Late Night Snacks: UConn and Florida go down to the wire

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GAME OF THE DAY: No. 12 UConn 65, No. 15 Florida 64

Duh.

Shabazz Napier knocked in two ridiculous clutch shots, including a buzzer-beater in which he went 1-for-2 on the trip, in UConn’s 65-64 win over Florida.

It was a tremendous back-and-forth early-season clash of top-15 teams, and although there were a few too many turnovers, there was a lot of high-level play from both sides when the game went to crunch time.

Florida lost a tough one, but I also wrote about what there is to like about the Gators after the one-point road loss to a tough opponent like UConn.

CBT’s Rob Dauster also asked how good UConn really is at this point.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE DAY: Texas 70, Vanderbilt 64

This one got really interesting in the final minutes as Vanderbilt cut a 13-point second-half deficit to one with under a minute remaining, but the Longhorns held on and pulled off the home win in the Big 12-SEC Challenge.

You can read more on the Longhorns in this one with my take on CBT here.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

1) Oklahoma had all five starters finish in double-figures as the Sooners improved to 6-1 (5-0 at home) with a 96 to 82 win over Mercer. Ryan Spangler led the way as the sophomore forward put up 20 points and 13 rebounds.

2) Georgia continued to climb back towards .500 with a home blowout of Chattanooga 87-56. The Bulldogs are 3-4 now on the season and got 14 first-half bench points from junior forward Nemanja Djurisic as Georgia went 14 deep for at least seven minutes of playing time. Can this effort help propel Georgia to play more consistently?

3) California picked up a 73-56 home win over UC Irvine as center David Kravish went for 19 points and 10 rebounds and Richard Soloman went for 13 points and eight rebounds. The win helps the Golden Bears bounce back from a 1-2 Maui Invitational.

STARRED

1) West Virginia’s balanced scoring effort led them to a 96-47 thrashing of Loyola (Md.). The Mountaineers held a 62 to 22 advantage on the glass and slowed down Dylon Cormier — the nation’s second leading scorer at 28.1 points per game — to 11 points as he was the only Greyhound in double-figures.

2) SMU scored plenty in their 88-59 win over McNeese State, but the Mustangs only had two double-digit scorers in a balanced effort. Point guard Nic Moore had 15 points and Ben Moore chipped in 12 as 11 players saw double-digit minutes.

3) Loyola Marymount picked up a nice road win over UC Riverside. The Lions are now 6-2 and 3-1 on the young season and Gabe Levin had 13 points and 14 rebounds while Anthony Ireland went for a team-high 16 points.

STRUGGLED

1) Wright State, a preseason favorite in the Horizon League, is now 5-4 as the Raiders lost to Youngstown State 74-69. Wright State missed the front end of 1-and-1s in the game’s final five minutes.

2) Quinnipiac blew a halftime lead at home and was outscored 37-30 in the second half as they fell to Boston 69-66 on Denzel Irving’s three-pointer with three seconds remaining. Boston moved to 6-2 on the year while Quinnipiac is now 4-2.

3) Western Kentucky trailed by two at the half to Bowling Green on the road but gave up a 15-0 lead early in the second half of a game they never came close to competing in. The Hilltoppers are 4-3 and still seeking their first road win of the year.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

  • No. 19 Iowa State blew past Auburn 99-60. The Cyclones had 28 assists on the night in the impressive home win.

NOTABLES

  • Seattle junior guard Isiah Umipig had 30 points in a win over UC Davis. The stat-sheet stuffing guard is averaging 18 points, 5.8 assists and 1.2 steals per game this season.
  • Troy needed two overtimes to topple Alcorn State 73-70.

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.