Who will wear the glass slipper? 11 potential ‘Cinderellas’ in 2013-2014

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R.J. Hunter (Georgia State athletics)

All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of our preview lists, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Every March, the nation falls in love with a new Cinderella, as a team from off college hoops beaten path puts together a run in the NCAA tournament. Florida-Gulf Coast, Wichita State, Lehigh, Butler, VCU, George Mason. The list goes on and on and on. 

To help you prepare for your college hoops viewing schedule this season, here is a list of potential Cinderellas. We can differ on what, exactly, makes a team eligible to be a ‘Cinderella’, but here’s criteria I used to make this list:

  • Cannot be from one of the top nine conference, meaning no new Big East, no Atlantic 10 and no Mountain West.
  • Cannot be a team that got preseason top 25 consideration. So no Harvard and no Wichita State. 
  • Cannot be a program that is “known”, so send my apologies to the folks at St. Mary’s, BYU, UTEP and Southern Miss. 

Essentially, I’m just looking for a way to give you a list of teams you don’t know about that will be a double-digit seed yet have a chance to make it to the second weekend of the Big Dance. Feel free to quibble away:

Boston University: The Terriers have arguably the best back court at the mid-major level this season. D.J. Irving can score with the best of them, and his counterpart, Maurice Watson, is a terrific point guard and a former top 100 recruit that really has no business playing outside a power conference. Good guard play can take you a long way in March.

Florida-Gulf Coast: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. Everyone knows about #DunkCity already so they shouldn’t be on this list. Whatever. I don’t care, because Florida-Gulf Coast brings back enough talent to once again make a run in the tournament. Bernard Thompson is back, as is freewheeling point guard Brett Comer. The Eagles have a slew of long, athletic big men that can run the floor as well. The biggest question will be whether new head coach Joe Dooley let’s #DunkCity be #DunkCity again.

Georgia State: Ron Hunter has himself as talented of a perimeter attack as you’ll find at the mid-major level. R.J. Hunter averaged more than 17 points as a freshman, and he’s not the only returnee, as Devonta White and Manny Atkins are back as well. Throw in the addition of Kentucky transfer Ryan Harrow, who is eligible immediately, and the Panthers are some production from their front court away from being a real threat to make the Preseason NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden.

Indiana State: Jake Odum is a stud. Anyone that remembers the run he led the Sycamores on as a freshman back in 2011, winning the MVC tournament, will agree with me. Manny Arop and Justin Gant also return for a team that beat Creighton, Wichita State, Miami and Ole Miss last season. ISU lost seven of their last nine games last year, however. Can they avoid a collapse this season?

Iona: The Gaels are loaded with high-major transfers. Sean Armand and David Laury is as good of a 1-2 punch as you’ll find at the mid-major level, and Tre Bowman, Mike Poole and Tavon Sledge all started their careers playing in BCS conferences. Iona gets up and down the floor in a hurry, plays five guys that can handle the ball and shoots a lot of threes. They’ll be inconsistent, as all jump-shooting teams are, but on the nights that those shots are falling, they’ll be able to compete with just about anyone. 

Louisiana Tech: What I like about the Bulldogs is that head coach Mike White has this group playing a system that is tough to prepare for. Tech presses. A lot. They force a lot of turnovers and can overwhelm teams that don’t have strong back court play. The Bulldogs won a lot of games last season, but utterly disappointed in two marquee road games against WAC powers Denver and New Mexico State to end the regular season. Will Raheem Appleby and company be able to dominate in their first year in Conference USA?

Mercer: With all the attention that Florida-Gulf Coast got last season, would it surprise you if I told you that Mercer was actually the best team in the Atlantic Sun during the season? They also knocked off Tennessee in Knoxville during the NIT, bring back all but one contributor from last year and will have as experienced of a rotation as you’ll find anywhere.

North Dakota State: Taylor Braun returns to Fargo to lead a team that brings back all five starters from a season ago. The Bison were arguably the best team in the Summit League last season and could have knocked Nate Wolters and South Dakota State from their perch had Braun not gotten injured midway through the year. Look for NDSU to right that wrong this season.

Towson: Pat Skerry engineered one of the most impressive turnarounds in the country last season, and he did largely on the backs of transfers from high-major programs. Namely, Jerelle Benimon, a Georgetown transfer that ended up averaging 17 points and 11 boards. With sharpshooter Four McGlynn eligible this season, the Tigers could end up being even more dangerous this year. 

Weber State: The Wildcats lost Damian Lillard, Scott Bamforth and Frank Otis in the last two years, but with Davion Berry, a Big Sky Player of the Year candidate, leading a team with one of the better front lines at the mid-major level — you might have heard of Kyle Tresnak but keep an eye on Joel Bolomboy — Weber State is favored to finally win a Big Sky title.

Wright State: The Raiders were one of the most surprising teams in the country last season, finishing third in the Horizon and coming a few possessions from making the NCAA tournament after getting picked dead last in the preseason. Wright State brings back all five starters from that team.

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.