Sweet 16 Reset: The South Region

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On Thursday evening, the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 play will begin, meaning we’ll be four days away from finding out who the four teams are that will be playing for the national title in Atlanta. And in case you spent the past four days living under a rock or on a really, really long flight that didn’t have WiFi, here’s what you missed in the South Region.

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WHERE: Dallas Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, TX

WHEN: Friday

WHAT HAPPENED?: No. 1 Kansas advanced, beating No. 8 North Carolina and old coach Roy Williams in the process. No. 4 Michigan advanced as well, rolling over both No. 5 VCU and No. 13 South Dakota State in the process. On the other side of the region, No. 3 Florida knocked off No. 11 Minnesota, ending Tubby Smith’s tenure as the head coach of the Gophers, after Minnesota knocked off No. 6 UCLA, ending Ben Howland’s tenure as head coach of the Bruins.

But none of that actually matters.

Because the South Region is where Dunk City happened. No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast beat both No. 2 Georgetown and No. 7 San Diego State to become the first No. 15 seed to make it to the Sweet 16.

FAVORITE: Florida Gators

Forgive me if I wan’t blown away by Kansas’ six point win over Western Kentucky or their 21 point first half against North Carolina. As good as the Jayhawks looked in that second half run against the Tar Heels, they looked twice as bad in the first half. And they are stil waiting for Ben McLemore to figure out how to play in the NCAA tournament. So I’ll stick with the Gators, who were my Final Four pick heading into the tournament. They’re the best defensive team in the bracket, and after rolling over FGCU (sorry, Dunk City, the run may be over), I think the Gators defensive pressure will be too much for Elijah Johnson and Naadir Tharpe.

KEY PLAYER: Trey Burke, Michigan

He’s the best player in the country, in this writer’s not-so-humble opinion, and he still hasn’t played his bet basketball of the NCAA tournament. He’s going to need to against Kansas if the Wolverines are going to beat the Jayhawks. The good news? He should have the opportunity, because both Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary have stepped up their play in the first two rounds of the tournament, which means that it will be that much more difficult for defenses to key in on him.

WHY AN UNDERDOG WILL WIN: Here’s my thinking on FGCU: the way that they beat both Georgetown and San Diego State was by crushing their will. The Eagles hung around for a while, but it was a second half run in both instances — one that involved some vicious, soul-crushing alley-oops — that allowed Andy Enfield’s club to pull away. Florida’s doesn’t exactly have the most mentally-strong back court stars. Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario can be streaky. Will they fold if FGCU hits the Gators with a game-changing run like that?

THE TEAMS:

No. 1 KANSAS JAYHAWKS
How they got here: Beat No. 16 Western Kentucky 64-57 and No. 8 North Carolina 70-58.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2012
Next up: No. 4 Michigan, 7:37 p.m. ET, TBS
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No. 3 FLORIDA GATORS
How they got here: Beat No. 14 New Mexico State 79-47 and No. 11 Minnesota 78-64.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2012
Next up: No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast, 10:07 p.m. ET, TBS
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No. 4 MICHIGAN WOLVERINES
How they got here: Beat No. 13 South Dakota State 71-56 and No. 5 VCU 78-53.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 1994
Next up: No. 1 Kansas, 7:37 p.m. ET, TBS
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No. 15 FLORIDA GULF COAST
How they got here: Beat No. 2 Georgetown 78-68 and No. 7 San Diego State 81-71.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: This is their first
Next up: No. 3 Florida, 10:07 p.m. ET, TBS

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.