Final Four Preview: No. 1 Florida vs. No. 7 UConn

3 Comments
source:
AP Photo

FINAL FOURAll Final Four coverage | X-Factors | Why each team can/won’t win

Today we will be breaking down Saturday’s Final Four matchups. Here is our look at No. 1 Florida vs. No. 7 UConn:

WHEN: Saturday, 6:09 p.m. ET (TBS)

WHERE: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX

MAJOR STORY LINES: Let’s get beyond the fact that these two teams have played once already this season, because we all know that the last time that Florida lost, back in December, came when Shabazz Napier was doing Shabazz Napier things like hitting buzzer-beaters. What’s more interesting is that Napier hasn’t stopped doing that, and has since led the Huskies to the American tournament title game and now the Final Four. Reminiscent of a certain UConn point guard by the name of Kemba, no?

What makes that all the more impressive is that UConn was left for dead as a program not too long ago. Recruiting violations, academic sanctions, getting kicked out of the Big East, getting blacklisted from the ACC, dealing with a coaching change and a new regime. And in his first NCAA tournament, that new regime — Kevin Ollie — has led the Huskies to with a game of playing for a national title.

Also worth noting here is that Billy Donovan has a chance to win his third title before the ago of 50. At what point does he (rightfully) get recognized as one of the sport’s legendary coaches?

KEY STATS: UConn is a top ten team defensively, and it starts with their back court. Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright can absolutely hound opposing guards. Florida has a tendency to be a bit turnover prone and UConn’s guards — I’m throwing Lasan Kromah into the mix as well — have a habit of picking pockets.

KEY PLAYERS: Normally I like to make this section be dedicated to the x-factors, but not this time, not when Shabazz Napier and Scottie Wilbekin are so important to their team’s success. Napier is the star of stars in this Final Four, the lone first-team all-american and the most important player to his team’s success. As Shabazz goes, so goes the Huskies. Wilbekin’s stardom isn’t quite as obvious. Florida’s recipe for winning basically goes like this: build a 5-10 point lead on a team over the course of the first 30 minutes, then give the ball to Wilbekin to close out the win. I’m not sure it will happen unless Florida plays Wilbekin and Kasey Hill together for extended minutes, but there’s always room to hope for those two going head-to-head for 40 minutes.

POINT SPREAD: Florida (-6.5)

THREE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1. DeAndre Daniels: He’s got lottery pick talent, but the only thing that he’s done consistently throughout his career is to play inconsistently. He put on one of the best performances that you’ll see in March in the win over Iowa State, and he’s been playing well for about three weeks straight now. He’s the guy that turns UConn from a good team to a team that has a chance to beat the Gators.

2. Florida switching defenses: This is what makes them so difficult to prepare for. They can give you five or six different looks defensively, and they can play all of them at an elite level. It doesn’t hurt that they have athletes up and down their roster that look like they’ve been training for the Mr. Universe competition.

3. UConn’s rebounding: The Huskies are not a big team, and their size up front is not all that strong or physical. There is a reason that they rank 246th in defensive rebounding percentage. Florida isn’t exactly Kentucky, but they can get on the offensive glass. Here’s the thing to remember, however: UConn’s front line shut down Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson on Sunday. Florida’s bigs aren’t as good as them.

CBT PREDICTION: Florida

Syracuse’s Tyus Battle to test NBA draft waters

Abbie Parr/Getty Images
1 Comment

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

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
1 Comment

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

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

Eric Espada/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

Michael Reaves/Getty Images
1 Comment

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.