Great early slate doesn’t disappoint

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No. 23 Louisville 79, No. 5 UConn 78, 2OT: Two weeks ago, Peyton Siva was being booed at home by Louisville fans. I think he’ll get a much nicer welcome when he gets back to Louisville today. Siva had 19 points, seven assists, four boards, three steals, and two blocks while helping to hold Kemba Walker to 20 points on 7-23 shooting as the Cardinals went into Gampel Pavilion and knocked off the Huskies in double overtime. As good as he was all game, Siva was at his best down the stretch. He made Shabazz Napier look silly, driving through the UConn defense for a dunk at the end of the first overtime to tie the game. Then in the second overtime, Siva had two big drives in the second overtime to help Louisville hold on to their lead.

UConn had their chances. Kemba missed a fall away over two defenders at the end of regulation, gave up the ball at the end of the first overtime to Jeremy Lamb who missed three at the buzzer of the first overtime, and had a 30 foot three go in and out at the end of the game. Louisville really focused their defense on Kemba the entire game, but particularly in the clutch. As good as Lamb (21 points, but none in the second half) and Napier (23 points) were, UConn is going to need them to become more confident in late game situations.

While this really is a great win for Louisville, who spent much of the second half down, it is far for a disastrous loss for UConn. More than anything, its just another example of how balanced the top six teams in the Big East are.

No. 21 Georgetown 69, No. 8 Villanova 66: Maybe Villanova’s win at Syracuse last Saturday was more a sign of the the Orange’s struggles than the Wildcat’s greatness. Georgetown went into the Wells-Fargo Center this afternoon and jumped out to a lead on Nova that eventually reached double digits. The Wildcats made a run down the stretch, getting to within a point, but Antonio Pena missed an NBA three that would have tied the game on the final possession.

Austin Freeman was terrific for the Hoyas. He had 30 points and hit a number of big shots down the stretch. Also of note was the performance of Henry Sims and Nate Lubick, who combined for 13 points, six boards, and three blocks, although they were bigger factor than their numbers indicate. Most important? Georgetown was able to go to Philly and win despite getting nothing — as in zero points — from Chris Wright.

For the Wildcats, the issue was shooting more than anything. It took them too long to finally start hitting their open shots.

Xavier 85, Richmond 62: Any list of the best coaching performances in America would be incomplete if it doesn’t include Chris Mack. With all of the injury and eligibility issues that the Musketeers have had this season, they went into the Robins Center and smacked the Spiders by 23 points. The win moved the Muskies to 7-0 in league play, thanks in large part to 33 points, seven boards, and five assists from Tu Holloway, who easily won the battle of the point guards. Kevin Anderson finished with just 10 points on 4-16 shooting.

As expected, Justin Harper was fantastic. He had 20 points, five boards, two steals, and two blocks. But his lack of strength inside was evident as Kenny Frease went for 19 points and Jamel McLean had seven points and 12 boards.

Clemson 62, No. 22 Florida State 44: Florida State is the most confusing team in the country. Most had chalked up their loss to Auburn as a bit of a fluke after they beat Duke. The Seminoles were making a solid case to be the second best team in the ACC … until today. The Seminoles were embarrassed by the Tigers, shooting just 32% from the field and finishing the game with 21 turnovers and just 16 field goals. No one on Florida State scored more than eight points. This team is way too inconsistent offensively.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Syracuse’s Tyus Battle to test NBA draft waters

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Syracuse announced on Friday afternoon that sophomore guard Tyus Battle will be declaring for the NBA draft without signing with an agent, giving him until the NCAA’s May 30th deadline to withdraw from contention and return to school.

Battle averaged 19.2 points as a sophomore for the Orange, who made a surprising run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

He is a projected late-first round or early-second round pick given his size, shooting ability and skill with the ball in his hands.

Losing Battle would be a massive blow to a Syracuse team that is already going to be without Matthew Moyer, who transferred out of the program, and Dareus Bazley, who is heading to the G League instead of enrolling in college.

Maryland’s Kevin Huerter declares for NBA draft, won’t hire agent

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Maryland wing Kevin Huerter announced on Friday afternoon that he will be declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, giving him the option of returning to school by May 30th.

“This will be a great experience for Kevin to get honest feedback from NBA teams and executives,” said head coach Mark Turgeon. “Taking advantage of this opportunity will allow Kevin and his family to make an informed decision about his future.”

