Jim Boeheim and Buzz Williams: Two coaches that couldn’t be more different

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — On the surface, it would seem like Marquette and Syracuse are similar programs.

Both are members of the Big East this year and both will be leaving the Big East after this year. (Technically, Marquette is leaving the Big East to join the new Big East, but you get my point.) They’ve played once already this season and both have made plenty of appearances on ESPN and CBS during the year. Their head coaches are quirky, lovable characters adored by their fanbase. Most importantly, both programs are very good and nationally relevant; there’s a reason that they’re squaring off in the Elite 8 on Saturday afternoon.

But when you take a closer look at how these two teams have gotten to this point, you’ll realize that the No. 3 seed Golden Eagles and No. 4 seed Orange don’t really have all that much in common.

It starts with their game preparation. There may not be a coach in the country that puts more effort and more time into his scouting reports for an opponent than Williams. He’s thorough. He’s tireless. He embraces the x’s-and-o’s and calls out an opponent’s plays from the sidelines while understanding advanced analytics as well as anyone. This is what their locker room looked like prior to their Sweet 16 matchup with Miami:

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When he came to the press conference on Friday afternoon, he had already watch film of Syracuse’s last six games.

“How we handle scouting is probably unique to some organizations, but our kids know what to expect when it comes to scouting,” Williams said. “My staff has been incredible. This year and in years past, for that matter, in scouting. I’m over the top on the analytics involved as a team, as an individual.”

Compare that to Boeheim.

“I’m not a big proponent of scouting, film work,” he said. “I probably watch less film than anybody in the country. We know what we need to do. Everybody in this business knows what they need to do. It’s a question of if you can execute it in the game.”

“I always laugh at football coaches. They know every play, every position, every move that these other guys are going to make because they watch 36,000 hours of tape. Their players have no clue what they’re talking about. If they can get some of the players to get some understanding … It’s not what the coaches know or what you know, it’s what the players know and how they execute.”

Notice a difference?

Then you look at who they recruit.

Marquette’s roster is littered with players that embody their feisty head coach. Williams’ back-story is one that has been told 100 times, and deservedly so. It’s incredible. He never played basketball. He didn’t know anyone in college basketball. He got his first job because he sent letters to 425 different coaches every week until he was able to scrape together enough money to pay for a flight to the 1994 Final Four. From there, he heard about a job at UT-Arlington and scraped together enough money to buy a car and drive down to the head coach’s house simply to tell him he wanted the job.

Long story short, he worked his way up the ladder — quite literally — before eventually getting the head coaching gig with Marquette when Tom Crean left for Indiana. Every player that Williams recruits has that same mindset. They have a chip on their shoulder, they have something to prove. Whether it’s because they were under-recruited coming out of high school, or because they couldn’t work their way into a rotation at their first Division I school, or because they were overlooked and had to work their way up through the JuCo ranks, there’s an attitude that permeates every fiber of this Marquette program.

“When we step on the court, if you don’t give us respect, we’re going to earn it,” Vander Blue said after Thursday’s win over Miami. “Sooner or later, you’ve gotta give credit where credit is due.”

Boeheim does.

“They have a very good team. I just look at the players on the team, I don’t look at the hype,” Boeheim said. “That’s what you look at as a coach. You don’t look at how many high school all-americans they had. Whatever.”

“Half of the high school all-americans aren’t any good.”

Boeheim would know as well as anyone, as his roster is stockpiled with top 25 recruits and early entry candidates. The Orange wage war on the recruiting trail with the biggest of the big boys, and they land their fair share of the kids they target. It’s ironic, really: both coaches have a ‘type’. Williams recruits a Chevy Silverado commercial — blue-collar, motor, work ethic, toughness — while Boeheim wants the kids that hit all of the NBA Draft buzzwords — length, athleticism, potential, ceiling — to plug into his 2-3 zone.

And therein lies the beauty of this matchup.

The perennial underdogs vs. the five-star talents. The hall of fame coach that played at Syracuse vs. the short kid from Van Alstyne that got his start as a student assistant at a JuCo.

Regardless of the differences between the two programs, there is one thing that they do have in common: they don’t want their season to end on Saturday night.

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.