Final Four Previews: What you need to know about Michigan

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There was a point in time where many people, myself included, thought that Michigan might be the best team in the country.

Trey Burke was playing like, well, Trey Burke. Nik Stauskas was hitting seemingly every shot that he took. Tim Hardaway Jr. was playing like an all-american and Glenn Robinson III didn’t look like a freshman at all.

But that all changed late down the stretch of the regular season. Stauskas slumped, Robinson struggled against top-flight competition, Jordan Morgan got hurt and, after a flameout in the second round of the Big Ten tournament, the Wolverines ended up with a No. 4 seed in the Big Dance.

Things clicked once the tournament began, however, and John Beilein’s club once again looks like a title contender.

How they got here: The Wolverines torched both No. 13 seed South Dakota State and No. 5 seed VCU on the first weekend. In the Sweet 16, Michigan erased a 14 point deficit in the final seven minutes and an eight point deficit in the final 1:14 to beat No. 1 seed Kansas before blowing out No. 3 Florida for the right to go to the Final Four.

Odds to win the title: 3:1

Read through all of our Final Four coverage here

Why they can win: Trey Burke is awesome, but the reason that Michigan can win a national title is because everyone else around him is playing well. Nik Stauskas went 6-6 from three and scored 22 points against Florida. Glenn Robinson III was arguably the team’s best player in their wins over SDSU and VCU. Most importantly, Mitch McGary is starting to look like the guy that was ranked No. 1 in the Class of 2012 at one point during his time in high school. He has averaged 17.5 points and 11.5 boards in the four games of the tournament.

When Burke is getting that kind of support, Michigan can survive some of his shooting struggles. Because, to be quite honest, outside of the three minute stretch where Burke took over against Kansas to force overtime and win that game, he has played pretty average basketball (by his standards) the last four games.

Why they won’t win: Their defense, specifically Trey Burke. Who is he going to guard on Syracuse? Michael Carter-Williams? He feasted on Indiana’s small guards, finishing with 24 points. Will Michigan put him on Brandon Triche? Maybe, but Triche not only has four inches on Burke, he has 40 pounds on him. What if they make it to the title game? Can Burke stay in front of Siva or Smith without getting into foul trouble? What about Malcolm Armstead?

And Burke isn’t the only player on the team that can struggle on the defensive end of the floor. McGary isn’t exactly known as a shot-blocking menace. Robinson can get overpowered by bigger four-men. There’s no question that Michigan is going to be able to score, but their work on the defensive end will end up being the difference.

Key stat: There are two you need to know: they are the best in the country when it comes to protecting the ball, and they are 11th in the country in effective field goal percentage. Why does that matter? Well, they should be able to pass through and shoot over the Syracuse zone, and should they play Louisville in the final, they may not have as much trouble with the Cardinal’s press as other teams have.

Game-changer: Mitch McGary. He’s not a shot-blocker, but his physical presence on the interior certainly makes a difference, especially when he’s getting to the offensive glass and setting screens for Burke.

Prediction?: I actually think that Michigan is going to lose to Syracuse in the Final Four, but if they manage to knock off the Orange, I think that the Wolverines would be a better matchup with Louisville that Syracuse would.

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.