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Virginia’s Bennett named AP men’s college coach of the year

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Virginia coach Tony Bennett isn’t going to waver from his foundation, whether it’s the philosophy that built the Cavaliers into a contender or the big-picture perspective that helps him handle the sting of a historically improbable loss.

Both ends of that approach are fully on display now as he is named The Associated Press men’s college basketball coach of the year.

Bennett won the honor Thursday after his Cavaliers set a program single-season record for wins, dominated the Atlantic Coast Conference and reached No. 1 in the AP Top 25 for the first time since the Ralph Sampson era. Yet that wildly successful season ended abruptly in the most unexpected way: with the Cavaliers falling to UMBC to become the first No. 1 seed to lose to a 16-seed in NCAA Tournament history.

“They experienced things a lot of guys don’t,” Bennett said in an interview with the AP. “That kind of success? Oh my gosh. And then that kind of loss? … But again, their body of work deserves to be celebrated.

“And then so much of what society looks at — it begs the question — is it just about how you do in March? Or is it about the whole thing? It’s a fair debate (on) what matters. But I told them: I wouldn’t trade this team for anything. Even the experiences, as hard as they are, this is part of the process.”

Bennett was the runaway winner for the award, which is being presented at the Final Four. He earned 50 of 65 votes from AP Top 25 writers with ballots submitted before the start of the NCAA Tournament.

Tennessee’s Rick Barnes was second with five votes after leading the Volunteers to 26 wins and an NCAA bid despite being picked to finish 13th in the 14-team Southeastern Conference. First-year Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann was third with four votes.

This marks the second time Bennett has won the award, the other coming in 2007 when he was at Washington State.

In Bennett’s ninth season, the Cavaliers (31-3) went from being picked to finish sixth in the ACC to winning the regular-season race by four games — the first to win the ACC by that wide a margin since 2000. It then won the ACC Tournament to complete a 20-1 run against league opponents.

Virginia also reached No. 1 in the AP Top 25 for the first time since December 1982 and stayed there the final five weeks of the regular season, the last two unanimously .

And yet, the 48-year-old coach knows much of the focus will be on how things ended: that 74-54 loss to the Retrievers while playing without ACC sixth man of the year De’Andre Hunter.

Dealing with a roster of players in pained disbelief , Bennett said he has told them that they have “an unbelievable captive audience” waiting to see how they would handle it.

“I said how you respond to this will matter to your mom and dads, to your brothers, your sisters, your friends,” Bennett said. “If they see that you’re not fake about it, that yeah, of course you’re going to be discouraged and down after a loss like that, but that you’re OK. You can live with it.

“I said: you don’t know the power that that’s going to have in their life and in your life.”

Bennett said he appreciated other coaches offering support, which included Syracuse Hall of Famer Jim Boeheim noting: “If I could hire a coach in this country and I could get Tony Bennett, there would be nobody in second place.”

He said he’s still reviewing what worked and what didn’t, but “certainly you don’t overreact” by changing everything that had brought the Cavaliers to this point.

This is, after all, a program that has been a 1-seed three times in the past five seasons with three ACC regular-season titles.

And Bennett won’t be deterred from chasing more, even if it means stumbling a few more times on the way to reaching his goals.

“You better have something beyond the opinion of man or just how you feel, because this stuff is fleeting,” Bennett said.

“So that’s where obviously my faith is everything to me. You hear people talk about their faith in the lord and the relationship with the people that they care about, their family and their trusted friends. Those things stand the test of time. And that’s what you have to draw from. And then you move on.”

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.