ACC Tournament Preview

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Dates: 3/10-3/13
Location: Greensboro Coliseum; Greensboro, N.C.
Championship Game: March 13, 1 p.m., ESPN

Outlook: You know what’s really funny about how the ACC regular season concluded? Technically, its second best team was Duke, but that was supposed to be the team everyone was chasing. Not so fast my friend. Too many pros on North Carolina circumvented the Blue Devils from grabbing the regular season title, something they appeared to have all but clinched a month ago. Maryland, Florida State, even Boston College, they all seem sooo out right now.

We always used to deem the ACC Tournament as tops in the game, but a top heavy collection of teams has given way to the Big East as the premier conference tournament in the country. And you can’t dispute that. This year the slightly watered down product makes us want to fast forward to the semi finals. Not only do we get an underachieving, bubble-bound Virginia Tech team for a third consecutive season, we get NC State – who refused to make moves this season- as a No. 11 seed, and a Florida State Seminole squad that could play sans their star, Chris Singleton.

So what do we have to look forward to? Well a Duke-UNC rubber match, of course. It’s finally time Blue Devils accept the fact that their stud, Kyrie Irving, isn’t walking through that door. They also have to understand that North Carolina’s addition by the subtraction of disjointed rapper Larry Drew III has given this team a real starting five, with a real point guard who can not only score, but share.

Still, this tournament could provide some real drama and excitement, but probably not until Sunday beginning at 1:00pm.

Players to Watch: Derwin Kitchen, Florida State; Kendall Marshall, North Carolina; Reggie Jackson, Boston College

If Singleton cannot give it a go for the Seminoles, a fan base turns its lonely eyes on the team’s second leading scorer in Kitchen. FSU isn’t known for its scoring (70 ppg), but a depleted front court will force them to do so if they wish to advance.

For Marshall and Jackson, these are two players ardent ACC basketball fans know and appreciate, but on a national stage neither has yet to really garner the admiration they deserve. Marshall has averaged more than eight assists a game since Drew skipped town, never turning the ball over more than five times in a contest. Being able to understand his role to help his team be most successful is laudable, and integral to the improvement that North Carolina has made as the winter waned.

Boston College is the best team playing in the opening round, and are more than capable of advancing to the semi-finals against the Tar Heels. If they do, it will likely be sparked by a pair of 20+ point performances by Jackson. Freakishly quick and fearless, Jackson is a ball to watch, so I suggest you make a point to tune in to the Eagles this week. Steve Donahue doesn’t handcuff his kids, something predecessor Al Skinner was often criticized for.

Champion: Duke

The Blue Devils have won the last two conference tournaments, with the Heels only winning two since 1999; it’s just not their thing I guess. I expect Coach K to recharge his team’s batteries after a dismal performance in Chapel Hill last Saturday, and force the selection committee to hand over that fourth No 1 tournament seed to the defending national champions.

Complete tournament bracket

Tournament standings, stats, more

Grand Canyon lands Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson

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Grand Canyon landed an important piece for its NCAA tournament push on Saturday night as Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson pledged to the Antelopes.

The 6-foot-3 Benson will be eligible right away as spent the past three seasons with the Ducks as a key reserve guard, helping Oregon to multiple deep NCAA tournament runs. Benson picked Grand Canyon over Wisconsin for his final season of college basketball as Benson’s brother, T.J., is an assistant coach with the Antelopes.

Benson shot 40 percent from three-point range last season while also being a steady ball handler over the course of his career at Oregon as he has only 81 career turnovers in over 2,600 career minutes with the Ducks. While Benson wasn’t asked to score a lot for a loaded Oregon team that featured multiple bucket-getters, he could be asked to do more at Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon is eligible for the NCAA tournament for the first time next season as the addition of Benson gives them an experienced guard who should be more of a factor in the WAC. The Antelopes are coming off of a 22-9 season in which they finished 11-3 in conference play.

With great facilities and a quickly-growing fan base, head coach Dan Majerle has the potential makings of a perennial mid-major conference contender if he continues to recruit well to Grand Canyon.

Colorado adds commitment from Class of 2017 point guard McKinley Wright

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Colorado landed one of the best available point guards for next season on Friday as Class of 2017 floor general McKinley Wright committed during an official visit.

A former Dayton commit who opted out of his recruitment after former head coach Archie Miller took the Indiana job, Wright was one of the best available point guards left as he played last weekend on the adidas Gauntlet in front of college coaches with D1 Minnesota.

The 6-foot-0 Wright gives the Buffaloes another ball handler and distributor as he was Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball during this past season. As a senior, Wright averaged 22.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game.

It’s always hard to say if spring recruits who elevate a level in recruiting after decommitting are making the correct decision, but Wright looked the part of a high-major lead guard last weekend, and Colorado wasn’t the only high-major program that was pushing hard to add Wright at this late stage.

Oral Roberts to hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills

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Oral Roberts has found its new head coach as they will hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills, as first reported by NBCSports.com’s Rob Dauster.

Mills had been on staff with the Bears since 2003 as he’s been a big factor in why head coach Scott Drew has been able to turn around that program. A graduate of Texas A&M, Mills has been a full-time assistant at Baylor since the 2009 season.

“I am honored to accept this role of representing this historic institution, its students and its mission,” Mills said in a release. “Making this commitment today is a highlight of my career and I look forward with excitement to the basketball season directly ahead. Go Golden Eagles.”

Mills will replace former head coach Scott Sutton, who was relieved of his duties this offseason after 18 years at the helm.

 

Iowa commit Connor McCaffery to redshirt in basketball to pursue baseball

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Iowa commit Connor McCaffery is in a unique spot when he starts his freshman year in Iowa City next year.

Not only is the 6-foot-4 guard the son of basketball head coach Fran McCaffery, while being a four-star national basketball prospect, but Connor also has a bright future in baseball.

There was a lot of speculation as to what Connor might do for his future in athletics and he gave more clarification on what he might be looking to do on Friday.

McCaffery has decided to redshirt in basketball next season to focus on the beginnings of his baseball career at Iowa. A walk-on for both sports, the move enables Connor McCaffery to potentially play three years of basketball with his younger brother, Patrick, who is also a heralded basketball recruit for Iowa. This move also gives Connor the best chance to pursue both sports while he’ll also help out a young Iowa basketball team with its tough scholarship scenario.

Butler, Chris Holtmann agree to a contract extension

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Butler has agreed to a contract extension with head coach Chris Holtmann, the school announced on Friday, that will keep him under contract through 2025.

“Butler truly is a special place, and my family and I are thankful to be part of a great academic institution and an athletics department that is a source of pride for those who embrace Butler and The Butler Way,” said Holtmann. “Our student-athletes, our staff, and so many throughout our campus are remarkable at what they do, and I’m excited to continue to work alongside them.”

Holtmann was named Big East Coach of the Year after leading the Bulldogs to a 25-9 record and a spot in the Sweet 16. In three years with the program, Holtmann has a record of 70-31.

“Chris is a tremendous ambassador for Butler and the Butler Way, and his leadership has resulted in success both on and off the court for the talented young men in our program,” said Butler Vice President/Director of Athletics Barry Collier. “This commitment – both by our university and by Chris – allows the momentum within our program to continue.”

Holtmann was in the mix for a couple of jobs this spring, including N.C. State and Missouri.