Cody Zeller’s stats may go down this year, but is that good for IU?

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BROOKLYN, N.Y. – The way Indiana’s postgame player availability works is that Tom Crean comes in and does his press conference, and when he’s finished talking, the players are brought in and stand off to the side for their interviews.

On Tuesday night, after Jordy Hulls earned MOP of the Legends Classic by scoring 17 points in an 82-72 overtime win over Georgetown in the final, all the cameras and reporters surrounded him. Standing next to Jordy? Cody Zeller, who awkwardly waited with a goofy smile for the stragglers that couldn’t get their cameras or recorders close enough to Hulls.

That’s Preseason Player of the Year Cody Zeller, mind you; the guy that could end up being the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft and whose face has been plastered all over college basketball preview magazines. And I can promise you, the man known as “The Big Handsome” didn’t get put on the cover of Sports Illustrated for his dashing good looks.

How often do you think he’s an afterthought in a postgame press conference?

Because that’s exactly what he was on Tuesday.

And that’s the best news that an Indiana fan can hear.

One of the knocks on this Indiana team heading into the season, one of the main reasons that this season has been labeled as ‘not having any dominant teams’, is because of a perceived lack of talent surrounding Zeller. That’s not a shot at guys like Victor Oladipo and Christian Watford, but who else on this Indiana roster looks like an NBA player? Kentucky had six of them last season, by comparison. I dedicated an entire column to this back in April.

What the Hoosiers proved at Barclays in winning the Legends Classic, however, is that they do have some other pieces, because they beat Georgia and they beat Georgetown with Zeller looking, well, pretty normal.

To his credit, Zeller’s battling “asthmatic bronchitis or something” and, as he put it, “didn’t get my wind until tonight.” That “asthmatic bronchitis or something” could easily be credited for the six-point, four-rebound performance Zeller turned in on Monday. And while the 17 points and eight boards Zeller had Tuesday looked better in the box score, the Preseason Player of the Year was a long way from dominant. The Hoosiers didn’t look to him on key possessions down the stretch. He finished 4-11 from the floor and did the majority of his scoring at the free throw line.

And that may not be something that changes this season, either.

Because Indiana has enough quality pieces surrounding Zeller that they don’t need him to dominate this season.

“You’ve gotta do what’s required to win,” Indiana head coach Tom Crean said after the game. “I think Will Sheehey said it best: everybody did what they do best tonight.”

Indiana is deep. They played nine guys on Tuesday, have a tenth rotation player on the bench that didn’t get into the game and are still waiting for two big men that will see time to get ruled eligible by the NCAA. And while the other eight players that saw time aren’t on the fast track to the first round, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t quality college players. And it certainly doesn’t mean that they don’t fit into what Crean wants to do offensively.

“We keep trying to stress to these guys, it’s not the quantity of your minutes, it’s the quality of your play,” Crean said. “If you’re looking quantity of minutes, we’re not a good program right now. We’ve got too many guys. We really want to keep improving that quality of play. It’s easy to talk about it, it’s harder to do it.”

One of the biggest changes this season is the addition of freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell, who is another guy that can be relied upon to make a play in a big spot. He hit the dagger on Tuesday, a fadeaway three at the end of a shot clock in with 45 seconds left in overtime to give the Hoosiers a ten point lead. Ferrell was one of five guys in double figures against Georgetown and one of seven guys to score at least six points.

Everything doesn’t have to run through Zeller this season.

He can be just as effective acting as a decoy, freeing up the other weapons on the IU roster, as he can getting 25 post touches a game. Case in point: Indiana shot 34.6% from three before Zeller showed up on campus and knocked down threes at a 43.1% clip during his freshman season.

The point I’m trying to make?

Don’t be surprised to see Zeller’s numbers take a hit this year, and don’t be surprised when Indiana benefits from it.

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

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.