PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Eric Atkins, Notre Dame
For Notre Dame, the last week as been about as rough as a week can be on a college basketball team. Let’s start with the obvious: leading scorer Jerian Grant, a redshirt senior that had been in the program for four years, left school for the second semester after dealing with an academic issue. That came a day after the Irish collapsed against No. 3 Ohio State, blowing an eight point lead in 51 seconds and missing out on a chance to land a marquee victory that would have helped nullify home losses to Indiana State and North Dakota State.
In their first game since their season changed, the Irish came out flat, missing 12 of their first 14 shots and digging themselves a big first half hole against a better-than-you-think Canisius team looking to land a big road win of their own. That’s when Eric Atkins took over, popping off for a career-high 30 points and leading the Irish to an overtime win that they simply had to get for their confidence and to protect a chance at earning themselves an at-large bid. I don’t think that it’s a stretch to say that a loss would have been a crushing blow for the Irish. But a win, especially a win where their senior point guard went into takeover mode, is a step in the right direction.
They were good, too:
- Tyler Ennis, Syracuse: Ennis finished with 20 points, a pair of assists and, once again, without a turnover as the Orange overcame a 25-7 deficit in a 16 point win against then-undefeated Villanova.
- Deandre Kane, Iowa State: Kane averaged 17.0 points, 7.7 boards and 5.0 assists in their Diamond Head Classic title. More importantly, Kane, who entered the title game against Boise State 5-for-20 from three on the season, went 4-for-6 from beyond the arc.
- Antoine Mason, Niagara: The nation’s leading scorer had a season-high 39 points in a 68-65 win over Brown.
- Matt Stainbrook, Xavier: Stainbrook had 21 points and 10 boards in a win over Wake Forest in the Skip Prosser Classic. That came after going for 17 points and six boards in a win at Alabama.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Kentucky Wildcats
What is there to say about this Kentucky team that hasn’t already been said in the two days since they knocked off then-No. 6 Louisville in Rupp Arena, 73-66? Julius Randle was as dominant as could be in the first half, but when he went out with cramps in the second half, the Wildcats continued to control the game. The Harrison twins — specifically Andrew, the point guard — were terrific down the stretch. Alex Poythress made some of the hustle plays that Big Blue Nation has been waiting for him to make for a season and a half. And, most importantly, the Wildcats put together arguably the best 40 minutes of defense that they have put together this season.
Kentucky needed this. I don’t subscribe to the idea that there is no such thing as a must-win game in December, because this was a must-win game for the Wildcats. It has nothing to do with their resume or their NCAA tournament chances, rather they had to get this game because the pressure and scrutiny that they would have faced otherwise would have been overpowering. They needed tangible evidence that this wasn’t going to be a repeat of 2012-2013. They needed proof that they are getting better, getting closer to the national title contender that we all believed they wold be back in October. They got it.
They were good, too:
- Iowa State: The Cyclones continue to roll along without a blemish on their record. This week, they went out to Hawaii and won the Diamond Head Classic.
- Missouri: The Tiger’s big three of Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross will be tough for opponents to matchup with all season long. On Saturday, they went into Raleigh and knocked off N.C. State in come-from-behind victory.
- South Carolina: Frank Martin’s group got off to an ugly start this season, but a 3-1 week that included two wins over Akron and a win over St. Mary’s is a step in the right direction.
- Syracuse: The Orange came from 18 point down to beat then-undefeated Villanova by 16. That’s quite a turnaround.
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 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 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.
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.
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.