Cameron Ridley sends Texas through to the Round of 32

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MILWAUKEE — Rick Barnes emerged from the Texas locker room a happy man. With a big smile on his face, the Texas head coach walked through the media members and Texas basketball staff standing in the hallway and happily slapped everyone in his path on the shoulder as he briskly moved towards the NCAA’s mandatory post-game press conference.

Following behind him was gentle giant Cameron Ridley, the 6-foot-10 sophomore center who had just put No. 7 seed Texas in the next round with his first career buzzer-beater in a thrilling 87-85 win over No. 10 seed Arizona State.

Barnes quickly left Ridley and sophomore teammate Demarcus Holland in the dust as the three made their way towards the press conference. As Barnes enthusiastically marched through the long and winding underbelly of the BMO Harris Bradley Center, Ridley and Holland took their time and shared some laughs. Texas assistant athletic director Scott McConnell soon caught up to the duo in the hallway and began asking them questions about the chaotic final play.

With the game tied at 85, Texas had the final possession as the clock was winding down and the ball found its way to junior forward Jonathan Holmes on the left wing.

“Some guys were confused by what we were doing. Some guys knew that it was supposed to be a screen and a re-screen for Javan (Felix) but I think three guys out there didn’t know that,” Holmes said of the final, broken play that continued the Longhorns’ season. “There was six seconds left so I tried to just pop out and get open and my man backed off and let me get a shot off.”

Holland, Holmes and Ridley all believed the shot was going in but it went long, bounced on the floor and Ridley corralled the loose ball and flipped it off the glass with his left hand to put Texas into the next round.

“I knew it was about five seconds left when Javan called the play for Jon (Holmes),” Ridley said. “I expected Jon to make it and I went to the glass as hard as I could and the ball came to me and I put it up as quick as I possibly could and it went in.”

“Unbelievable,” Holmes said smiling and shaking his head about the final play. “The lowest you’ve ever felt followed by the highest you’ve ever felt and it all happens in .2 seconds. I’m not going to be able to sleep tonight.”

Centers aren’t usually known for making heroic, buzzer-beating shots and the soft-spoken Ridley is not much of a talker. As an elite high school prospect from Houston, Ridley shyly gave short answers to most questions, but he’s since graduated to quietly answering questions in a few sentences while mainly fixating on the podium below.

If Ridley wasn’t looking at the podium, he shared a quick glance and a smile with Holland, almost in disbelief that he was the center of everyone’s attention for a NCAA Tournament buzzer-beater.

“I’ve never made a game-winner in my life. To walk off the court and know that you’re the one that made the play to take us to the next round, it’s a great feeling,” Ridley said.

Walking back to the locker room after the press conference, Ridley and Holland went right past the Arizona State locker room. There, a hoard of Sun Devil admirers had gathered with their heads down waiting outside the locker room to greet their fallen comrades.

The Arizona State faithful looked up, noticed Ridley walking past them and quickly looked back down again. It seemed none of them could stand to stare at the giant that had just crushed their March dreams.

Ridley continued to stroll the hallway at a casual pace with Holland, nervously dancing his knuckles along the wall in a rhythmic pattern as they made their way back to the Texas locker room. The nervous energy was a dead giveaway that Ridley knew he was about to be swarmed with even more media attention.

First came an on-camera interview with Longhorn Network’s Kaylee Hartung. Hartung remarked that she wished she had worn heels as Ridley towered over her during the interview. The sophomore center spoke so softly that you couldn’t hear him from a few feet away as a long line of media members began to form behind the duo, awaiting their crack at the newest star of March Madness.

“I think he’ll be able to handle it,” Holmes said of Ridley’s newfound March stardom. “He’s a humble guy and he cares about us; it’s all about the team with him. He’s going to be able to handle it and keep it all under control. I’m happy we were able to come up with the win, but I’m happy that it was Cam that was able to come through because it’s going to do a lot for his confidence going forward.”

If you put a microphone in Cameron Ridley’s face, he might not be the most polished or charismatic speaker, but the sophomore did his talking with the buzzer-beating play that everyone will be talking about for quite some time.

And for now, that’s good enough for the Longhorns.

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.