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Virginia loses key player to broken wrist three days before NCAA tournament

The most promising NBA prospect on college basketball’s top-ranked team will not participate in the NCAA tournament.

Virginia announced Tuesday that swingman De’Andre Hunter suffered a broken left wrist during last week’s ACC tournament and will miss the rest of the season.

Hunter, the ACC’s sixth man of the year, is scheduled to undergo surgery on Monday. He is not expected to be cleared to play again for at least 10 to 12 weeks.

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The loss of Hunter is a crushing blow to a Virginia team in the midst of one of the best seasons in school history. The Cavaliers (31-2) ascended from unranked in the preseason to the top of the polls, captured the ACC title by four games and validated that last Saturday night by adding a conference tournament title to their trophy case.

Virginia guard De’Andre Hunter (12) pulls down a rebound next to Clemson guard Shelton Mitchell (4) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the Atlantic Coast Conference men’s tournament semifinals Friday, March 9, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Hunter’s emergence as a versatile scoring threat was a huge part of that success. The 6-foot-7 redshirt freshman averaged 12.3 points per game since Jan. 3, scoring from the low block, off the dribble and from behind the arc.

The most memorable moment of Hunter’s season was the dramatic game-winning 3-pointer he banked in at the buzzer to beat Louisville on March 1. He also had 22 points in a victory at Miami on Feb. 18.

Without Hunter, Virginia becomes less athletic and less versatile on both ends of the floor. Hunter could defend multiple positions and he posed matchup problems on offense for opposing forwards.

Virginia won’t have much time to figure out how to play without Hunter as the Cavaliers open NCAA tournament play on Friday night against 16th-seeded UMBC. Look for center Jack Salt and forwards Isaiah Wilkins and Mamadi Diakite to absorb most of Hunter’s playing time.

If Virginia isn’t quite at its former level without Hunter, an already formidable South Region becomes even more wide open. There are four other teams in that region that captured regular season or tournament titles in major conferences: No. 2 Cincinnati, No. 3 Tennessee, No. 4 Arizona and No. 5 Kentucky.

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Jeff Eisenberg is a college basketball writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!