles, put simply, needs help at every position. None of Nick Young, Wayne Ellington and Wesley Johnson are long-term answers, so both Russell and Johnson would easily enter the Lakers’ starting lineup next season if selected by the legendary franchise.
Since Orlando must be ready to lose Tobias Harris in restricted free agency, replacing him with the Arizona forward makes perfect sense. The players aren’t dissimilar players, considering their massive-yet-athletic frames and decent-but-streaky shooting ranges.
Additionally, should the Magic hold onto Harris, Russell would represent a major upgrade to a backcourt that struggles to shoot outside of three feet. Per Basketball-Reference.com, Victor Oladipo has connected on a meager 32.9 percent, while Elfrid Payton has tallied an equally horrible 34.6 mark.
Sacramento has a decent core behind DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay and Darren Collison, and adding either Russell or Johnson will bolster an otherwise mediocre perimeter unit. Plus, veteran point guard Andre Miller and small forward Omri Casspi are in the final month of their respective contracts, per HoopsHype.
Barring a continued collapse by the Detroit Pistons or Denver Nuggets, two of the three franchises are likely to have an opportunity to select the highly touted freshmen. Perhaps Saturday will shed some light on whether Russell or Johnson one will be picked first.
Los Angeles, Orlando and Sacramento are sure to be watching. You should, too.
In addition to his work for The Hoop Doctors, David Kenyon contributes to Bleacher Report and Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.