Pregame Shootaround: Oklahoma State travels to Kansas during tremendous day of hoops

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GAME OF THE DAY: No. 9 Oklahoma State at No. 15 Kansas (4 p.m., CBS)

CBT’s own Rob Dauster broke down both of our day’s top games yesterday:

This is going to be a doozy. Let’s start with the obvious: Oklahoma State and Kansas are the two best teams in the Big 12. And while the preseason luster of Marcus Smart vs. Andrew Wiggins (who, at the time, were considered the two favorites to win National Player of the Year) has faded a bit, there is still a bit of animosity there. Marcus Smart called out this year’s freshmen class in the preseason. He also infamously did a back-flip after the Pokes knocked off Kansas in Stillwater last year. Add in the intrigue of Bill Self being a graduate of Oklahoma State and, well, you have your pick of storylines heading into this one.

The basketball should be just as intriguing, although I think that Oklahoma State is going to have some trouble with Kansas for one reason: Joel Embiid. He may actually have the highest ceiling of any prospect in this draft class, and as a 7-footer with a low-post game, he is going to give an Oklahoma State team lacking in post front court depth problems. Travis Ford is really going to feel the loss of Michael Cobbins on Saturday.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE DAY: No. 22 Pittsburgh at No. 2 Syracuse (4 p.m., ESPN)

Since having one intriguing game on the docket at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday isn’t enough, why don’t we just go ahead and have the two best teams in the ACC square off at the same time as well. That’s right, I said the “two best teams in the ACC”. Pitt and Syracuse, longtime Big East rivals, are now taking over Tobacco Road. Part of me loves this, part of it breaks my Big East-born-and-raised heart, but what I know for certain is that this matchup doesn’t have any shortage of storylines, either.

As far as the actual game is concerned, I think Pitt actually matches up fairly well with the Orange. Lamar Patterson is the prototype for high-post zone busters given his size and skill, James Robinson isn’t going to be flustered by Syracuse’s length and ability to force turnovers, and the Panthers can get to the offensive glass against the zone. But playing without Durand Johnson, one of their better perimeter shooters, is going to hurt.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET? No. 8 Iowa State at Texas (4 p.m., ESPN3)

The Cyclones have lost two straight games after running off 14 straight to begin the season and on Saturday they’ll face a 13-4 Texas team that should be a tough out at home. This would be a great win for the Longhorns and their tournament profile, and Iowa State has been mediocre on the road in Big 12 play the last few seasons. Will there still be hangover from the Kansas loss for Iowa State? How is the health of DeAndre Kane, even with him playing on Monday night?

MID-MAJOR GAME OF THE DAY: Indiana State at No. 5 Wichita State (4 p.m., ESPN2)

Indiana State is 14-3 and winners of seven straight as they travel to face the Shockers on the road in this MVC thriller. Jake Odum is a solid and experienced mid-major guard and the Sycamores have already faced Saint Louis and knocked off Notre Dame this season, so they won’t be intimidated by the Shockers. Wichita State knows its the hunted in the Missouri Valley conference; can they get through the league unscathed?

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW

1) There are going to be two good games on the NBC Sports Network on Saturday. There will be a double-header, with George Mason heading to Rhode Island (12:30 p.m.) and Fordham visiting No. 24 Saint Louis (2:30 p.m.).

2) Casey Prather will return for the No. 7 Florida Gators, as they travel to Auburn. Prather has missed the last two games for the Gators with swelling in his left knee and is the team’s leading scorer.

3) Chris Jones is expected to miss No. 18 Louisville’s game at Connecticut on Saturday with an oblique injury as the junior college transfer also missed the Houston win on Thursday with the same injury. UConn is coming off a huge AAC win over Memphis and will look to build on that momentum.

4) The No. 16 UMass Minutemen have struggled playing consistently — if it doesn’t involve a furious second-half comeback — and they’ll be tested in a non-conference clash with SoCon leaders Elon. Both of these teams can put up points, but will UMass come out with more focus?

5) Tennessee and No. 13 Kentucky will be an interesting clash for both teams looking for good wins in a struggling SEC. Kentucky really needs to bounce back after its loss on the road to Arkansas and Tennessee and use all of the resume-boosting opportunities it can grab at this point in the season.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25:

  • Michigan at No. 3 Wisconsin, 6:00 p.m., ESPN
  • No. 4 Michigan State at Illinois, 8:00 p.m., BTN
  • DePaul at No. 6 Villanova, 4:00 p.m., FSN
  • UNLV at No. 10 San Diego State, 6:05 p.m., CBSSN
  • Le Moyne-Owen at No. 17 Memphis, 2:00 p.m., ESPN3
  • No. 19 Cincinnati at South Florida, 5:00 p.m., ESPNU
  • No. 20 Creighton at Providence, 8:00 p.m., FS1
  • USC at No. 21 Colorado, 2:00 p.m., FS1
  • North Carolina State at No. 23 Duke, 2:00 p.m., CBS
  • No. 25 UCLA at Utah, 4:00 p.m., FS1

NOTABLES:

  • Florida State at Virginia, 12:00 p.m., ESPN3
  • Seton Hall at Georgetown, 12:00 p.m., FS1/li>
  • West Virginia at Kansas State, 1:30 p.m., ESPN3
  • Alabama at Missouri, 2:00 p.m., ESPN
  • Wake Forest at Clemson, 4:00 p.m., ESPN3
  • Gonzaga at Loyola Marymount, 4:00 p.m., Root Sports
  • New Mexico at Fresno State, 7:00 p.m., ESPN3
  • Washington at Stanford, 11:00 p.m., ESPNU

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.