NCAA Tournament Primer: Tulsa Golden Hurricane

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Get to know all of the NCAA Tournament’s automatic bids here.

Conference: Conference USA

Coach: Danny Manning

Record: 21-12 (13-3 Conference USA)

Rankings and Ratings:

– Kenpom: 76
– RPI: 81
– AP/USA Today: Not ranked

Seeding?: Louisiana Tech was a No. 12 seed in Dave Ommen’s latest bracket projection, and Tulsa should end up being somewhere in that No. 12-13 seed range as well.

Names you need to know: James Woodard (15.3 ppg, 5.9 rpg), Rashad Smith (12.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg), Shaquille Harrison (9.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.3 apg)

Stats you need to know: Conference USA isn’t a great league this season, but they do have a couple of really good defensive teams, and the Golden Hurricane are as good as anyone in the conference. In fact, they rank 36th nationally in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, which slots them in front of Michigan, Kansas, Wisconsin and Iowa State. The concern, however, is that Tulsa can’t shoot. They shot 30.0% from three in CUSA play and were 270th nationally from beyond the arc this season.

Tendencies: Tulsa doesn’t force a lot of turnovers and they’re not going to block a lot of shots, it’s just a fundamental, positional defense that forces tough shots and cleans the defensive glass. That’s promising, because smaller conference teams that rely on size and/or athleticism defensively are usually in for a rude awakening when they run into high-major athletes.

Offensively, Tulsa relies on their talented perimeter players to get to the rim and draw fouls. They have a high free throws rate and get a lot of clean looks around the rim despite not having great low-post scoring options. James Woodard, the older brother of Oklahoma point guard Jordan Woodard, is the best of the bunch, a 6-foot-3 lefty that as a knack for sliding through defenses.

Big wins, bad losses: The Golden Hurricane have five top 100 wins, including a top 50 win over Southern Miss, but they also have lost five games to teams with RPIs below 147, including a sweep at the hands of TCU.

How’d they get here?: Tulsa lost their first four games of the season, six of their first seven and entered the 2014 calendar year with a 4-9 record. But they ended the season winning their last 11 games.

Outlook: The Golden Hurricane are good enough defensively that they should be able to compete with any team on the No. 4 or No. 5 seed line. The issue will be whether or not they are able to score enough. If they can luck into a draw where they square off with someone like Duke or Creighton, a team not known for their defense, Tulsa might have a shot at pulling an upset.

The outlook for the program is terrific, however. Tulsa’s top six players right now are all sophomores.

How do I know you?: Tulsa was one of the best mid-major programs in the country a decade ago, making eight tournaments between 1994 and 2003, making it out of the first round seven times, three Sweet 16s and one Elite 8. But this will be their first trip to the Big Dance in 11 years.

Oh, and should I mention that their head coach just so happens to be Danny Manning? He may the next in a long line of coaches that springboarded their career with the program.

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.