2013 Final Four Primer

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The last two participants in the Final Four punched their tickets on Saturday night, as Louisville knocked off Duke and Michigan ran over Florida, completing one of the most anticlimactic Elite 8s in the history of the Elite 8.

And that means it’s now official: No. 1 Louisville will be taking on No. 9 Wichita State on Saturday night at 6:09 p.m. ET in the Georgia Dome, with No. 4 Michigan taking on No. 4 Syracuse 40 minutes after the first game ends.

We’re going to have oh-so-much content rolling out over the next couple of days, but in order to get you prepped for the most anticipated three games of the college basketball season, here are seven thoughts to get the juices flowing:

1) Louisville has to be considered the favorite to win it all: Let’s start with the obvious: they were the favorite entering the tournament, and there is no one else left in the tournament seeded higher than fourth in their region. It’s simple math, really. Louisville was the best team in the country three weeks ago, and nothing about the way that they have played since Selection Sunday has done anything to convince us otherwise. Russ Smith has played like an all-american, Peyton Siva is showing everyone the value of having a veteran point guard as absurdly talented as he is, and Rick Pitino’s put them into a system where they can thrive.

2) But don’t be silly and count out Wichita State just yet: The Shockers beat Gonzaga, putting together one of the most impressive finishing kicks we’ve seen this season. They knocked off Ohio State, leading by as much as 20. Pitt and La Salle? They didn’t stand a chance. In fact, the Shockers have led by as much as 13 points in every game this tournament. They’re pretty good.

3) Michigan matches up pretty well with Syracuse: You need shooters to beat the Syracuse zone, and Michigan has that. You need length on the perimeter to be able to make that pass into the high post, and Michigan has that. You need someone to put at the high post that can be a threat to score, and Michigan has that. They also have Trey Burke, the best player in the country this season. Here’s the biggest question: who is Trey Burke going to guard? Can he stop Michael Carter-Williams or Brandon Triche if they want to get to the rim against him?

4) But that Syracuse zone is deadly: They’ve allowed just 0.72 PPP in four tournament games. By comparison, Stephen F. Austin led the country by allowing 0.843 PPP this season. Good luck, Michigan.

5) Don’t let me catch you calling the Big Ten overrated: It’s silly to base the success of a team or a conference on how well they perform in the NCAA tournament. Always has been and always will be. The NCAA tournament is all about matchups. That’s what happens when you’re dealing with a one-and-done knockout event. That’s what a team like Wichita State — or Butler or VCU or George Mason — is able to make a run to the Final Four. Do you think that the Shockers would beat Gonzaga in a five-game series? Do you really think that Florida Gulf Coast is one of the 16 best teams in the country?

To pull off an upset in the tournament, you need the right matchup, the right game-plan, flawless execution and a night where the opponent doesn’t play all that well. That Indiana and Syracuse, for example. The Orange had the length to bother Indiana’s guard, Cody Zeller picked the wrong night to struggle and Jordan Hulls was playing with a separated shoulder. Does that mean Syracuse is a better team? Or had a better season?

No. It means they had a better night.

And it certainly doesn’t mean that the Big East was a better conference that the Big Ten.

Because after all, the fifth-place Big Ten team is in the Final Four. Think about that.

6) Success in February isn’t a prerequisite to success in March: Wichita State started the season 15-1. They went 5-5 in their last 10 regular season games and lost to Creighton in the MVC title game. Syracuse was 18-1 before finishing the regular season 5-7. Michigan was 20-1 and was ranked No. 1 in the country at one point before going 5-5 in their last 10 and losing in the second round of the Big Ten tournament. All three of those teams managed to turn it around and make the Final Four. So much for momentum.

7) Another reason the demise of the Big East is sad?: This is the fourth straight year that the Big East tournament champion has made the Final Four. Louisville did it last year, UConn won the title in 2011 and West Virginia upset Kentucky to make the Final Four in 2010. In 2007, Georgetown made the Final Four as well.

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.