Tyler Haws looks to lead BYU to the top of the WCC

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.

The BYU basketball program went through some changes in the two years that junior guard Tyler Haws spent away from the program, serving his two-year LDS mission in the Philippines.

During his freshman season Haws was a key contributor on a team led by Jimmer Fredette, as he averaged 11.3 points and 4.2 rebounds per game in helping the Cougars pick up their first NCAA tournament victory since 1993. The biggest change in the post-Jimmer era, however, was the school’s move from the Mountain West to the WCC, a process that played out while Haws was abroad. Not only did his return mean that he would have to work his way back into game shape, but in his first year back he would have to become familiar with new opponents (and styles of play) while also being expected to be one of the leaders for Dave Rose’s squad.

For most players, those factors and the lack of elite physical competition would lead to a slow start to the season. But that wasn’t the case for Haws, who scored 22 points in BYU’s season opener and ultimately proved to be one of the nation’s best shooters. Scoring a WCC-best 21.7 points per game, Haws shot 48.3% from the field and 38.1% from beyond the arc in leading the Cougars to 24 wins and a trip to the Postseason NIT semifinals.

“Not as much as I would have liked. You get about a half hour in the morning to do some stuff, so I tried to somewhat stay in good shape,” Haws told NBC Sports when asked about how much time he had to work out while on his mission. “I took a jump rope, did pushups and sit-ups, and in some areas I’d go running in the morning.

“Filipinos love basketball, and on almost every street there’s a couple basketball hoops so we’d stop and shoot around,” Haws continued. “Nothing too intense or serious though.”

With that being the case Haws needed to make the most of the six months he had prior to the 2012-13 season and he did just that, getting into the physical condition needed to have an immediate impact for the Cougars.

(CLICK HERE to read NBCSports.com’s West Coast Conference Preview)

“Every player is different. A lot of it is their body type and the ability to get back into pretty good playing shape,” BYU head coach Dave Rose told NBC Sports. “And a lot of it is timing; when they leave [for their mission] and when they get home. Some guys get home in August and that makes it really tough to get everything going before November.

“I think that the change in missionary age requirements won’t change the body type issue, as some of the bigger guys take a little more time to get back into playing shape, but the timing might be more consistent.”

The surprise for Rose didn’t come in how well Haws began the season, but rather in how he was able to play at a high level throughout the season. Without the full allotment of offseason training most college basketball players get during the spring and summer months, at some point in the latter portion of the season one would expect fatigue to set in. Haws didn’t hit a “wall” in 2012-13, reaching double figures in 34 of BYU’s 36 games and scoring at least 20 points in 25 of those games.

According to Ken Pomeroy’s numbers Haws ranked fourth in the WCC in offensive rating amongst players who factored into at least 24% of their team’s possessions, posting a rating of 115.7. Just 19.7% of the 571 shots Haws attempted from the field last season were three-pointers, and he made nearly 51% of his shots from inside the arc. With Brandon Davies (17.7 ppg, 8.0 rpg) gone Haws will attract even more attention from opponents, but that’s something the Cougars have already dealt with.

(CLICK HERE to read through the rest of NBCSports.com’s feature stories)

“Tyler was such a late-game, clutch performer for us, and I think late in the year I think everyone knew he was the option we were going to and that made it pretty tough on him. He got beat up pretty good, and hopefully we’ll be able to relieve that some,” noted Rose. “We’ve got more guys that are capable of making plays with the ball in their hands and I think that will help us.

“We’ll be a good shooting team, and then our post guys are very talented but they’re young.”

Since entering the WCC in 2011 BYU has won 22 conference games, but in both seasons they finished third behind traditional WCC powers Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s. With Matt Carlino and Kyle Collinsworth more experienced and improved front court depth, the hope in Provo is that with Haws leading the way BYU is ready to take the next step and ultimately win the conference. But in order to do that, BYU will need to be more consistent according to Haws.

“Consistency is a big key for us in winning the WCC, because I think we’re really good at times throughout the season and then at other times we’re kind of ‘up and down,'” noted Haws. “A big focus this year will be consistency and bringing it every single day and night that we play.”

Having a scoring option the caliber of Haws certainly isn’t a bad place from which to start.

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.