The National Invitation Tournament Championship takes place between Lipsomb and Texas on April 4 at 6 p.m. CST, we take a deep dive into two of the better prospects playing in tonight's matchup.
Kerwin Roach II, 6’4’’, Junior, Texas
Kerwin Roach is an incredible athlete, and not in just the traditional ho-hum, he’s fast and can jump sort of high, Roach can run very, very fast and jump insanely high. He actually won Texas high school back-to-back state triple jump gold medals, including a jump of 50-feet, 6.25-inches as a senior per ESPN. He has been great for the Longhorns throughout the NIT, getting to the free throw line 15 times in a win over Xavier and putting up 22 points on 64.3 percent shooting in a win over TCU on Tuesday.
The 6’4’’ Roach is not a traditional PG, and despite all of that explosive athleticism, his average wingspan makes it tough to play him huge minutes at the 2-guard spot in the NBA. But similar to Boston Celtics backup guard Terry Rozier, Roach can carve out a great NBA role if he can continue to knock the 3-point shot, while also generating turnovers on defense and limiting his own turnovers on offense.
Over four years at Texas, Roach knocked down 34.1 percent of his 3-pointers. This season, he shot 35.6 percent from 3-point range on a career-high 4.9 attempts per game. The fact that he hit a solid percentage from 3-point range while increasing his volume of attempts bodes well for his NBA future.
But similar to my favorite—and seemingly, Kendall Gill’s least favorite—NBA prospect RJ Barrett, Roach’s ghastly free throw percentage (68.3 percent in ‘18-’19) means that his solid numbers from deep could be all smoke-and-mirrors.
Something that is not smoke-and-mirrors however, is his ability to attack off the bounce. Roach’s incredible speed in the open floor combined with his leaping ability make him a handful for opposing defenses in transition. In the 2018-19 season, out of the 92 shots he has made at the rim, only 7 of them have been assisted. I have no doubts that he will be able to attack the rim well at the NBA level.
Roach has the body control and creative shot-making ability to get into the chest of much bigger shot-blockers, a must for a guard who attacks the rim as much as he does. But again, his playing style generates many personal fouls, which are all for naught if he doesn’t clean up his shooting at the foul line.
Despite being a streaky shooter, Roach always gives maximum effort on the floor. And he also has the unique distinction of a hyper-athletic, high-energy player who actually doesn’t commit a catastrophic amount of turnovers. For his career he is a hair under 3.0 assists per game, and much of those assists came while playing next to a more traditional playmaking guard.
In the 2019 NBA Draft class, Roach is likely a 2nd round pick. And with the Bulls still searching for answers at point guard, he could be an excellent fit. His great motor and physicality enables him to matchup with bigger guards. And the various rosters he played with over his four years at Texas have made him comfortable in a multiple ball handler offense. He would be able to space the floor around Zach LaVine-Lauri Markkanen pick-and-rolls, but Roach would also be a capable scoring option in bench units when the core players rest.
The athletic profile means Roach almost certainly will be in the NBA soon, but the question of whether or not the shooting is real is a question that scouts will be trying to answer right up until draft day. And Thursday’s NIT Championship vs Lipscomb will be his final chance to help provide some answers.
Garrison Mathews, 6’5’’, Senior, Lipscomb
Mathews is a four-year player from the very small Lipscomb university in Nashville, Tennessee. And this season he was the Atlantic Sun Conference Player of the Year with averages of 21.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game.
He has decent height to play the league but figures to struggle on the defensive side of the floor. Mathews has the vertical leap to contest shots well, but lacks the foot speed to stay in front of the more capable slashers at the NBA level.
But, alas, Mathews has the one elite skill that all 30 NBA teams could use: shooting.
He came into college basketball as a solid shooter and has increased his 3-point percentage every season. In 2018-19, Mathews is shooting an elite 40.6 percent from 3-point range on 8.1 attempts per game.
The fact that Mathews can heat up from 3-point range is only made more interesting by the fact that he is getting to the free throw line six times a game this season, a very high figure for a player whose primary weapon is their jump shot. His varied scoring ability has led to an awesome 33.6 PPG over his last 3 games.
At Lipscomb, head coach Casey Alexander runs lots of great actions with Mathews coming off of pin down screens and cross screens to get him into the paint. Once in the lane, Mathews actually possess a solid postgame for a wing.
From the post Mathews can get to a fadeaway jumper with soft touch, or he can pump fake his defender into oblivion, freeing up himself for a wide-open layup. And of course if nothing is there, he willingly kicks the ball out to the perimeter to reset the offense.
This makes life easier for everyone on the floor for Lipscomb, as Mathews is a high-IQ player who for his career, only averages 2.0 turnovers per game.
At the end of the day, Mathews is best chance of getting drafted is going as a late-round flier to one of the more 3-point reliant teams in the league such as the Jazz, Raptors or Hornets. But the more likely scenario is that Mathews joins an NBA team for the Las Vegas Summer League and makes a great impression there to get invited to training camp. With his leadership skills and versatile scoring ability, something tells me we will hear from Mathews in the NBA at some point, even if it takes awhile for him to truly stick in the league.