Late Night Snacks: Recapping the tournament’s first REAL day

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PLAYER OF THE DAY: Andrew Smith, Butler

Smith finished with 14 points and 16 boards in the Bulldog’s win over No. 11 seed Bucknell. He also hit a three midway through the second half that not only was Butler’s first on the afternoon (they were 0-14 from distance up to that point) but also helped stem the tide of a Bucknell run that had erased Butler’s double-digit lead.

But that wasn’t Smith’s most important contribution. Mike Muscala, the 6-foot-11 center for the Bison who just so happens to be a potential first round draft pick, finished with just nine points and 10 boards on 4-17 shooting, stymied by the defense of Smith and the rest of the Butler front line. That’s why the Bulldogs were able to win a tournament game on an afternoon where they, frankly, shot the ball horrendously from the floor.

Who else was good?:

  • Derrick Nix, Michigan State: The biggest player on arguably the biggest team in the tournament played like it, going for 23 points and 15 boards in a win over No. 14 seed Valparaiso.
  • Malcolm Armstead, Wichita State: Armstead finished with 22 points and five assists and helped hold Tray Woodall to 1-12 shooting and five turnovers as the Shockers beat No. 8 seed Pitt 73-55.
  • Dwayne Evans, St. Louis: Evans led the way with 24 points and six boards as the Billikens beat No. 13 seed New Mexico State.
  • Dorian Green, Colorado State: Green scored 17 of his 26 points in the first half as the Rams ran past Missouri.
  • Glenn Robinson III and Tim Hardaway, Jr, Michigan: The Wolverines put No. 13 seed South Dakota State away easily on Thursday despite the fact that Trey Burke was 2-12 from the floor. GR3 and Hardaway finished with 42 points combined, shooting 16-21 from the field and 8-10 from three.

TEAM OF THE DAY: Harvard Crimson

You have got to feel good for the Crimson at this point. After losing their two best players in the preseason to an academic scandal, Harvard backed their way into the NCAA tournament when Princeton surprisingly lost a pair of games on the road on the final weekend of Ivy League play. But they managed to earn a 14 seed, and then pulled off a stunning upset of No. 3 seed New Mexico in the opening round of the tournament.

The Lobos were projected as a team that could make a run to the Final Four. They had the size to take advantage of Harvard’s smaller front line. They had the talent and the resume for most bracket analysts to simply look past that first round games. And Harvard still managed to beat Steve Alford’s team to pick up the first NCAA tournament win in the history of the program.

Who else was impressive?:

  • Oregon: I’m sorry I ever doubted you, Oregon. The No. 12 seed Ducks dominated a good Oklahoma State team from start to finish and made everyone realize just how silly their seeding truly was. The most important note? Dominic Artis finished with 13 points in 17 minutes, easily the best game he’s played since he returned from a foot injury. He had some explosive and confident moves in the mix.
  • Southern: I know they lost, but hats off to the Jaguars for giving No. 1 seed Gonzaga everything they could handle.

GAME OF THE DAY: Marquette 59, Davidson 58

This one  is going to sting for a while:

FIVE THOUGHTS:

1) So the Pac-12 is good again?: Two No. 12 seeds (Oregon and Cal) knocked off No. 5 seeds. No. 6 seed Arizona beat the trendy upset pick, No. 11 seed Belmont, in decisive fashion. That puts the Pac-12 at 3-0 in this year’s tournament with two very winnable games for No. 6 seed UCLA and No. 10 seed Colorado tomorrow. After being the laughing stock of college basketball for a couple of years, that has to feel good, especially when the Mountain West is now 1-3 in the tournament, with the two best teams heading how already.

2) Defining performance?: The defining moment of the first day of the NCAA tournament was probably Harvard’s win over New Mexico, but Davidson’s collapse and Marquette’s game-winner are definitely in the mix. But who had the defining performance? When the Player of the Day wins for the work he did on the defensive end, that should tell you something.

3) Sad to see seniors leave: What makes it worse is when they leave after a terrible performance. Matthew Dellavedova was not himself as Memphis stormed over St. Mary’s. Tray Woodall played one of the worst games of his career in Pitt’s loss to Wichita State. Both were in tears after the game.

4) Shaka’s ruthless: He was playing the team of the first guy to give him a DI job. Up 40 with eight minutes left, he was still pressing. Havoc never sleeps.

5) More excitement tomorrow?: Today turned out to be kind of a dud, but it seems like that happens with one day of the round of 64 every year. Where will the crazy come from on Friday?

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.