A Viewer’s Guide to the Tip-Off Marathon

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ESPN’s annual Tip-Off Marathon begins tonight at 7:00 p.m. (all time Eastern), so in an effort to get you prepared, we at CBT will be giving you a handy guide to help you schedule out the next 29 hours of your life.

You’re welcome.

ONLY MISS THESE GAMES FOR THE BIRTH OF YOUR FIRST CHILD:

The Champions Classic, Tue. 7:30 p.m.  (ESPN): Don’t know what the Champions Classic is? Have you been living under a rock?

The last two years, Duke, Michigan State, Kentucky and Kansas have participated in an event during the first week of the season where the four teams will show up in a city and play a double-header. The matchups rotate every year, and this season, they are just ridiculous, and the perfect way to cap the Tip-Off Marathon.

No. 1 Kentucky takes on No. 2 Michigan State at 7:30 p.m., which is obviously awesome since it pits No. 1 against No. 2. But there’s more intrigue here. Kentucky is obscenely talented, but they are chock full of freshmen and sophomores. The Spartans aren’t quite as talented, but they have veterans up and down their lineup. Who wins out?

It wouldn’t be fair to call that game the undercard, but the nightcap will just about match the first game in terms of hype. No. 4 Duke takes on No. 5 Kansas, which is thrilling in its own right before you consider that Jabari Parker will be returning to him hometown to take on Andrew Wiggins, the freshmen who usurped his standing as the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2013.

DVR IS ACCEPTABLE, BUT MAKE SURE YOU WATCH LATER ON:

No. 14 VCU at No. 25 Virginia, Tue. 7:00 p.m. (ESPN2): Talk about a contrast of styles. VCU is notorious for their Havoc defense, a 40-minute full-court assault on opposing ball-handlers. The Rams abused Illinois State in their opener, but they’ll have a much tougher task with the Cavs on Tuesday night. Virginia is a sleeper in the ACC, a team with two of the most underrated players in the country in Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell. The issue is that Virginia is working through incorporating a new point guard into their rotation after Jontel Evans graduated. That won’t be an easy gig against Shaka Smart’s boys.

No. 11 Florida at No. 20 Wisconsin, Tue. 9:00 p.m. (ESPN2): Florida gets their first real test of the season, but the Gators will once again be short-handed as they deal with suspensions and injuries early on this season. The Badgers certainly challenged themselves early this season, as they already knocked off St. John’s on Friday night. As good as these two programs are, the stars from Friday’s openers were relative no-names: Casey Prather popped off for 28 points against North Florida while Duje Dukan had 15 big points for Wisconsin.

BYU at Stanford, Mon. 11:00 p.m. (ESPN): BYU has one of the nation’s best scorers in Tyler Haws, who is a pleasure to watch if you are a hoops snob like your truly. A 6-foot-3 off-guard, Haws is one of the best players in the country at running off of screens and moving without the ball. The Cougars are a fun team to watch in general as they love to get out and run the floor. Stanford actually has a chance to be a contender in the Pac-12 this season, as they returned a balanced and talented roster from a season. The combination of big man Dwight Powell and lead guard Chasson Randle have yet to churn out the wins that Cardinal fans expected.

FIRE UP ESPN3 AT WORK FOR:

LSU at UMass, Tue. 11:00 a.m. (ESPN2): One of the most sneaky-good games of the first week of the season. LSU should be much-improved this season, with Anthony Hickey and Johnny O’Bryant being joined by a talented recruiting class for Johnny Jones. UMass is an Atlantic 10 contender, however, led by Chaz Williams, who is one of the most entertaining guards in the country.

N.C. State at Cincinnati, Tue. 5:00 p.m. (ESPN): The Wolfpack are an intriguing team to keep an eye on this season. A slimmed-down T.J. Warren could end up being the ACC’s leading scorer this season, and Cat Barber and Tyler Lewis make up for a fun-to-watch back court. But can Mark Gottfried get this group to win games? They’ll have a tough test at Cincinnati, a team that is led by Sena Kilpatrick and has become known for their physicality and toughness.

MAKE A POT OF COFFEE SO YOU CAN STAY UP FOR:

Colorado State at No. 18 Gonzaga, Mon. 9:00 p.m. (ESPN): Colorado State was a contender in the Mountain West the past couple of seasons, but they’ll be rebuilding this year after losing their top six players to graduation. The Zags lost Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris, but with Kevin Pangos back and Sam Dower finally getting a chance up front, this group could surprise some folks.

Western Kentucky at No. 13 Wichita State, Tue. 1:00 a.m. (ESPN): The Hilltoppers have been to back-to-back NCAA tournaments and return enough talent that they should compete for the Sun Belt title. But the Shockers are coming off of a run to the Final Four and enter the season with a ton of hype. Can Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker impress in their reintroduction to the nation?

NCAA TOURNAMENT DARLINGS ON DISPLAY:

Wichita State isn’t the only team coming off of an NCAA tournament run to be playing a showcase game during the marathon. Florida-Gulf Coast gets a visit from Hartford at 7:00 a.m. Tuesday morning, a game that will be followed up by Quinnipiac tripping to Philly to take on La Salle at 9:00 a.m.

NAPS ARE ACCEPTABLE DURING:

  • Kent State at Temple, Mon. 7:00 p.m. (ESPN)
  • Akron at Saint Mary’s, Tue. 3:00 a.m. (ESPN)
  • New Mexico State at Hawaii, Tue. 5:00 a.m. (ESPN)
  • West Virginia at Virginia Tech, Tues. 1:00 p.m. (ESPN)
  • South Carolina at No. 23 Baylor, 3:00 p.m. (ESPN)

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.