Deandre Hunter

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Jarrett Culver vs. De’Andre Hunter is the most appealing part of the national championship

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MINNEAPOLIS — Monday night’s national championship battle between Virginia and Texas Tech has been billed as a battle of underdogs and top-five defenses.

Both programs have never reached this point in the NCAA tournament. Suffocating opponents and the “defense wins championships” mantra applies to Chris Beard and Tony Bennett and how they prefer to run things.

In a smaller individual subplot, however, Monday’s title game features an intriguing contest on the wing between two potential NBA lottery picks in Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter and Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver. During a season in which Zion Williamson became the talk of the sport, the glaring lack of one-and-done prospects has been a topic of discussion, once again, during the Final Four. Since Duke and Kentucky both got upset in the Elite Eight, the opportunity to see two lottery-level talents play against each other on the sport’s biggest stage could emerge as the most fascinating storyline to watch for a large casual audience.

“You can tell, when the game’s on the line, [Culver’s] their guy. And it’s similar in our case with De’Andre Hunter,” Virginia assistant coach Brad Soderberg said of the duo. “When you find a guy with size, and a skill set that can play out to the NBA line, all the way to the rim, you have to [play through them].”

“We face a lot of guys in the ACC and [Culver’s] every bit an ACC kind of player that we see. So the respect for him is at a high level.”

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Culver and Hunter share many similarities and a few differences. NBC Sports first-team All-Americans during the 2018-19 season, the duo entered college with minimal fanfare as potential pro prospects — only to emerge in the lottery discussion after a few seasons in school. Multi-positional on the defensive end, Culver and Hunter can be disruptive thanks to their length and program’s defense-first mindsets. Hunter gains a slight edge for his individual defensive prowess but Culver is certainly no slouch on that end.

And the duo can also erupt for 20-point outings against quality competition. Culver is the more aggressive and dangerous offensive threat off the dribble whereas Hunter is a more consistent catch-and-shoot perimeter option.

The duo will likely spend some time defending each other on Monday night. The mutual respect between the pair is apparent in how each describes each other’s games.

“I just know that he’s a great player, athletic, can shoot the ball well. I mean, he plays defense,” Culver said of Hunter. “We know a lot about him. But it’s going to be a great matchup for our team to play against him.”

“He’s a great player; he’s a two-way player,” Hunter said of Culver. “He’s a bigger guard and he basically does everything for his team. He’s very versatile.”

Fresh off of Saturday night’s national semifinal victories, both coaching staffs are still figuring the best way to play against each other. Slowing down Culver and Hunter will undoubtedly be a focal point for the Cavaliers and Red Raiders.

But there are also plenty of other talented offensive players on each team to contend with. Texas Tech has received stellar play from senior guard Matt Mooney and sophomore floor-spacer Davide Moretti during the past few weeks. Virginia is always hunting looks for talented perimeter shooters like Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome — potentially the Cavaliers’ go-to offensive options on Monday. There’s a distinct possibility Culver and Hunter spend a healthy amount of the game in individual matchups against other threats.

“There will be different guys guarding each other depending on who is on the floor for us and who is on the floor for them. But I can see those two going against each other. But it’s much bigger than Jarrett and De’Andre,” Virginia associate head coach Jason Williford said.

Two defensive juggernauts battling in a slow-tempo game isn’t the most desirable tussle to watch. So the chance to see two NBA-level talents closing out the season facing each other is the biggest subplot for casual fans to monitor on Monday night. Culver and Hunter have a chance to produce a memorable individual battle before likely turning pro and it could be the saving grace if the national championship turns into a rock fight.

Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter throws down big dunk on Maryland

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Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter threw down one of the better early-season dunks on Maryland during Wednesday night’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

With the Cavaliers trying to close out the road win in the second half, Hunter drove from the top of the key and powered it home for the poster finish.

Virginia reels in four-star small forward

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While their football team lost a heartbreaker to No. 9 Notre Dame on the gridiron Saturday afternoon, all was not lost for the Virginia fan base. Tony Bennett’s basketball program, which was hosting some important visitors this weekend, managed to land yet another talented prospect in the Class of 2016.

6-foot-7 small forward DeAndre Hunter (Friends Central HS), a native of Philadelphia who cut his list to 11 schools in August, made his pledge Saturday night. News of Hunter’s commitment was first reported by Scout.com, and he’s the fourth commitment for the Cavaliers in the Class of 2016.

Hunter joins guards Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy and power forward Jay Huff in Virginia’s 2016 class. And with Mamadi Diakite, who reclassified into the 2015 class, redshirting this upcoming season the Cavaliers will essentially have a five-member freshman class when the 2016-17 season begins. Add in Memphis transfer Austin Nichols, who like Diakite will redshirt this season, and that’s a good group for Bennett and his staff to work with.

Hunter, who played for the Philly Pride program on the Under Armour Association circuit this summer, is an important addition for Virginia given who they’ll lose at the end of the 2015-16 season. Virginia has to account for the fact that both Malcolm Brogdon, a first team All-ACC selection last season, and reserve Evan Nolte will be seniors.

With two sophomores in Isaiah Wilkins and Marial Shayok, Virginia will have some experience on the wing in 2016-17 and the additions of Hunter and Guy help as well.

Video credit: Courtside Films

Four-star small forward DeAndre Hunter focusing on 11 schools

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Another member of the Class of 2016 has narrowed his recruiting focus, as four-star small forward DeAndre Hunter announced Sunday evening that he’s now focusing on 11 schools. The 6-foot-7 Hunter, who played for the Philly Pride grassroots program on the Under Armour Association circuit this summer, attends Friends Central HS in Philadelphia.

The schools that remain under consideration by Hunter are Alabama, Arizona State, Connecticut, Maryland, Miami, Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, Saint Joseph’s, SMU, Villanova and Virginia.

Hunter’s most recent offers have come from Maryland, Villanova and Notre Dame, and in recent weeks he’s taken unofficial visits to Arkansas (which did not make the cut), Villanova and Virginia according to 247Sports.com. Hunter still has all five of his official visits available to use, so it may be some time before the talented wing makes his college choice.

Video credit: Courtside Films