College Hoops Week in Review: Justin Jackson leads Cincinnati, San Diego State Road Warriors

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Justin Jackson, Cincinnati

The Bearcats could not have asked for a better stop to league play in the inaugural season of the American. After knocking off SMU in Cincinnati on New Year’s Day, Mick Cronin’s club went down to Memphis where they laid the wood on the Tigers, whipping then-No. 18 Memphis by 16 points on their home floor. Do the math, and that would be two wins over top five teams in the conference in the span of four days.

The star of the show for Cincinnati was Justin Jackson, who has developed into as much of a centerpiece as there is on this roster. Nothing that the Bearcats do this season is going to be pretty. They are the nation’s second-most efficient defense, according to Kenpom, and the third-best offensive rebounding team. They win by attacking the glass and swarming defensively. It’s ugly, but it’s effective, which is what makes Jackson the perfect fit.

In the two wins, Jackson averaged 15.0 points, 7.0 boards, 6.0 blocks and 3.0 steals while shooting 11-for-19 from the floor. Cincinnati has now won six straight games, a stretch where Jackson is averaging 15.3 points, 9.7 boards, 4.3 blocks and 2.2 steals.

They were good, too:

  • Eric Atkins, Notre Dame: Jerian who? After going for 30 points and seven assists in an overtime win over Canisius, Atkins made sure that Notre Dame’s first foray into the ACC was a successful one. He had 19 points and 11 assists as the Irish beat Duke 79-77 in South Bend.
  • Askia Booker, Colorado: Colorado picked up a huge win against Oregon on Sunday evening which was spurred on by 27 points and four assists from ‘Ski. He also had 13 points and four steals in a win over Oregon State.
  • Devin Oliver, Dayton: Oliver had 26 points, seven boards and five assists and banked in a game-winning three in overtime to beat Ole Miss in Oxford.
  • Nik Stauskas, Michigan: I’ve said it for a while: if Michigan is going to win, they need Stauskas to do more to key the offense. In two wins this week, he averaged 16.0 points and 5.5 assists with just four turnovers. Those numbers are Burke-ian.
  • Fred VanVleet, Wichita State: VanVleet had a career-high 22 points in a win over Northern Iowa and averaged 19.5 points and 4.0 assists on the week. He hasn’t committed a turnover since the 11:47 mark of the second half of a game on Dec. 22nd, a stretch where he’s played roughly 107 minutes of basketball.

source:  TEAM OF THE WEEK: San Diego State Aztecs

The Aztecs were supposed to be in a rebuilding mode this year, but if that was the case, they have rebuilt pretty quickly. We knew that the Aztecs were good heading into this week, but they made a statement in the last five days by going into two of the nation’s toughest road environments and leaving with wins. On New Year’s Day, they won their Mountain West opener in Moby Arena, knocking off Colorado State, 71-61. Then on Sunday, SDSU rode their powerful interior to a win at Phog Allen Fieldhouse, beating then-No. 16 Kansas, 61-57.

What makes SDSU tough is the length and athleticism they have up and down their roster. Their front line can match up, physically and athletically, with anyone in the country, and they have enough length on their perimeter to cause trouble for any and all wing scorers. The key, however, is going to end up being the play of Winston Shepard and Xavier Thames in the back court. SDSU isn’t exactly a great offensive team, and those two guys are by far the best scorers they have.

Now consider this: in the second half of the win over Kansas, Shepard and Thames combined to go 3-for-16 from the floor. SDSU is legit.

They were good, too:

  • Air Force: Are the Falcons a sleeper in the Mountain West? After one week of league play, AFA is sitting pretty at 2-0 with wins over Utah State and at UNLV.
  • Creighton: The Bluejays won their first two games in Big East play, whipping up on Marquette in their opener on New Year’s Eve and following that up with a win over Seton Hall on Saturday afternoon.
  • Kansas State: There aren’t many teams around the country that have gotten as much better during the first two months of the season as Kansas State has. The team that lost to North Colorado back in November now has won nine straight games. This week alone, they beat George Washington and Oklahoma State.
  • Pitt: The Panthers kicked off their tenure in the ACC in promising fashion, but going into Raleigh and smacking around N.C. State despite the fact that they dug themselves a 17-2 hole to begin the game.
  • Rhode Island: The Rams were one of the more promising teams in the Atlantic 10 heading into the season, but they struggled a bit early on in the season. Was this week the turnaround? URI won at Brown and followed that up with an impressive win at LSU.

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.