Weekend Preview: Five storylines to follow

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Biggest story line this weekend: Is Virginia Tech for real?

Beating a young Iowa team at home is really not all that impressive, even if Iowa is supposed to be better this season. Beating an under-manned Oklahoma State team pulls a little bit more weight, but even then, the Cowboys were probably overranked as a top 15 team. And, again, that win came in Blacksburg. On Saturday at 4:00 p.m., the Hokies will get their first true test of the season, as they travel to Morgantown to take on a tough and physical West Virginia team.

Road games are a different beast than playing at home, and we’ll see just how well Virginia Tech responds. The Hokies, led by Erick Green, who is having an all-american caliber season, are playing a more run-and-gun style this year, but with a lack of depth and no home crowd backing them, it will be interesting to see if they can sustain their success in a different arena. It’s also worth noting that the Mountaineers, while just 3-3 on the year, are still a good basketball team. They have a pair of talented guards in Juwan Staten and Jabarie Hinds and a couple of big, physical bodies up front.

Five other story lines to follow this weekend:

The battle of the disappointments: At 5:15 p.m. on Saturday night, UCLA heads to Austin to take on Texas in a matchup that features two teams that have failed to live up to expectations. For the Longhorn’s, it’s not exactly their fault. They didn’t ask Myck Kabongo to get suspended by the NCAA and they didn’t injure Jaylen Bond intentionally. Without those two players in the fold, Texas has looked downright atrocious on the offensive end of the floor. UCLA, on the other hand, has struggled despite bringing in Kyle Anderson and Shabazz Muhammad while watching two players up and leave the team just a few weeks into the season.

Old rivalries salvaged?: Over the last few years, as both VCU and Old Dominion managed to push their way into the national consciousness while playing in the CAA, the two teams developed a nice, healthy rivalry. Well, as you know, the Rams took off for the Atlantic 10 this summer while the Monarchs will be headed to Conference USA this summer. While ODU has been bad this season, expect them to put up a fight against some old faces. You can check out VCU vs. Old Dominion on Friday night at 9:00 p.m. on the NBC Sports Network.

Will Duke get their revenge on Temple?: The Blue Devils went into Philly last year and left with a loss after getting smacked around by the Owls. This season, Temple makes the return trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium with an undefeated record and coming off of a 15 point win over Villanova. And while Temple has some talent on their perimeter, I’m not sure how they plan on trying to slow down Mason Plumlee in the paint.

What do you know about Butler and Northwestern?: Because the only thing I know about those two teams is that I don’t really know anything at all. Butler has lost to Xavier, gotten blown out by Illinois, beaten Marquette and embarrassed North Carolina. Northwestern beat Illinois State, got blown out by Maryland, lost at home to Illinois-Chicago and beat Baylor in Waco. Huh? Hopefully, something that happens on Saturday will help us get a feel for this group.

There just aren’t many good games this weekend: This happens every year. As we get closer to finals week, we get uglier and uglier basketball games. There is only one game between two ranked teams all weekend, and that game doesn’t come close to being must-see TV and happens at 10 p.m. on a Saturday. We had a terrific first month of the season, complete with great matchups and better performances. We’ll have to deal with one ugly week.

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

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.

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.