Six things to watch for on Selection Sunday

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Practiced started almost six months ago. The first games were played more than four months ago. In that time, 351 Division I basketball teams played 31 game regular season schedules and 31 of the 32 conferences across the country have held their conference tournaments; we’ll turn the Ivy League to the darkside at some point.

It’s been a long, fun ride, but finally …

Selection Sunday is here!

MORE: Today’s bracket update | Get to know all of the automatic bids

And while it may seem crazy, half-a-year’s worth of work will be boiled down to a committee of ten bracketing out the 68 teams that will participate in this year’s NCAA tournament. A good draw could yield a Final Four. A bad draw could cost a Cinderella their dancing shoes.

Here are the six most important things that we will find out on Selection Sunday:

1. Who gets the fourth No. 1 seed?: Florida has been a virtual lock to be on the top line for about a month now. Wichita State locked up a No. 1 seed when they moved to 34-0 with a title in the Missouri Valley tournament. Arizona lost to UCLA in the Pac-12 title game, but the Wildcats are likely still head for a No. 1 seed.

And who else? If Florida’s in the South, Wichita State is in the Midwest and Arizona is out West, who is going to be the top seed in the East?

RELATED: Get to know the potential No. 1 seeds

Villanova looked like the favorite heading into the weekend, but they lost in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament. Wisconsin looked like a contender, but they were beaten in the Big Ten semifinals by Michigan State. Can Virginia earn that No. 1 seed by beating Duke in the ACC title game? What about Michigan, who takes on the Spartans in the Big Ten title game? If they lose, is there any chance that Louisville can get the honor?

2. Whose bubble will burst?: Providence did themselves a favor. They went out and won the Big East’s automatic bid on Saturday night, knocking off NBCSports.com’s National Player of the Year Doug McDermott and Creighton. They won’t be sweating out Selection Sunday, but a number of teams will.

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The way I see it, there are ten teams vying for six at-large spots. If I had to make a prediction, Tennessee, Dayton, Nebraska, Xavier, SMU and BYU (in that order) are in while Missouri, Cal, Minnesota and Florida State (in that order) are out, but I hope I’m wrong and the committee decides to extend an invitation to Green Bay.

3. Where will Kansas be seeded?: The Jayhawks have played one of the toughest schedules in the history of college basketball this season. They also suffered nine losses against that schedule and were absolutely shredded defensively in two of their last three games. Star Jayhawk center Joel Embiid was out of the lineup in all three of those games. He has a stress fracture in his spine and is not expected to return to the lineup until at least the second weekend of the tournament, if at all. How do they get seeded? How does the committee value the schedule that Bill Self put together? How much of a factor will Embiid’s injury be?

4. Just how high of a seed will Louisville get?: The Cardinals are playing as well as anyone in the country right now. I’d argue that they are one of the five most likely teams to win a title. But thanks to a complete lack of quality wins in non-conference play, the Cardinals simply don’t have the kind of resume that would support a No. 1 seed. As of Saturday, they were a No. 3 in Dave Ommen’s bracket, and others had the Cards slotted as a No. 4 seed. I wouldn’t want to be the No. 1 seed in that region if the Cards get a No. 4 seed.

RELATED: The Cardinals look like a National Title contender

5. Where will Syracuse go?: The seed for Syracuse isn’t quite as important as the region they are sent. There are games in Buffalo the first weekend of the tournament. The Sweet 16 and the Elite 8 will be played at Madison Square Garden. Syracuse fans travel as well as anyone, and they certainly will be able to fill arenas in Buffalo and New York City. That’s quite an advantage for Jim Boeheim’s club. When the Orange were the No. 1 team in the country four weeks ago, that path seemed like a foregone conclusion. But now, can the committee really give the Orange that kind of an advantage when they aren’t even the top seed in their region?

6.Who ends up in Wichita State’s bracket?: It’s crazy when you think about it, but the lack of any real challenge on their schedule means that Wichita State’s season for the ages will be determined by their performance in the NCAA tournament. If they are “for real”, they will make another run. If they aren’t, they’ll lose early. It’s dumb, but reality isn’t always smart.

Here’s the issue: there are some talented, top ten-caliber teams that had their seeds get dropped because of poor stretches during the season. This is a legitimate possibility for the Shockers: they could play No. 8 seed Oklahoma State in the Round of 32, No. 4 seed Louisville (or Michigan State) in the Sweet 16 and No. 2 seed Kansas (with Embiid back) in the Elite 8. Let’s hope that’s not the case.

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.