Huerter is a 6-foot-7 wing known for his ability to shoot from the perimeter. He averaged 14.8 points and shot 42 percent from three as a sophomore.

He is also the third player from Maryland to declare for the 2018 NBA Draft. Justin Jackson, a borderline first round pick who missed time last season with a shoulder injury, has signed with an agent while Bruno Fernando is testing the waters. Maryland, who has an excellent recruiting class coming in, will be a preseason top 20 team if Huerter and Fernando both return to school.

Huerter is a borderline first round pick.

Michigan’s Charles Matthews to test NBA draft waters

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Michigan guard Charles Matthews announced on Friday that he will be declaring for the NBA draft, but that he does not intend to sign with an agent, meaning he has until May 30th to withdraw from the draft and return to school.

“After careful consideration with my parents and coaching staff, I am excited to announce that I will be declaring for the 2018 NBA Draft without hiring an agent,” said Matthews. “I give thanks to the Lord for this amazing opportunity, as well as the entire University of Michigan for their support. Go Blue!”

Matthews, a redshirt sophomore that averaged 13.0 points and 5.5 boards for the national runners-up, was a four-star prospect coming out of Chicago and spent his freshman season at Kentucky.

Matthews is a likely second round pick with the potential to climb into the first round should he prove to be a more consistent three-point shooter. He shot just 31.8 percent from beyond the arc this past season.

Virginia’s Hunter to return to school for sophomore season

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De’Andre Hunter announced on Friday afternoon that he will not be entering his name into the NBA draft and will return to Virginia for his redshirt sophomore season, a decision that will have as much of an impact on the 2018-19 college basketball season as any that is made this spring.

Hunter, now a potential top ten pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, was one of the breakout stars of the 2017-18 season. A 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, Hunter averaged 9.2 points and 3.5 boards while shooting 38.2 percent from three in just under 20 minutes a night for a Virginia team whose pace severely limits the kind of numbers a player like him can put up.

Throw in his ability to defend on the perimeter and in the paint, and Hunter is precisely the kind of player that NBA teams are looking to land as basketball becomes more and more built on positional versatility and the ability to space the floor.

And it’s that versatility that will make Hunter so important for the Cavaliers next season.

Let’s go beyond the simple fact that he is going to be the only guy on the Virginia roster that can create his own shot against length and athleticism and that there is a chance that he could end up being an all-american next season if things play out the right way. What makes Hunter so important to Virginia his that his defensive versatility is what allows Virginia to matchup with teams that want to try and play small-ball against them.

That’s precisely what UMBC did in the first round of the NCAA tournament, a game that Hunter missed with a broken wrist. We all know how that played out, and I’m not even dumb enough to pin all the blame of a 20-point loss to a No. 16 seed on a guy that played less than 20 minutes a night.

Virginia choked once they realized that there was a chance this could happen, but I would argue that a major reason they couldn’t ever truly assert their dominance was because they were unable to matchup with UMBC’s four-guard lineup without Hunter.

With Hunter back, Virginia is the No. 6 team in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25. If he had declared for the draft and signed with an agent, I’m not sure I would have had the Wahoos in the top 20.

He takes Tony Bennett’s club from simply being good to once against being a contender for the ACC regular season title.

Vanderbilt the sixth Kentucky player declares for the NBA draft

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Jarred Vanderbilt is now the sixth Kentucky Wildcat to declare for the NBA draft this spring, joining P.J. Washington and Wenyen Gabriel in testing the waters without signing with an agent.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo have all declared for the draft and signed with an agent.

Vanderbilt announced his decision on Friday afternoon.

“This season wasn’t easy for me,” Vanderbilt said. “At the end of the day, my goal has always been to make it to the NBA.”

“I know I have more to my game to show, but now I’ve got to figure out if the time is right for me to do it at the next level or if I would be better to return to school.”

Vanderbilt missed the first 17 games of his freshman season with a left foot injury, a foot that he had injured twice before during his high school career. He then missed all four of Kentucky’s postseason games with a left ankle injury, and there is a chance that he could end up needing surgery to correct this issue this offseason.

All told, the 6-foot-9 Vanderbilt played in 14 games as a freshman, averaging 5.9 points and 7.9 boards in just 17 minutes a night. But issues with his ability to shoot from the perimeter and a lower left leg that has proven to be extremely problematic, there is a good chance that Vanderbilt would go undrafted should he decide to turn pro.