Weekend Preview: Kentucky-Baylor, a trio of in-state rivalry games

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GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 3 Kentucky vs. No. 20 Baylor, Fri. 10:00 p.m.

Braving the ice and sleet in Dallas, Kentucky will be squaring off with the Bears at the Jerry Dome in a game that will almost assuredly see more UK fans show up than Baylor fans. The irony is that this is a game that Baylor will actually have a shot at winning. If there is anything we know about Julius Randle at this point in his career, it’s that he can have a tendency to struggle when he is forced to go up against size and length. All Baylor has along their front line is size and length in Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin.

You know what else Baylor does? They play zone, which is a good way to try and slow down penetration from opposing guards and force the Wildcats into settling for threes. Aaron Harrison and James Young, Kentucky’s shooters, have been anything but consistent this season. How well the Bears handle Kentucky’s size on the defensive end will be key.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: Marquette at No. 8 Wisconsin, Sat. 2:15 p.m. (all times EST)

One of the best non-conference rivalries in the country takes place this weekend, as the Golden Eagles make the trek to Madison to square off with the Badgers. Marquette has been a disappointment early on this season, as they will enter the weekend with three losses. The issue is offensively: Marquette just doesn’t have enough dynamic offensive weapons. They’re relying on Todd Mayo to be their go-to guy offensively. If Wisconsin proved anything against Virginia this year, it’s that their new desire to run the floor hasn’t affected their ability to defend when they need to. Where Marquette will have an advantage is inside. Who can guard Davante Gardner? Sam Dekker can’t. I’m not sure Frank Kaminsky can, either. Give the big fella the rock.

FIVE MORE TO KEEP AN EYE ON:

  • No. 18 UCLA at Missouri, Sat. 12:30 p.m.: Two undefeated, yet untested teams. It will be fun to see these two perimeter attacks square off, as both the Bruins and the Tigers are loaded with talented wings — Jordan Adams, Zach LaVine, Norman Powell, Kyle Anderson vs. Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Brown, Earnest Ross.
  • BYU vs. No 21 UMass, Sat. 1:30 p.m.: This may be the most entertaining game of the weekend, as both teams love to get out and run the floor. Tyler Haws and Chaz Williams are both borderline all-americans. Eric Mika vs. Cady Lalanne up front will be fun, too.
  • No. 6 Kansas at Colorado, Sat. 3:15 p.m.: Colorado got absolutely embarrassed by Kansas in Lawrence last season. Is this their chance for revenge? They’re probably getting KU at the wrong time; I’m sure the last week of practice after the debacle that was the Battle 4 Atlantis was fun.
  • New Mexico at Cincinnati, Sat. 4:05 p.m.: The best player in the country you’re not talking about? Alex Kirk of New Mexico. Cincinnati will try to slow him down on Saturday afternoon.
  • UNLV at No. 2 Arizona, Sat. 5:15 p.m.: Do we trust UNLV this season? It’s a risky proposition, especially as they go to visit Arizona, who has been the best team in the country this year.

WHO’S ON UPSET ALERT?

  • Cal at UC-Santa Barbara, Fri. 10:00 p.m.: UC-Santa Barbara is good. Alan Williams is the truth inside, as he’s averaging 27.5 points, 10.8 boards and 3.0 blocks. Cal may not have an answer for him inside, but UCSB will have to contend with Cal’s perimeter contingent.
  • Delaware at Notre Dame, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: Devon Saddler isn’t back yet, but the combination of Davon Usher and Jarvis Threatt has kept the Blue Hens at the top of the CAA picture. They’ll have their hands full with Notre Dame’s talented guards.
  • Virginia at Green Bay, Sat. 5:00 p.m.: UVA head coach was born in Green Bay and played for Green Bay for his dad who founded the packline defense while running the show with the Pheonix. Green Bay has Kiefer Sykes and Alec Brown this season; they’re no pushover.
  • No. 17 Iowa State at Northern Iowa, Sat. 6:00 p.m.: It’s been a rough start to the season for Northern Iowa, but they’re one of the best teams in the Valley and they win games at home. Plus, the Interlude Dance!
  • No. 13 Oregon at Ole Miss, Sun. 5:00 p.m.: Oregon will be getting a test at Ole Miss on Sunday evening. This will be a good gauge for what we should expect out of the Rebels this year. They looked solid at the Barclays Center last weekend, but they dropped a game on the road against Kansas State on Thursday night. They need Marshall Henderson to not have a 4-for-18 shooting night again.

FIVE MORE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1) New Mexico State plays at No. 11 Gonzaga in an 11:00 p.m. on Saturday night. The Aggies should be pretty good this season and they’ll give Gonzaga a fight in Spokane. The matchup to watch: 7-foot-5 Sim Bhullar vs. 7-foot-1 Przemek Karnowski.

2) The Holy War! No. 14 Villanova takes on St. Joseph’s on Saturday at 6:00 p.m. The Hawks are down a bit this season, but this is the kind of rivalry where records get thrown out the window.

3) Maryland will play George Washington at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday in the nightcap of the BB&T Classic. The Colonials have been one of the more surprising teams in the Atlantic 10 this season, and Maryland is struggling without Seth Allen. If GW wants to take that next step, these are the games they have to win.

4) The Cornhuskers head to Omaha to take on Creighton at 6:00 p.m. Sunday in an in-state rivalry that is healthier than you might think. Nebraska is better than they have gotten credit for this year. Hop on the Tai Webster bandwagon now.

5) The Monarchs may have left the CAA, but VCU and Old Dominion are still rivals. There isn’t a lot of like between those two schools. Tip is at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday. If you go, keep an eye out for our old friend Eric Angevine. He bleeds ODU blue.

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.