College Basketball’s Dream Team: The Mid-Season Version

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Over the summer, Raphielle Johnson and I put together a college basketball dream team. But that was before the season started and before we got a chance to see just how good some of the freshmen are and just how much certain players improved — or didn’t improve — during the offseason.

With that in mind, seeing as we’re right around the midway point of the season, here is our new and improved college basketball dream team.

A couple of notes before you dive in: 

– We built this team on the premise that Rick Pitino will still be the head coach. That means we wanted athletes, players that could defend, shooters, and some lineup versatility. 

– This isn’t necessarily meant to be an all-american team. Some of our picks were made with the idea of building a “team”. For example, we both wanted Marshall Henderson here. But with Jamaal Franklin and Russ Smith already on the roster, Henderson got cut.

– We want feedback. Tell us in the comments what you think we got wrong, but don’t simply say “Player X should be on there”. Let us know who should have gotten cut instead.

PG Trey Burke, Michigan: Burke is the perfect fit for us offensively. He’s a distributor at the point that can create for the scorers that will join him on the perimeter. But he’s also capable of taking over a game. If Ohio State has done anything this season, they have proven that Burke is the most valuable player in the country.

SG Victor Oladipo, Indiana: Frankly he’s one of the best on-ball defenders in the country, and this team is going to need a perimeter stopper. Add to that the fact that he’s improved offensively in each of his season at Indiana and this is a pretty easy choice to make.

SF Ben McLemore, Kansas: He’s a big, athletic guard that can defend, rebound and bury an open three. His demeanor and willingness to allow the game to come to him makes him a perfect fit on this team.

PF Doug McDermott, Creighton: Having a versatile scorer at the four is something you need to be successful in international play (if that’s where we’re taking this group). Enter McDermott, who’s shooting 56.8% from the field and 50.7% from beyond the arc, and he’s a good rebounder as well.

C Jeff Withey, Kansas: We wanted to go with defense and rebounding in the middle, and no one is as good of a defender at the rim as Withey.

Bench:

PG Phil Pressey, Missouri: Pressey is the best distributor in the country and a terrific on-ball defender. Simply the perfect fit for this system.

SG Russ Smith, Louisville: “Russdiculous” has calmed down some this season and in turn has become a better player. Still averaging 18.9 points per game, Smith is shooting 42% from the field and is also averaging 2.3 steals per game. Guards off the bench should be able to supply energy and be a nuisance for 94 feet defensively. Russ can do that.

SG Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State: Smart can do a little bit of everything: he’s a point guard in a shooting guard’s body that can defend multiple positions. He’s also a leader and a winner, and more importantly, a great teammate. He’s a perfect fit for this kind of team.

SF Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State: He’s not the best perimeter shooter (26.9% 3PT) but that’s fine given what else Franklin can do offensively. He’s a bit of a volume shooter so he’ll help more off the bench in that role, and he’s also averaging 10.1 rebounds per game to go along with the 18.4 ppg.

PF Anthony Bennett, UNLV: With his build and athletic ability Bennett can be a game changer for this team off the bench. He’s got range out to the three-point line but perimeter shooting won’t be needed in this role; hit the boards, attack the rim and be an athletic mismatch for whoever opponents place in front of him on both ends of the floor.

C Mason Plumlee, Duke: At the end of November Plumlee was the frontrunner for national Player of the Year honors in many circles. Still on track to be a first team All-American, the senior has the strength and athleticism needed to be productive on both ends of the floor.

C Nerlens Noel, Kentucky: Withey may be the best defensive presence around the rim, but Noel isn’t all that far behind him, and he’s much more versatile of a defender.

Those who didn’t make it this time around: Well, four of the five starters from the original team back in December didn’t make it this time around. Moser’s issue was injury-related, as the dislocated elbow shelved him for a couple weeks and he’s still working his way back to being the versatile offensive threat who took the Mountain West by storm last season. Zeller’s seen a lot more attention from opponents this season, but with the perimeter scorers on this team (not to mention McDermott) we’re leaning a little more towards a defender in the middle. Craft’s a great defender at the point but in Burke and Pressey this new group has a point who can score in addition to getting teammates involved (Burke) and arguably the best distributor in the game (Pressey). As for Canaan, he’s been very good for the Racers (they’ve been ignored some nationally) but we can go a bit bigger at the two with one of the best defenders around in Oladipo.

As for the reserves from that December group, McCollum suffered a broken foot and Tony Mitchell hasn’t performed as well as expected for the Mean Green. As for that Pac-12 trio, Hill’s been good but we can get more scoring from players such as Franklin and Bennett without losing much in the way of versatility and there’s enough shooting to make up for Crabbe’s omission. Muhammad? With Franklin and Smith on this team there are only so many volume shooters a team can afford, so he misses out this time around.

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.