North Carolina, Kentucky top preseason bracket projection

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source: AP

March is five months away.  Thousands of college basketball games will be played before Selection Sunday.  Yet two things seem pretty clear in early November.  North Carolina and Kentucky are loaded, and the Tar Heels and Wildcats are heavy favorites to reach the Final Four in New Orleans.  So it’s no surprise that UNC and UK are the top two teams in our preseason bracket projection.

From there, it gets interesting.  Debates rage across the internet and college hoops magazines about the next group of teams.  Defending champion Connecticut returns a host of talent, as does 2011 top seed Ohio State.  Other teams in the early running for No. 1 seeds: Syracuse and DukeFlorida and Vanderbilt both have the talent to challenge Kentucky in the SEC.  Louisville and Pittsburgh are potential threats to the Orange and Huskies in the Big East.  Memphis has the horses to dominate an improved Conference USA.

There are also plenty of good mid-major programs to watch.  Belmont could be an at-large candidate if it navigates an opportunistic non-conference schedule.  Detroit will test Butler in the Horizon League.  As many as three or four teams could push for bids from the Colonial and Atlantic 10.  Both the Missouri Valley and Mid-American have multiple bid options.  Our preseason projection has two teams each from the Colonial, MVC, and Horizon.  Hopefully, we’ll see that – or more – play out next spring.

Further down the bracket, it’s educated guesswork …

Last 5 teams IN: Virginia, Minnesota, Wichita State, Drexel, St. Louis.  First 5 teams OUT:  Notre Dame, BYU, Northwestern, Virginia Tech, St. Mary’s.  The next group includes Kent State, VCU, Indiana, Old Dominion, and Central Florida.  None of these would be huge surprises.  That’s the beauty of college hoops.  We play the games and what happens on the court matters more than public opinion.

Here’s to a great season.  Let’s enjoy the ride to Selection Sunday.

2012 PRESEASON BRACKET PROJECTION

Teams in CAPS represent the projected AUTOMATIC bid. Exceptions are made for teams that use an abbreviation (UTEP, BYU, etc).

FIRST FOUR PAIRINGS – Dayton (First Round)

Minnesota vs. Drexel | Wichita State vs. St. Louis | STONY BROOK vs. LONG ISLAND | TX-SAN ANTONIO vs. ALABAMA ST.

BRACKET PROJECTION …

EASTBoston SOUTH – Atlanta
Pittsburgh Greensboro
1) CONNECTICUT 1) NORTH CAROLINA
16) HAMPTON 16) STONY BROOK / LONG ISLAND
8) Texas 8) Mississippi State
9) Purdue 9) Temple
Portland Omaha
5) UCLA 5) Cincinnati
12) Minnesota / Drexel 12) Oklahoma State
4) XAVIER 4) Wisconsin
13) IONA 13) Wichita State / St. Louis
Omaha Nashville
6) Texas A-M 6) Florida State
11) BUTLER 11) Detroit
3) Vanderbilt 3) Louisville
14) WEBER STATE 14) DAVIDSON
Greensboro Louisville
7) Michigan 7) Washington
10) West Virginia 10) Illinois
2) Duke 2) Florida
15) BUCKNELL 15) FLORIDA ATLANTIC
MIDWEST – St. Louis WEST – Phoenix
Louisville Pittsburgh
1) KENTUCKY 1) OHIO STATE
16) TX-SAN ANTONIO / ALABAMA ST 16) UNC-ASHEVILLE
8) Miami-FL 8) NEW MEXICO
9) Villanova 9) CREIGHTON
Portland Albuquerque
5) Michigan State 5) Marquette
12) Oregon 12) Virginia
4) Kansas 4) ARIZONA
13) UTAH STATE 13) AKRON
Columbus Albuquerque
6) Alabama 6) California
11) BELMONT 11) Marshall
3) Pittsburgh 3) BAYLOR
14) HARVARD 14) LONG BEACH STATE
Nashville Columbus
7) Missouri 7) GONZAGA
10) UNLV 10) GEORGE MASON
2) MEMPHIS 2) Syracuse
15) ORAL ROBERTS 15) TENNESSEE STATE

 

NOTES on the BRACKET: North Carolina is the overall No. 1 seed followed by Kentucky, Connecticut and Ohio State.

Last Five teams in (at large): Virginia, Minnesota, Wichita State, Drexel, St. Louis

First Five teams out (at large): Notre Dame, BYU, Northwestern, Virginia Tech, St. Mary’s

Next Five out (at large): VCU, Kent State, Indiana, Old Dominion, Central Florida

Bracket adjustments: None in this update.

Here is the team breakdown by Conference …

Big East (8): Connecticut, Syracuse, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Marquette, Villanova, West Virginia

Big Ten (7): Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Michigan, Purdue, Illinois, Minnesota

Big 12 (6): Baylor, Kansas, Texas A-M, Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma State

ACC (5): North Carolina, Duke, Florida State, Miami-FL, Virginia

SEC (5): Kentucky, Florida, Vanderbilt, Alabama, Mississippi State,

Pac 12 (5): Arizona, UCLA, California, Washington, Oregon

Atlantic 10 (3): Xavier, Temple, St. Louis

Mountain West (2): New Mexico, UNLV

Colonial (2): George Mason, Drexel

Horizon (2): Butler, Detroit

Conference USA (2): Memphis, Marshall

Missouri Valley (2): Creighton, Wichita State

West Coast (1): Gonzaga

Conference leaders/champions … Utah State (WAC), Tennessee State (OVC), Iona(MAAC), Akron (MAC), Weber State (Big Sky), Davidson (Southern), Oral Roberts (Summit), Long Beach State (Big West), Long Island (NEC), Belmont (Atlantic Sun), Florida Atlantic (Sun Belt), Harvard (Ivy), UNC-Asheville (Big South), Hampton (MEAC), Bucknell (Patriot), Stony Brook (America East), UT-San Antonio (Southland), Alabama State (SWAC)

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.