The Little Dances: Championship Week Day 12 Preview

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The NCAA Tournament doesn’t get going until March 19, but for the real college hoops fans, the days leading up to Selection Sunday is when the madness really begins. Over the next two weeks teams will fight for the postseason lives. Bubbles will burst and tickets will be punched, and Cinderellas will be born. This is the real March Madness.

Today is the day. 13 automatic bids will be handed out today, the most of any day during Championship Week. The day is highlighted by the final game in the Big East for both Syracuse and Louisville. Make sure to keep your eye on the MAC championship, where Akron and Ohio meet in a battle between current powerhouse and former champ.

Today is the last Saturday of the non-March Madness portion of the 2012-2013 college hoops season.

(CLICK HERE to browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

Here’s what to watch for on Saturday.

Game of the Night: Kansas State vs. Kansas
You know what they say about beating the same team three times in the same season, right? The Jayhawks will go for the sweep against their Sunflower State rivals. Because of Duke’s loss to Maryland on Friday night, a spot on the top line in the NCAA tournament could be for grabs.

– Watch this too: Michigan State vs. Ohio State
The Buckeyes and Spartans meet in a rematch of last year’s title game. Ohio State enters the game having won six-straight. Both teams held serve on their home courts during the regular season. Can Aaron Craft shut down Keith Appling again? Can the Spartans reduce DeShaun Thomas’ offensive production?

Player to Watch: Dez Wells, Maryland
There is not a more athletic and dynamic combo-guard in the country than Maryland’s Dez Wells. When the sophomore is match-up nightmare when he asserts himself into the game, and he’s done just that in the Terrapins two previous ACC tournament games. In the quarterfinals against top-seed Duke, Wells scored a career-high 30 points to keep the Terrapins tournament hopes alive for another 24 hours. He’s going to have to repeat his performance against North Carolina, who swept the regular season series with the Terps.

He’s good too: Chaz Williams, UMass
The Brooklyn-native has played his best basketball of the season in front of his family and friends at the Barclays Center this week, propelling upstart UMass into the Atlantic-10 semifinals agaisnt VCU. The one-on-one match-up between Williams and VCU defensive mastermind Briante Weber will be fun to watch and may detrmine whether or not the Minuteman can sneak in the back door of March Madness.

Saturday’s Schedule:

America East Conference Finals
11:30 a.m. – Alabany (4) vs. Vermont (2)

Atlantic Coast Conference Semifinals
1 p.m. – North Carolina State (5) vs. Miami (1)
3 p.m. – Maryland (7) vs. North Carolina (3)

Atlantic 10 Conference Semifinals
1:30 p.m. – Butler (5) vs. Saint Louis (1)
4 p.m. – UMass (6) vs. VCU (2)

Big 12 Conference Finals
6 p.m. – Kansas State (2) vs. Kansas (1)

Big East Conference Finals
8:30 p.m. – Syracuse (5) vs. Louisville (2)

Big Sky Conference Finals
9 p.m. – Weber State (2) vs. Montana (1)

Big Ten Conference Semifinals
1:40 p.m. – Wisconsin (4) vs. Indiana (1)
4 p.m. – Michigan State (3) vs. Ohio State (2)

Big West Conference Finals
10:30 p.m. – UC-Irvine (4) vs. Pacific (2)

Conference-USA Finals
11:35 a.m. – Southern Mississippi (2) vs. Memphis (1)

Great West Conference Finals
8:30 p.m. – Houston Baptist (4) at Chicago State (3)

Mid-American Conference Finals
6:30 p.m. – Ohio (2) vs. Akron (1)

Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Finals
5 p.m. – North Carolina A&T (7) vs. Morgan State (5)

Mountain West Conference Finals
6 p.m. – UNLV (3) vs. New Mexico (1)

Pac-12 Conference Finals
11 p.m. – Oregon (3) vs. UCLA (1)

Southeastern Conference Semifinals
1 p.m. – Alabama (4) vs. Florida (1)
3 p.m. – Vanderbilt (10) vs. (3) Ole Miss

Southland Conference Finals
8:30 p.m. – Northwestern State (2) vs. Stephen F. Austin (1)

Southwestern Athletic Conference Finals
4:30 p.m. – Prairie View A&M (4) vs. Southern (1)

Western Athletic Conference Finals
11 p.m. – UT-Arlington (4) vs. New Mexico State (3)

You can find Troy Machir on Twitter at @TroyMachir

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.