Virginia, Indiana State have two of the strangest bubble resumes

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Believe it or not, it’s now mid-February, which means that March Madness is right around the corner. We’ve already given you our newest bracket and bubble watch, but we will also be taking a weekly look at some of this season’s wackiest at-large profiles. All RPI and SOS numbers via WarrenNolan.com.

Virginia (17-6, 7-3) RPI: 81, SOS: 154

Virginia may have the strangest profile I’ve ever seen. The Cavs are 6-0 against the RPI top 100, and have managed to put together some impressive wins — at Wisconsin, NC State, North Carolina, at Maryland. The problem, however, is that the ‘Hoos have been just atrocious against some of the worst teams they have played. All six of their losses have come against teams with RPI’s in the triple digits. They are 0-3 against the CAA, including the RPI killing loss to Old Dominion (who is 3-22 and 319th in the RPI). They’ve lost at Clemson, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech. They played the 320th worst non-conference schedule in the country. Only Iowa’s is worse among teams in the RPI top 100.

Only USC in 2011 has gotten an at-large bid with six bad losses, and only George Washington in 2006 (when they went 26-2 and got an eight seed) has gotten an at-large bid with a non-conference SOS as high as 320.

But here’s the catch. Starting point guard Jontel Evans was injured earlier this year. He didn’t play in losses to ODU and George Mason and played just three minutes in the loss to Delaware. Do they win those games with Evans? How different does Virginia’s profile look without those ugly losses weighing it down? And, if Virginia has a healthy Evans and beats Delaware, they would have headed to the Preseason NIT semifinals in NYC, where they would have played Pitt and either Michigan or Kansas State. That would have boosted their non-conference schedule just a bit, I’d say.

Here’s the good news: Virginia still gets to play at North Carolina, at Miami and at home against Duke. They’ll have their chances to play their way into the tournament.

Indiana State (15-8, 9-4) RPI: 45, SOS: 50

The Sycamores are like a miniature version of UVA. Their good wins are really, really good. They beat Miami (No. 2 in the RPI) and Ole Miss in the Diamond Head Classic out in Hawaii, they won at Wichita State by 13 and knocked off Creighton at home by 19. They are tied for first in the Missouri Valley and can win the conference outright if they win out and if Wichita State wins at Creighton.

But the Trees also have some head-scratching losses. Morehead State beat them, as did Drake, Illinois State and Southern Illinois, who is 215th in the RPI. They have three road games in their final five in league play. Might want to avoid losing one of those.

Illinois (16-8, 4-7) RPI: 26, SOS: 5

No one in the country makes less sense than Illinois. They started off the regular season looking like an actual threat to compete for a Big Ten title, as they went into Spokane and knocked off Gonzaga, won the Maui Invitational with a 17 point win over Butler and smacked around Ohio State in their Big Ten opener. And then, the Illini proceeded to lose eight of their next 11 games and all but knocked themselves out of bubble contention.

Just when it seemed like John Groce’s club quite on the season, they turned around and beat Indiana at home and then went into Minneapolis and knocked off Minnesota. Put it all together, and Illinois has a top 30 RPI, five wins against the top 50, the fifth-toughest schedule in the country and a 4-7 record in the Big Ten.

Ole Miss (18-5, 7-3) RPI: 47, SOS: 105

The Rebels have a profile that looks like it would belong to a team coming out of Conference USA or the WAC. Their computer numbers aren’t terrible, but they aren’t great. They’re competing for a league title, but they are doing so in a conference that’s a long way from good. They haven’t lost to anyone outside the top 50 in the RPI, but they’ve only won one game against the RPI top 50 and that came when Missouri was playing without Laurence Bowers.

In essence, there is nothing bad about Ole Miss’ resume other than the fact that there is nothing good about it. And the worst part is that playing in the SEC won’t provide anymore chances for big wins until the SEC tournament. The Rebels play as many teams with an RPI in the 200s as they do teams in the top 100 — three.

You can find Rob 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.