CBT Weekly Roundtable: Who will be the next undefeated team to lose?

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In a new series here on College Basketball Talk, every Thursday we’re going to have a discussion about some of the hot topics in college basketball. Today’s installment? The 12 teams still left undefeated. Who is the first to lose? Can anyone actually make it to February without a loss? Will we ever see another undefeated team?

Rob Dauster: We are now more than a month into the season. Most of the teams have made it through a third of their regular season schedule, which means that it’s now far enough into the season to start discussing who is still undefeated.

After UConn’s loss to Stanford on Wednesday night, there are 12 teams without a blemish to their name: Arizona, Syracuse, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Villanova, Wichita State, Oregon, Iowa State, UMass, Missouri, Toledo and St. Mary’s.

So I’m going to put you on the spot, Raph: Who will be the nest team from this group to lose?

Raphielle Johnson: Alright. I looked at the schedules of the 12 remaining undefeated teams and two have match-ups that will test them this weekend. UMass visits Florida State, and Missouri takes on rival Illinois in St. Louis. Of these two I think the Minutemen are the ones who go down, because for as athletic as UMass is I think Florida State can match them. Guys like Okaro White and Robert Gilchrist can compete with the likes of Raphiael Putney, Cady Lalanne and Sampson Carter in the front court. Obviously the key player for Florida State to corral is Chaz Williams, and I believe the Seminoles have what it takes to keep him from going wild. FSU ranks 6th nationally in two-point percentage defense, and as long as they challenge UMass’ looks on the outside I think they win.

Who’s your pick?

RD: I think you’re right that Florida State can give UMass a fight. The Seminoles have the size inside to deal with some of Derek Kellogg’s big men, and Leonard Hamilton is nothing if not a good defensive coach.

Here’s one for you: BYU over Oregon. Look, I’m not sold on the Cougars being anything special. They’re essentially a four-man team and they don’t play any defense. But I think they actually matchup fairly well with Oregon, they like to run like Oregon does and on the nights when BYU shoots the ball well, they’re going to be able to compete with anyone in the country. They just have to hope that the Stanford game wasn’t the only time this season that Tyler Haws and Matt Carlino both go crazy.

I think the more interesting discussion is actually who will remain undefeated for the longest, and I think that award will fall into the hands of Wichita State. The Valley is way down this year, and the Shockers are better than they were when they went to the Final Four. They’ll enter every game as the favorite the rest of the way. No one is going to make it out of the Valley unscathed, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Wichita State made it until February 5th without a loss.

RJ: Wichita State is a good choice. Thought about Toledo, but for as much as I like Rian Pearson, Justin Drummond and Julius “Juice” Brown I can’t pick the Rockets to win at Kansas on December 30. But that is a very good team, and they’re the favorites to win the MAC at this point in time.

But back to the Shockers. I certainly understand where many are coming from when stating why they’ve got a shot at being the last undefeated team remaining, but I wouldn’t sleep on that Missouri State game on January 11. Paul Lusk’s Bears are off to an 8-2 start with Jamar Gulley leading the way, and you don’t just waltz into JQH Arena and leave with a win. That being said, Gregg Marshall’s got a very good basketball team. Ron Baker, before his ankle injury slowed him down some, was in the running for “180” mention and from an offensive standpoint he may be one of the most improved players in the country. Add in the talented Cleanthony Early, a defensive stopper in Tekele Cotton and the maturing Fred Van Vleet and you’ve got some guys capable of making another deep run in the NCAA tournament.

But I’ll take another team to answer this question: Syracuse. Yes they’ve got a big home game against No. 8 Villanova on the 28th (the Wildcats are also undefeated), but I really think Jim Boeheim’s team has the ability to get to that home game against Duke on February 1 without a blemish. While the ACC has been good (but not up to the expectations of some) I don’t think it represents this lethal gauntlet that the Orange will immediately struggle with. Tyler Ennis and Trevor Cooney continue to improve, as does Dajuan Coleman, and we already know how good that Fair/Grant forward combo is. With the talent, weapons and depth on that roster, I’ll take Syracuse regardless of the fact that they’re in the ACC.

RD: I’ll be honest: I don’t like much of this ‘undefeated’ talk, especially when it comes so early in the season. Nobody is going to go undefeated this season. There probably won’t be anyone going undefeated in any season, ever again. Unless the NBA decides, for some reason, that every athlete must stay in school for two or three years, I just think that it is too hard for teams built around talented freshmen to win early and often enough to go an entire year without a blemish.

Let’s call it like it is: the only teams that are going to be good enough to go undefeated are teams that are freshmen-heavy. That’s just the way it is in this day and age. There aren’t going to be juniors that are good enough to build a team that talented around because if they’re that good, they are probably entering their second season in the NBA by then.

If the last two years have taught us anything, it’s that the Kentucky team with Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were A) a special, once-in-a-decade (if not more) kind of team that was built are superstar freshmen as role players, and B) not replicable. That group came as close as we’ve seen anyone get to being undefeated.

It happening.

So lemme ask you this, Raph: Come February, is there anyone in the country that still is without a loss?

RJ: No, and one reason why is what you mentioned above. And another reason, for me at least, is fatigue. Not so much for physical reasons but rather mentally. Why are we discussing it? Because it’s a simple and convenient topic to talk about. And the deeper into a season that a team gets without a loss the more they hear about it and the more it weighs on them, I’d imagine.

Does that mean a loss is a good thing? Hell no, and I hate when people try to spin such results that way. If you’re a mature team you can learn from wins as well. If this were the days prior to the Internet, and sports media weren’t so prevalent, I’d give a team like Syracuse a fair shot at doing it. But I think external “pressure” can be too much to overcome.

The goal is to get better as the season rolls on, with the goal of playing your best ball in March (and hopefully early April). As long as you do that, whatever else comes along is gravy.

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.