Thursday’s Pregame Shootaround: Charleston Classic, Puerto Rico Tip-Off, 2K Sports Classic kick off

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: NO. 18 UConn vs. Boston College, 7:00 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

The Huskies and the Eagles kick off the 2K Sports Classic with a battle of former Big East rivals. BC and UConn had a healthy hatred for each other when they shared a conference, a dislike that was exacerbated by Boston College’s decision to depart the Big East back in 2005. It’s not a secret that the decision was not a popular one in the Nutmeg State, and Jim Calhoun made it quite clear that he would never schedule Boston College again. I wonder how he feels about this game tonight?

In terms of what happens on the court tonight, Ryan Anderson is going to be the key to the Eagles avoiding a 1-4 start. UConn has some great guards — Shabazz Napier is a Player of the Year candidate right now — but they don’t have much interior strength. Anderson can overpower just about any one of UConn’s big men. Can he take advantage of the mismatch, particularly on the glass?

THE OTHER GAME OF THE NIGHT: Nebraska vs. UMass, 12:30 p.m. ET (ESPN3)

The Huskers face off with the Minutemen in the opening round of the Charleston Classic in a noon tip-off that will help to satiate college hoops diehards. This matchup intrigues me because UMass has been impressive early on this season, with Chaz Williams leading the way to wins over LSU and Boston College. But Nebraska is better than you probably realize they are. They have a freshman from New Zealand named Tai Webster that’s the real deal. Their blow-out win over Florida-Gulf Coast was impressive. Let’s see what they can do against some tougher commpetition.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?: UC-Santa Barbara at Colorado, 8:00 p.m. ET (Pac-12)

Colorado has not played their best basketball yet this season. When they are at their best, they are a top 25 basketball team. I’m not sure if the Gauchos have an answer for Spencer Dinwiddie, a big, physical point guard, but they do have a kid named Alan Williams in the middle who is averaging 24 points and 13 boards. They’re also coming off of a 21 point win over UNLV.

MID-MAJOR MATCHUP OF THE DAY: Oral Roberts vs. Saint Louis, 8:00 p.m. ET

I know Saint Louis isn’t technically a mid-major, but I’m running with it anyway. ORU is one of those sneaky-good mid-major clubs that wins a lot of games, from time to time, picks off a big-time opponent. The Billikens have played well early on this season, but making the trip down to the Cancun Challenge isn’t an easy thing to do.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH:

1) The freshman that no one is talking about this season is Noah Vonleh, a 6-foot-10 big man for Indiana that is averaging 14.8 points and 12.5 boards. The reason no one is talking about him? Indiana hasn’t played anyone yet. They get Washington at the 2K Sports Classic at MSG tonight.

2) There are a number of interesting tournaments kicking off today, but the best may be the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. It starts with Charlotte-Kansas State at 10:30 a.m. and continues with matchups between Georgetown and Northeastern, Long Beach State and No. 14 Michigan, and Florida State and No. 10 VCU.

3) The last time out, Frank Kaminsky popped off for 43 points, outshining Marcus Smart and Jahii Carson on a day that they both were awesome. He and the No. 12 Wisconsin Badgers take on Bowling Green at 8:00 p.m. ET.

4) No. 16 Florida lost Kasey Hill to an ankle injury last time out. The Gators face Middle Tennessee State tonight in their first game without him.

5) Washington won’t play Gonzaga, so the No. 13 Bulldogs have to settle for playing in-state rivalry Washington State. Tip is at 9:00 p.m. ET.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25:

UAB at No. 19 New Mexico, 3:00 p.m. ET
New Hampshire at No. 25 Marquette, 8:00 p.m. ET

NOTABLES:

Georgia at Davison, 5:00 p.m. ET
UCF at Miami FL, 7:00 p.m. ET
Wofford at Minnesota, 7:00 p.m. ET
Texas Southern at Stanford, 10:00 p.m. ET

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.