Doug McDermott’s career still missing most important part: His One Shining Moment

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — For three weeks every spring, as the country thaws out from another long, cold winter, the nation’s eyes turn towards the NCAA tournament.

The attention it generates is unlike any event in sports, thanks in large part to the over-saturation of games, the one-and-done nature of the event and the fact that every person fills out a bracket in an effort to make a couple bucks in their office, frat, high school clique and church book group’s tournament pool.

If you’re ever going to cut out on work, is there a better time than when you can turn a two-beer lunch into a four-beer happy hour while watching four win-or-go-home games simultaneously? I wonder how many sick days are used on the first Thursday and Friday of the tournament?

The entirety of American sporting culture is focused on the Big Dance for those three weeks.

It’s why legends are made in March.

What happens when a player has already become a legend without his Madness Masterpiece?

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Doug McDermott will tip off his final regular season game on Saturday night at 8:00 p.m. at No. 13 Creighton hosts Providence, capping off a career that will never be duplicated.

Ever.

The 6-foot-8 senior forward is 34 points against from becoming just the eighth player in college basketball history to score 3,000 career points. He’s a shoo-in for the 2014 National Player of the Year awards. He’s going to be the first three-time, first-team All-American since Patrick Ewing and Wayman Tisdale did it back in 1985, when Greg McDermott, Doug’s father, was still a sophomore forward for Northern Iowa. He spurred the Big East to pluck Creighton — located in Omaha, NE — from the Missouri Valley to join the likes of Georgetown, Villanova and Marquette in the mew-look Big East, and as a result, he should become the first player in NCAA history to be named Player of the Year in two different conferences. He’s currently the two-time reigning Missouri Valley Player of the Year.

And to think, this is all coming from a kid whose own father, now the head coach at Creighton, didn’t even think he was good enough to play at Iowa State when he was the head coach there. Doug was going to follow in pops’ footsteps and play at Northern Iowa before the elder McDermott made the decision to leave Iowa State before he got canned and take over at Creighton.

He’s a once-in-a-decade talent buried inside a once-in-a-generation story line. There will never be another player quite like Doug McDermott.

But his story isn’t done yet, because his resume, his legacy, isn’t complete. Hersey Hawkins and Lionel Simmons scored a ton of points in college, but they are rarely, if ever, mentioned in the same breath as college basketball icons — and national champions — like Christian Laettner, Tyler Hansbrough or Danny Manning. Carmelo Anthony will never buy a meal in Upstate New York after he led Syracuse to the 2003 National Title. Kevin Durant’s one season and second round exit at Texas will be a footnote in every biography written about him.

Jimmer Fredette was a phenomenon, but Kemba Walker is a legend. Everyone will remember Steph Curry leading No. 10 Davidson to within a shot of the Final Four. Do you know where Damian Lillard went to college? Even Adam Morrison will forever be remembered for his March Madness moment, crying on the court after Gonzaga blew a 17-point second half lead.

A great career will make you an answer to a sports question at your local pub’s trivia night.

That One Shining Moment, however, is what lives on forever.

“I thought about that a lot coming back,” Doug McDermott told NBCSports.com in the bowels of the Verizon Center after Tuesday night’s loss to Georgetown. It was Creighton’s second straight road loss to start the month of March. The Bluejays had made the tournament the last two years, bowing out in the Round of 32 both seasons. “I think we’re capable of winning more than one game in the tournament, which is all we’ve been able to do the last two years. It’s something I dream about, something I just can’t wait to get to. We’ve gotta focus on what’s now, but that’s the one thing that’s missing from my resume.”

To a point, it’s an unfair burden for McDermott to bear. To be able to dominate offensively for three straight seasons despite being the focal point of every single defensive game-plan is incredible. What he’s done in the Big East this season is proof that rolling through Missouri Valley defenses wasn’t a fluke. The problem, however, is that what he did in the Valley went largely unnoticed unless you happened to check a box score the next morning or noticed a stat-line on the scrolling ticker during the Kentucky game. This season’s performance has been easily the best of his career, but it will be forgotten by the Sweet 16 if he can’t get his team out of the first weekend of the Big Dance.

To his credit, McDermott gets it.

“The lights are brighter, everyone’s out watching you,” he said of the tournament. “I think the grind of the regulars season speaks for itself. I don’t think you can evaluate a player over two or three good games.”

“On the other hand, the best play their best basketball in March.”

That, at least, is the narrative this time of year.

Such is life for a college basketball star.

“That’s the nature of college basketball,” senior guard Grant Gibbs said. “It’s not fair that you’re judged on your postseason.”

“But you’ve got to accept that’s the way that it is. You build all year for that moment.”

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Is this the year? Can McDermott and Creighton finally play their way out of the first weekend and into the Sweet 16? Is he going to be remembered like Jimmer Fredette or Jay Williams?

The irony?

It’s going to depend on his teammates.

What makes Creighton so dangerous this season is that they’ve surrounded McDermott with a group of guys that are all lethal three-point shooters, which essentially puts opposing defenses into a situation where they have to pick their poison: try to stop McDermott by sending help and hoping the shooters miss their open looks, or stay on the shooters and hope that you can contain McDermott 1-on-1.

The past two games, both losses, Creighton has shot 20-for-63 from beyond the arc. In Tuesday’s loss, Ethan Wragge and Jahenns Manigat combined to shoot 1-for-11 from three. That’s not going to cut it.

Doug McDermott, the player with more individual accolades than anyone in this generation, could very well have his One Shining Moment this spring, but it’s going to be determined by the guys sitting in that locker room with him.

“We have four seniors that have almost 20 years of college basketball experience in that locker room,” Greg McDermott said. “They get it. They know I trust them.”

Doug agreed.

“I think the best is yet to come.”

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.