Weekend Preview: The Battle for Michigan marred by injury

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GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 21 Michigan at No. 3 Michigan State, Sat. 7:00 p.m.

Michigan State may be playing this game in the Breslin Center, but it’s hard to see a way that the Spartans will be considered a favorite heading into this game. We already know they are going to be without Branden Dawson, who broken a bone in his hand slapping a table during a film session this week. But it appears likely that they will be without Adreian Payne as well, as the big fella is still dealing with a sprained foot that is no where near healthy yet. 

The good news? The Wolverines don’t necessarily have the size inside to take advantage of the Spartans missing their two most athletic big men. Keith Appling and Gary Harris should be able to matchup with nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert. The key is going to be what happens with Glenn Robinson III. He’s been more aggressive of late, and the Spartans don’t have a win that can match his size and athleticism without Dawson.

The winner will take over sole possession of first place in the Big Ten.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 22 Kansas State at No. 16 Iowa State, Sat. 1:45 p.m.

Iowa State desperately needs this win. The Cyclones have lost three games in a row in league play. Their next three games? At Kansas, Oklahoma and at Oklahoma State. If this group doesn’t get things figured out quickly, there’s a real possibility that they could end up sitting at 2-7 in Big 12 play, a hole deep enough that it could cost them a trip to the NCAA tournament. Rebounding from seven straight losses is not an easy thing to do.

Kansas State is one of the best defensive teams in the country, and they’ll have their work cut out for them against an Iowa State team that thrives on the mismatches they can create with opposing front court. Thomas Gipson should have his way down low on Saturday, but who does he guard on Iowa State’s perimeter?

FIVE MORE TO KEEP AN EYE ON:

  • No. 4 Villanova at Marquette, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: Marquette has been one of the major disappointments in college basketball this season. This may be the most important game of their season, and they get Villanova days after the Wildcats got embarrassed by Creighton at home. 
  • Cal at UCLA, Sun. 8:00 p.m.: The Bears are still sitting all alone in second place in the Pac-12, but they are coming off of an embarrassing loss at USC. They really need to right the ship in Pauley Pavilion.
  • Florida State at No. 18 Duke, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: Duke has been rolling in the last two games, winning by a combined 56 points. The Seminoles have the athleticism to matchup with Duke’s forwards, however.
  • Tennessee at No. 6 Florida, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: Florida has had some issues offensively this season, and while Tennessee has been too up and down this year, there is a reason they were picked third in the SEC. Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon vs. Patric Young could be a wrestling match.
  • BYU at Gonzaga, Sat. 10:00 p.m.: Both BYU and Gonzaga can put up points in a hurry, and neither of them are very adept at defending. A high-scoring WCC game is a nice way to cap off a college hoops Saturday.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?:

  • No. 2 Syracuse at Miami, Sat. 1:00 p.m.: Miami had the lead on Syracuse for about 35 minutes in the Carrier Dome. They’re a scrappy team that controls tempo and forces you to hit jumpers. Will Syracuse make enough jumpers in the MIA?
  • No. 10 Iowa at Northwestern, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: Northwestern is essentially the Big Ten’s version of Miami. They’ve also beaten Illinois, Indiana (on the road) and Purdue. Is Iowa next?
  • Texas at No. 24 Baylor, Sat. 1:30 p.m.: I don’t even know if this would technically be considered an upset at this point, but Texas is good and they have the size to matchup with Baylor in the paint. 
  • No. 9 Wisconsin at Purdue, Sat. 5:00 p.m.: The Badgers are skidding right now, playing the worst defense a Bo Ryan team has ever played. Will they right the ship in West Lafayette?
  • No. 8 Kansas at TCU, Sat. 9:00 p.m.: You haven’t forgotten already, have you?

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1) There will be four games on the NBC Sports Network this weekend. On Saturday, George Washington heads to George Mason at 12:00 p.m. while the 4:00 p.m. tip features Atlantic 10 conteders St. Joe’s at Richmond. On Sunday, Jon Severe and Fordham pay a visit to No. 13 UMass at noon while Harvard looks to bounce back from a loss to Florida Atlantic at Dartmouth at 4:00 p.m.

2) No. 5 Wichita State will put their undefeated record on the line at Drake on Sat. at 8:00 p.m. Whenever the Shockers go on the road in the MVC, they will be on upset watch.

3) The Big East will host two big games on Saturday. At 8:00 p.m., Georgetown will visit the sharpshooters at Creighton while 5-1 Xavier is at 4-2 Providence, which tips at 12:00 p.m. Are the Friars really a Big East contender?

4) Five more ranked teams play, three of which are on the road:

  • No. 7 San Diego State at Utah State, Sat. 11:00 p.m.
  • No. 20 Pitt at Maryland, Sat. 6:00 p.m.
  • No. 25 Oklahoma at Texas Tech, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
  • West Virginia at No. 11 Oklahoma State, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
  • Georgia at No. 14 Kentucky, Sat. 1:30 p.m.

5) New Mexico has a huge game at Colorado State. The cannot afford another loss in the league to anyone other than San Diego State if they want a chance to win the conference.

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.