The most disappointing team in the country: UCLA or Memphis?

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The craziest part about the beginning of the college hoops season is the number of teams that are already being labeled disappointments.

Baylor is back to their old tricks, failing to live up to the talent they have on the roster. That’s what happens when you barely beat a team that lost to Bryant or try two two-pointers in the final ten seconds of a game you’re losing by three at home. (Should I mention the latter came against Charleston?) UNLV was thought to be a potential Final Four contender, and they lost on their home court to an Oregon team that is still unproven. NC State, a title contender according to some pundits, got drubbed by Oklahoma State — who nearly got beaten by UC-Davis in their home opener — before hanging on against a rebuilding UNC-Asheville team. West Virginia, St. Mary’s and Drexel can all be lumped in there as well.

But without a doubt, the two most disappointing teams in the country are UCLA and Memphis.

If you didn’t stay up late last night to watch it, the Bruins, who were ranked No. 11 in the country last week, lost at home. To Cal Poly. (Yes, they’re a real team.) After blowing an 18 point lead with 12 minutes left, losing when Norman Powell fouled a Cal Poly player with the scored tied and 14 seconds left because he thought they were down. After losing to Georgetown, barely holding on to beat Georgia and getting taken to overtime (at home) by UC-Irvine.

And frankly, I’m not so sure that UCLA’s problems are fixable. Ben Howland is a defensive-minded coach. That’s how he took the Bruins to three consecutive Final Fours. Those teams never finished worse that third in Kenpom’s defensive efficiency ratings. We all remember how critics of Howland used to say he’d never be able to land recruits because his star players don’t get a chance to shine offensively, right?

Well, this group simply is never going to be good on that end of the floor, and it’s not simply a matter of ability; they have guys that are athletic enough to be good defenders, but do they pride themselves in being able to get stops? It hasn’t looked like it yet, and it certainly didn’t look like it as Cal Poly scored 37 points in the last 12 minutes on Sunday night. A zone won’t work, either, as this group isn’t active on the defensive end of the floor.

My advice? Accept it. Embrace the fact that you’re not going to be beating anyone 62-58 this season and instead try to break the century mark every time out. Use Kyle Anderson at the four, rotate the three wings (Shabazz Muhammad, Jordan Adams, Norman Powell) and Larry Drew II as the three players joining him on the perimeter and let the Wears take turns manning the paint. Run the floor, score as much as possible, and hope that it’s enough.

At the very least, the Bruins will be having fun and into the game. That’s more than can be said for last night.

The issues that Memphis has seem to be more systemic than anything.

Is there an issue for Pastner when it comes to recruiting local kids? Is that why, after turning his team around for the stretch run last season, he team has regressed back to playing timid, mistake-prone basketball? Is that why his team looks like a group of freshmen that lack confidence and understanding?

The bigger question: is that Pastner’s fault? Local columnist Geoff Calkins believes so:

This isn’t about X’s and O’s, either, though plenty would criticize Pastner for his. This is about Pastner’s ability to lead and reach and inspire a team.

[…]

But all good coaches have one thing in common: They get their players to play hard and together and well.

Pastner does not. Or has not, with any consistency. And don’t blame the players, either. Pastner recruited every one of them. It is his team, from the first man to the last. There is nobody to hold responsible but the coach.

I disagree with Calkins here.

I watched quite a bit of Memphis from the Battle 4 Atlantis, and I don’t think their issue is effort. I legitimately believe that the kids on that team, for the most part, played hard. Yes, Joe Jackson sulked when he didn’t play well, but I think that sulking is more of a lack of confidence and frustration issue — understandable — than it is an indictment of Pastner. And to be fair, they lost to a very good VCU team and to Minnesota when a kid from Memphis that got passed over by Memphis went for 41 points.

Neithe of those losses equate to blowing an 18 point lead at home to Cal Poly.

My take: the Tiger’s problems stem from a) poor decision-making, which manifests as silly turnovers and forced shots; b) problems with their preparedness, as I’m not convinced the Tigers really knew what they were getting into against VCU’s pressure; and c) offensive and defensive execution.

Those issues, however, are more problematic than an inability to motivate.

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

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.

Alabama’s Braxton Key reportedly seeking transfer

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Alabama is expected to lose Braxton Key to a transfer this offseason, according to a report from the Tuscaloosa News.

Key is a 6-foot-7 sophomore forward for the Crimson Tide that was impressive during his rookie season, when he averaged 12.0 points and 5.7 boards before testing the NBA draft waters.

But Key dealt with a knee injury prior too the start of his sophomore season, missing 10 games, and finished the year averaging just 7.0 boards and 5.3 boards before opting to try and find a new program.

He will have to sit out the 2018-19 season but will have two years of eligibility remaining beginning in 2019-20. He’ll be one of the most sought-after transfers on the market this spring.

Kansas big man Azubuike to declare without an agent

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Kansas center Udoka Azubuike is declaring for the NBA draft but will not be signing with an agent, the school announced on Friday morning.

The 7-foot Azubuike averaged 13.0 points, 7.0 boards and 1.7 blocks this season while shooting 77 percent from the floor, the majority of which were dunks that nearly broke the rim off of the backboard.

“I want to declare for this year’s (NBA) draft, but I am not going to hire an agent,” Azubuike said in a release. “I’m going to wait and see where I stand among other bigs out there. I appreciate everyone’s support, but I’m not saying goodbye. I’m saying I want to find out. Like many other players, I’m curious.”

“I improved a lot this past season. All my teammates and all my coaches have helped me to grow in all areas of my life and I really appreciate what they did for me to get to this point.”

Azubuike is projected as a second round pick.

This decision became more important for Kansas in the last two weeks, as the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball revealed that the guardian of Silvio De Sousa allegedly accepted at least $20,000 to get the 6-foot-10 center to attend Kansas. De Sousa was the security blanket if Azubuike opted to enter this draft, but it seems unlikely that De Sousa will play for Kansas next season. for comparison’s sake, the father of Brian Bowen was alleged to have received a similar amount of money, and Bowen is still waiting to be cleared at his second school seven months after those accusations first saw the light of day.

Without Azubuike and De Sousa, Kansas will likely be relying on junior Mitch Lightfoot and freshman David McCormack to man the five-spot alongside Memphis transfer Dedric Lawson.

The Jayhawks are currently projected as the No. 1 team in the NBC Sports preseason top 25 despite the fact that they could lose all five starters off of last season’s team. That’s what happens when there is talent like the Lawson brothers and Charlie Moore sitting out as transfers and a fourth transfer — Sam Cunliffe — struggling to break into the rotation.

Throw in a pair of five-star guards — Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes — and the potential that the Jayhawks could still end up landing Romeo Langford, and things aren’t as bad as they could be in Lawrence right now.