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No. 11 Syracuse upsets No. 3 Michigan State to advance to Sweet Sixteen

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Syracuse continued its string of upsets in the 2018 NCAA tournament on Sunday afternoon as the No. 11 seed Orange knocked off No. 3 seed Michigan State, 55-53, to advance to the Sweet Sixteen in the Midwest Regional.

Winners of three straight games after knocking off Arizona State in the First Four and TCU in the first round, Syracuse (23-13) pulled off another impressive victory in front of a very pro-Michigan State crowd in Detroit. Dictating the slow tempo with its 2-3 zone, Syracuse’s defense kept them in the game despite extreme foul trouble, cold perimeter shooting and issues on the defensive glass.

The Orange had to deal with guard Frank Howard (13 points) fouling out with over six minutes left in the game. Center Paschal Chukwu earned three fouls in the first half and had a tough time getting in a rhythm. Tyus Battle led the Orange with 17 points while Oshae Brissett chipped in 15 points to lead the Syracuse offense. Despite making only one three-pointer (1-for-8) and giving up 29 offensive rebounds to Michigan State, the Orange are moving on with another surprising win.

Although the Orange were literally the last team to make it into the field of 68 — and many had a gripe with their inclusion in the 2018 NCAA tournament — they are headed back to the Sweet Sixteen, as a double-digit seed, for the second time in three years.

Syracuse faced a similar situation when they made the Final Four run in 2016. Not many people thought the No. 10 seed Orange deserved to be in the field that year either. But Boeheim and his team surprised everybody by making it to the national semifinals before eventually falling to North Carolina.

The 2016 version of the Orange had multiple pros and four double-figure scorers. Tyler Lydon, Michael Gbinije, Trevor Cooney and Malachi Richardson all came up huge at times during the team’s NCAA tournament run. Richardson’s second-half domination of Malcolm Brogdon and No. 1 seed Virginia in the Elite Eight might have single-handedly contributed to him being a first-round pick.

The 2018 version of the Orange doesn’t have nearly as much offensive firepower. Battle is a highly-touted former McDonald’s All-American who is capable of going for big scoring games. Brissett has developed his offensive game significantly to the point of also being a steady scorer. Battle and Brissett also don’t have nearly as many weapons around them to help. Howard is only other player besides the duo on the Syracuse roster averaging more than six points per game this season. As a team, Syracuse is only shooting 32 percent from three-point range — one of the worst marks in the country.

Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim deserves a lot of credit for taking this offensively-challenged team with a short bench to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. Detractors might get annoyed by Syracuse’s reliance on the 2-3 zone, but it seems to be working out pretty well for the Orange during the past few NCAA tournaments. The ACC and its coaches seem more prepared to face Syracuse’s 2-3 zone during conference play. But the quick turnaround of the NCAA tournament might make the 2-3 zone a bit tougher to prepare for.

As Wally Szczerbiak astutely noted in the pregame show, Syracuse’s zone makes teams take a lot of awkward shots that they aren’t accustomed to taking. Unfortunately for the Orange, they face a No. 2 seed in Duke in the next round that will already be well-versed on their zone. The Orange and Blue Devils played each other in the ACC in February as Duke won a home game by double-digits in Marvin Bagley III’s return from injury.

It’s not an ideal matchup for Syracuse, but then again, they also took down Virginia with a 16-point second-half comeback two years ago. This year’s tournament has already taught us that anything is possible.

Michigan State (30-5) saw its season end in disappointing fashion as they shot only 25 percent (17-for-66) from the field and 21 percent (8-for-37) from three-point range. Point guard Cassius Winston led Michigan State with 15 points while All-American forward Miles Bridges struggled to a 4-for-18 shooting day to finish with 11 points.

Winston, Bridges, Josh Langford and Matt McQuaid were the only four players to attempt three-pointers for Michigan State on Sunday. None of them could get going. McQuaid’s only make came on an unlikely circus buzzer-beater that was blocked and caught in mid-air.

While a cold-shooting day was the main reason for Michigan State’s demise, head coach Tom Izzo will also be questioned for his strange frontcourt rotation. Senior Ben Carter (23 minutes) and freshman Xavier Tillman (22 minutes) both received more playing time than potential top-10 pick Jaren Jackson Jr. (15 minutes). Veteran senior Gavin Schilling didn’t play after playing 10 minutes per game during the season. Kenny Goins only played three minutes after averaging 14 minutes per contest.

Tillman (12 rebounds) deserved minutes because of his activity on the glass. But Carter had a pedestrian stat line of two points, two rebounds and two assists in 23 minutes of action. In a tight, one-possession game with the season on the line, Carter looked timid in the middle of the Syracuse 2-3 zone. It certainly didn’t help a Michigan State offense that desperately needed a jumpstart from literally anyone who could help.

Jackson has admittedly struggled down the stretch of his freshman season since a scintillating 27-point outing in a Big Ten win over Minnesota in February. He’s also a 39 percent three-point shooter on the season who could have been another floor-spacing option for Michigan State to try. He only attempted four field goals in what will likely be his final college game. It’ll be fascinating to hear Izzo’s logic behind his frontcourt rotation.

This is also a really bad loss for the Spartans. For the second time in three seasons, Michigan State was bounced before the second weekend when many people considered them serious national title contenders. On the recruiting trail, rivals will point out that a top draft pick like Jackson only played 15 minutes in the loss. Bridges generated a lot of positive headlines the last two seasons. The sophomore is also likely headed to the NBA after never making it past the second round.

The Spartans will probably lose a lot of talent this offseason with two potential lottery picks leaving. And with uncertainty looming about Michigan State’s future thanks to an explosive sexual misconduct investigation that was revealed during the season, it’s hard to say how the Spartans will look next season. Athletic director Mark Hollis already resigned and head coach Tom Izzo has fielded numerous questions about the report. That story probably isn’t going away anytime soon.

A program once known for consistency and stability is now facing a potentially tumultuous offseason.

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.