No. 8 Iowa State’s loss to No. 15 Kansas not promising, but far from a disaster

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This just wasn’t No. 8 Iowa State’s night.

Listen to some of these numbers: the Cyclones shot 31.4% from the floor and 4-for-25 from three. Melvin Ejim, Georges Niang and Dustin Hogue were a combined 12-for-45 from the floor and 2-for-15 from three. Niang alone was 4-for-20 from the floor and 0-for-9 from three. Those three guys, their ability to create mismatches with opposing big men, are at the crux of what the Cyclones do offensively. They can’t win on a night when they post numbers like this.

Deandre Kane returned to the court after injuring his ankle on Saturday, and while he finished with 21 points, the 8-for-16 he shot from the line is going to loom large when he looks at the box score.

You really want to get a feel for just how badly Iowa State shot on Monday night? They won the turnover battle by 17, forcing No. 15 Kansas into 24 miscues while committing just seven of their own, and the Cyclones still lost to the Jayhawks at home, 77-70.

If I’m an Iowa State, the bright side is pretty obvious here. The Cyclones could not have had a worse shooting night even if everyone on the team had to shoot every shot left-handed. Their all-american point guard was, at the very least, hampered by his ankle. Naadir Tharpe had the best game of his collegiate career and Joel Embiid played as well as he has all season in the second half.

And the Cyclones only lost by seven points.

I don’t think painting moral victories is a good thing for a conference title contender to do, but it could have been much, much worse.

Is Iowa State still a contender though?

I believe so. It’s going to be tough — they’re already two games behind the 4-0 Jayhawks in league play and they already got Baylor and Kansas at home — but everyone is going to get knocked around in the Big 12. There are just too many good teams in the league for Kansas to make it through unscathed. If I had to make a prediction, I’d say that going 14-4 may win you the league outright.

That said, Kansas has the talent to take complete control of the conference race, but until their most important players display more consistency on a nightly basis, this is still a league that the Cyclones can win.

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.

Alabama’s Braxton Key reportedly seeking transfer

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Alabama is expected to lose Braxton Key to a transfer this offseason, according to a report from the Tuscaloosa News.

Key is a 6-foot-7 sophomore forward for the Crimson Tide that was impressive during his rookie season, when he averaged 12.0 points and 5.7 boards before testing the NBA draft waters.

But Key dealt with a knee injury prior too the start of his sophomore season, missing 10 games, and finished the year averaging just 7.0 boards and 5.3 boards before opting to try and find a new program.

He will have to sit out the 2018-19 season but will have two years of eligibility remaining beginning in 2019-20. He’ll be one of the most sought-after transfers on the market this spring.