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2018 Final Four Preview: No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 1 Kansas

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The Final Four nightcap is probably the best game, on paper, that we have left in this tournament.

No. 1-seed Villanova, the best program of the last five years, taking on No. 1-seed Kansas, the most successful program in the last decade-and-a-half.

We have two all-american point guards. We have two centers that can change a game. We have all the guards. All of them. We have shooters on shooters on shooters. Buckle up.

Here is everything you need to know about the Final Four’s second game:

THREE KEY MATCHUPS

1. JALEN BRUNSON VS. DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: These are the two best point guards in American.

Flat out.

And they will be going head-to-head on Saturday night.

Brunson’s game is different than Graham’s. He’s incredibly savvy. He understands how to use shot-fakes and change-of-pace to his advantage. He posts people up. He’s an unbelievable passer. Perhaps his best attribute is his ability to feel a game out. He can take over when he needs to take over. When his teammates are cooking, he gets them the ball in spots that they can cook.

Where he does struggle a bit is on the defensive end of the floor, which is not going to be ideal when facing off with Graham, who has struggled during this tournament. He’s an explosive scorer and a willing and capable passer that is at his best when he can get to his jumpshot, and it is going to be thrilling to see him go up against Brunson.

2. OMARI SPELLMAN VS. UDOKA AZUBUIKE: While the best matchup is at the point, the matchup that could end up determining the winner of this game will be in the paint.

Azubuike and Spellman are both terrific players, and couldn’t play the five any more differently. Azubuike is a hoss in every sense of the word. He’s huge — 6-foot-10, 280 pounds — and far more athletic than someone that size should be. He has long arms and finishes everything around the rim with a dunk that looks like it is going to tear down the back board. He can score with his back-to-the-basket, but he is at his best when he can stay around five-feet from the rim.

Spellman?

He might actually be Villanova’s best shooter. He spaces the floor for the Wildcats. He can also attack a close-out, which puts Azubuike in a nightmare spot. How in the world is he going to deal with someone that wants to run around on the perimeter?

For my money, this game is going to be won by whoever wins that battle, which likely means it is going to be won by whoever can get the other big man in foul trouble first.

3. WHO GUARDS MALIK NEWMAN?: There has not been a hotter player in the NCAA tournament than Malik Newman, who is averaging 22.7 points in seven games in March. He had 32 points the last time that Kansas took the floor, scoring all 13 of their points in an overtime win over Duke.

Villanova has a number of really good perimeter defenders, and I fully expect the Wildcats to do plenty of switching throughout Saturday night’s game. That means that everyone — Brunson, and Mikal Bridges, and Phil Booth, and Donte DiVincenzo, even someone like Eric Paschall — will get a crack at him.

And slowing Newman down may actually be the secret to ending this Kansas run.

(Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

THE BEST STORY LINE

There are quite a few here to talk about. Jay Wright is one of the founders of small-ball in the college ranks. Bill Self is one of the last people in the sport to truly embrace going away from two big men, but he’s been forced to do it because of roster limitations the last two years. There is a lack of bigs everywhere. In an era of one-and-done players, this game is defined by a pair of point Gods, one a senior and the other that’s felt like a senior in each of his three seasons.

But for my money, the best story line here is going to be Udoka Azubuike and his mom. Azubuike came to America when he was 13 years old, and as documented in a story on Bleacher Report this week, his life growing up in Nigeria was incomprehensibly difficult. Azubuike’s mother is coming to San Antonio to see him play for the first time.

Ever.

That’s the best part of Saturday night.

You’ll never convince me otherwise.

AND THE WINNER WILL BE …

Villanova. They are just too good and too difficult to matchup with. I think Spellman, in the end will get the best of Azubuike.

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.