Ivy League champion Harvard headlines Great Alaska Shootout field

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With nearly all major contributors from this season’s NCAA tournament team due back (led by Siyani Chambers and Wesley Saunders) and the return of point guard Brandyn Curry and forward Kyle Casey, the Harvard Crimson are the trendy pick in the eyes of many when it comes to the mid-major program that can make some noise in 2013-14.

But with the release of the bracket for the 2013 Carr’s Safeway Great Alaska Shootout on Thursday, the question for Harvard is whether or not their non-conference schedule will give them enough shots at high-caliber opponents.

Tommy Amaker’s team is one of eight in the field, with the event taking a big hit due to Iowa’s decision to instead participate in the Battle 4 Atlantis. The Hawkeyes have generated some conversation on the heels of their Postseason NIT run, with many believing that Fran McCaffery’s team has enough talent to be a factor in the Big Ten race.

A possible shot at Iowa would have been a great opportunity for Harvard. Instead their best possible opponent in Anchorage may very well be quarterfinal opponent Denver, which won a share of the WAC regular season title in 2012-13 and makes the move to the Summit League this summer.

Also in the field is Indiana State, which returns point guard Jake Odum and finished third in the 2012 Diamond Head Classic (beating eventual ACC champion Miami in the third place game).

The full schedule for the Great Alaska Shootout:

Wednesday, Nov. 27 – First Round
Game 1 – Tulsa vs Indiana State
Game 2 – Texas Christian vs Alaska Anchorage

Thursday, Nov. 28 – First Round
Game 3 – Pepperdine vs Green Bay
Game 4 – Denver vs Harvard

Friday, Nov. 29 – Consolation Semifinals & Semifinals
Game 5 – Tulsa/ISU loser vs TCU/UAA loser
Game 6 – Pepp./GB loser vs DU/Harvard loser
Game 7 – Tulsa/ISU winner vs TCU/UAA winner
Game 8 – Pepp./GB winner vs DU/Harvard winner

Saturday, Nov. 30
7th/8th-place – Game 5 loser vs Game 6 loser
4th/6th-place – Game 5 winner vs Game 6 winner
3rd/5th-place – Game 7 loser vs Game 8 loser
Championship – Game 7 winner vs Game 8 winner

With the release of the bracket, what Harvard does with its remaining non-conference openings becomes more important in regards to not only the possibility of an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament but also their potential seed.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

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.