Pregame Shootaround 2.12.13: Two massive rivalry games

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Game of the Night: No. 4 Michigan at No. 8 Michigan State (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

It’s just another day in the Big Ten, as Michigan and Michigan State square off in an in-state rivalry that just so happens to be between two top ten teams looking win the league’s regular season title. The way the standings currently breakdown, the Wolverines are a game in back of the Spartans, who are tied with Indiana for first place. A win tonight would put Tom Izzo’s club in a great position to win the title, as the Hoosiers have a number of tough road games left on the schedule.

Michigan will have their hands full tonight trying to avoid falling two games out of first place. The key matchup for them is going to be at the power forward spot. Michigan plays small, using Glenn Robinson III — a natural small forward — there while the Spartans are one of the biggest teams in the country. Adreian Payne will likely draw the matchup with GR3. Can Michigan exploit Payne’s perimeter deficiencies defensively, or will his size be too much for the Wolverines to overcome?

The Other Game of the Night: No. 25 Kentucky at No. 7 Florida (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Here’s the matchup everyone’s been waiting for in the SEC. Kentucky, who has struggled in stretches this season, has found a rhythm playing against come of the SEC’s bottom-feeders, climbing their way back into the top 25 and the race for the SEC regular season title. That won’t be an easy thing to accomplish with a trip to the O-Dome in Gainesville standing in front of them. It wasn’t that long ago that people were talking about Florida like they were the best team in the country, and one ugly performance at Arkansas is an easy way to forget just how good this team has been this season.

The x-factor here: Will Yeguete’s injury. He was such a key component to Florida’s press, and that press would have been a major factor in Tuesday’s game with Kentucky’s back court question marks. Can the Wildcats take advantage? A win would draw them into a tie with the Gators for first in the SEC.

Mid-Major matchup of the night: Boston U. at Vermont (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

This will be the last time that two of the most storied programs in the America East history square off as league rivals, as BU will be heading for the Patriot League after this season.

Five Things to Watch For

1) If there is any team in the country that cannot afford a bad loss right now, it’s Virginia. They already have one of the most difficult resumes to project, losing to rival Virginia Tech at home would be disastrous. (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

2) Indiana State has had some trouble on the road this season, and Missouri State has done a fine job of playing spoiler in the MVC. The Sycamores are in a good position to in the Missouri Valley and earn an at-large bid. They cannot go risking that with a loss in Springfield. (8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

3) Alabama has one of this season’s biggest scheduling quirks — they play nine straight SEC games against teams ranked above 100 in the RPI. I guess their are some major conference teams getting a taste of the mid-major lifestyle this season. Georgia’s no pushover, however. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is playing some of the best basketball of his career and the Bulldogs have won five straight. (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

4) Set0n Hall and Rutgers square off in the Big East’s intra-state rivalry that no one seems to care about. (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

5) Cincinnati looks to end their losing skid by knocking off a pesky Villanova team at home. (8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

Top 25

No. 4 Michigan at No. 8 Michigan State (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 25 Kentucky at No. 7 Florida (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

You can find Rob 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.